Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, #38-41 

So there came a point where I decided to ground myself in the Marvel Universe. Too often I found myself having to catch up; Why are the Avengers fighting the X-Men? Why is everyone old? Why are there so many Spider-People? and such. Naturally, I decided to start at ground zero. The beginning. I found a great site that helped me to concentrate my efforts in an orderly fashion. The Complete Marvel Reading Order at is where you can find the same tool. They’ve got a great community there and active forums.

I’ve currently read 549 of the comics in The Order so far, and am about to knock off another chunk with these Spider-Man issues.

The Sixties were something else, as is apparent in these comics throughout the era. I haven’t been able to rate many of them higher than 2/5 stars, but it’s been a delightful learning experience. I don’t regret starting out on this arduous path, and I am determined to stay on it. At the very least, I can consider myself well-versed in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Let’s get on with it, shall we?

● #38: “Just a Guy Named Joe!” 

Stan Lee script; Steve Ditko plot, pencils, inks.

Ditko’s last comic.

There’s this guy named Joseph Smith who wants to be a boxer but doesn’t have what it takes and gets made fun of by all the other boxers.

Joseph Smith then tries out the wrestling scene. Again, Smith doesn’t have the knack. Again, he is made fun of by all of the other wrestlers. Deep down inside, Joseph hates these people.

Finally,  Tommy Tomkins – the ring manager – lands Joe a job as a stunt extra in a film being shot downtown. On set, an accident involving Joseph, a puddle of chemicals on the ground and an overhead lamp resulted in Smith passing out.

He awoke with new powers. Most immediately, the ability to act manifested itself within Joe. Whenever he thought about the bullies that made fun of him however, Joe Smith’s hate was amplified, as was his strength. He started to go on a super-powered tantrum through downtown Manhattan…

Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson is having trouble finding a new secretary to replace Ms. Brant, and blames it on Peter. This is actually warranted, in my opinion. On his way out, Parker bumps into Ned Leeds and it is revealed that nobody knows exactly where Betty Brant is. Ned blames it on Peter. It’s kind of warranted. Parker starts wandering down the block, so engrossed with thinking about Betty and feeling sorry for himself that he almost doesn’t notice Joe Smith’s tantrum until he gets hit with flying debris.

Spider-Man and Joe Smith fight for the first time, inconclusively. Joe Smith seems to regain his senses just in time and slips away with Tommy, his manager.

Elsewhere, Norman Osborn takes a ride to the Mafia Headquarters downtown from his son Harry and Flash Thompson. Here, he disguises himself in a goatee and sunglasses before heading inside and offering 20 thousand to the crime boss who can take down Spider-Man. To insure he doesn’t get had, Norman has cut all of the reward money in half – literally – and promises the other half on completion of the task.

Back at campus, Peter is shown to be much more mature than many of his fellow students, with the possible exception of Gwen Stacey. Notably, Flash Thompson actually shows some mature development here, backing down from a war of wits with Mr. Parker.

Wanting to blow off some steam as Spider-Man, Peter quickly finds out that the local mafiosos are seeking him out for a reward, and he runs into Joe Smith on the rampage again. A huge Donnybrook ensues, with Spider-Man and Joe Smith beating the crap out of everyone, just as the cops arrive with Tommy Tomkins. Tommy has good news; Joe Smith did such a great job acting, Hollywood has agreed to pay for all the damages he’s caused. Coincidentally, the chemicals that were affecting Mr. Smith just started to wear off. Strangely, all of the bullies who once hated his guts now love him after getting their noses crunched by him. Joe Smith walks away amid the cheers of boxers, wrestlers, and policemen, while outside, Spider-Man finishes off the last of the local mobsters who were out to claim the reward on his head.

Pete’s pretty pissed off at the world at the end of this issue, and I think it projects exactly how Steve Ditko was feeling at the time. He essentially felt that everyone around him was getting credit and respect, while he was left alone in his own corner with the losers.

2/5 Stars

● #39: “How Green was My Goblin!”

Written by Stan Lee; John Romita Sr. pencils; Mike Esposito inks.

I own these next two issues. This makes me happy.

Enter John Romita Sr. (JRSR) I’m not sure if JRSR had anything to do with the plot here. I’ve read that he expected Steve Ditko to return to the magazine, and so he drew these next ten ASM issues in ‘the Ditko style’. These stories also read much more like a Stan Lee plot, so I’m not sure how deeply ‘the Marvel Method’ of pumping out issues was involved here.

This is the first of two issues in the ‘Green Goblin Unmasked’ story arc, and so we get the reveal that Green Goblin is Norman Osborn at the end of this issue. Not only that, but GG spies on Spidey changing out of his costume and into Parker in an alleyway, and so the whole issue we have the Goblin taunting Peter as they fight. It’s great to see a villain cursing “Parker” instead of Spider-Man.

At college, Peter seems to be more willing to interact with others. He sees that Harry Osborn is rattled about his dad, and has a nice heart-to-heart with him. He reminds us all that Peter never even knew his dad, and Harry lightens up a touch when he hears this. The others in the college gang notice Peter making an effort, and it turns Gwen Stacey on – who looks much better under the pencils of John Romita Sr.

