Monday, 6 July 2015

... Spins a web, any size

TO SAY I was devastated when Steve Ditko left Amazing Spider-Man back (and Marvel) in mid-1966 wouldn't be overstating it by very much. But then I had just turned twelve, and that sort of thing was a pretty big event in my life at that time. Other stuff, like schoolwork and washing the back of my neck, not so much.

I suppose the reason I engaged with the life of Peter Parker as depicted in Amazing Spider-Man comics was because there were more than a few similarities between us. I too was growing up in a single-"parent" household. I had family responsibilities in that I was expected to care for my younger brother and sister when my mum wasn't there. And though I can't say I was an unpopular kid at school, there was still a contingent of my classmates who were giving me a hard time because I was quite bookish and didn't play football at breaktime.

When Steve Ditko left the strip he'd helped create, his departure was so sudden that he didn't even draw a cover for his final issue, leaving the Marvel Bullpen to have to pull together the above cover by cobbling together bits and pieces of interior art.
Those aspects of Peter Parker's life were very much at the forefront of Steve Ditko's vision for how the Spider-Man saga should play out. But as time wore on during 1965 and 1966, it seemed that Ditko wasn't happy with the changes Stan Lee was making to his magnum opus.

Now, I'm one of the people who thinks Stan did a beyond-terrific job with his scripting of Marvel's comics. Though I agree that Kirby's and Ditko's plots were ground-breaking and superb, it was the scripting skills of Lee that pulled it all together into a coherent package, gave the entire Marvel line its own unique voice and was largely responsible for rocketing Marvel to the top of the sales charts during the last half of the 1960s.

Though there are those who would disagree with this, you only have to look at the work Kirby and Ditko did on their own to see that neither had much appreciation, or even understanding, of characterisation. And if they didn't understand that, then they could only ever see Stan's contributions as interference.

When both Kirby and Ditko struck out on their own, their projects didn't have the commercial success of Stan Lee's Marvel Comics. The "why" is complicated and is something that I'll look at in a later blog entry.
But none of that mattered to my 12 year old self. All I was concerned about was no more Ditko art on Spider-Man.

In retrospect, Stan Lee must have known that many of his readers would feel that way. So he took a big gamble. Rather than letting the new guy - John Romita, fresh off doing a very creditable job on Daredevil, including two stories that co-starred Spider-Man - ease himself into the job slowly, with a couple of safe, warm-up issues, Lee decided to sweep away the last remains of the Ditko plotlines and tackle the dangling Green Goblin thread head-on.

Except, far from being a new guy, John Romita had been a stalwart of the Atlas line of comics. From 1951 till the Great Atlas Implosion of 1957, Romita had been one of Stan Lee's most reliable artists. He'd spearheaded the Atlas hero revival on 1954 by pencilling Captain America ("Commie Smasher") and had drawn Western Kid for the entire 16 issue run, as well as contributing dozens of crime, war and mystery stories throughout the 1950s.

The earliest Atlas comic I could find with Romita art was Spy Cases 5 (June 1951), though he did only a five-page interior story. However, the cover art on Captain America 77 (Jul 1954) is Romita's, likewise the cover art on Western Kid 1 (Dec 1954).
But when Marty Goodman made that fateful decision about winding up his own distribution company, and the Atlas line went from 53 titles to 16 practically overnight, most of Stan's artists found themselves unemployed ... including John Romita. In an interview with Roy Thomas' Alter Ego magazine, Romita explained how he'd been furious when Stan had let him go in 1957. "I had done two or three days' work, ruling up the pages, lettering the balloons, and blocking in the figures on a story - and here comes a call from [Stan's] assistant ... and she says, 'John, I have to tell you that Stan says to stop work on the western book because we're going to cut down on a lot of titles.' I said to her, 'Well, I spent three days on it. I'd like to get $100 for the work, to tide me over.' She said, 'Okay, I'll mention it to Stan.' I never heard another word about the money, and I told [my wife] Virginia, 'If Stan Lee ever calls, tell him to go to hell.' And that was the last work I did for him until 1965." Luckily, Romita had been doing some uncredited work for DC's romance line, so when his Marvel work evaporated, he walked across the road and became a full-time romance artist for National Periodicals.

