BEYOND AMAZING

THE MANY REPRINTS OF SPIDER-MAN'S ORIGIN STORY
FROM AMAZING FANTASY #15

 

"Spider-Man was the first Marvel character that lacked an easy-to-peg connection to the Goodman monster comics."

(Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003)

"In those days it took about two or three months to get the final sales figures of any publication. When those sales reports [for Amazing Fantasy #15] finally came in, they showed that the Spider-Man issue had been a smash success, perhaps the best-selling comic book of the whole decade."

(Stan Lee, in Lee & Mair, 2002)


 

 
When the first issue of a new comic book titled Fantastic Four hit the news-stands on August 8th 1961, the success with readers - triggering no less than the "big bang" of the Marvel Universe - happened, to a certain degree, by way of design.

Stan Lee was increasingly at odds with his publisher (and uncle) Martin Goodman regarding the depth (or Goodman being okay with a lack thereof) of plots and characters, and essentially wrote Fantastic Four #1 his way and not Goodman's way (McLaughlin, 2018a).

 


Amazing Fantasy #15
(August 1962)

  Whether or not the popular legend that Goodman picked up the idea that a comic book featuring a group of superheroes would sell well during a game of golf with DC publisher Jack Liebowitz is fact or fiction (Thomas, 2019) actually doesn't matter that much. Goodman's reputation for sniffing out material that would sell is just as legendary as it was real (Hilgart 2014, McLaughlin 2018a).

"Martin [Goodman] was one of the great imitators of all time (...) Whatever other people were selling, we would do the same thing (...) Martin was good at what he did and made a lot of money, but he wasn't ambitious." (Stan Lee in Minton, 2009)

Goodman didn't need a game of golf with Liebowitz to see and understand that superheroes had just started to click again - he could see it for himself, with DC's recent revival of the Flash and their success with the Justice League. Goodman knew about it, and he wanted in.

It was therefore an already proven formula that he told Stan Lee to apply. What he couldn't know was that Lee and Jack Kirby would give it their own spin and make it an even greater hit with readers. But it was still "success by design".

When Amazing Fantasy #15 went on sale June 5th 1962 (with a cover date of August and a publication date of September in the indicia), things were very different concerning the first appearance of a character named Spider Man.

 
In many ways, Stan Lee acted very much like Martin Goodman - but he was driven by a steadily increasing enthusiasm for the material and the readers that his uncle lacked completely.

"[Stan Lee] was always a man on a mission: constantly working on new ideas. It was as if he couldn’t stop (...) It’s well known that what he did was to him just a job at the beginning (..) He’d write Westerns when Westerns were in, Horror when that was popular and so forth. It was a business, and he needed to continually make new products that would sell." (McLaughlin, 2018b)

 
However, not everything Marvel launched in 1961 turned out to be a good seller, let alone a smash hit.

Amazing Adventures #1, launched with a cover date of June 1961, was a monthly title derived straight from the mould of the long-running Stan Lee and Jack Kirby sci-fi monster titles, featuring the same fare published in Strange Tales or Tales to Astonish with creatures carrying names such as Torr, Manoo, Monsteroso, or Sserpo.

In one aspect, though, Amazing Adventures was somewhat different to the other four Lee/Kirby monster titles - it had a recurring backup feature with alien-hunting Doctor Droom (later renamed Doctor Druid to avoid confusion with Doctor Doom).

It didn't work. Stan Lee renamed the monthly book Amazing Adult Fantasy as of issue #7, added the cover tag-line "The magazine that respects your intelligence", and brought Steve Ditko on board for the artwork.

 


Amazing Adventures #1
(June 1961)

 


Amazing Adult Fantasy #7
(December 1961)

 
Every issue featured five short stories that typically ended on a twist, the entire concept being an attempt to attract an older readership. Readers of the title seemed enthusiastic about the changes, but there still just weren't enough copies sold (Lee & Mair, 2022). The days of the sci-fi monster titles were drawing to an end, eclipsed by the new superhero material on the news-stands.

