Thursday, December 9, 2010

93: Amazing Spider-Man #6

Amazing Spider-Man #6
August 8, 1963

  • In this issue we meet Curt Connors, the Lizard. And he's the first baddie who really commands our sympathies, as he's unquestionably a decent man gone wrong. A good-intentioned scientist as well as a loving husband and father, he lost an arm while serving as a war surgeon and instead became one of the world's authorities on reptile life. Fascinated with the regenerative ability displayed in certain lizards, and aware of the rewards all mankind could reap from such a development - his own phantom limb a constant reminder, of course - he painstakingly concocted a serum which he hoped might impart this capacity, and (because this is comics, after all) tested it out on himself. To his delight, his missing arm grew back in seconds - but, in a bald nod to Jekyll and Hyde, he in turn loses his humanity.

    Um.  Can we just hope that Dr. Connors happened to find
    a rabbit that was already missing its leg?  Please?

  • And what an action-packed issue this is! Which makes for a refreshing turn after the surprisingly lackluster Fantastic Four #20. It's an intriguing contrast in what makes a successful comic book versus that which fails; they each have the same length, but this one makes SO much better use of the space it's given. Whereas the bulk of FF #20 was just one big fight scene, this story sees quite a lot going on: After the initial setup of the threat, Peter foils a totally unrelated robbery at a museum before convincing Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson to send him to Florida on the trail of the Lizard. Rather than a single fight scene, Spider-Man has three separate encounters with the creature, in between which he meets the Lizard's wife and son, and we're treated to a flashback scene of the monster's origin. Add to all this the creature's defeat and denouement, some typically comedic faceoffs with Jameson, and Peter flirting with Betty Brant and Liz Allan - and you've got a comic with so many story elements the reader never runs the risk of getting bored!

    The worst thing about becoming the Lizard is what it's done
    to his penmanship. You'd be crying too.

  • But, having made this observation, I then naturally wondered as to the cause: Why (aside from varying levels of writerly inspiration) might one story seem so full, when another seemed so light? And so, wanting to get down to the bottom of the question, I pulled out the two stories - FF #20 and ASM #6 - and compiled some data on each. And the results were illuminating! Steve Ditko is famous for his use of the nine-panel grid, where nearly every page consists of (or is based off of) nine equally-sized panels. By contrast, most pages in FF #20 contain five panels each - one tier of two panels, another tier of two panels, and one tier of one panel (in varying order). As a result, FF #20 has 105 panels total, or 4.77 panels per page ... while ASM #6 has 157 total panels, or 7.47 panels per page. Artistically, it makes sense: Jack Kirby's drawing power, especially on The Fantastic Four, is his ability to convey grandeur and epic scope - see, again, his awe-inspiring scene of the FF landing on the mysterious blue area of the moon - while one of the main reasons Ditko was chosen for Spidey was because Peter is specifically a grounded and street-level character, in scenes that are less cosmic and with a more intimate feel. So Ditko generally has more space to work with, while Kirby has more leeway in conveying the incredible ... but it does mean that if Lee & Kirby don't deliver a wholly breathtaking tale, there are far fewer elements to distract us when the main story falls flat.

    That's a great one-panel transition.

  • Finally, it's impressive to see the continued and steady evolution of Peter's character. As mentioned above, early on in the story he's about to ask out Betty Brant when he's interrupted by another of Jameson's outbursts, and the story ends with Peter phoning up Liz Allan for a date instead. She turns him down - suddenly enamored with that hero Spider-Man who saved her at the museum - but instead of feeling rejected, Peter just shrugs in bemusement at his wry luck. It's a significant change to see him displaying this kind of cool confidence, something he clearly lacked in his earlier stories. (The cocky indifference showed in his first appearance doesn't count, arrogance being just one's insecurities overcompensating.) This might have been Stan's plan all along, or it could just be a natural change due to persistently wimpy characters making a dull read. However it may have happened, the continuing change is a welcome one, and it's refreshing to see a character we enjoy actually becoming a better, stronger person as we watch.

    Comedy gold, man.