In June, 1971, we Marvel Comics readers turned to the “Bullpen Bulletins” text page appearing in that month’s issues (including the book that’s the topic of today’s post, naturally) to find the “Stan Lee’s Soapbox” reproduced below. This was a particularly lengthy edition of editor Lee’s monthly column, taking up almost a third of the page’s available real estate — but considering the occasion, that didn’t seem at all inappropriate.
Amazing Spider-Man #100 was hardly the first Marvel comic to reach the century mark (or, in Lee’s formulation, its “100th anniversary”). Even discounting such “off-genre” (i.e., non-superhero) titles as Kid Colt Outlaw and Millie the Model, several of the series devoted to Spidey’s costumed cohorts — Captain America, Hulk, and Thor, to be precise — had been in the triple-digits for several years. Of course, those characters had gotten a leg up on ol’ Web-head by virtue of having inherited their headlining berths from titles (Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and Journey into Mystery, respectively) that had been around since the Fifties, this predating the dawn of “the Marvel Age of Comics”. But even if we limit eligibility to those titles that had debuted with brand-new Number Ones since the dawn of said Age, Amazing Spider-Man was preceded in reaching Number One Hundred by the book whose own Number One had launched the whole thing in the first place: Fantastic Four, “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine!”, which had rolled past the 100-issue marker in April, 1970.
Intriguingly, Marvel had let that particular milestone pass without taking any notice of it in the Bullpen Bulletins at all. Had it simply not occurred to Lee, or anyone else, at the time to do so? Or might the timing of FF co-creator/artist Jack Kirby’s abrupt departure from the company in March have had something to do with the omission? Or, alternatively, did Lee simply consider the passage of 100 issues since the advent of Spider-Man — Marvel’s single best-known character (even if not necessarily, as claimed, “the most popular single comic-book character in all the world”) — more worthy of celebration? We’ll probably never know.
In any event, Lee more than made up for having let FF #100 pass with relatively little fanfare with his conspicuous horn-tooting for the equivalent issue of A-SM. Re-reading this Soapbox a half-century later, I’m particularly struck by what seems to be a good-faith effort on the part of “the Man” to acknowledge the contributions of all the other professionals who’d worked with him on the title to date; that said, it should be noted that (perhaps inevitably) he didn’t quite manage to include everyone. Don Heck, for example, pencilled a number of issues over John Romita’s layouts in 1967 and 1968 (including my own first issue), but isn’t listed here. More troubling, however, is the inadequate acknowledgement offered to Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko. While we probably shouldn’t fault Lee for giving Marvel publisher Martin Goodman pride of place among those he thanks — the man was still his boss, after all — his identifying Ditko as nothing more “Spidey’s initial artist” seems, from the perspective of 2021, so wholly deficient a description of his former collaborator’s role in the creation and development of Spider-Man as to be virtually unconscionable.
With that said, it’s probably time for us to move on from discussing Amazing Spider-Man #100 as a half-century old event, and take up the question of how well it worked then — and still works today — as a comic book.
Of course, we have to start with the cover. Pencilled by Romita — an entirely apt choice, considering that he’d done those honors for well over half of the issues of A-SM published to date, not to mention his copious other contributions in both drawing and co-plotting the series for almost half a decade (plus, it’s not like Ditko would have come back to do the job, even if he’d been asked) — and inked by Frank Giacoia, it serves both to evoke the specific content of the previous 99 installments through its gallery of “friends and foes” portraits and to stand as a timelessly iconic image of the titular hero. Even after fifty years, it remains one of your humble blogger’s favorite covers of any so-called “anniversary” issue, regardless of publisher.
The story, on the other hand, was drawn by Gil Kane, who’d been handling that duty, on and off, for about a year. Kane’s pencils were inked by Giacoia, who’d also done the same for the previous four issues. The script, of course, was by Stan Lee.
(If you’re not a regular reader of this blog, you may have just read the above splash page and wondered what happened to all the periods. If so, you can find an answer [of sorts] at this link.)