"I decided to throw in the towel. I would do one last issue and then let the book rest in peace." (Stan Lee in Lee & Mair, 2002)

It is worth noting that several researchers perceive this to be more of a ret-con myth than an actual fact, and there are indeed a few compelling indications that issue #15 was not necessarily planned as the last of the title (Brevoort, 2019).

 


Amazing Fantasy #15
(August 1962)

  The "Fan Page" featured in Amazing Fantasy #15 was quite unlike the usual regular letters page. It ran an "important announcement from the editor" (as promised on the cover), and while this didn't actually hint at the end of the title, it did, however, signal significant changes.

In essence, Lee told readers in his trademark style ("we want to take you, our valued reader, into our confidence") that the title's formula featuring five short stories wasn't sustainable. Apart from dropping "Adult" from the title ("a number of our teen-age readers have written to say that it makes them feel a bit awkward to buy a magazine which seems to be written exclusively for older readers"), Lee informed readers that both structure and content were about to undergo substantial changes.

"We have decided to change AMAZING in such a way that it will STILL present the finest in fantasy - but in a different way! As you can see, we are introducing one of the most unusual new 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."

As with any of Marvel's characters of the 1960's, the question of who came up with what and when, and should therefore be credited with creating a certain character, is shrouded in substantial dispute, and Spider-Man is no exception.

Stan Lee himself credits the inspirational spark to

"toying with the notion of a new superhero, one who would be more realistic than most, despite his colorful superpower. So I did what I always did in those days, I took the idea to (...) Martin Goodman. (...) I also mentioned that our hero, whom I wanted to call Spider-Man, would be a teenager, with all the problems, hang-ups, and angst of any teenager. (...) Except for his super-power, he'd be the quintessential hard-luck kid." (Stan Lee in Lee & Mair, 2002)

According to Lee, Goodman downright hated the idea, since it violated pretty much every rule in the book on established superhero principles. To a seasoned publisher like Goodman, this was a recipe for disaster at the news-stands - the absolute opposite of what had driven the creation of the Fantastic Four.

But right at that same time Stan Lee was prepping the final issue of Amazing Fantasy, and he sensed an opportunity.

"Despite the less than exuberant reaction [from Goodman], I couldn't get Spider-Man out of my mind. That's when I remembered the final issue of Amazing Fantasy (...) As you can imagine, when a publisher prints the last issue of a title, knowing the book is about to be discontinued, no one much cares about what goes on in the last issue." (Stan Lee in Lee & Mair, 2002)

According to Lee, he turned to his go-to superhero artist, Jack Kirby, with the idea. But after a few pages he found that Kirby made Peter Parker look way too strong and confident. It wasn't what Lee had in mind, so he handed the assignment to Steve Ditko, whose more toned-down style of drawing matched Lee's ideas perfectly.

 
In the early 1980s, Jack Kirby would publicly claim Spider-Man to be his creation (Howe, 2012). Steve Ditko replied extensively to that statement in an essay (Ditko, 1990) and pointed out that any input that Kirby initially had was discarded and never used. According to Ditko (who was never really known for making self-flattering statements) he discarded Kirby's designs and artwork and did all the visuals (most importantly including the costume) from scratch.

As always, these questions tend to boil down to what and who people want to believe; it's also a great play area for lawyers.

Something that would seem undeniable though is the fact that the Spider-Man of Amazing Fantasy #15 was the first Marvel character with no connection whatsoever to the Kirby/Lee sci-fi monster formula. While the Fantastic Four travelled to space and got their superpowers thanks to cosmic rays, Ant-Man was an "incredible shrinking scientist", Hulk begged the question of whether he was man or monster, and Thor (whose debut in Journey Into Mystery #83 hit the news-stands the very same day that Amazing Fantasy #15 did) was a god of sorts, Spider-Man was just a teenage kid from New York City who never signed up to save the world.

The character was unique, broke new ground, and proved a perfect vehicle for Lee's quippy and tongue in cheek style of telling a story about a regular kid turning into a "long underwear character".