The earliest credit I could find for John Romita at DC was the cover of Secret Hearts 43 (Nov 57). Ironically, The romance comic was invented by Simon & Kirby, before Jack went on to help revolutionise the superhero comic at Marvel. By March 58 Romita was entrenched as one of DC primary romance pencillers. A few years later, Romita was mainly inking, here over Mike Sekowsky pencils for Girls' Romance 116 (Jun 66).
Then, after nine years hard graft, pencilling at DC, Romita was feeling burned out. Some days he'd get a script and sit staring at it, not knowing where to start. He'd been offered a 9-5 job at an ad agency, storyboarding commercials, paying 25% more than he could making by killing himself drawing comics. So he was seriously considering leaving the comic field altogether. But in the meantime, Marvel's fortunes had reversed and Stan was in the position of not having enough artists to feed the hungry Marvel machine. After all, Kirby and Ditko couldn't draw everything. Lee had hung on to Ayers and Heck during the lean years, and was in the process of wooing back George Tuska, Gene Colan and John Buscema, as well as trying to poach Gil Kane and Win Mortimer from DC.

He also called John Romita around 1963 or 1964, trying to get him to switch sides and come back to the new, re-envigorated Marvel Comics. "[Stan] would say, 'John, we're really starting to roll. It would be great if you could come back.' And I'd say, 'Stan, I'm making $45 a page. What are you paying?' He'd say, 'Twenty-five a page.' And I'd say, '"How can I take a $20 a page cut?' 'Well,' he says, 'maybe we can make it up to you.' I said, 'Stan, I can't give this up as long as I've got it, you know.' He called me three or four times, and I just kept telling him no. But I didn't tell him to go to hell, like I'd threatened."

Romita's first work for Stan was to ink the cover of Avengers 23 from Kirby pencils. But almost immediately, Romita was the new penciller on Daredevil. His first cover was a solo effort but was heavily "fixed up" by Vince Coletta. The next Daredevil cover was just inks over a very typical Jack Kirby design and pencils.
Finally, Romita was talked into coming back to Marvel. But after years of churning out pencilled pages for DC, Romita was determined to leave the pencilling to others and stick to inking. His first job was inking an Avengers cover over Kirby pencils. Then Stan threw him in at the deep end and put him on Daredevil from issue 12 to cover for departing Wally Wood. Romita, an experienced artist, floundered a little in coping with the Marvel way of doing things. Like many other professionals, he was unable to see what it was that set Marvel apart. After showing Stan the first two pages of his first Daredevil story, Stan wasn't satisfied. So he got Jack Kirby to do rough layouts for the rest of the issue for Romita to finish. "As soon as I saw Jack's breakdowns, I knew exactly what Stan meant by pacing. Jack laid out two issues. I still have the original art to those two stories."

Romita's solo pencilling in Daredevil 12 was still very much in the DC style. Everything at eye level and looking quite flat on the page. The later pages, laid-out by Kirby have a punchier feel to them.
Once Romita got the hang of the Marvel style, he was off and running. His story pacing and action sequences become more dynamic over the handful of Daredevil issues he did. So much so that with issue 16, Stan had Spider-Man co-star in the title just to see how Romita would handle the character. And he must have done a bang-up job in Stan's eyes because before he knew it, Romita was the new artist on Amazing Spider-Man. "When I did the Spider-Man/Daredevil stories, I really felt it was obvious that I couldn't do Spider-Man as well as I could do Daredevil. I was amazed when Stan gave me Spider-Man to do. I felt he was desperate. So I did the book to help him out, hoping all the while that it would be temporary."

John Romita was a seasoned pro with decades in the business when he took over Daredevil. Here, his Spider-Man is a curious combination of Ditko's version and what would later become the trademark Romita version of Peter Parker.
But in reality, Ditko was gone, and now it was just Stan Lee and John Romita in charge of guiding the company's second-highest selling title. And over the next couple of years they must have done something right, because within a few months, Amazing Spider-Man had overtaken Fantastic Four in sales and was Marvel's best-selling title and was closing the gap on DC's Superman and Batman comics.

Yet for all this, my 12 year-old-self was very much in a strop after the departure of Ditko. At the time, I recall I only read a couple of the John Romita issues before concentrating my attention of finding all the old Ditko comics I could find in second-hand shops and in swaps with friends.

SAME CHARACTER, DIFFERENT DIRECTION

With his new artist, Stan Lee was no longer walking on eggshells. From here on, this would be Stan's own version Spider-Man, still with troubles, but far less angst-ridden. And the first order of the day was to resolve a few dangling plot threads.