Spidey’s battle against the bank robbers goes on for a couple of pages — and though it’s unsurprisingly well-drawn, it doesn’t serve any purpose in the story besides letting Lee and Kane get a little action in early on. So, we’re going to skip ahead to the fight’s aftermath:
Spidey might be “bored” on this page, but with Kane’s expert use of quick cuts and vertiginous camera angle, readers are unlikely to feel the same way.
Peter Parker had been reunited with Gwen Stacy at the conclusion of issue #98; while I’d bought that issue (along with the first two chapters of the “drug trilogy” that preceded it), I somehow missed the next month’s #99, and so I hadn’t been privy to a scene in that one where Pete had come very, very close to popping the question. But this page caught me up with the couple’s status quo just fine.
“I’ve been working on this project for years — ever since I first got my spider powers”. I may be wrong here, but I suspect this information came as news even to those fans who’d collected the web-slinger’s every appearance since Amazing Fantasy #15. And “potion” sounds more like sorcery than science, at least to me. But, heck, I accepted this development as a thirteen-year-old reader in 1971, so I guess I’ll let it go this time, too.
If memory serves, however, I was somewhat less accepting of the idea that Peter would attempt to rid himself of his spider-powers, at least for any other reason than that, as he says, his radioactive blood had begun to pose a danger to himself or others. After all, I’d read 1968’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5, in which our hero had managed to clear his late parents of the charge of being enemy spies, but only because he could call on the resources of Spider-Man. “Never again will I bemoan my secret identity,” Spidey had stirringly declared on that story’s final page, “or toy with the idea of giving it up!” Stan Lee might have forgotten writing that speech, three years later — but I hadn’t forgotten reading it.
In his potion-addled mind, Peter begins to relive past experiences, including how he began selling photos to the Daily Bugle to help support his widowed Aunt May — and how he once loved Betty Brant, secretary to the Bugle‘s publisher, J. Jonah Jameson…
Spider-Man’s brief tussle with the Vulture sets the pattern for how the rest of the story will unfold. Marvel had already established this approach to milestone issues — in which the hero or heroes appears to fight all their greatest enemies, but not really — in Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four #100, where the FF had gone up against a small army of villains who’d all turned out to be simulacra controlled by the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master. Here, our hero is fighting dream versions of his arch-foes, but the effect is much the same; the fight doesn’t feel “real”, at least not to a literal-minded reader such as I was in 1971. Back then, I turned up my nose at dreams, hoaxes, and imaginary stories — I wanted the action in my stories to count, dammit.
No sooner has the wall-crawler vanquished the Vulture than the Lizard rears his ugly head –and his ugly tail, too.
The thing was, despite my disdain for “dream” combat, Kane’s action scenes were so much fun to look at that I couldn’t not enjoy the story — even as an easily-defeated Lizard gave way to the Green Goblin, who’d recently taken Spidey a full three issues to trounce…
…but gets his ass handed to him within a little more than a page in our hero’s dreamscape.
Side hurting? Oh, that doesn’t sound good — not even in a dream. Especially not with Doctor Octopus about to turn up…
And, of course, along with the fight scenes, there was the psychodrama. Perhaps it can’t help but come off as heavy-handed by today’s standards, but I found it effective and involving as a thirteen-year-old reader.
Spidey sends Doc Ock packing as readily as he has his other foes, and then resumes his quest to find the sourxe of the mysterious voice that continues to call to him:
Two more blows, and the Kingpin is down and out:
Re-reading this sequence today, I’m afraid that I can’t help but be reminded of a certain scene from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Luckily, in 1971 that movie was still four years in my future.
These three final panels on the story’s next-to-last page seem very copy-heavy, to the point that one may be tempted to think that Kane didn’t leave Lee quite enough room to say everything the writer wanted to. On the other hand, the artist’s panel compositions clearly did leave plenty of open space for verbiage; it’s just that Lee used every single bit of that space.
Wordy as it is, this rephrasing of Spider-Man’s essential “power and responsibility” mission statement — intriguingly cast in an almost-religious context here — is appropriate to the occasion. I believe that even my thirteen-year-old self thought so, despite my being peeved at the very idea of Peter once again questioning his calling, given the events of A-SM Annual #5.
