Undervalued Spotlight #253

ASM39Amazing Spider-Man #39, Marvel Comics, August 1966. Story by Stan Lee, Art by John Romita Sr. Inking by Mickey Demeo (pseudonym for Mike Esposito).

Mike Huddleston takes the reins of the Spotlight this week and anyone who’s read some of Mike’s older Spotlight picks knows that this is a good thing. Mike’s Spotlight picks are always written with a passion for the hobby, a deep knowledge of the subject matter and a great nose for value. Mike has chosen a stellar pick this week so why don’t we let the man have his say. Walt

This weeks spotlight is on one of my three favourite Amazing Spider-Man comics of all time – Amazing Spider-Man #39.  Issue #50 is another and I have a whole bunch tied for 3rd place.

Anthony Falcone already did a nice piece on this book in his column Does Whatever a Spider Can earlier in the year and he gives a solid story synopsis on issue #39 and the conclusion of the story in issue #40.

So I am a clearly a big fan of this book, but how is it undervalued?

For me it is undervalued in its importance. When I look back at the history of Spider-Man and issue #39, this book is almost like a new #1 for the title, and probably would be if they cancelled and re-started titles back then like they do today. It is in my opinion one of the Amazing Spider-Man’s most important comics of all time.

It starts with the art. John Romita began his famous run on Amazing Spider-Man in this issue, taking over the reigns from Steve Ditko who illustrated the first 38 issues on the title.  By the time issue #42 had come to its famous last panel, Romita had taken over complete control of the book and I would say most of Spidey fandom. You wouldn’t find too many kids or teenagers who didn’t favour Romita’s version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his friends (Mary Jane and Gwen) over Steve Ditko’s version of the same group. Romita’s style meshed perfectly with Stan Lee’s soapish writing style and the already popular character went off the charts – they had a hit. A big hit. Many artists have done wonderful renditions of Spider-Man, but for me the John Romita version of Spider-Man is the one that resonates with most fans. I can’t think of an artistic change in a popular comic title that had more of a positive long-term impact than this one (and there are a lot of them).

In Anthony’s write up you read about the two big secret identity reveals in the book. It is hard for me to articulate just how big a deal that was back then. The Green Goblin returns to the book after a year away and Stan Lee pulls out all of the stops on this one.  The Green Goblin has a plan to destroy Spider-Man, and he executes it to perfection! As a kid you were literally screaming at Spider-Man to turn around and see the Goblin (he had muffled Spider-Man’s spidey sense) when he was following him and watched him change to Peter Parker. When the Green Goblin catches Peter Parker outside Aunt May’s house in his civvies you felt the same helplessness that Peter felt. It was a very powerful book and conjures up those old feelings even when I re-read the book today. The revealed identities played out tragically for many characters and for many years following this book

I have always seen this book as a blue chipper. It doesn’t have huge spikes in price but always seems to be steadily moving up. You can say that about other big issues like ASM# 3, 14, & 50 as well.  I do think this book has a lot more room to appreciate against these books and will over time. This book is already outpacing current Overstreet values at auction and I expect that to continue in to the future. It has finally caught up to ASM #40 in the 45th Overstreet guide which was way overdue.

45th Overstreet splits for this book are 8.0/$274, 9.0/$612, 9.2/$950

Reasons to buy this book:

  • First John Romita artwork on the Amazing Spider-Man title
  • First reveal of Spider-Man’s secret identity
  • First reveal of the Green Goblin’s secret identity (Norman Osborn)
  • Classic Cover and Story
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Mike Huddleston
Mike was born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario. He has read and collected comics for over 40 years. A Marvel Zombie specializing in the Silver, bronze and early copper age of comics.
Articles: 101

23 Comments

  1. Sorry Walt, beg to disagree! Ditko left Marvel. Not Marvel left Ditko! Right there getting the AF#15 up thru Spidey#38 each month. I was totally turned off with Romitas’ art!

  2. Nice post, it’s one of my all-time favorites too (along with so many in that run)! What would you recommend to someone like me who bought this issue 10 years ago for around $30, time to sell or still a good hold? Cheers

  3. Hey Stephen

    I didn’t say who left who in the article. John Romita replaced the departed Steve Ditko and Spider-Man’s popularity exploded to a much higher level. There is no question about that.

    Steve Ditko did leave Marvel and no one is saying why, although there is plenty of speculation. Marvel must have had an inkling this was going to happen as they tried out Romita on Spider-Man in Daredevil #16 & #17 a few months before Ditko left.

    I thought Ditkos style worked much better on Doctor Strange and I missed him there.

    Were you a kid or a teenager in August 1966? ^-^!

  4. Hey Mike
    Nice choice. Sadly, when Ditko left Marvel I was so upset I took an immediate and lasting dislike to Romita. As much as I admire him as a personality, I could never get over my aversion to his art, even to this day. It just looks…bland? Ditko had that strange retro flare to his work that made it look so different from the other books on the stand at the time. It’s just a good thing nobody had the bright idea of putting Romita on Doctor Strange as well. I’ll take Marie Severin over Romita any day, or Bill Everett or Dan Adkins. But, the saddest thing about losing Ditko is that I completely lost interest in Spider-Man, which, along with Thor and the F.F. had previously been in my Marvel Top Three. The good thing is that I became a Daredevil fan and a huge fan of the late, great Gene Colan, who, ironically, went on to do one of the greatest runs of Ditko’s other specialty, Doctor Strange. But John Romita? You can keep him.