After selling J. Jonah Jameson some pics of Spider-Man’s last rooftop rescue, Pete gets ambushed by the Green Goblin just outside of Aunt May’s house, and so he’s super worried about her spotting him fighting Osborn. This makes him distracted, and GG is able to capture Peter using a number of his many cool new gadgets.

The cliffhanger leaves us with Green Goblin heckling Spider-Man, who is strapped to a chair in one of Osborn’s secret hideouts. Both characters are unmasked, and Peter reveals that he is a classmate of Norman’s son Harry.

This was a great issue, and will remain a classic. As this story is in an arc, it shares it’s rating with the next issue. 3/5.

● #40: “Spidey Saves the Day!”

Written by Stan Lee; John Romita Sr. pencils; Mike Esposito inks.

Continuing on from last issue, Peter Parker goads Norman Osborn into telling him his long origin story. This takes up about half the issue, and it really wasn’t that bad. Having bought himself enough time, Parker was able to loosen his restraints and just before he escapes, the psychotic Green Goblin frees him!

The Goblin explains that he has never been truly defeated by Spider-Man, and wants to prove his point by taking Spidey out – for good. After an extended fight where we see a lot more of Green Goblin’s gadgetry, he ends up being beaten by a live wire and a puddle of reactive chemicals.

These chemicals apparently give Norman Osborn a case of amnesia, and the last he remembers is that he has to give his son Harry more love and attention. He has forgotten Spider-Man’s identity…

The chemicals also started a large fire, and Spidey is forced to save Norman’s life. He leaves him at the feet of New York’s Finest, telling them that Osborn is a hero for helping him defeat the Green Goblin. He then zips off, leaving some fire fighters imploring the police officers at the scene to shoot Spider-Man down. The cops don’t; I liked this.

This whole time, Aunt May has been at home worried sick that Peter hasn’t called to tell her where he is. She gets so worried that she faints, leaving Ms. Anna Watson and Dr. Bromwell to take care of her until Peter finally shows up back home. He recieves a scolding about making May’s weak heart worry too often.

And the next issue Parker goes and finances a motorcycle.

Not as great as the previous issue, but the issues in this arc will be graded equally. 3/5.

● #41: ” The Horns of The Rhino!”

Written by Stan Lee; John Romita Sr. pencils; Mike Esposito inks.

First appearance of the Rhino.

At the college, the gang continues to warm up to Puny Parker. There is even some flirting going on between Pete and Gwen Stacey.

Downtown, Peter finances a new motorcycle that Aunt May is surprisingly optimistic about, and he also runs into Betty Brant, who has returned to New York from somewhere in the Midwest. They go out for lunch together, and it is super awkward the whole time, with Pete wanting to be somewhere else. He has accepted that what he felt for Ms. Brant was definitely lust, not love. The two geese are actually saved by Ned Leeds, who walks into the diner Pete and Betty are sitting at and hits it off with Betty quite easily. Betty also seems more excited to see Ned than she was for Peter. Personally, I’m glad that this romance between Peter Parker and Betty Brant is wrapped up, but I do think it was quite abrupt. Again, this is probably due to the new creative control that Stan had over the plot for these Amazing Spider-Man (ASM) issues.

Along the border of Mexico and the USA, the Rhino shows up and stomps the border guards. He then heads straight for New York on a freight train.

At the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson’s newspaper headquarters, Jameson’s son, John Jameson, has come to visit. John is an astronaut that was saved by Spider-Man during reentry years ago in one of Spidey’s first appearances. He’s quite famous for his spacewalks, and during his last walk, he encountered strange ‘space spores’ — THE HIVE DEVOURS!! — that have had him in quarantine for the last several months. He now has Secret Service agents guarding him at all times, as the Commies must invariably want to capture and interrogate him. JJJ confides his hate for Spider-Man to his son, explaining that he feels Spidey stole all the glory for John’s reentry those years ago. John feels differently, and chides his dad for being petty. I loved this.

Queue the Rhino, smashing into the building and abducting John Jameson. Jameson can fetch the Rhino a lot of money, and this is what he explains to Spider-Man when he eventually shows up to save the day.

After a thorough fight, Spider-Man wins by exhausting the bigger but clumsier Rhino, who is taken to jail. The policemen openly wonder how they will keep him locked up if he can smash through walls so easily. It is explained that the Rhino’s costume cannot be removed.

I felt that this story was just as good as the last two. I have nothing against Steve Ditko, but it was clear that he wasn’t having a good time at Marvel back in 1966. With JRSR replacing his pencils and Stan Lee taking control of the plotting, the last run of issues have been much better. 3/5.

Next Up

With this run of Amazing Spider-Man finished, I’ve moved up to 552 comics read in the Order! I’ve hit a milestone with 550, and it’s great to see a change in the lineup with it.

Next in the Order is going to be two issues of the Sub-Mariner half of Tales to Astonish #88-89. It’s been a while since I’ve read about the Atlanteans, and I’m pumped to see what Namor is up to.

Until then!



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