And now, it’s time to turn to the last page and see if the story’s conclusion lives up to its cover billing as “The Wildest Shock Ending of All Time!” I don’t know about you, but I’m betting on it having something to do with our hero’s achin’ sides…
I can’t speak for anyone else who bought this book off the stands in June, 1971, but I can assure you that I, at least, absolutely did not see this coming.
Evidently, neither did Marvel associate editor Roy Thomas — which was really too bad, as he — not Stan Lee — was going to have to come up with a resolution for this unexpected development. As the two men recollected (or tried to) in a 1998 conversation for Comic Book Artist:
Roy: The final time you came back as a regular writer in the comics, after you spent those four months working with [film director] Alain Resnais.
Stan: Did I really take four months off?
Roy: Yeah. You wrote up to Spider-Man #100, which you ended by giving him four extra arms and tossed it to me, saying, “Take it, Roy.” I was stuck with a six-armed Spider-Man for a couple of months! [laughs]
Stan: I thought you gave him the extra arms!
Roy: No, that was at the end of your story, so I can get out of that one!
While he might not have been to blame for the bizarre notion of an eight-limbed Spider-Man, Thomas — and Gil Kane — were nevertheless going to have to deal with it. How the two creators managed that feat — and what it had to do with the debut of Marvel’s first Comics Code-approved sort-of-vampire character — is, naturally, a topic for another post. I hope you’ll join me for that one, coming next month.
Usually, when you discuss these books, I remember them only in the vaguest sorts of ways with a panel here or a splash page there kicking my memory in it’s metaphorical hind quarters to prove to me that I had read that one after all. Even the Kryptonite No More issue of Superman, which I remember as being a watershed moment of my comic-reading youth, I remember in very little detail. This book, however, Spidey’s 100th outing (give or take), I remember better than most, mainly because of the great cover and the surprise ending (which I also never saw coming), but also due to the work of one of my all-time artistic heroes, Gil Kane.
I have always loved Kane’s work and there’s no hiding his incredible panel composition with those truly crazy camera angles that take full use of Spidey’s favored mode of transportation through the city (hop! skip! swing!) and the acrobatic nature of his powers, but Giacoa is a fairly heavy inker, who doesn’t always stick to the pencil lines, which often robs the art of the grace and beauty of what makes it Gil Kane in the first place. It’s not as bad as the time Jim Aparo inked Walt Simonson on a Batman story (don’t remember which one-sorry) and completely covered up all of Walt’s uniqueness and power, completely hiding the fact that Simonson had anything to do with it, but it’s trying to get there. As I mentioned a moment ago, you can’t hide Kane’s “Spider’s-eye view” panel design and layout, but except for the images of Peter’s face and strangely enough the big surprise panel at the end of the six-armed Spider-man, Giacoa manages to rob the book of much of Kane’s visual flair, making Kane’s version of the wall-crawler, which I sure he pencilled in his usual dynamic way, look like a typical “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” generic-looking Spidey. Sigh.
As to the story itself, I have no real qualms. I don’t think Peter could wreak such havoc on the genetics of his body and DNA with a simple potion, nor do I think such changes could take place in the relatively brief time of a simple nap, but Lee is a writer, not a scientist, so I’ll cut him some slack. Besides, it gives Thomas a chance to give us Mobius next issue and that’s worth the cost of admission anytime.
I notice this issue is still 15 cents, Alan. How long did it take for Marvel to follow in DC’s footsteps and hike the price to a quarter?
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I can’t disagree with you about Giacoia’s inks over Kane’s pencils, Don. They (and the similarly heavy inks of John Romita on earlier issues) are probably why, when I think of my very favorite Gil Kane works over his long career, his Spider-Man stuff doesn’t generally make the short list. On the other hand, on the list of my favorite Spider-Man artists, Kane comes right after Ditko — so I guess a lot of his goodness still comes through, at least for me.