 


Amazing Fantasy #15,
panel 5 on page 6 of Spiderman story

 
Also undisputed is the character's trailblazing success. Amazing Fantasy did get cancelled after issue 15, but once the sales figures came in two or three months after publication, along with letters from readers in praise of Spider-Man, Lee and Goodman realized that Marvel had a winner on their hands
 


1965 Marvel sales advertising

 

On December 12th 1962, Amazing Spider-Man #1 hit the news-stands, cover dated for March 1963. The story featured the Fantastic Four, establishing Marvel's policy of guest appearances that readers would come to love so much. It is impossible to contrast the sales figures for Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man during the 1962-1965 period as Marvel didn't publish said numbers until 1966.

In that year, Amazing Spider-Man sold 340,000 copies on average every month, compared to 329,000 for Fantastic Four. No publication from Marvel made it into the 1966 top ten selling titles, which saw Batman top out with an average of 898,000 copies sold monthly.

 
But ol' webhead, as Lee would soon start to call him, was unstoppable, and by 1969 Amazing Spider-Man was the first Marvel title to ever make it into the annual top ten sales list. Iin the early 1970s it even surpassed Superman to become the top-seller in the industry.
 
Amazing Fantasy #15 has also gone on to become the most expensive comic book ever at auction, with a CGC 9.6 graded copy fetching $ 3.6 million in September 2021.But all that buzz is, of course, solely connected to the 11 pages featuring Spider-Man.

The three short stories "with a twist", also penned by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, have little to no part in the status and allure that Amazing Fantasy #15 has in comic book history.

     
 
Reprints of Spider-Man's origin story therefore somewhat logically often focus on those 11 history making pages of friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man alone.
 
 

 
 


Martin Goodman
(1908-1992)

  Martin Goodman could look back on a wealth of business experience, and even though some of his practices had gotten him into a spot of trouble with the Federal Trade Commission in the 1940s (Vassallo, 2014), he had a keen (some would say shrewd) sense for the gains to be made from reprints.

"[Goodman] understood intellectual property only in the narrowest of business senses: He paid writers and artists once for their work, and then the content was his to print or reprint." (Hilgart, 2014)

The success of Marvel's line of new and different superheroes was staggering, and it quickly dawned on Goodman that he was looking at a wonderful profit margin if he could sell the same material a second time - and so Marvel published the 72-page anthology Marvel Tales Annual #1 on June 11th 1964 .

 
Hailed as a "collector's item" on its cover, it featured the first reprint of Spider-Man's first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 (a mere two years after its original publication), alongside the origin stories of the Hulk, Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Sgt. Fury, Iron Man and Thor (all originally published in 1962 or 1963).
 
Marvel Tales Annual #1 kicked off what would subsequently become Marvel's output of newly created titles for the sole purpose of reprinting previously published material.

Originally conceived as oversize annuals, they would turn into regular (bi-)monthly titles over time.

However, the word reprint would be diligently avoided for most of the time at this stage - the splash page reproduced in Marvel Tales Annual #1 instead stating "EXACTLY AS IT APPEARED IN AMAZING FANTASY #15".

 


Marvel Tales Annual #1
(June 1964)

 


Marvel Tales Annual #1
(June 1964)

 


Amazing Fantasy #15
(August 1962)

 
Which actually wasn't quite true, as some minor recolouring had taken place. But other than that, readers did get a complete and unaltered reprint of Spider-Man's origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15.

Since Marvel was at that point in time starting to turn out more and more material featuring its new and successful superheroes, there was no need to revisit what had already been reprinted once. It would subsequently be a fairly long wait for readers in the States until they would see Spidey's first appearance from Amazing Fantasy #15 again.

But the growing success of Marvel's superheroes resulted in that material appearing outside of the United States. It would seem appropriate to call this a process of re-publishing rather than re-printing, and the very first such publication of Marvel's new superhero material outside the US (and also in a language other than English at the same time) took place with almost no delay at all when publisher La Prensa put out Spanish versions of Los 4 Fantásticos #1 in September 1962 and El Sorprendente Hombre Araña #1 in June 1963 for readers in Mexico.

The latter title has attracted quite a bit of attention these past few years for the fact that La Prensa published stories and artwork created by Mexican artists in issues #122-185 that were completely outside the US continuity and thus featured something of a parallel Spider-Man universe.

