Spider-Man: Chapter One #1 (December, 1998)
Writer/Art/Letters – John Byrne
Colors – John Kalisz
Edits – Ralph Macchio
Chief – Bob Harras
Based on the Works of – Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Cover Price: $2.50
Well… as luck would have it, I managed to find my Spider-Man: Chapter Ones… you’re welcome, and I’m sorry.
This entire issue is framed by a sixteen year-old Spider-Man running around New York City clunkily sorta-kinda narrating the events of the days in question. We’re in like three different levels/layers of “flashback” here… which really hurts the “oomph” of any of ’em. So, for the most part, we’re going to ignore the framing bits, and just (attempt to) tell the story. Peter Parker was left with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben as a baby… when his folks Richard and Mary had to by “away”. Peter was a good boy, and an excellent student. We see May and Ben presenting him with his own computer here… which, for whatever reason, I remember really getting under peoples’ skin online back in 1998. Way back in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter was gifted a microscope. I’m not sure why this was such a big deal… but, that’s something we’ll ponder further in the “down below”.
Peter, is also kind of a social outcast… and none’a the kids at school have any interest in hanging around him. Same as it ever was, I guess. Not sure why, but Peter invites Flash Thompson (and some generic Byrne-faced girl I don’t recognize) to an exhibition by one Doctor Otto Octavius. Naturally, they turn him down flat.
And so, poor Peter’s gotta go to the science show stag. Upon arrival, Octavius is fitting with his crazy octopus arms so he can work with hazardous materials without worry of them getting on his skin. As the experiment is about to commence, however… along comes a spider. Hmm… that’s not how I remember this happening!
The itsy-bitsy winds up getting sucked into the experiment’s ventilation shaft, causing the whole magilla to go a bit ca-ca. There’s a huge explosion, which, apparently kills many of the spectators! Now, that’s what Spider-Man’s origin story needed! More guilt!
Peter himself was wounded pretty bad… but, before he passes out… he notices that he’s bit on the hand by a spider. Hmm. It’s sort of implied here, though not said outright, that the spider-bite actually saved Peter Parker’s life that day.
We jump ahead, to the local Radio Shack or whatever, where Uncle Ben has decided to surprise his survivor of a nephew with… yet another brand-new top of the line computer rig! How many PCs does this kid need? Oh well… I suppose we can assume the other one might be a bit outdated by now. Anyhoo… Uncle Ben asks for some help carrying the gigantic box out to his car. Remember, folks, computers used to be very big… awkward, and heavy. Some helpful scumbag offers to give the old man a hand… and we find out immediately that he’s no model citizen. An officer who just so happens to be passing by, stops to question him… referring to him as a “second story” man… which is to say, he robs peoples’ upstairs’s’s… or at least gains entry into a home through an upstairs window.
Peter finally returns home… and feels like he’s now strong enough to try out for the football team. One day, while walking home from school, poor Peter is almost hit by a car. Our boy famously leaps some fifteen feet into the air, and clings onto the wall of a nearby building. While up there, he crinkles an iron pipe as though it were just paper.
Back at home, Peter ponders just what he might do with his newfound “great power”… and it all becomes clear when he and his Aunt and Uncle watch the wrestling matches that night.
After hearing Crusher Hogan’s $1,000 challenge, Peter decides to test his powers in the ring. Naturally, he makes short work out of the poor Crusher… and even finds himself getting an Agent!
Our boy then goes home… designs his Spider-Man costume and web-cartridges overnight… and returns to his Agent with his new “gimmick”: The Amazing Spider-Man.
Spider-Man becomes quite the sensation… so much so, that I can hardly believe that nobody ever asks him about his time in entertainment in the forty-or-so years he’d been in the superhero biz? I mean, they’re showing him on late night talk shows and everything! I thought this was just supposed to be a small wrestling show.
The kids at school fall in love with Spider-Man. The boys wanna be him, and the girls swoon over what a dreamboat he is. Peter is offered like a hundred-grand from his Agent to sign a contract… and so, he decides it’s time to “cash in” in order to give May and Ben the life they deserve. That night, Spider-Man leaves the house through his bedroom window… and, whattayaknow, that scumbag from the Radio Shack sees him go!
Spider-Man arrives at the studio, and puts on the performance of a lifetime. In fact, the entire Marvel Universe of the day is tuned in to see it! I can hardly believe Byrne controlled himself enough not to sneak in a cameo from the Marvel: The Lost Generation bunch! Okay, that’s unfair… they didn’t exist yet.
So, Spidey kicks butt on TV… and everything’s coming up roses, right? Welp… in the hallway of the studio, he’s approached by… the scumbag from Radio Shack! The SB from RS introduces himself as a fellow “second story man”. Ya see, he’s under the assumption that Spidey himself was a burglar… seein’ as though he left through an upstairs window. Funny, this jagoff says he’s been “casing” that house for awhile, but never noticed that the elderly couple living there have a young nephew? C’mahhhhn. Anyhoo, the chat is interrupted by… that same old officer from before, demanding that Spider-Man “stop” that fella. Spider-Man (duh) doesn’t. The scumbag escapes via elevator.
The Officer, actually Captain of the Forest Hills Police Precinct, asks why Spider-Man didn’t stop the crook… to which, Spidey tells him to do his own job. He then cockily walks away.
Then… he goes home, only to find his house surrounded by police cars. Anna Watson grabs him, and introduces him to the police as… “the murdered man’s nephew”.
An Officer informs Peter that their house was burgled… and, amid the scuffle, Uncle Ben was fatally shot. The “good news”, if we can call it that, is the burglar is currently surrounded at the old Acme Warehouse… probably full of weird mail-order goods, and cancelled checks from a coyote. Peter stomps off.
But first… he changes into his “work clothes”.
