Monday, October 9, 2017


OCTOBER 3rd, 1977 – OCTOBER 29th, 1977
OCTOBER 30th, 1977 – DECEMBER 17th, 1977
By Stan Lee & John Romita

As he mopes over his role in getting the Kingpin’s wife shot, Spider-Man recaps his origin. In this shorter-than-normal arc (known as “Along Came a Spider-Man” in the BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book from the eighties) Stan Lee and John Romita hit all the classic beats of the original Lee/Steve Ditko story from AMAZING FANTASY #15 – Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider-powers, attempts to use his new abilities for profit, lets a crook run free, and later finds that the crook has murdered his uncle – but they also put their own 1977 twist on a lot of it.

It’s never outright stated here, but Peter seems to be in college, rather than high school, when he’s bitten. He and a lab partner are the ones running the experiment which irradiates the fateful spider, and he’s drawn by Romita to resemble his handsome, college-age self rather than the awkward bespectacled teenager originated by Ditko. The story also forgoes the idea that Peter is a wallflower or a loner. He’s clearly friends with his lab partner, and while we don’t see any of his other classmates in this flashback, he seems perfectly socially adept with everyone else he meets.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as expected in this retelling. It’s an interesting choice by Lee and Romita to wait nine months into their serial before explaining the hero’s origin, and one wonders if they had ever intended to cover it at all. But in any case, it’s done and, while essential, it’s not exactly remarkable.

So before we move along to the next story arc, let’s quickly touch on a production oddity in some of these strips. In the book I’m reading, published by IDW under the Library of American Comics imprint, a number of strips are clearly re-lettered. The letters look to be a comic-style font, but they’re too uniform and neat to be hand lettering – plus they don’t match the majority of the other strips’ letters, and they often don’t fill out the word balloons and caption boxes quite right, either.

This seems to be an artifact of Marvel’s restoration of this material a few years back. As I noted when I began this series, Marvel published their own reprints of the Lee/Romita strips – twice, in fact, in hardcover and then paperback – and the hardcover editions, at least, were panned by fans for a number of reasons. I seem to recall around that time reading a thread on which noted some of the strips had been re-lettered. Not having seen the Marvel versions of the strips, I can’t say for certain if these are the same letter-jobs, but it seems likely.

These aren't the original letters.
I’m not sure Marvel ever gave a reason for the re-lettering, though presumably it would be due to the original strips being in sub-standard condition when they were restored. But either way, it’s surprising to see the Library of Americana Comics, which to my understanding is all about close fidelity to the original works, use these letters too. Those originals must really be unsalvageable, unless it’s simply a matter of the LoAC choosing Marvel’s already restored strips over re-restoring them again.

In the end the computer letters have no impact on the quality of the stories, but it’s notable that they’re there, and they’re slightly distracting whenever they randomly pop up. Plus they occasionally feature typos, which is kind of unforgivable if the original strips didn’t have them. It will be interesting to see in the post Lee/Romita books (of which two are already published) whether computer re-letters continue to pop up, or whether it will be straight restorations of the original lettering going forward.

Anyway, with all that hot lettering talk out of the way, let’s return to our Spider-Man serial, already in progress…

The next arc opens with Mary Jane and Flash still in Florida, where they’ve been since MJ headed down there for a modeling gig during the Kingpin storyline. They view a wild animal show featuring the famous Kraven the Hunter, who is on tour with his next stop booked for New York City. And with Kraven coming his way, Jonah Jameson offers the hunter a sack of cash if he’ll hunt “the deadliest prey of all,” (Spider-)Man. Kraven agrees, and soon the hunt is on.

Recall that Doctor Doom was a well-known quantity when Spider-Man met him in this continuity, and that the web-slinger and Doc Ock, as well as the Kingpin, were established as old sparring partners too. This strip features the first departure from that formula, as Kraven – in actuality one of Spider-Man’s oldest enemies dating back to the early Lee/Ditko days – meets our hero for the very first time.

This Kraven is a bit different from his comic book counterpart, too. He’s presented more as a big-game hunter and showman than an out-and-out bad guy. I seem to recall that certain versions of Kraven have played him up as sort of a celebrity hunter, but more in the vein of an exotic visitor from overseas. Here, Kraven is just a guy who works at an amusement park, albeit a fairly well-known one. Mary Jane is also quite smitten with him, describing the guy as “all man,” which makes sense especially given the timeframe in which these stories were crafted. Take a look at Kraven and tell me that, circa 1977, he wouldn’t have been the height of masculinity!

I’ll also take this opportunity to note – though for some reason I feel like I’ve said it before at some point in a prior post – that I’ve never quite understood why many fans (and apparently pros as well) considered Kraven a joke character. I’ve always thought he had a really cool premise and an intimidating character design to boot, both in terms of his face and costume. I guess I can see how someone might see him as a joke at very first glance, but I really don’t get how a person could maintain that opinion after reading a (decent) story featuring him – though maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps there was a period where he became a joke due to mishandling on the part of the writers – though I still don’t believe that would have an effect on his cool visual.

Anyway, when Jameson hires Kraven to hunt Spider-Man, Robbie angrily quits the Daily Bugle in protest. Spider-Man eventually escapes Kraven, but it’s really only due to Jameson’s interference in their fight as he attempts to help Kraven but winds up saving Spidey instead. Kraven abandons the hunt as, to beat Spider-Man after he’s been clocked by Jamson would be without honor. Then, randomly, Robbie returns to work in order to “ride herd” on Jameson… which feels weird and abrupt. This seems like a sub-plot that could’ve run through a few story arcs, but unfortunately that’s not the approach Lee and Romita have taken in this serial, opting instead to contain most sub-plots within a single arc apiece.

I can’t say I like this strip’s depiction of Jameson. The character has many facets, and the one I’ve always least enjoyed is when he finances Spider-Slayers and super-villains such as the Scorpion. It’s always danced around using words like “humiliate”, “capture”, etc., but essentially he is paying people to attempt to kill Spider-Man, which is really not a great way to go with the guy. Let him be a blustering loudmouth with an irrational hatred of vigilantes; let him crusade against Spider-Man with angry Bugle editorials… but for Pete’s sake, don’t turn him into a criminal and, essentially, a killer!

One last note: Betty Brant has appeared extremely sporadically in these stories so far, and she’s always been referred to as “Ms. Brant”. But here, unexpectedly, Robbie calls her “Ms. Leeds”. Now Betty was, at this point in time, married to Bugle reporter Ned Leeds in the comics – and in fact had been married to him since prior to the strip’s start. There’s no reason she couldn’t be married to him in this continuity as well, even though we’ve never seen him, but did they wed at some point since the strip began? Or did Lee just make a little error in his script? I’ll watch going forward to see what she’s called next.

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