 


El Sorprendente Hombre Araña #1
(Mexico, La Prensa, June 1963)

  However, the all-colour Sorprendente Hombre Araña #1 kicked off Spidey's adventures for Mexican readers (as the cover rightly suggests) with a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #1, and his actual origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15 would not be published in Mexico until April 1980, when publisher Novidades Editores put out El Asombroso Hombre Araña #1.

The first republication of Spider-Man's true first appearance - his origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15 - took place in the UK, in the black and white pages of Out Of This World #17. Published by Alan Class Comics (who made use of US material in random order and with no regard to continuity), this is believed to have happened around October 1964. But since no Alan Class comic book every carried a date on the cover (and very often not even on any inside pages), things are a bit foggy.

Class lost the rights to publish Marvel characters in 1966 to Odhams Press, who relaunched Spider-Man in Pow! #1 in January 1967. However, they - as La Prensa before them - chose to start out with the material from  Amazing Spider-Man #1 and ignored his actual origin from Amazing Fantasy #15.

 


Out Of This World #17
(UK, Alan Class, October 1964)

 
Odham's presentation of Marvel material from 1966 to 1968 had always been slightly odd. Whilst editorial copied the style of Stan Lee's banter heavily, the word "Marvel" was never spoken. Instead, they referred to themselves as "Power-House" and told readers about the "progress of Powerdom" (ironically, Odham ceased its publication business by the end of 1968).

Spider-Man's first appearance remained out of publication between 1964 and 1970, until Italian publisher Editoriale Corno put out Italy's first continuous comic book series featuring Marvel superhero material: L'Uomo Ragno (Brambilla, 2020). The publisher from Milan would however have none of the chaotic editorial policies displayed by Class and Odham in the UK, and set out on publishing Spider-Man's adventures in strict chronological order of their original publication.

This meant that, almost hiding behind a somewhat generic John Romita cover (produced by reworking a panel from Amazing Spider-Man #48), L'Uomo Ragno #1 introduced Italian readers to Spidey through his true origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15 (followed by his adventure from Amazing Spider-Man #1 and the Sorcerer Supreme's revamped origin story from Doctor Strange #169 as a backup for good measure, since Italian readers were accustomed to comic books with a higher page count).

 


L'Uomo Ragno #1
(Italy, Corno, April 1970)

 

 


L'Uomo Ragno #1
(Italy, Corno, April 1970)

 
It is interesting, as a side note, to see how foreign language publishers throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s would generally translate or transpose the names of Marvel characters. Spider-Man thus became el Hombre Araña in Spanish, l'Uomo Ragno in Italian, die Spinne in German, Spinneman in Dutch, Spindelmannen in Swedish, Edderkoppen in Norwegian, or even Kóngulóarmaðurinn in Icelandic. It was mostly only in the wake of the Spider-Man movies that publishers opted to just call the character Spider-Man, no matter the language of publication.
 


Mighty World Of Marvel #1
(UK, October 1972)

  No translation was needed for the next republishing of ol' webhead's origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15 when Mighty World of Marvel #1 hit the news-stands in the UK - published by Marvel's own UK imprint (commonly known and referred to as Marvel UK) in October 1972.

It was the start of a highly successful venture onto the British comic book market for Marvel, and a number of black and white weekly titles (one of them being Mighty World of Marvel) would (re-)introduce a whole array of Marvel characters - this time in proper chronological order.

It was thus only logical that Spider-Man would start out with his true first tale, from Amazing Fantasy #15 - although Mighty World of Marvel #1 dropped page 7 (which introduces "Part 2" of the story) and used a somewhat odd "spot-colour" printing using a green/blue hue.

 


Mighty World Of Marvel #1
(UK, October 1972)

 
Both L'Uomo Ragno in 1970 and Mighty World of Marvel in 1972 signalled a significant change of affairs.