In earlier issues, Ditko had been quite careful to hide the true identity of the Goblin and also to introduce a couple of characters who could well have been the arch-villain. Opinion was divided between proven master of disguise Frederick Foswell, who'd had an earlier criminal career as The Big Man (ASM10), and the father of Peter Parker's college room-mate, who had been introduced as a member of Jonah Jameson's club in Amazing Spider-Man 37.

No longer reliant on the plotting of Steve Ditko, Stan Lee did a fine job of the storyline for Amazing Spider-Man 39, including two heart-stopping story twists.
Amazing Spider-Man 39 left us in no doubt as to the identity of the Green Goblin. Romita's pencil art, inked by "Mickey Demeo" (Mike Esposita, who with Ross Andru was still one of the main artists over at DC) starts off a bit like a Ditko pastiche, then wobbles a bit before finding its feet around page 6.

But there was other stuff going on in the background. This was where Stan began to move Peter Parker away from being the perennial geek he'd been on Ditko's watch and to dial down the animosity shown towards Peter by his peers. On page 6 (see above), Peter shows some empathy towards Harry Osborn, who's been pretty unpleasant towards him so far in the series, and both Gwen Stacy and Flash Thompson see this and start to think Parker's must be much more of a mensch than they've been giving him credit for. As the series winds on over the next ten or twenty issues, Flash's ribbing becomes more good natured and he finally ends up one of Peter's friends.

But back to the plot ... The Gobin's henchmen stage a fake robbery to lure Spider-Man close enough so they can gas him with a chemical that neutralises his spider-sense. It's this that allows the Goblin to tail Spider-Man, then Peter Parker, undetected so he's able to learn who Spider-Man really is. From there on, Lee piles on shock after shock until there's a heart-stopping battle between the two right outside Aunt May's house, resulting in Peter/Spidey defeated, trussed up and unmasked (just like the spoiler on the cover). But the biggest shock comes on the final page of the story, where the Goblin is revealed to be ... oh, you guessed! (Again, see the picture above.) And of course, it's a two-parter, so we were all going to have to wait a month to find out how Spider-Man escapes from this trap, if indeed he ever does.

Inside another brilliantly designed cover by John Romita, Stan Lee's epic final battle between Spider-Man and his greatest foe, the Green Goblin unwinds with a couple of unlikely plot turns.
Well, he kind of doesn't. In ASM40, goaded by Peter, the Goblin's standard-issue super-villain ego gets up on its hind legs and decides that Peter should be untied so the Goblin can beat him decisively. It's kind of weak, to be honest. And when the Goblin is knocked into some electrical equipment, the shock causes Norman Osborn to lose his memory of ever being the Goblin. It only remains for Spidey to burn the Goblin costume and help his friend's father to safety before rushing home to Aunt May.

Now, I'm one of Stan's biggest boosters and even I find the plotting here a bit slipshop. I can only surmise that - as I speculated earlier - Lee just couldn't wait to clear the decks of all remnants of Ditko's Spider-plotting so he could crack on with his new vision for the series. And in doing so, made a couple of easy choices that got him where he wanted to be more quickly. Compare the contrived way in which Peter is freed of his bonds by the Goblin to the epic battle he waged to free himself of the machinery pinning him down in the Ditko-plotted ASM33. At the same time, to cut Stan some slack, it's only fair to point out that the departure of Ditko was abrupt - he didn't even bother turning in a cover for ASM38, after all - so Stan probably had to rush to pull the following issues together in record time.

Cover: Big, bold animal-style super-villain, check. Splash page: Acts as second cover, explains what changes are in store, check.  Interior pages: New artist has got the hang of drawing the hero? Not so much.
When we get on to issue 41 of Amazing Spider-Man, Stan is announcing that this is a new start point. First, he brings back the splash-page as second cover, something that Ditko was fond of but Stan wasn't. Here it's being used for a very specific purpose. It's letting readers know there's a new sheriff in town and it outlines the changes Stan's going to be making. Then there's the animal-based super-villain - goodness, how Stan loved that idea ... and Steve didn't. Finally, there's making Peter less of a nerd to allow the further softening of Flash, Harry and Gwen towards him. All clearly flagged up on the opening splash page.

The other thing that was apparent to me with this issue was the way Stan was perfectly capable of good plotting despite accusations from some quarters that he wasn't. This issue re-introduces Jameson's son John, US astronaut and all-round good-guy, who will be the super-villain in the very next issue.

