The youthful energy of the 1960’s saw a political and cultural changing of the guard. The creative output at Marvel Comics flourished as never before. Writer Stan Lee developed some of today’s most popular heroic characters during the decade, but none so revolutionary and effervescent as his and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man. Together, they set forth an incredible modern mythos over the span of 38 issues, while Lee continued on with John Romita Sr. through #100.
The 60’s saw no shortage of formative and unforgettable moments for Spider-Man, but which issues stand as the definitive turning points?
We spoke to lifelong Spidey devotee and current AMAZING SPIDER-MAN writer Dan Slott about the 10 most iconic moments from those pivotal early years of Peter Parker.
We start with the first five. It was love at first bite.
AMAZING FANTASY #15 - The Perfect Short Story
It’s tempting to pull an entire top 10 list of Spidey moments from sources other than AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. It’s possible. Take the character’s very first appearance in the pages of AMAZING FANTASY #15, an anthology issue he merely headlined. The ground covered in those pages might demand a six-issue limited series in today’s decompressed cadence, but every beat of Lee and Ditko’s first chapter resonates.
“You cannot beat AMAZING FANTASY #15,” says Slott. “It has everything. It’s the foundation and cornerstone of Spider-Man lore, on top of being the perfect short story. It introduced one of the greatest characters in all of fiction: Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. It’s got the spider bite. It’s the first time he uses all the powers. It introduces Aunt May and Uncle Ben, then kills Uncle Ben! Noooo! It’s the first appearance of Flash Thompson. Every line is a classic. I know every panel by heart.”
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 - Enter: J. Jonah Jameson
For all the spectacular moments and deep tragedy in his AMAZING FANTASY debut, Spider-Man still operated in a relatively insular world. That changed with the launch of his eponymous ongoing series in March of 1963. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 saw the character stepping out into the larger Marvel Universe and meeting two new rivals.
“You clearly establish that Spider-Man is part of a greater universe,” says Slott, “That he’s interacting with the likes of the Fantastic Four. Right off the bat. We are also introduced to one of the greatest supporting characters of all comics, J. Jonah Jameson. Spider-Man now has his lifelong foil. No one will ever beat Jonah. You also get Spider-Man’s first super villain, the Chameleon. And still no one beats Jonah. That’s how big J. Jonah was. He is a presence, a scene-stealing, wonderful guy with his wacky little mustache and pounding fists.”
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2 - Peter Parker, Photographer
“It’s almost like they realized what a gem they had in Jonah,” muses Slott of the series’ second breakout star. “So Peter Parker, in [issue] #2, becomes a photographer for the Daily Bugle. Ah, it’s just brilliant! Plus he fights his first villain with real powers, not just a guy who’s literally Mr. Potato Head. That’s what the Chameleon was back then, Mr. Potato Head.”
Slott concedes that this next villain, the Vulture, is old enough to be Peter’s grandfather, but that flight suit gives Adrian Toomes a decided edge over his predecessor despite his advanced age. In addition, our hero squares off with the Terrible Tinkerer in the issue’s backup feature.
“It’s a wonderful issue of Spidey fighting two old men,” Slott laughs. “You establish very early on that Spider-Man is a teenager that fights adults. Peter Parker is the kid who fights the Man.”
Is that fair?
“Yes, it’s completely fair. Because they have wisdom.”
Luckily for Spider-Man, his sinister elders’ wisdom would often be revealed as hubris. Then, as our next moment illustrates, that’s a two-way street.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #3 - Octopus Trumps Spider
“Being a hero, especially a Marvel Universe hero, isn’t about winning,” says Slott. “It’s about what you do when you lose. It’s quintessential. You see super heroes in other comics before the age of Marvel, and they’re lantern-jawed, arms akimbo, perfect teeth guys closer to the gods of myth. They’re so far above us, just perfect paragons of humanity. The Marvel Universe comes along and suddenly we’re asking, ‘What if that guy down the street got super powers?’ How would they react?’”
It’s the motif at the center of Spider-Man lore: What do I do with this power? What are my obligations? What do I do when the going gets tough?
In his first encounter with Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man suffers his first career loss since assuming his role as a moralistic vigilante. Ultimately, Johnny Storm provides the pep talk needed to confront the villain a second time and secure a win. The victory proves as crucial as any, but the initial defeat plays a far more pivotal role in the shaping of our hero.
“I know that the first Spider-Man comics I read, he felt that he couldn’t get the job done alone, or he just flat-out lost,” recalls Slott. “What that meant to me as a reader is that I opened up every issue of a Spider-Man comic rooting for him. I was hoping he was going to win, and I didn’t know if he would.”
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 - Lifting the Heavy Thing
“That’s the first time he does it,” says Slott. “The first time he lifts ‘the heavy thing.’”
We jog forward to 1966, and the predicament on the cover of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33. Ostensibly, the villain would be the Master Planner and his henchman, but the real enemy here is an avalanche of iron machinery between our hero, a cure for an ailing Aunt May, and his very life. The proportional strength of a spider can only get you so far. Does Spidey have it in him to shrug off an impossible weight?
“Over time, it’s become a trope,” says Slott. “Because that moment is so awesome, how can you not want to come back and do it again? A lot of writers like hitting that beat. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you win. He digs deep. He thinks of all the people he can’t let down. Losing is not an option. He gives it his all. Somehow, impossibly, incredibly, he lifts the heavy thing. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring moments in all of Marvel comics.”
That’s not the only triumph in the story, though. This issue also marks the first time Peter Parker sets his own photography rate, a personal and professional victory over a penny-pinching Jameson.
Come back tomorrow for five more pivotal 60’s Spider-Man comics as selected by Dan Slott! For more on Marvel’s 75th anniversary, visit marvel.com/75 and share your thoughts on Twitter with the hash tag #Marvel75