When Marvel's superhero material started to be published outside the US (including non-English speaking countries) during the 1960s, this was usually either done in the completely haphazard way of Alan Class or, if the publishing chronology was somewhat respected, with later start-off points. The latter approach was typically the case for Spider-Man, where re-publication commonly started with Amazing Spider-Man #1 (as in El Sorprendente Hombre Araña #1), while the "Alan Class" route was exemplified by German publisher BSV who decided, for no apparent reason, to start their Hit-Comics #1 in 1966 with Amazing Spider-Man #29. But no matter where publishers decided to start their Spider-Man series, they would previously not do so with the origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15.

 


Die Spinne #1
(Germany, Williams, January 1974)

 

In January 1974 German publisher Williams Verlag (one of several publishing houses in Europe owned by Warner Brothers at the time) launched a range of seven titles featuring Marvel superheroes and horror material in January 1974.

And just like Editore Corno in 1970 and Marvel UK in 1972, Williams followed the original order of publication in the US. Die Spinne #1 thus introduced German language readers to Spider-Man through his origin as published in Amazing Fantasy #15.

Williams decided to go with the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #98 because it could easily be altered to show Namor (instead of the Green Goblin), who appeared in Die Spinne as backup feature. The same cover, in its original setup, would be used again for Die Spinne #99.

 


Die Spinne #1
(Germany, Williams, January 1974)

 


Origins of MarvelComics
(Simon and Schuster, 1974)

 

1974 was also the year that Spider-Man, along with a few other Marvel superheroes, made it into an actual book for the first time when Simon and Schuster published Origins of MarvelComics.

As the title promised, it contained the origin stories of the characters featured along with selected further adventures, and for Spider-Man this meant a re-publishing of his origin from Amazing Fantasy #15.

The next chance to read Spidey's origin occurred in September 1977, and it too was served up in a format very different from the regular single issue comic books. Marvel's "pocket books" in yet another collaboration with Simon and Schuster featured colour reprints but re-sized to the standard paperback book size.

Featured within the 164 pages of Amazing Spider-Man #1 were the web-crawlers first seven adventures in chronological order, including Amazing Fantasy #15 (the cover blurb erroneously only counted the issues of Amazing Spider-Man).

 


Amazing Spider-Man #1
(Pocket Books, September 1977)

 


Spindelmannen #1
(Sweden, Atlantic, January 1978)

 

1978 saw another republishing of Spidey's origin story in a language other than English as Atlantic Förlags AB introduced its Swedish readers to Peter Parker and Spider-Man in the 52 colour pages of Spindelmannen #1.

The very same month, Atlantic Förlags published the identical comic book in Norwegian too, as Edderkoppen #1. Since both were printed in Finland, this made for a highly economical way to serve two different language markets - a business model Atlantic Förlags (and its successor Semic) would employ frequently.

Following German, Swedish and Norwegian re-publications (of Spidey's origin from Amazing Fantasy #15, not Spider-Man material in general), 1978 also saw a more exotic language join the fold when Kobunsha of Japan published スパイダーマン (Supaidaman) #1.

The next re-publication, from 1979, took place in more familiar waters again.

 


スパイダーマン #1
(Japan, Kobunsha, 1978)

 


Spider-Man Summer Special
(UK, Marvel UK, 1979)

  Annuals were a long-standing tradition of the British comic book market and provided publishers with a welcome boost of sales during the summer holidays.

Marvel UK made sure to get a slice of that cake too by publishing several annuals, and the 1979 Spider-Man Summer Special saw Spider-Man's origin from Amazing Fantasy #15 now re-published for the second time in the UK - with a special cover blurb to boot, yet still, however, in black and white.

Clearly, with the ever growing reach of Marvel's superhero material, there was also an expanding market for very early (origin) stories. After only a few occasional reprints in the 1960s and early 1970s of Spider-Man's first published adventure, those pages from Amazing Fantasy #15 now started to see a lot more publication, and in an ever expanding fold of languages and countries.

 

 
In fact so much so that once you start looking at the 1980s and beyond, the re-publications of Spider-Man's origin story from 1962 become almost too numerous to sensibly list. There were, however, one or two that stand out.
 


