April 8, 2007

Marvel Tales #141 [1982]

This issue reprints the cover and 21-page story "Nothing Can Stop the Sandman" from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #4 [1963], the introduction of Flint Marko as one of Spider-Man's most persistent foes. This issue has always been my favourite of the first ten issues of the series. The earlier stuff was all good, but this is where it all really comes together for me. Every page in this issue is a gem, it was hard to pick one for this post.

After the customary symbolic splash page, we start with Spider-Man seeing some suspicious characters casing a jewelry store as it closes for the night. Unfortunately, he jumps the gun on nabbing the potential thieves before they actually break the law, and they know it, calling on the police themselves, taking advantage of the mistrust of Spider-Man that J. Jonah Jameson has been sowing. After dropping by Jonah's office to leave a small token of his affection, Spider-Man runs into the Sandman for the first time, finding him hard to handle, and is forced to flee when his mask rips. Back home he get an early version of a Spider-Man classic, Peter trying to sew his costume while hiding it from Aunt May, while he also gets the background of the Sandman from the TV. The next day Peter drops by the Daily Bugle office, just as Jonah needs a new pair of pants due to Spider-Man's little gag, and then goes to school. As luck would have it, Sandman runs from the police right into the school, and that's where he and Spider-Man have their showdown. Ditko really shines in the choreography of the fight through the school, full of great visuals playing the Sandman's powers and Spider-Man acrobatics to full effect. I especially love the whole sequence on the page scanned here, with Sandman using his powers to solidify himself right around Spider-Man's arm, then head-butting him, only to have Spider-Man flip him right over and smash his head into the stairway. Spider-Man finally beats the Sandman with the clever ruse of distracting him with a drill, so he takes his full sandy form and can be easily sucked into a vacuum cleaner.

And then, in one of my favourite bits, Spider-Man uses some sand from the fire-bucket to fake a few photos to sell to JJJ. While that works out for him, he's still got to face the scorn of his classmates, and we get a nice panel on the last page of people with scepticism to his exploits, but he decides to has these powers for a reason and has to continue being Spider-Man.

Just about everything that makes the Ditko Spider-Man masterful is in this story in its purest form, with an iconic villain with a clever visual hook, Peter's relationships with Aunt May, JJJ, his classmates, the police and the general public, an exciting action scene that resolves itself with a mix of brains and muscle and an overall way of thinking about super-heroics that was revolutionary at the time, and is still effective today.

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