The only slight niggle here is that as slick as Romita's art is, he didn't yet have a handle on Spider-Man. But that's no major criticism. After all, even the King himself, Jack Kirby, struggled to depict Spidey with any authenticity. The difference is that Romita would get better.

A detail from ASM 41 pg 16 ... Romita didn't quite have the hang of Spidey's mask yet. And in this poster by Kirby, you can see that Jack also wrestled with the same problem. (Though I've read somewhere recently that Bill Ward might have helped out with these Spidey issues)
As ASM41 unfolds, we can see there's a big improvement over ASM39-40. The pacing is polished, the Rhino's a pretty cool villain and there's the return of Betty Brant - not that I'd ever missed her - but Stan is drawing a line under that sub-plot as well. There's a nice little flashback to ASM1 to explain who John Jameson is, which can't be a coincidence. And it's kicking off what, for Amazing Spider-Man, is a rare three-part story-arc.

Issue 42 centred around one of Stan's favourite plot devices - Spidey must defeat a friend without harming them. But the most memorable scene in the story is the last one, so much so we don't even notice the trail for "Marvel Superheroes on TV" at the foot of the page.
The pace is kept up in Amazing Spider-Man 42, which brings a super-powerful John Jameson to the fore, forcing Spider-Man to battle one of his few supporters. The story is thematically similar to Spidey's battles with the Lizard - a friend is transformed temporarily into a villain and Spidey has to defeat them without harming the innocent human being behind the "villain". But Stan carries it off well, never losing sight of the Rhino waiting on the sidelines for his comeback in ASM43. And rounds the issue with one of the most iconic scenes in Amazing Spider-Man ... the first appearance of Mary Jane Watson.

It was a plot device that had been around since Amazing Spider-Man 15 ... Aunt May and her friend Mrs Watson trying to fix Peter up with niece Mary Jane Watson, with Peter assuming she'd some kind of speccie geek, like him. It's doubtful that Steve Ditko could have carried off this moment quite as well as Romita did.
So impactful was this revelation on my twelve-year-old sensibilities that I missed entirely the panel at the bottom of the page that told us that Marvel Superheroes were going to be on television. Not in the UK, they weren't. I wouldn't see any of these cartoons until very recently, when they were released on DVD. (I'll cover these in more detail in a future blog.)

Considering Marvel must have been making money out of these cartoons, this ad looks like it was flung together a bit hurriedly ... but then, Marty Goodman wasn't renowned for throwing money at his comics. The double page CBS ad with Superman, that ran at the same time, was produced by professionals.
Stan had mentioned that Captain America, Iron Man, Sub-Marine, Hulk and Thor were going to be on TV in the Bullpen Bulletins in ASM 41. But ASM42 carried a full page house ad. I didn't make the connection at the time, but Marvel had obviously sold the rights to the characters appearing in the anthology titles that had their roots in the Atlas days - Journey into Mystery, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish. Presumably, no one wanted the Strange Tales characters - Dr Strange and Nick Fury. Or maybe Marty Goodman was holding these two back for bigger things that never quite panned out. I guess we'll never know.

But the conclusion of the Rhino storyline beckoned and I put thoughts of Marvel tv cartoons to one side and again concentrated on the adventures of Spider-Man. John Romita was without equal at designing attention-grabbing cover art, and Amazing Spider-Man 43's was no exception.

Romita gets a great sense of motion into this Spidey-in-jeopardy cover. It really does look like Spidey's being thrown around like a rag doll. Inside the book, Romita draws what remains the definitive version of Mary Jane. (Kirsten Dunst? What was Sam Raimi thinking?)
Inside the book, Stan had clearly grasped the plotting by the, um, horns and was mixing Peter's new interest in Mary Jane with cool action sequences and even had Spider-Man go to Dr Curt Connors (sometimes also the Lizard) to concoct a fluid that would dissolve the unstoppable villain's protective hide. The first battle with the Rhino was memorable because - as usual - Spidey's getting his butt kicked and, in this instance, he's pulled to safety by one of New York's finest. It's a nice touch where a cop risks his life for Spider-Man while the general public has only shown up to see Spidey get pounded.

And, incredibly, this was about as far as I got with the Romita issues back in 1966. I wouldn't read the Lizard story (ASM44 & 45) and the Kingpin story (ASM50 & 51) until much later. More fool me. One Ditko comic I found in an unlikely place some time during 1967 was Amazing Spider-Man 30. Coming across it was a strange bit of synchronicity and ties in with my only sighting of the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon which, unless someone corrects me, was shown only on Scottish television.