Upon arrival at the warehouse, the burglar gleefully greets him! Ya see… are ya ready for this reveal… I-I hope you’re sitting… the burglar is the same scumbag from before! Ya know, the “second story man”! He assumes Spider-Man’s here for a piece of the action! To help, even!
The Burglar explains everything… how he’d been casing the Parker home, and how he had to kill the old man. Spider-Man, unsurprisingly, completely loses it… but, his rage isn’t so blind that he doesn’t helpfully inform the reader that this is the man he didn’t stop back at the studio (after the man makes it perfectly clear to him, that is). So, now even the kids in the back of the class get it!
Spidey stops himself from actually killing the Burglar… and instead, webs the bastid up and delivers him to the Police.
We wrap up with that familiar line regarding Power and Responsibility… which, I don’t recall Ben ever saying this issue. Maybe I just glazed over it… I dunno.
Welp… before we get into it, I’d like to address the first line of the (not the) Letters Page… which, basically asks the simple question “Why?” Ya see, John Byrne did that thing where you ask yourself the question that you’re afraid everyone else is going to ask… just so you can be “ahead” of it when it comes to pass. So, “Why?”… why does this thing exist? Does it have a reason to? Does it add any value to Spider-Man’s story? What was the point?
Well, in order to answer any of those questions… I’d like to take a little informal survey. I’m going to assume (which is dangerous) that most (if not all) of the folks reading this little article have already, at one point or another, read the eight-page Spider-Man origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15.
Here’s my survey question: Was that eight-page origin story too hard for anyone to follow? Even taking into account that this was a story taking place in the early 1960’s (and not the late 1980’s)… was it hard to understand what was going on? Just because Peter was originally given a microscope instead of a computer… were you still able to “keep up” with the Lee/Ditko version?
I’m going to assume (again), that… for the most part, people were able to keep up with the eight-pager in Amazing Fantasy #15… because, a) none of you are stupid, and b) it’s an easy to follow story!
What we have here tries wayyy too hard to explain everything, while failing in its execution. By making every beat of Spider-Man’s origin “important”, it actually has the opposite effect. Least it did for me. I wanna remind everyone about something I said yesterday. I was a die-hard Marvel Zombie at this time… I bought everything with a Marvel logo on it, including reprints, awful manga adaptations of animated series’, half-assed miniseries’… everything. I dropped this series five-issues in. Just couldn’t take it anymore.
Let’s discuss the big burglar reveal… while going back to our little informal survey. Was it unclear to anyone in reading Amazing Fantasy #15 that the man who killed Uncle Ben was the same guy Spider-Man let go? I mean, that was kind of the entire point, right? I don’t think that fact was lost on anybody… Spider-Man even says it outright. Lee assumed that would be enough. Here, however, Byrne has to have the Burglar himself explain it!
I always thought the biggest tragedy of this origin was the fact that Ben’s murder was one of opportunity, and he wasn’t necessarily a “target”. It was the random nature of the incident that really drove home the point (at least to me) that ya just never know. Here, however… I dunno… the whole situation is a bit too “manicured”. Everything fits… just a little too well, which again, takes a lot of the power out of the story.
Let’s look at Spider-Man’s “career” in entertainment for a minute. Anyone else think they went a little too far with this? I mean, he’s a full-blown celebrity at this point. Gotta remember, this isn’t a story taking place in 1962 anymore… so, it’s not like only people with WPIX Channel 11 in New York would recognize Spider-Man… this, you gotta assume, is some worldwide notoriety Spidey’s getting. I mean, we can even go deeper, and look at how Professional Wrestling as a “thing” was booming during the 1980’s (when I’m assuming this series has been bumped up to in the timeline). An Amazing Spider-Man pro-wrestler, who could do the things Peter could do? That’s gonna be some big-time stuff. I don’t understand how that can be “walked back”, making Spider-Man “just” a superhero in all subsequent appearances.
I’ll give Byrne one thing… many pages in this issue are sort of like a “shot for shot” remake from Amazing Fantasy #15… just “updated” to feel more, I dunno, contemporary. That said, I still have a bit of a problem with it. Anyone reading this playing the recently-released Final Fantasy VII REMAKE? One of the major critiques of it is “bloat”. The original story, which many find to be a masterpiece of its time, has been expanded upon to fill in the player on some details of the world and flesh out some of the side-characters who were barely a blip in the original version. Thing of it is, is… nobody asked for any of that.
We go back to Byrne’s “Why?” Did anybody ask for this. No. Does it have a reason to exist? No. Does Spider-Man’s origin need to be tied in with the origin(s) of his rogues gallery? Again, no. We’re not making movies here… it doesn’t need to be simplified, dumbed down, or compartmentalized in such a way.
I mentioned during the synopsis the big USENET/internet controversy of the microscope vs. the computer. People (appeared to be) up in arms over this very… verrrrry minor change up. Here’s the thing (and this is just me postulating)… when we talk about certain comic book creators, they tend to become most “creative” when it comes to defending their work. If only they put that much effort into telling a decent story on the page, right?
I feel like this very minor quibble became the centerpiece of all arguments against Spider-Man: Chapter One… and, I feel like that was by design. Because, really… does it matter? No, of course it doesn’t. What it does, however… is make anybody (and everybody) who has anything negative to say about this series look extraordinarily petty and set in their ways. It’s a way to disregard criticism… because, honestly, how could anybody argue with fans as stubborn as those who’d get hung up on 1980’s Peter getting a computer, when 1960’s Peter got a microscope instead?
The whole thing was much ado about nothing… and yet, it always seemed to pop up in reports of criticism of the series. Personally, I didn’t care a whit about the change-up… it was the rest of the issue that I hated… and I have a sneaking suspicion, I’m not alone in that.
(Not the) Letters Page: