Category Archives: 5 Stars

Amazing Spider-Man #33, Feb. 1966

Amazing Spider-Man #33, Feb. 1966

Script and editing: Stan Lee
Plot and illustration: Steve Ditko
Bordering and lettering: Artie Simek
Reading and enjoying: That ol’ web-spinner– You!

This is an iconic issue in Spider-Man history. This is the kind of thing that people write scholarly papers about (I have literally read a couple that were about this issue, so I’m not being hyperbolic for the first time in history). It’s beautiful heroic storytelling, the type that a lot of people didn’t believe the medium was capable of doing previous to this. Stories like this are why the Silver Age of Comics is an interesting and important era, and it’s part of the reason I’m doing this whole thing in the first place.

Last issue, Spider-Man got stuck under a huge piece of machinery after a fight with Dr. Octopus. Exhausted, hurt, and in a seemingly impossible situation, Spidey thinks about his aunt’s illness and the cure he’s here to get for her, as well as how he felt when he was responsible for his uncle Ben’s death. He knows that he was given his powers for a reason, and that giving up after all he’s gone through is not an option. With a herculean effort, Spider-Man lifts the machinery above his head and manages to escape the flooding underwater base.

On his way out, he’s stopped by a group of Doc Ock’s henchmen, but Spidey is too tired and wounded to dispatch them with his usual flair. He almost gets knocked out by these street-level thugs, but fights wildly with every last ounce of strength. Spider-Man is so tired that he doesn’t even notice he’s beaten the goons until after they’re all on the ground and he’s still swinging wildly around. He manages to get the serum to Dr. Conners and he gets it to Aunt May and she gets cured and Peter Parker finally goes to bed.

It’s a pretty emotional story and it manages to trick the reader into actually worrying about Spider-Man being defeated before he can finish his task. That’s part of what makes Ditko’s run so impressive, Spidey fails every once in a while, and there are some serious repercussions when he does. At this stage, it’s plausible to believe that he could just collapse at any point and not be able to save his aunt in time. Of course he doesn’t, the good guy wins, but it’s got the perfect amount of tension that it tricks you long enough that you buy into it. It’s good shit.


Strange Tales #138, Nov. 1965

Strange Tales #138, Nov. 1965

Written by: Stan Lee, Sultan of Script!
Laid out by: Jack Kirby, Master of Melodrama!
Drawn by: Johnny Severin, Archduke of Art!
Lettered by: S. Rosen, Prince of Penmanship!

Written and edited by Incredible Stan Lee
Plotted and illustrated by Invincible Steve Ditko
Lettered and bordered by Indelible Sam Rosen

Holy shit, I love this comic book. I forgot just how good it gets when you have Dr. Strange at his best and Nick Fury to support it. Even if the stories weren’t also packed with kick-ass adventure stories, the art alone makes this stuff amazing. I’m loving John Severin’s art on Nick Fury here, it gives a lot more depth and a classic action vibe to Kirby’s character designs. Agghh, so cool.

SHIELD manages to find out where HYDRA are going to launch their Betatron Bomb into orbit from, but they get there too late to stop anything! That’s… oh, that’s not good at all. Luckily, it looks like Tony Stark has a plan to stop it, something about a “Brainosaurus”… but before he can show Nick his counter-weapon, SHIELD headquarters are invaded by HYDRA’s “Tiger” branch (each different branch of HYDRA has a different animal name. Tiger are the assassins, Fox are diplomats, Rhino are heavy arms, Mole are administrators, etc. They seriously have a whole “Mole” branch of HYDRA administration. I want to write a story about them SO BAD), and they kidnap Nick Fury and take him into space. Damn. Sucks to be SHIELD.