SPIDER-MAN GLIMPSED ON-SCREEEN

The mid-1960s was a curious time to be growing up. As I've noted in other posts, the culture was divided between post-war austerity and the youthful optimism of the upcoming generation. For the well-to-do, the Summer of Love was just around the corner, but for kids living in working class areas, life was all about getting entertainment on the cheap. And comics were a great source of cheap entertainment.

In the post-wars years, buying new comics was a bit of a luxury. Fortunately, many shop-keepers were just as cost-conscious as their customers and would often have a plentiful supply of second-hand reading material we could swap (2-for-1) or buy.
Though the picture above shows American kids in 1946 checking out the comics in a corner tobacconist shop, the British experience wasn't much different. US comics were quite well-distributed over here (if a little erratically) and, unlike home-grown comics (or "papers", as we called them), had a perceived after-market value. So we too were able to find shops that had piles of used American comics we could riffle through, looking for issues we'd missed, bargains (second-hand shops didn't charge any more for 80-page annuals than they did for regular issues) or something we knew a mate would swap us two or three comics for.

If anyone's interested, the comics on the counter in the shop picture above are Police Comics 53 (Apr 46), 55 (Jun 46) and Feature Comics 100 (Jul 46).
And because of the way US comics were distributed in Britain, sometimes quite old comics would turn up a year or two later on newsagents' spinner racks, clean and shiny and brand-new, where they'd obviously sat forgotten in a warehouse until someone dug them out and boxed them out to retail outlets along with newer arrivals. In fact, UK distributors of American comics Thorpe and Porter arranged for the UK variants of Marvel Comics to have the month removed from the covers to facilitate just that sort of subterfuge.

So it was, during the summer holidays of 1968, that I came across that copy of Amazing Spider-Man 30 (cover-dated Nov 65) in a newsagents while on holiday visiting my grandparents in the Mansewood area of Glasgow.

By the summer of 1968, Amazing Spider-Man was up to issue 62 or 63 ... but I was only interested in the Ditko version. Where I didn't have the original comic, I usually had the Marvel Tales or Amazing Spider-Man Annual reprint. So you can imagine how happy I was to come across the missing issue 30, separated from my beloved Marvel Comics by around 450 miles.

I must have read that comic from cover to cover about 50 times during that holiday. It got so I knew the dialogue by heart, and even to this day, to me it's probably the most familiar issue of Amazing Spider-Man. And even more strange, it's not an especially great issue. Back in 1968, I thought The Cat was a bit of a weak villain. He was just a burglar, for goodness sake. The scariest thing he could do was swing his grappling iron around his head and cause Spidey to stumble. Pretty lame, right? But it was the only comic I had to hand, so I was going to read it to death.

Back in the summer of 1967, I read this comic so many times, I could recite the caption boxes and speech balloons by heart. And yet, it was never one of my favourite Ditko issues.
But looking back on it now, one thing I did notice was that Stan had misinterpreted what Ditko intended with the opening pages of ASM30. The scene has Spidey trying to foil a robbery carried out by masked goons in purple costumes. Stan has the dialogue reveal that said goons are working for The Cat. Yet these are the very same goons that are working for the Master Planner (Dr Octopus) in ASM31-ASM33. It's easy to blame Stan for this, and others have written to that effect. But bear in mind, Ditko wasn't talking to Stan by this time, and obviously hadn't explained what was going on in any border notes like Jack Kirby would have. So it's probably a bit unfair to lay this error at Lee's door, even if he did write the misleading balloons.

Left: a page featuring Spidey battling the purple henchmen from Amazing Spider-Man 30. Right: Spidey battles the very same henchmen in ASM33. Who were they working for? Stan sure didn't know, but my money's on The Master Planner.
And, for my part, despite the number of times I read that comic, I never recognised the purple guys when they turned up in the very next adventure. My research suggests that the mistake was noted when Marvel reprinted the story in Marvel Tales 23 (Nov 1969), but I don't have a copy of the comic to verify that. But in the grand scheme of things, it really was the most trivial of mistakes in the history of No-Prizes.

