Or – “Yeah, This Is Totally An Annual.”
Everyone knows the story of young Peter Parker; a young nerd empowered by an uncanny accident with the proportional speed and strength of a spider, who learned a lesson about power and responsibility through a tragic loss. Indeed, the death of his Uncle Ben and the status of his frail Aunt May is the cornerstone of Pete’s story, even fifty years later, but one question often goes unasked: How did he get orphaned and left in his Aunt & Uncle’s care in the first place? Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN KING-SIZED SPECIAL #5
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler(s): Larry Lieber; John Romita, Sr.
Inker: Mike Esposito (as Mickey Demeo)
Letterer: Art Simek
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $250.00
Previously, on Amazing Spider-Man: A doomed spider lowered himself into a radiation experiment, and his dying act empowered a bespectacled nerd with abilities to become something more. Peter Parker has cool red-and-blue tights, the gift of gab, and some technical prowess, but what he has never had is the real story of what happened to his mother and father… until now.
The place: Algeria.
The time: Just a couple of years after that spider-bite changed Peter’s life forever.
The situation: Dire.
Far from his native New York, Spidey finds himself in a somewhat familiar situation, surrounded by armed thugs, but this time he’s fighting for more than just his life. I was a bit saddened the first time I read this (which, to be honest, was only a couple of years ago when this issue popped up in the middle of a big run of Amazing Spider-Man), as I had always thought this issue was a Lee/Romita production. From what I can glean, Romita only handled layouts, with Larry Leiber (aka Stan’s brother) handling pencils. It’s not always noticeable, but it’s not as good as my mind thinks a pure Romita job would have been. The battle gets chaotic (including a cart full of watermelons) before fortune turns against the web-slinger…
That second panel is an example of the greatest weakness of the issue’s Lieber/”DeMeo” art, in that any time Spider-Man’s mask is seen from below or the side, his whole head gets kinda wonky. The thugs set out to report the death of the interloper to their mysterious boss-man, while Spidey crawls unseen out of the river nearby. Lying half-drowned on the pavement, Peter Parker’s mind drifts back, remembering the events that brought him to these dangerous cobblestone streets…
In the 616 Universe, it seems that Richard and Mary Parker were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. A shattered Peter races up the stairs to confront Aunt May, only to for his widower Aunt to tell him a terrible tale of betrayal and loss, with a pretty heart-breaking scene of Ben Parker reading the paper, filled with grief and disbelief at the news of his little brother’s betrayal.
This is actually a great example of how powerful it can be to let a character actually STAY dead, as the sight of Ben doing something unrelated to Spidey’s origin gets my attention immediately, and gives the moment extra gravitas. But then, May drops a final bombshell on her nephew…
For days, Peter is plagued by dreams of his lost parents, and his own doubt nearly causes him to beat down an innocent man. Finally, he realizes that he must act, and swings his way across the city to the Baxter Building, where he begs Reed Richards for assistance…
I’m amused at how very-Kirby-esque the flying car there is (apparently, Reed is testing a design for Tony Stark, according to the story) leaving Spidey in the legendary Casbah, where he finds a very Romita-esque take on a character from a Sam Spade novel…
The merchant gives up the secrets of the city, but is overheard by one of “The Master’s” thugs, who races off to warn his boss. Spider-Man’s powers are particularly suited to illicit entry, and he breaks into The Master’s citadel, rifling through their membership files under he finds a card signed by his late father! (This moment is so perfectly Silver Age, it has a pet dog with a cape and a cute little version of itself from the fifth dimension.) With the proof of his daddy’s perfidy in hand, Spider-Man is distracted enough that he is surprised by the Master’s entrance. Of course, the question of why his Spider-sense didn’t go off until he turned around is unanswered, but the reveal of The Master is still a little terrifying…
A note about Marvel continuity here: Stan had a tendency to fly by the seat of his pants, and many of the early stories of the Marvel Universe occasionally contradict one another. F’rinstance, in Tales Of Suspense #79, Captain America finds that the Red Skull was thrown into suspended animation during the Allied attacks on Berlin, allowing the Skull to likewise awaken in the present time (ostensibly 1966.) That would seem to preclude his running a spy ring in Algiers during the 1950s, but luckily, there was another retcon that came into play that kept this neat little story in continuity; the saga of the Captain America of the 1950s. Long story short, a Russian agent named Malik took on the Skull’s identity, fought the nearly-forgotten commie-smashing Captain America of the 1950s, who was revealed to be another guy entirely, during the time when the regular Cap and Skull were in suspended animation, and Bob’s your uncle! Malik/Skull calls in his goon squad, but is quickly shown that, in some situations, underestimation is a cardinal sin. After all, they don’t call him the AMAZING Spider-Man for nothing…
Making this sequence better is that, in my head, the goon is voiced by Tor Johnson, the Skull by Maximillian Schell and Spider-Man by Michael Bell, making for a surreal imaginary episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. Thsi show of force leaves even the Red Skull impressed by Spidey’s raw power, and calls in the greatest assassin in Algiers, the legendary Finisher, to rid him of the spider-menace once and for all.
Short form? It doesn’t go well for The Finisher…
The lesson here is, “Don’t fire heat-seaking missiles at a guy with superhuman agility, especially if you’re in a warm automobile at the time.” But, in his final moments, The Finisher reveals the truth of what happened to the Parkers: They were double-agents sent to infiltrate the Red Skull’s organization! Moreover, they died as heroes, executed by The Finisher himself under the Skull’s orders. This revelation leaves Spider-Man determined prove his parents’ innocence, heading back to The Red Skull’s inner sanctum to confront the man himself…
Their battle rages, as the Skull actually gets his hands dirty for once, proving why he was able to go hand-to-hand with the greatest combatant in history (or, at least, a reasonable facsimile thereof) before going mad-scientist with a chest-mounted “destructor” beam! (You know you write about comics a lot when “Destructor” doesn’t get flagged as a misspelling.)
One has to wonder about the genius of this Red Skull, as he seemed to blow himself up as often as not, and was eventually murdered by nothing more exotic than a guy with a gun. Still, the explosion allows the Skull to escape, and gives Spider-Man the proof he needs to clear his parents. Remember the “Bad Guy Membership Card?”
IT WAS ACTUALLY HIDING A GOOD-GUY MEMBERSHIP CARD!!!! YAAAAY!
This moment is a pretty good one, even if the mechanism of Spider-Man’s joy is a little bit suspect, and the sight of a jubilant Spidey swinging over The Casbah, thrusting his fist at the sky in triumph is a great one. Most interestingly, the artists managed to convey emotion without “cheating” and manipulating the eyes of Spider-Man’s mask, something that always bothers me. Being a KING-SIZED SPECIAL ISSUE (**coughannualcough**), this issue is rounded out with some special features and pin-ups, including one that gave me quite a laugh…
…while also making me sad, in that comic books of 1968 were designed to compete with more than just the comic books from the other companies that served the 50,000 or so customers who know where the comic shops are. This issue’s take on Casablanca (or perhaps the Maltese Falcon?) is a fun one, and at this point in time, the reveal that Peter’s parents were secret spies was a cool one. Later years would turn this retcon into “Peter’s parents were the GREATEST spies ever!” and eventually revive them before turning them into killer robots or something, but this issue works on its own merits. Amazing Spider-Man King-Sized Special #5 still stands as a minor Key Issue of Spidey’s early years, and even without Romita, it looks pretty good (so long as you’re looking as Spider-Man’s mask head-on), and earns a strong-but-overly-melodramatic 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!