Part of what you get when you read a Stan Lee comic, particularly the ones from the “Marvel Age” days in the 1960s, is a sense of unadulterated, caution to the wind fun. Everything ends with an exclamation point. Everything has color commentary. Everything is bright and ecstatic with the thrill of having a sandbox full of superheroes as a playground. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Lee’s early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, the teenager superhero that would become Marvel’s flagship character. Lee wrote the first 100 issues of the title, introducing most of Spidey’s chief allies and enemies along the way, but it’s the title’s early issues that are in many ways the most groundbreaking and the most fun to revisit. Take issue #8, in which Spidey has to save his high school from a massive green robot.
Part of the genius of Spider-Man in general is the teenage aspect. For its time, it was almost unprecedented to see a teenage superhero who wasn’t a sidekick, but it’s more than just Peter Parker’s age that makes it interesting. Lee gave him high school problems to deal with, real world stuff that went beyond the tights and rooftops. In Amazing Spider-Man #8, as in most other issues, he’s dealing simultaneously with both. The thing that makes this one particularly fun is that the teenage side of the problem is a boxing match with his old nemesis, Flash Thompson, and the superhero one is a big green robot.
I’m also always fascinated by the way Lee and artist Steve Ditko structure their fight scenes in these issues. They’re not particularly complex, and they’re often even predictable, but it’s a perfect showcase for Spider-Man’s unique, wise-cracking, high-flying talents. In this issue, fighting against that big green robot known as “The Living Brain,” he pummels it every way he knows how, but in the end the way you have to defeat it is to just turn the damn thing off. That’s a Stan Lee thing to do, and it works every time, even when you know that’s what’s going to happen.
Stan Lee’s contribution to the world of comics, both in terms of character creation and in terms of powering the medium into the mainstream, is unquestioned, but I know so many readers who decry his abilities as a writer. No, Stan Lee does not have the same flair for natural dialogue as a Warren Ellis or a Matt Fraction, and he doesn’t have the plotting skills of an Alan Moore or a Grant Morrison. What he has is an incomparable drive to keep telling his stories, and he tells them the way he wants to. He did even then, and that’s why even today reading something like Amazing Spider-Man #8 is too much fun to feel ashamed about. That’s what Stan really did. He made it too bold, too bright, too much damn fun to ignore, and that’s why you should all go read about Spidey fighting this big-ass robot.
By the way, you can read issue #8 and the other early adventures of Webhead in Marvel Masterworks’ The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1.