Sunday, 18 July 2010

AN AMAZING FANTASY...


Spidey's 1st appearance. Art by Kirby & Ditko
You all know the story. Or at
least, you should - it's been
repeated often enough.

Once upon a time,
there was a comic called
AMAZING FANTASY.
From issue #7 it was
rechristened AMAZING
ADULT FANTASY, but it
reverted back to its original
title on its 15th and final
appearance. And in that last
issue was a 'throwaway'
character called SPIDER-
MAN, in an 11-page
origin tale.

Publisher MARTIN GOOD-
MAN had  reluctantly allowed
writer/editor STAN LEE to get
the character out of his system, because it didn't much matter what the contents
were of a magazine whose demise had been ordained months before due to
declining circulation. When that issue's sales figures came in, it was realized
that Spidey was a surprise hit, and he was resurrected in his own comic.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Yep, that's the story, which has now passed into legend. So what's wrong
with it - apart from the fact that the first six issues of Amazing Fantasy
were actually called AMAZING ADVENTURES? Almost everything, as it
happens; it's not a legend - it's more of a myth!

The proof of this assertion? Amazing Fantasy #15 itself! Read the final
caption (deleted from most reprints until recently) of Spider-Man's origin.
"Be sure to see the next issue of Amazing Fantasy - - - for the further amazing
exploits of America's most different teenage idol - - Spiderman!"

Not yet convinced? Read the "important message" (proclaims the cover
blurb) "from the editor" inside the magazine for the clincher. "As you can
see, we are introducing one of the most unusual fantasy characters of all
time - The Spiderman, who will appear every month in Amazing. Perhaps,
if your letters request it, we will make his stories even longer, or have
TWO Spiderman stories per issue."

Spidey's first issue. Art by Kirby & Ditko
This shows that Spidey
was intended as an ongoing
character from the off, and
that AF #15 was meant to be
a new direction for the title.
The message goes on to say
that the word "adult" has been
dropped from the masthead to
spare the blushes of teeanagers
who felt "awkward" buying the
mag. There may be some truth
to this; with diminishing sales,
Marvel would certainly have
considered this as a possible
factor. I suspect, 'though,
that the main reason was
simply that it would seem
ridiculous having the word
"adult" on the cover of a
"long-underwear" character
aimed at juveniles.

The lettering in the final caption has clearly been altered from Amazing
Adult Fantasy to Amazing Fantasy, indicating that not only was the
name-change a last minute revision, but also that the decision to cancel the
magazine wasn't made until after it had gone to press and maybe even hit
the stands. Final confirmation is supplied by the new logo - why go to the
bother and expense of designing a new masthead for a mag you knew was
going to be the last issue? The word "adult'" could easily have been
omitted from the old logo with no extra work required.

It's fairly obvious what happened. Goodman must have become
aware of just how poorly previous issues had performed and wielded
the axe, regardless of Stan's plans for the title. Then, months later, when
the higher-than-usual sales figures and positive feedback from readers
came in, Goodman gave permission for Stan to continue on course.

Besides, a big, bold AMAZING SPIDER-MAN logo screaming from the
cover of his own magazine would have more impact on the spinner-racks
and greater appeal to readers wanting in on the ground floor. At that time, a
restrictive distribution deal meant that Marvel could only produce around eight
titles a month, so what had been intended as AF #16 metamorphosed into THE
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1, with a potentially sales-boosting assist from
THE FANTASTIC FOUR on the cover. (The main story was no doubt prepared
for AF #16. The cover-featured back-up story - and therefore the cover itself -
were probably later developments to hook FF readers in a cunningly conceived
sales ploy.) It's clear, however, that Spidey's own title was, in content if not
in name, exactly what Amazing Fantasy was intended to become.

Ditko's unpublished cover
So why, in the letter's
page of ASM #4,
did Stan Lee give the
following account of how
Spidey gained his own
title? "We planned to
present him in the final
issue of AMAZING ADULT
FANTASY, just to satisfy
ourselves. But, the rest is
history! His surprise
appearance jolted readers
everywhere, and we were
deluged with letters
demanding  that he be
given his own magazine."
One explanation is that
perhaps he simply meant
"We planned to present
him in [what became]
the final issue..."

Or, given Stan's notoriously poor memory and the seven month
gap between AF #15 and ASM # 1, he probably just forgot the precise
details. Years later, when he came to write ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS,
he simply recounted the story as he (mis-) remembered it from ASM #4, even
'though it didn't quite match up with the facts presented in AF #15 itself.

There! Another Marvel Mystery cleared up for posterity.

If only it was always so easy!

(Originally published in slightly different form in COMICS
INTERNATIONAL #148, August 2002.)

4 comments:

Don Alsafi said...

Thanks, Kid! We actually just had somebody add some answers to this mystery just a few days ago - and from Stan himself! Check out the comments section here.

Kid said...

Very interesting - thanks for the link, Don.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Similar conclusions were reached from detective work done in Comic Book Marketplace #44 by Will Murray some years back. He worked out that the other two stories prepared for Amazing Fantasy #16 would have been "Prophet of Doom!" which eventually appeared in Tales of Suspense #40 and "My Fatal Mistake" which was used in Tales to Astonish #43.

Kid said...

I always thought it was obvious that the 'official' version didn't quite paint the full picture, although I didn't get around to writing about it 'til ten years ago. Thanks for the info about the other two stories - I'd never really thought about them.