To your question — a few Marvel books, like Conan, went to 25 cents in July, but the whole line didn’t convert to the giant-sized, quarter-costing format until August… and then, one month later, everything went down to 20 cents (and to the old 15-cent size), effectively cutting DC off at the knees. More details to come, later this summer! 😉
“Giacoa is a fairly heavy inker, who doesn’t always stick to the pencil lines, which often robs the art of the grace and beauty of what makes it Gil Kane in the first place” – absolutely agree. I wish we could see the pencils
I missed this when it came out – already loved Spider-Man at the time, but my comics collecting when I was 9 was still more miss than hit and would be until 1973. Did get the story when I got the Sensational Spider-Man Marvel Treasury Edition # 14 in 1977, which included ASM’s 100-102, as well as the Not Brand Echh! story in which Spidey marries the Wasp! Anyhow, although I didn’t like “oh, it was all a dream” type stories either, given that Lee at least gave some strong clues throughout that it was all a dream from the start, I can give this one a pass on that. As to the basic premise of Peter wanting to stop being Spider-Man, that had come up sporadically in the past but certainly never as a regular theme, not in the way Ben Grimm routinely wished he was no longer the Thing, despite also reveling in the strength being the Thing gave him. One of those thing that some foreshadowing in earlier issues would have helped, and certainly his feelings for Gwen and Gwen’s dread of Spider-Man provided the primary motivation in this instance of Pete wanting to stop being Spider-Man and try to lead a normal life, which could only happen if he no longer had his spider-powers. Of course, as long as ASM was a hot-selling comic, that wasn’t going to happen, no matter what tragic consequences that would eventually have for Peter and Gwen. Not that anyone reading this story in 1971 would have any idea what would happen within less than two years later (and I did get those issues, fresh off the racks).
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Spider-Man # 100 was lousy. Nothing special about it at all. Compared to the epic FF # 100, with its romp through villains of the past (which was weakly attempted through Spidey with his dream sequence), this then 13 year old was profoundly disappointed with the centennial issue. Add to that the poor inks of Giacoia, insufficiently following in Romita, Sr’s footsteps. Giacoia has always been a sore point with me. Touted as one of the great inkers, his finishes were nowhere near the masters that were his contemporaries: Palmer, Sinnott, Giordano, Janson. He was actually closer in proficiency to the man he often teamed with, Mike Esposito, the worst inker of all time (worse even than Vince Colletta. And that’s saying a lot). So to see his thick harsh lines that blotted out any fine line detail a penciller put in was galling. And then on top of it, he had trouble making deadlines. So Spidey # 100 was not a celebration of what was then Marvel’s best selling character, but a sloppy thrown together mess by a man who was soon to abandon regular scripting of an age of comics he co-founded. Fortunately, Marvel would have more chances to get it right,!as in the magnificent Avengers # 100.
Well, we can agree about Avengers #100, at least.
“…hick harsh lines that blotted out any fine line detail” — and then Gil did the same thing with those damn markers
Loved Vincent J colletta’s inks over Kane.
It’s 50 years later, and I’ve only just noticed – on the last page, Peter’s rising from his bed, and his brown trousers are clearly visible. Second panel, he’s removing his shirt. Third panel, the shirt’s not quite off…but the trousers have disappeared completely!
I know, I know, it would have ruined the impact of the visual in the last panel. Still, that’s a No-Prize I won’t be winning.
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I actually got this issue at a Halloween carnival a few years after it was published and I have never read the remainder of this story. I need to track it down.
I don’t think Giacoia was a good match for Kane. I always liked Gil Kane’s art, very dynamic, but the nostril thing sort of bothered me…..I don’t know. His style was a good fit for Spidey but it depended on who was inking.
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I just re-read this comic as part of my own review of 50 year old Marvel comic books in which I save what I consider to be my most memorable of a month for last, so I just read this post yesterday. First off, let me say that in 1971 while I was very excited and much looking forward to see what Amazing Spider Man #100 had in store, and the excellent cover heightened the anticipation, I considered the blurb “the wildest shock ending of all time” to be another one of Stan Lee’s hyperventilated hyperboles (I’m sure Stan would appreciate that alliteration). After three and a half years of reading comic books, I then always looked at those kind of comments with a smile. However, like you Alan and just about everyone else, I was indeed shocked by the ending and it probably was the most shocking and completely unexpected ending I had ever seen. I forgot that Stan had left Rascally Roy to clean up the mess.