The other thing that made this holiday trip to Glasgow so memorable was I was able to catch an episode of the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon on television. Most Brits will remember this series from the house ads that Marvel ran beginning in their November 1967 issues. The show certainly didn't screen in the London area. If anyone reading this has any info to add about other regions the cartoon was transmitted in, I'd be very interested to know.

This ad would have come out too late for me to have been forewarned that there even was a Spider-Man cartoon, as it wouldn't have reached the UK till November or December. And even now, I've never seen an episode of the Fantastic Four cartoon.
It's so long ago now, I can't remember what the episode was about. In many ways it didn't matter. The thrill my 13 year old self experienced seeing Spider-Man moving - swinging through Manhattan - for the first time was huge indeed. These days it's probably hard to understand, with three Sam Raimi movies and two by the other chap under our belts, but in 1968, it was a Really Big Thing.

In the early 1960s, tv cartoons were dominated by the Hanna-Barbera company. The founders had been responsible for the heyday of MGM's Tom & Jerry shorts, produced for cinema distribution. The pair, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, had won seven Oscars for their work on the cat and mouse cartoon and in 1957, as MGM wound down production on their theatrical shorts, Hanna and Barbera formed the legendary tv production company and set to work on their first original series, a half hour show comprising of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Pixie and Dixie, the latter a variation on the Tom & Jerry formula. The series won them an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in the field of Children's Programming.

This was the style of tv cartoons to dominate the airwaves for the next few years. When Hanna-Barbera moved from syndication to network, their shows aped the style of popular tv sit-coms (The Flintstones was based on The Honeymooners, Top Cat was a take on the Phil Silvers Show). But in the UK we wouldn't see a show that looked beyond funny animals and similar themes until Hanna-Barbera commissioned comic book artist Doug Wildey to design their dramatically dramatic adventure animated show Jonny Quest in 1964. 

One of the highlights of my pre-teen years was the Hanna-Barbera show Jonny Quest, with its Lizard Men and its Living Mummies, it was the go-to show for all respecting nerds in the 1960s.
Jonny Quest was different because the animation art was rendered in a more "realistic" way. It used sf and fantasy themes as the basis for its plots and it mostly avoided the goofy and clownish sound effects ("Boing!", "Honk!") that peppered shows like Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw. I especially remember the episode that featured an unstoppable living mummy ("The Curse of Anubis") and the story with the mechanical spider ("The Robot Spy").

There had been "realistic" action adventure animation shows before Jonny Quest - Alex Toth's Space Angel for Cambria Productions three years earlier, which I don't remember ever seeing in the UK - but Quest was the one that set a new bar for tv cartoon shows.

After the less-than-successful, one-season Marvel Superheroes tv show in 1966, Marty Goodman looked to get his big two titles on network television, as opposed to going the lower-budgeted syndication route. I have a pretty strong suspicion that Stan Lee might have had a persuading role in that decision.

I never saw any episodes of the Fantastic Four cartoon, which was produced by Hanna-Barbera under the supervision of comic book legend Alex Toth, but I did manage to see an episode of Spider-Man when it aired on Scottish television in 1968, and have since got hold of a DVD box set of all three seasons.

The show didn't use the logo from the comic, which was a bit of a disappointment for me back in 1968, and though Betty Brant was long gone from the comic by this time, she was prominently featured in the cartoon. They didn't make her very pretty, though.
The Spider-Man show was produced by Grantray-Lawrence, who'd produced the earlier Marvel Superheroes show. With Spider-Man they had a larger budget to play with and it showed.

The very first episode featured Dr Octopus, though the plot wasn't like anything from any of the comics. Curiously, it took Spider-Man out of his familiar urban environment and placed him on top of a remote mountain where Doc Ock has his lair.
Though it's mostly remembered for its insanely catchy theme song (it's going through your head right now, isn't it?), some stories stuck quite closely to the plots of the comic books, though simplified. The half-hour slot was composed of two adventures running about 11 minutes each with a couple of ad breaks.

The show did take liberties with the back story of Peter Parker, and in the very first adventure had him arriving at the mountain hideout of Dr Octopus in his own car, something that would have been way beyond the means of the comic book Parker. The supporting cast was limited mostly to just Jonah Jameson and Betty Brant, though the occasional episode might show Aunt May. Characters like Flash Thompson and Liz Allen were absent and Peter seemed to be a full-time employee of The Daily Bugle rather than a high school or university student.