Dr. Strange finally found out how to get to Eternity last issue from reading the Ancient One’s mind. He goes through an insane Ditko dimension to find a huge, awesome dude who is made up of stars and planets. Eternity tells Strange that he’s not going to give him any more power to defeat Baron Mordo and Dormammu, because he already has plenty of strength to do it. What he needs is wisdom, not power. Strange is a little bummed that he wasted a lot of time looking for this cool jerk and he doesn’t help out at all, but whatever. He gets back to find that the Ancient One has been kidnapped by Mordo’s forces, and it looks like the final showdown is imminent.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this full-page drawing of Dr. Strange meeting Eternity for the first time is equal to saying the words “FUCK YEAH” 500 times. There’s nothing not awesome about this issue. Dr. Strange gets nothing out of his quest and has to shore up his resolve to take on his nemeses. His begrudging determination is a cool way for him to go into a battle he’s been trying to avoid for, what, ten issues? It’s just a great setup, and the art is, as I said before, fucking phenomenal.

Strange Tales #136, Sept. 1965

Strange Tales #136, Sept. 1965

Script by the unpredictable Stan Lee
Layouts by the unmatchable Jack Kirby
Art by the unbeatable Johnny Severin
Lettering by the unsinkable Artie Simek

Edited and written by mystical, magical Stan Lee
Plotted and illustrated by wierd, wondrous Steve Ditko
Lettered and bordered by loveable, laughable Artie Simek

Now that we’ve got the introduction to Nick Fury and SHIELD over with, it’s time for some good old fashioned superspy work. SHIELD’s main enemy is HYDRA, who they fight almost exclusively. Eventually they’ll go up against AIM and… I don’t remember, some other thing, but they all end up being HYDRA in disguise anyway. Makes sense, their motto is “cut off one limb and two more shall take its place!”

HYDRA figures that since Nick Fury is still pretty new to SHIELD it should be easy enough to take him out. Two undercover agents follow him down the street into a barbershop… where they are restrained and hypnotized to tell their compatriots that they killed Fury and the SHIELD base is in a nearby warehouse. HYDRA mobilizes a ton of forces with a space-age tank thing, but it’s all a nice SHIELD trap and they manage to capture fifty HYDRA forces with no trouble whatsoever.

Dr. Strange is having trouble finding anything about Eternity, which is what the Ancient One told him to go look for. None of his contacts seem to know anything about it, and Baron Mordo’s agents are constantly on the lookout for him. He finally talks to a crazy old wizard who gives him a scroll that says “eternity” on it, but instead it transports Strange to a dimension where a demon can switch bodies with you if you look in its eyes. Strange is completely helpless, unable to move or speak, so he uses his mental control over his cape to freak the demon out so he’ll trade bodies back. Once free, Strange easily destroys the demon’s collection of masks which he uses to keep his victims in thrall, and casts a spell that I think destroys the entire dimension. Damn.

This is the coolest Dr. Strange yet. Just about every panel is concentrated awesomeness, and the threat Strange has to overcome requires a completely different approach than most of his enemies. That’s how you mix it up when you’ve got a super-powerful character that can destroy entire dimensions, make him use different abilities in different ways. Fuck, I love Strange Tales now.

Strange Tales #127, Dec. 1964

Strange Tales #127, Dec. 1964

Written by the Overlord of Originality… Stan Lee
Illustrated by the Archduke of Action… Dick Ayers
Inked by the High Priest of Highlights… Paul Reinman
Lettered by the Lama of Lexicography… Art Simek

Story by Stan Lee, Master of Macabre Menace
Art by Steve Ditko, Weaver of Wondrous Witchcraft
Lettered by S. Rosen, Sultan of Speedball Sorcery

This is by and far the best Human Torch story in Strange Tales, and it’s because it’s a different sort of villain with a fucking great reveal that I just absolutely love. Ah what the hell, I’ll tell you right now, it’s Mr. Fantastic! He puts on a ridiculous costume with a question mark on his face and spouts villainous platitudes and dusts the floor with ol’ Johnny and Ben, all to prove a point that he’s better than him and they need him. It’s Reed being an absolute dick, but it’s also fucking awesome to watch him put the Fantastic Four’s peanut gallery in their place.

