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.