Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Writer: Roger Stern | Penciler: Greg LaRocque | Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Jean Simek | Colorist: Glynis Wein | Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: While attending a demonstration on ways to safely control radioactivity, Midtown High School student Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider. Peter soon realizes that the spider has passed along to him its proportional strength, speed, and agility, as well as an extra-sensory "spider-sense". After building a set of web-shooters to complete his power set, Peter becomes the amazing Spider-Man, a nationwide television sensation. But when his own selfish actions eventually lead to the murder of his beloved Uncle Ben at the hands of a burglar he could have stopped days earlier, Peter learns that "with great power there must also come great responsibility" and leaves his celebrity behind to devote Spider-Man's life to the protection of the innocent.

The Sub-Plots: As a retelling of Spider-Man's origin from 1962's AMAZING FANTASY #15, there are no sub-plots per se in the issue, however Stern does retroactively flesh out certain aspects of the character's history, most notably the fact that Peter Parker's jock rival, Flash Thompson, was also Spider-Man's biggest supporter back in high school; a fact originally added to the character subsequent to his first appearance.
Continuity Notes: Again owing to its nature as a retelling of AMAZING FANTASY #15, the story features a number of notable events: This is, in a way, the first appearance of Peter Parker, who is bitten by the radioactive spider which gives him his abilities.

Also appearing here for their "debuts" are Peter's Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and high school classmates Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, and Sally Avril.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "It's a complicated costume for someone to come up with, so I had him silkscreen the thing. That's the way you could do it, as opposed to putting all the things in with stitching, which he always had a hard time doing. Remember him trying to thread the needle in all the Lee/Ditko stories? He cheated, folks, he silkscreened it." -- "The Amazing Roger Stern", FANTACO'S CHRONICLES SERIES #5, FantaCo Enterprises, 1982

John Byrne Speaks: "Not to toot my own horn, or take anything away from Rog, but I had been talking about the silk-screening idea for years, even decades before I did CHAPTER ONE. I'm sure I must have mentioned it to Roger as a much more sensible alternative to embroidery!" -- -- Forum post, 2010

Gotta love John Byrne...

My Thoughts: It's the origin of Spider-Man. The greatest superhero origin ever committed to the printed page, originally conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. 'Nuff said?

Not quite. As noted above, Stern uses this story to, in some ways, enhance the original Silver Age tale, with minor embellishments. But overall he remains completely faithful to AMAZING FANTASY #15; a wise move since that timeless tale is nigh perfect as is. Perhaps the only major change Stern makes is the inclusion of a single page epilogue depicting Uncle Ben's funeral and capping a firm exclamation point onto the entire origin.

Unfortunately, Stern's writing is let down considerably by the artwork of Greg LaRocque. I've read very little, if anything, drawn by LaRocque, so I have nothing to compare this work to. But from what I can see, he's not exactly what I'd call a gifted artist, at least not at this point in his career. The best bits in the story are the shots lifted directly from Steve Ditko's original work. Otherwise the figures and poses are overly stiff and awkward.

LaRocque also updates the looks of some characters, but not others, leading to a peculiar mish-mash. Flash Thompson now has shaggy hair, which makes sense for a popular kid in the early eighties. Peter still walks around everywhere in a sweater vest, which helps to sell his status as a nerdy outcast, so the lack of a change there works, too. But the majority of the secondary characters, such as Spider-Man's manager, Maxie, still dress like they're living in the 1940s -- which I'm fairly certain was an outdated look even by AMAZING FANTASY's publication!

The change which sticks out most, however, is Sally Avril, the girl who Peter asks for a date near the story's opening. Once a shallow but demurely pretty high school student, she has been inexplicably transformed into... well... a tart, I guess.
Left: Ditko, 1962. Right: LaRocque, 1981.
Also, why aren't they looking at each other? Just ugly, sloppy work.
Spider-Man's origin is a morality tale which works in pretty much any era and setting, but it needs to be told well in order to leave the impression it should. And while I can't fault Stern's scripting here, as is often the case during this run on SPECTACULAR, the art falls well short of expected standards, resulting in an unfortunate miss for Stern's only extended visitation of this classic story.

Next Issue: We return to the present day for Roger Stern's final SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN issue, as the web-slinger battles future Thunderbolt, Moonstone.

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