The Spider-Man tv show worked best when Spidey was in his familiar New York surroundings, but also worked pretty well when it followed the storylines from the comics, as with "Where Crawls the Lizard".
The stories were kind of fun and in some cases, as with "Where Crawls the Lizard", followed the old Steve Ditko stories exactly. Reports of a man-size lizard bring Peter Parker to the Florida Everglades where he first battles the creature underwater. He discovers that the husband of Martha Connors - a two-armed scientist working on a cure for "swamp fever", not limb replacement - has disappeared. Spidey quickly figures out who the Lizard is. Using Dr Connors' lab, he concocts an antidote and, in a showdown in an old Spanish fort, pours the serum down the Lizard's throat.

The quality of the series deteriorated a little with the second and third seasons. Grantray-Lawrence went out of business and Krantz Animation took over, with Ralph Bakshi as the supervisor. Unfortunately, the budgets were smaller and Bakshi took to recycling as much of the animation from the earlier shows as he could to save money.

Looking at the show now, it does seem quite clunky, and the voice-actors' performances appear over-dramatic, but at the time, it was quite an innovation and further indication of how well Marvel's fortunes had fared in the five years from 1961 to 1966. Stan had created the MMMS to transform readers into customers and encouraged Marty Goodman to embrace licensing and merchandising, to further capitalise on revenue generated by the company's new, successful characters.

What I wouldn't have given back in 1966 to have been able to order an Incredible Hulk sweatshirt, but I had no idea where to get $3.95 from.
By getting Marvel characters on to television, Marvel had begun their unstoppable rise. After the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four cartoons came the Spidey Super-Stories segments on The Electric Company, The Amazing Spider-Man (live action, 1977), The Incredible Hulk (live action, 1977), Fantastic Four (1978), Spider-Man (live action, Toei Company, 1978), Spider-Woman (1979), Spider-Man (1981), Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (1981), The Incredible Hulk (1982), X-Men (1992), Iron Man (1994), Fantastic Four (1994), Spider-Man (1994), The Incredible Hulk (1996), Silver Surfer (1998), Spider-Man Unlimited (1999), The Avengers: United They Stand (1999), X-Men Evolution (2000), Spider-Man the New Animated Series (2003), Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Heroes (2006), Spectacular Spider-Man (2008), Wolverine and the X-Men (2008), Iron Man: Armoured Adventures (2009), The Superhero Squad Show (toy tie-in, 2009), Black Panther (2010), The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2010), Marvel Anime (2010), Ultimate Spider-Man (2012), Avengers Assemble (2013), Hulk and the Agents of SMASH (2013), Agents of SHIELD (live action, 2013), Marvel Disk Wars (2014), Agent Carter (2015), Powers (2015) and Daredevil (2015).

But in 1967, the company was less than a year away from the end of the constricting distribution contract it had with the DC-owned Independent News, and would soon be in a position to publish more than its allotted 12 titles a month. The beginning of Marvel's massive expansion phase was just round the corner.

Next: Catches Thieves ... Just Like Flies

9 comments:

  1. Al,if you don't mind me making an observation, I'd say you're putting too much into these great posts of yours. All the way down, I see things I want to comment on, but by the time I get to the end I've forgotten what they are. This could have been three or four posts, you've just got so much detail in there.

    Anyway, I seem to remember Stan saying at some point that one of the things he regretted was Romita making Peter Parker just a bit too handsome and less nerdy, so I suspect that it may not have been altogether Stan's decision to make Pete a little more popular amongst his peers. (Don't you just love alliteration?) I remember watching the Spidey cartoon on Glen Michael's Cavalcade in the '60s, and again in the early '70s, but I was always disappointed by the lack of webbing on his costume.

    There's loads more I wanted to comment on, but I'll have to re-read your post again - several times, in fact, if I'm to do it justice. I'll do that another day.

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    1. I welcome observations, G! I think I might feel the same way about my posts that you do about adding comments. I start out with a simple idea - Romita takes over Spider-Man and mention the Spidey cartoons that turned up on tv around the same time. But then it starts to grow into something wider ranging. As I was writing it, I thought there needed to be some background info on Romita, because at the time I believed he'd come from nowhere, when he'd actually been in the industry for almost twenty years at that point. Naturally, as a 12 year old I wouldn't have been looking at DC romance comics (really, I wouldn't) in the early Sixties, so wouldn't have made the connection. I did try to cut it short towards the end - I could have carried on... somehow these posts just take on a life of their own.

