Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sidebar: Untangling the Web

  • When reading Spider-Man's debut in Amazing Fantasy #15, I discussed how the circumstances surrounding Spider-Man's origin were a bit more complex than is generally portrayed:
    Just as the Fantastic Four was Stan's last-ditch effort at "doing superheroes right", so too does the story hold that Stan's publisher, Martin Goodman, was so appalled by the concept ("People HATE spiders!") that he stonewalled it until declining sales of their anthology comic, Amazing Fantasy, warranted its cancellation - saying Stan could just throw the 11-pager into the final issue if he wanted. But what no one ever brings up is that bit on the cover about "the NEW Amazing!", and that the final page of the comic ends with "Be sure to see the next issue of Amazing Fantasy for the further amazing exploits of America's most DIFFERENT new teen-age idol -- Spiderman!" Maybe they thought if sales were through the roof, they could keep the mag going (which didn't happen). Or they could spin the one feature off into his own comic and leave the anthology mag on the floor (which did).
  • So then what was the intent going into AF15? Stan always claims that the reason Spider-Man got a shot was because Amazing Fantasy was cancelled anyway, so the publisher didn't care what wound up in it. But the cover and end of tale implied that the comic was continuing - so what truly occurred? Fortunately, I've recently been able to track down a copy of the the editorial page in question, which sheds some additional light on the subject:

    (click for full size)

  • With this evidence, then, we get a somewhat clearer view. Amazing Fantasy was slated to continue, and still as an anthology mag of several different stories; note the dangled possibility of TWO Spidey stories in each issue, which implies that in addition to Spider-Man there was still the intent to have short, standalone backup tales following. As you'll have noticed, this very format - having a monthly superhero feature as the lead story, followed by standalone, non-superhero stories after - is in fact what started occurring to all of Marvel's anthology comics, in fairly short order.

  • In fact, the most inexplicable thing here is the timing. Amazing Fantasy #15 came out in the first week of June, 1962, and the plan to evolve the anthologies was already in place - for that same week saw the debut of Thor in Journey into Mystery and the monthly Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish, with the Human Torch's feature in Strange Tales beginning one month later. So why did it take Stan six months to decide to ditch the anthology route for AF and put out Spider-Man in a title all his own?

  • In lieu of any further evidence, the best we can surmise is that Amazing Fantasy was indeed scheduled to survive past #15, with Spider-Man as the longer, lead story every month, just like the other anthologies. The fact that this did not occur perhaps suggests that the sales figures coming in for the previous issues showed the comic to have been selling SO disastrously that Goodman chose to immediately axe the comic instead - until months after #15, when the figures showed that the final issue had been one of Marvel's best sellers to date. Sure, this is completely at odds with Stan's story of Martin hating the concept so much that he'd only let Stan have one story in a doomed magazine - but then, the vastness of Stan's famously muddy memory is only matched by his well-documented ability for self-mythologizing. This isn't a criticism, mind you; Stan's friendly huckster persona is one that's clearly served both him and Marvel incredibly well. And let's face it: The tale as it's come to be known is simply a better story than "Well, we thought we'd make him a bigger part of the mag, then we cancelled it, then we brought him back on his own." The one may be factually truthful - but the version as he tells it is far more resonant.