The Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (1968) (Marvel)


Rating: 4.5/5 – Marvel’s 1st foray into B&W magazines.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

The year was 1968 and Marvel dipped it’s toes into the waters of black and white magazine publishing with their top hero Spider-Man, handled by no less than Stan “The Man” Lee writing with John Romita Sr. (then without the Sr. needed in his name) on art.  As a magazine, this skipped the Comics Code Authority, no code seal on the cover.  It’s oversized, larger than a comic book, but no color which was characteristic of super-hero comics of the time.  This is in glorious black & white, but not straight line art, it’s got a wonderful tonal ink-wash quality.

While it didn’t have color and cost more than a regular comic (12 cents at that time), it made up for it with a 53 page main story and a 10-page back-up recapping Spider-Man’s origin.  3 times the page count of a color comic.  Marvel put out a 2nd issue of the magazine a few months later, but publisher Martin Goodman dictated that this time it should be in color, Marvel should “stick to what it does best”.  That 2nd issue was the last of the magazine, Goodman had cancelled it claiming that magazines were to difficult to distribute.  Ironically, when sales figures came in months later it turned out that this issue had sold extremely well but Goodman could not be convinced to resume publication.  Fans would have to wait several more years before the true renaissance of Marvel B&W magazines in the 1970s.  Both issues of Spectacular Spider-Man are reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 7.  In the Introduction to that volume, Romita called this issue:

Spider-Man stories for older readers, a sort of Film Noir on paper with longer stories and more subtle character relationships.  We envisioned a somewhat photographic art style with halftones and deep shadows that were just right for Spider-Man.







In issue #1 Stan was getting political with the story and there were no costumed bad-guys.  Well, there was a 10-foot tall monster-man for Spidey to fight, but no outlandish themed costume.  Instead Stan was concentrating on the mayoral campaign of Richard Raleigh who had an insidious plan.  In Raleigh’s own words:

My plan was perfect!  I had used advertising–TV–publications–to project an image of myself as a crusading reformer.  Then, to gain the public’s sympathy, I pretended the underworld was out to destroy me.

But, in reality, his goal was to run the city AND the underworld.  A little commentary from Stan on using media manipulation and how the real goals of politicians are not always what they show us on TV.   And character interaction between the supporting cast, that has always been a hallmark of Spider-Man in comics was here in abundance.  J. Jonah Jameson, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Harry Osborne, Aunt May, even Captain Stacy, they all get their share of time interacting with Peter. 

Not one to let a good story go to waste, the story in this magazine was later recycled as Amazing Spider-Man #116, 117 and 118.  Now in color, with segments redrawn and some dialogue altered to remove Captain Stacy (who had died by that point), rename the giant man-monster as “The Smasher” and introducing the bad guy as “The Disruptor” (saving the reveal of Raleigh as being behind the plot for the 3rd issue of the story arc).  Making the politician the bold-faced manipulator from the get-go sends a different message as initially presented in the B&W magazine than having it saved for a reveal at the end.  Compare one of the re-drawn pages between this issue and ASM #117 (click the images to enlarge):


The ending of the B&W magazine story takes on a seriously different tone than that in the color comic re-do.  In this issue, Spider-Man just leaves the scene.  In ASM #118 Spidey actively covers up the fact that Raleigh was actually the Disruptor, taking his dead body out of the costume & then disposing of the costume by burning it.  I prefer the version presented here.

Spectacular Spider-Man #1 was ahead of its time.  Well received by the fans but cut short by a publisher assuming he knew what they wanted (more of the same…), an interesting parallel repeated through history when innovation is squashed in favor of the status quo.   This is absolutely worth checking out for all hard-core Spider-Man fans.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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