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  2. Oh, also meant to say - I've heard that Martin Goodman sold the rights to the Marvel characters for a song and made far less money from them than he could have. I suspect he felt comic sales would benefit from the Marvel heroes being seen in other formats, so sold the licencing rights to just about anybody who wanted them. He probably felt that they were doing him a favour, if it led to more Marvel comicbooks being sold.

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    1. Yup ... that sounds like the Marty we all know and love ... I'll have a hunt around and see what Stan had to say about that stuff in any of his extant interviews. (Whoops. Accidently put this as a new comment instead of as a Reply!)

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  3. I've recently seen and read or reread the original Lee/Ditko and Romita comics on UTube.Lee's writing skills were superb.Ditko was probably near genius,who was sorely missed,but Romita had a slick sytle,that was probably better at depicting the more pedestrian events in Peter Parker's life.

    I probably wouldn't have discovered Marvel if not for British comics."The Hulk" was the first,in "Smash" in 1966 when I was 10.I didn't like it,and am still not very keen on it today,although I bought a fair number of them in the 1970s.The same year,the "Fantastic Four" was published in "Wham",which had a more immediate effect on me,while "The Avengers" appeared later that year in "Smash",that included characters I would soon be encountering at the next year,with most of the Marvel pantheon,while at the same time,Spiderman debuted in "Pow".Later the same year,I read Daredevil's origin in one of Marvel's reprint comics,and was published in "Smash" soon afterwards.Most of the very few actual Marvel comics then I had,would be reprints.

    Before the end of 1968,Marvel titles in the British comics,were finished.The same year,I lost interest in any DC comics I'd liked,but I didn't care that I wasn't going to see any more of Marvel at present.A lot of their stuff I found acerbic at that time,even though I had enjoyed some of them.The same year,I first knew of the Silver Surfer character in the "Hulk" script,that would have an impact later.

    In 1969,I remember picking up and perusing a "Silver Surfer" comic book,and was surprised that such an obscure character had his own magazine,but wasn't prepared to buy it yet.I was reading very few Marvel comics at the time.Marvel were still an acquired taste,and I still wasn't ready for just their acerbic stuff.

    The following year,not long before my fourteenth birthday,I brought my first "Silver Surfer" comic book,and began buying Spiderman.The Lee/Romita/Mooney team at that time,were excellent I thought.I also bought the Ditko reprints.Marvel became the comics I loved,and the British ones faded away.During this time,I also bought a Britsh black and white Superman comic,but that was enough.It would be five more years before I'd buy anything more by DC comics,which would be "Swamp Thing".

    Much of the rift between Lee and Ditko,came about,as I suppose you know,over the decision to reveal the Green Goblin's true identity.Lee favoured more ambiguous characters,that went against Ditko's more linear view that he should be just a common street hoodlum.The crazy but respectable Norman Osborn,had already been introduced,and his strange character and hints of who he might be,were already apparent before Ditko left.Clearly,Lee thought he'd had too much editorial control over the plotting,and wasn't going to let him, have all his own way,over a issue Lee obviously had very strong views about.The trouble was,that Ditko,as you must be aware,ascribed to the idealism of Anne Rand,that of Objectivism,which had very black and white ideas concerning morality,that influenced Ditko's choice of villain behind the Green Goblin's mask.It's seems both perplexing and fascinating,that ideology should come between the two men,in the seemingly unremarkable world of comic books.

    I'm glad you mentioned Alex Toth.I know little of his work,but I recently see his stuff on "X-Men"12,his only apperance at Marvel,with Kirby layouts,on UTube.I thought his pencilling with Vince Collecta's inking,was really very fine.Certainly the way he drew faces was better than the way Kirby did them on the previous issue illustrated inked by Chic Stone,who didn't bring out the best in his stuff.The script by Lee was excellent also,told with realistic depth.It's also remarkable,when you think I first read this when I was eleven.

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    1. If Toth's art impressed you in X-Men 12, you should probaby check out some of his work for Warren in the 1960s Eeries and Creepys.

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    3. Yes,Warren can be seen as a rival of a sort to Marvel,in the 1960s,but operated outside the comic book code.In the next decade,Marvel copied their format,but adapted them to suit their unmistakable style.

      I recently read a story illustrated by Steve Ditko for either "Eerie" or "Creepy",on Google Images.I'll look for Toth soon.

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  4. Hi there,I don't think I ticked the notify box for my comment above,so I'm reminding you now,in case you do reply to it.Thank you.

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