Sunday, 18 July 2010


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 GOODMAN 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!"

Spidey's first issue.  Art by Kirby & Ditko

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."

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 mag 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 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 letters 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 becamethe 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.)


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.

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