Alan, I think that you are being too hard on Stan Lee regardiing Peter Parker wanting to give up his powers after what happened in Amazing Spider Man Annual No. 5 in 1968 (which, by the way, was my Holy Grail to find for decades after I lost this memorable issue in the Agnes flood of 1972 until Marvel Unlimited came along). Emotions and decisions change in real people’s lives and, as another commenter noted, after the events of ASMA #5, Captain Stacy died and Gwen blamed Spider-Man to the point that she almost left Peter for good. I think this point is driven home in the dream sequence in ASM#100. Re-reading it after so many years, I confess that I was expecting “the voice” to wind up being Uncle Ben. However, if was Captain Stacy. If Peter wanted to give up being Spider Man because of Captain Stacy’s death and what resulted from it in Peter’s personal life, who better than Captain Stacy’s spirit to set him straight.
On the other hand, you certainly aren’t being too hard on Stan Lee regarding his incomplete praise of Steve Ditko in the Soapbox item. For anyone like me in 1971 who did not know the real life origin of Spider-Man, you would think that Ditko was only the first artist. Regarding Stan missing some contributors to Spidey’s history in the Soapbox comments, I think this was just Stan’s usual shoot from the lip style without having done even the slightest research into what he was writing about or saying. Also, while I don’t criticize Stan for having Peter want to get rid of his spider powers to lead a normal life and marry Gwen, I do find it beyond belief that Peter is smart enough to create a “potion” to do that. Whether sorcery or science, that just isn’t within Pete’s expertise (of course, one could argue back that it certainly didn’t work as intended :D) Moreover, just how would/could Peter test such a “potion” before taking it?
In the meantime, if you are looking for Stan forgetting something in an earlier ASM annual to complain about, I did find Spidey’s comment in his dream about how he never saw so many of his super villains show up at the same time to be forgetful of the Sinister Six in ASM Annual #1. In fact, there were six of them there and only five in ASM#100 (by the way, I didn’t think this when I first read ASM#100 because I hadn’t read the Sinister Six story at that point). One thing I did think about this time around was that it would have been fitting if Doctor Octopus had been the last villain to show up instead of the Kingpin because Doctor Octopus has six “arms”. 🙂
Finally, while I was one of those rare comic fans who focused more on story than art (probably because I’m not an artist at all), I was familiar with most of the great artists (although it took me years to see the forest for the trees and make the connection that probably more than half of my all-time favorite comics of this era were peniclled by Neal Adams), somehow I never knew Gil Kane. Perhaps the Giacoia over-inking (which I notice now) is the reason, but better late than never to remedy this embarrassing omission on my part.
I’m glad that you are going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Morbius as the film is also being prepared for release.
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“Emotions and decisions change in real people’s lives…” Yeah, that’s a good point. Just because I disagree with a character’s change of heart doesn’t make it bad writing. 🙂
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Hello, Alan. I actually agree with Stu Fisher here. It’s important to remember that Peter Parker is relatively young (he’s in college, so late teens or early 20s) and more important he’s a human being. A lot of the time as teenagers we have views that feel absolutely unshakable, but that just a short while later, when our life circumstances have begun to change, we start to seriously question.
I can certainly see Peter, flush with pride at having cleared his late parents’ name, proudly declaring that he will be Spider-Man forever, yet just a few months later (comic books time) after the tragedy of Captain Stacy’s death and the estrangement with Gwen, who he genuinely wants to marry and spend the rest of his life with, now deciding he wants to be a normal, ordinary human being.
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Ben, you and Stu have convinced me. (The 64-year-old me, that is. Thirteen-year-old Alan is still less than fully sold, but he’s just going to have to deal with it.) 🙂
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Well, to be fair, 13 year old me probably would have felt the exact same way as 13 year old you. 🙂
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