To start off my New reviews of Old comics I thought what better place to start than The Amazing Spider-Man issue 153.
Does that need explaining? Okay. This weekend is my birthday. The Amazing Spider-Man is, probably, my favourite comic, maybe. It’s difficult to pick a favourite comic especially as there are so many variables to consider. Obviously I love The Sandman, and Watchmen, I have a soft spot for Dick Tracy and I still look forward to each issue of East of West. There are hundreds of great comics but The Amazing Spider-Man is a title I’ve read for years, and years. I love the 70’s and 80’s Spider-Man comics and have two very large boxes containing my Spider-Man collection. So on pure volume alone, Spider-Man wins out over other comics.
I may even get back into reading Spider-Man this year, it depends who takes over from Dan Slott.
Anyway, taking that into consideration, and the fact it’s my birthday, why not start by reviewing the issue of The Amazing Spider-Man that was released when I was born. You see, it all makes some kind of sense.
This issue sees Spider-Man on a high after doing his civic duty only to be brought low by the evil that men do.
The story centres on Dr Bradley Bolton. A former sporting hero from the University, his career took a turn down scientific paths after an incident on the field ended any chance he had of joining the majors. He’s back in town and back at the University to be interviewed by Ned Leeds, who asks Peter Parker along to help with any Nerd related questions.
But Ned and Peter are not the only ones interested in the good doctor and another unfortunate on-pitch incident is on the cards for Bolton.
This issue has all of the elements that make up a superior Spider-Man comic. It opens with some fun, Spidey action: a combination of action and comedy. The banter is written beautifully by Len Wein who captures Parker’s famous distraction technique of constant, nervous chatter.
The Opening is fast paced with panel after panel of Spidey in action. Ross Andru choreographs the panels to give the impression that Spider-Man is merely dancing with the Taxi Cab and not in a life and death struggle. It’s eloquent and flows through the panel transitions.
This leads into another stalwart of 70’s Spider-Man; the teenage soap opera. Parkers luck in the webs does not extend to his love life and the interactions between him and Mary Jane in this issue run hot and cold. In fact, a large part of this issue is to highlight Peter’s obsession with his responsibilities as the web-slinger. At every turn his double life gets in the way and Wein uses Mary Janes’ often volatile reactions as a way of demonstrating the affects the duel identity is having on Peter.
The contrast of identities also plays out in the other plot in this issue, that of Dr Bolton. An especially clever sequence of panels is played out in Bolton’s flashback story only to be repeated panel for panel, action for action, in the climactic moments of the issue. The two pages in question are a pleasure to read and demonstrate Wein and Andru’s ability to tell the very best comic book story. The narrative is simple and has similarities in both the past and present but Andru’s framing of the panels, matching compositions panel by panel, shows off a flair for comic book design.
These comparison pages could also be seen as a hint for things to come in future issues of The Amazing Spider-Man. The two pages are a reminder that time repeats itself, the circle of life spins around and around; could this be a foreshadowing of the return of a major character? Old battles renewed once more? Spider-Man starts this issue on a high note, believing in his own actions for doing good but by the end, the dire consequences of his chosen lifestyle are spelled out for him. Wein works this angle to bring the character down and prepare the reader for what is to come.
The violence within this issue is surprisingly blunt for a Marvel comic. A moment early on when Dr Bolton’s blackmailer makes his point about compliance is framed with the merciless killing of a small bird. Its life is snuffed out like a candle without a second thought. This disregard for life is revisited later in the issue but there is a deeper meaning given to it but the end result is just as brutal.
Back in the 70’s each issue of a series tended to be a self-contained story. Yes, they had story lines running through multiply issues and snippets of future story lines were drip fed into the pages to build up suspense amongst regular readers. But as a general rule you could pick up an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man without having read any of the others and be able to follow the story. The upshot of this is that elements of the narrative can be frustrating to modern readers. Thought bubbles that explain what is happening in the panel, “M-my gun – Snatched away by Spider-Man’s webbing..!?”. That’s what the panel shows; no need for the description. And the fact that characters are referred to by their full names, even in thought bubbles.
However, these little things don’t hinder the story in any adverse way. The fast pace at which the story progresses concretes over those little cracks.
Wein and Andru have crafted a marvellous superhero comic which packs an emotional punch bigger than any of Spider-Man’s physical ones. It tells the story of overcoming your fears and reminds the reader never to give up: sentiments which are relevant whenever you read the comic. It also has the realistic soap opera elements that further the characters involved, especially with Peter and MJ’s relationship. So much about them is revealed in their interactions in this single issue.
To be able to juggle all of these narrative balls is no mean feat but juggled they are and in spectacular fashion. If you’ve not read The Amazing Spider-Man #153, search it out, because it isn’t showing its age at all.
The Amazing Spider-Man #153 (Feb 1976)
Written by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru
Inked by Mike Esposito
Coloured by Glynis Oliver Wein
Published by Marvel Comics.