As usual, the Human Torch adventure begins with him whining and complaining to Mr. Fantastic about always being thought of as the junior member of the FF just because he’s young and stupid. He and Ben tell Reed that they don’t need him as a leader, and aim to prove it by tackling the next bad guy they see by themselves. They get invited to a drag race for charity, but once they get into their specially-made rocket cars, they find they aren’t in control, and they’re heading directly into a mountain they can’t avoid! A garage opens up and the cars stop inside, where they meet a guy with a question mark on his face who taunts them. They ineffectively fight him, then ineffectively try to figure a way out, until finally the mysterious figure opens the door just before the air in the cavern was about to run out, revealing himself as Mr. Fantastic, THE BEST OF THE BUNCH!

Dr. Strange is still in Dormammu’s dread dimension, and the mystical shit is about to hit the fan. He finally convinces Dormammu to fight him instead of the Ancient One, but Clea visits Strange and tells him why he can’t fight Dormammu. Should the evil ruler of this realm be defeated, his magical force field surrounding a horde of “Mindless Ones”, who are goopy clay guys with laser eyes, would go down and they’d kill everyone around! Dormammu chains Clea for consorting with the enemy, and Dr. Strange realizes that he must win or she’ll die. After a fucking awesome display of magic, Dormammu is weakened enough that the force field falls, and the two competing magicians must combine their strength to put them back. Dormammu’s pissed, because this means he can’t fight the dude that just saved him and his people, so he lets the girl go and promises not to threaten Earth again in return.

I wish there was a more efficient way for me to absorb these Dr. Strange drawings other than just using my eyes. I want to inject Steve Ditko’s inks into my veins and take a trip to Dormammu’s dimension as my now-pointless physical body flops around in horrible conniption fits due to an overwhelming amount of awesomeness flowing through it. Basically what I’m saying is that it’s pretty neat.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, 1964

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, 1964

Written by: Stan Lee
Drawn by: Steve Ditko
Lettered by: S. Rosen

Man, if this was 1964 and there was anybody who didn’t pick up a copy of this annual, they were missing out in a big way. Not only does it have Spidey fighting the Sinister Six, featuring his six best villains to date, each with their own full-page action shot, it also features cameos from just about every other Marvel superhero (not counting the Hulk or Daredevil) and a short featurette in the end with a fictionalized account of how Stan Lee and Steve Ditko come up with their ideas for the comics. It’s a damn entertaining read.

Spider-Man recalls the time his beloved Uncle Ben dies and how he still feels guilty for his death. Suddenly, his powers seem to go out! Oh shit! This is doubly problematic, as Dr. Octopus has just gathered together a legion of other supervillains, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, the Vulture, Mysterio and Sandman to form what he calls the Sinister Six. Their plan: Kidnap Betty Brant (whom Spider-Man fought Doc Ock to save a couple times) and make him go through them, one by one, weakening him until he’s eventually defeated.

When Electro and the Sandman go to kidnap Betty Brant, it just so happens that Peter Parker’s Aunt May is there as well, making a social call to the girl she thinks has been upsetting Pete. The villains nab them both and stick them in a castle with Dr. Octopus. Even though he has no powers, Spider-Man has to try and save his girlfriend and aunt, so he goes after Electro. During the fight, he realizes that he actually has his powers after all, it was just a psychosomatic effect from all the guilt, and happily cleans up the entire squad of baddies. He finally rescues the girls, only to find that Aunt May has taken a serious shock… she missed the Beverly Hillbillies! But wasn’t that Dr. Octopus such a nice and gracious host?

Just like Spider-Man mentions in the final battle of this issue, the major flaw of the Sinister Six is that they all split up and tried to take him one-on-one, which basically completely defeats the point of teaming up in the first place. Apart from that, this is an excellent issue that’s full of great action, excellent comedy (we spend so much time with J. Jonah Jameson, you know it’s gotta be funny), and just an all-around solid story. Hollywood, if you ever wanted to adapt an old Spider-Man comic into a movie, you could do way worse than just reading this annual.