Marvel Tales #137
(March 1982)


Spider-Man Classics #1
(April 1993)

  Marvel Tales #137 (the title could trace its roots to the 1964 Marvel Tales Annual #1, the first comic book ever to reprint Spider-Man's origin story, and had been a Spider-Man reprint title for years) announced on its cover in March 1982 that it was "re-presenting the now-classic very first appearance of Spider-Man". But readers got more than just that - on an interior page they could see, for the first time in colour, the cover that Steve Ditko had originally pencilled and inked for Amazing Fantasy #15.
It was featured again, In early 1993, when Marvel decided to launch Spider-Man Classics, a title that would reprint early Spider-Man material every month, ultimately running for a total of issues between April 1993 and July 1994.

Why Jack Kirby's cover was chosen over Steve Ditko's is, like so many other things in connection with the creation of Spider-Man, the subject of various differing accounts and, most likely, outright legends.

Some point to Martin Goodman not liking Ditko's cover (which doesn't quite rhyme with Stan Lee's somewhat substantiated statement that Goodman couldn't have cared and thought less about Spider-Man), while others attribute this to the fact that Kirby was Marvel's go-to cover artist in 1962 as the decisive element (which seems a likely explanation).

 


Spider-Man Classics #1
(April 1993)

Ditko's cover had been known to exist at least since the late 1960s, when it was published in a Marvel fanzine (Brevoort, 2019), but would have been absolute news for most readers both of Marvel Tales #137 in 1982 and Spider-Man Classics #1 in 1993.

It was used again, but this time as actual cover, for Amazing Spider-Man #700 (February 2013) - albeit as one of twelve variant covers.

Possibly the ultimate re-publication of Spider-Man's origin story from 1962 took place in December 2019, when Marvel published a facsimile edition of Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring not only the Spidey story but also including the three Lee & Ditko horror stories plus all the pages (including advertising) as originally published.

The only four things (other than a notice in the indicia) acting as tell-tale signs that this wasn't a comic book from 1962 were the quality of the paper used (glossy, no newsprint), the cover price ($ 3.99), the barcode in the lower left hand corner of the cover, and the modern MARVEL logo in the lower right-hand corner.

 


Amazing Spider-Man #700
(February 2013, Variant Cover)

  Attributing the title of "most often re-printed comic book story" depends on the criteria chosen. Spider-Man's origin story from Amazing Fantasy #15 is certainly up there, since re-publication really took off since the 1980s.

But then the importance lies more with the influence on comic book history, rather than just simple quantity. And in that respect, Spider-Man is indeed "beyond Amazing".

 


Amazing Fantasy #15
(Facsimile, December 2019)

 

 
BIBLIOGRAPHY
 
 
BRAMBILLA Alberto (2020) "50 anni fa, il primo fumetto dell’Uomo Ragno in Italia", FumettoLogica, published online 30 April 2020

BREVOORT Tom (2019) "Lee & Ditko: Amazing Fantasy #15", The Tom Brevoort Experience, published online 3 March 2019

DITKO Steve (1990) "Jack Kirby's Spider-Man", Robin Snyder's History of the Comics, Vol. 1, #5 [the essay is reproduced here]

HILGART John (2014) "Review of: The Secret History of Marvel Comics", The Comics Journal

HOWE Sean (2012) Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Harper Collins

LEE Stan & George MAIR (2002) Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee, Simon & Schuster

McLAUCHLIN Jim (2018a) "The Enduring Mysteries of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 (and their possible Answers)", in Newsarama, published online 8 August 2018 (accessed by way of archive.org)

McLAUCHLIN Jim (2018b) "Guest Blog: Jeff McLaughlin on Stan Lee", University Press of Mississippi Blog, published online 28 December 2018

MINTON Jeff (2009) “How I Did It: Stan Lee of Marvel Comics”, Inc Magazine, November 2009

RAPHAEL Jordan & Tom SPURGEON (2003) Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, Chicago Review Press

THOMAS Roy (2019) "Stan's Soapbox Sidebar", Alter Ego #161, TwoMorrows

VASSALLO Michael J. (2014) "Martin Goodman: The Crime Digest Paperbacks", Timely-Atlas-Comics Blog, June 2014

 

 
 



(c) 2022

uploaded to the web 7 July 2022