    Now, let the horsewhipping begin!

  5. Hey Mel,

    Sorry to hear you lost interest in a great character like Spider-Man over a change of artists Mel.

    I always liked Spider-Man. I liked him even more when Romita took over the reins because his art was “cartoon perfect” to 9 year old me anyways. His work always seemed brighter and more colourful. Ditko’s work seemed inconsistent, dark and moody. I like and appreciate both artists in retrospect but still favour Romita.

    One of the aspects about the surge in popularity with Romita’s work that I only touched on was the sex appeal he brought to the women (and men) in the book. John Romita draws beautiful people. His previous work in romance books served him well here. Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacey were impossibly good looking. Steve Ditko could not draw an attractive person under the threat of torture. I know this sounds terrible but beauty does sell in a visual medium and I think this was part of the greater appeal for the book with Romita.

    Mel how old were you in August 1966 ? ^-^!!

  6. Hey Mike
    Well, that wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be. It’s hard to diss a fan favourite like Romita.

    I was actually twelve when Ditko left Spidey. The year before, my family had moved from out past the Second Line near Brampton to the quaint little town of Preston. The biggest thrills for me were discovering Lou’s Variety downtown, which stocked scads of comics and magazines, and the Galt Book Exchange which sold used comics for a dime or really old (read ten-cent cover) comics for a quarter. I picked up tons of old Fantastic Fours (including #2 for a quarter!) and Spider-man. After living in the country off other kids’ cast-offs, this was like heaven on earth. Only a couple of years later I discovered Memory Lane in Toronto, and away I went.

    I should actually add that I sold my run of Ditko Spider-man only about ten years ago to reinvest in Canadian Whites, which have given me a wonderful window into my own country’s flirtation with my favourite medium.

  7. Hey Walt
    I think you’re right about the “age thing.” I even know a few young whippersnappers that would swear Todd McFarlane drew the definitive Spider-Man, and I’m sure Romita’s spare lines would be anathema to them after a steady diet of McFarlane squiggles all over the place. But, seriously, just as I would put Kirby, Ditko and Colan in the A list, I would still put the likes of Romita and, say, Don Heck in the B list. I think though that most people like best what they remember the most fondly.

    Now, I’m sure somebody is going to nail me for putting Romita and Heck in the same company.

  8. Ok, i’ll try and make a go of addressing the above replies ….i was losing interest in Marvel when Ditko left. The Magic was less and less for Marvel and this was shared by many comic book fans and collectors! Many of us found the Magic in Golden Age comic books, EC, Fritz, Willie,Barks an explosion of interest in Comic Art and Comic Books away from Marvel. A maturation of Fandom! True by the late 60’s, Marvel rule the General Publics interest, mainly College youth, but within Fandom, collectors of Marvel Comics exclusively were marginized and ridiculed! The birth of the term “Marvel Zombies” was applied to closed minds! For myself and many of my peers, the thrill was gone over Marvel by the late 60’s! I did not like most art done by the company! And much of it became Product, boring Corporate Crap! Hmmm…i always preferred the Androgynis look in Super Heros especially Spidey. After Ditko i go for McFarlands. Yes Body Image Wars Gender issues etc etc. All for now.

  9. Too true Stephen. Marvel in the late 60s lost me to Wrightson, Kaluta and the great flowering of D.C. into the 70s. Marvel’s sole claim to fame in the 70 was Genial Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula and Doctor Strange for me. BUT! I am a self-confessed Marvel Zombie of the 60s. The good thing is that I haven’t felt the need to seek help. : )

    cheers, mel

  10. Romita saved Spider-Man from a crash. Ditko’s art sucked. It’s sexy to romance him, to lament, etc. Truth is – Romita redefined Spidey and the cast. In every way, Romita created Mary Jane! The MJ we know and love. To argue the contrary is foolish! The icon Spidey morphed into was courtesy of Romita’s art and Stan Lee’s craftsmanship and savvy adaptability. Honestly, Steve Ditko may be one of the most overrated personas in comiX history.

  11. Jack ???, I don’t worship Ditkos art nor do i tear down Romitas work.Romitas done much very good work, but i stand by statements above. Many if not most felt and still do Ditkos Spidey is the definitive version!! Vulnerable insecure teen in Noir settings and was the perfect choice!!

  12. Jack
    Thanks for that blanket statement about people loving Ditko being “foolish.” “Ditko’s art sucked”??? As much as I prefer Ditko to Romita, I wouldn’t characterize Romita lovers as “foolish,” just of a different artistic temperament than me. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. It would be nice if they could express it without utterly dumping on people of another opinion. So, anyway Jack, in your effort to set to record straight, you’ve merely clouded the issue with your antagonistic demeanour. I mean, after all, in my opinion, people who think “Ditko’s art sucked” are morons, but I would never make a point of crapping on anybody else’s opinion in such an offhand manner. : )

  13. Good points all around guys. This book does illicit strong opinions and I knew it was a bit of lightning rod when I chose it for the undervalued spotlight. The physical change in look of the book from the artist change, to the more subtle strip change from the “noirish shy teenager” to a new hip uptown look was drastic for readers at the time. I think it is impossible to argue the new look wasn’t commercially more successful. I love film noir. It is my favourite genre of movie. I do recognize though that commercially it works better in small doses (it can be a bit of a downer) and I think in the end Steve Ditko had taken the noirish tone of book as far as he could. I think the change in direction for the book that Stan Lee wanted was something Steve Ditko could not live with artistcally and he left.The change in direction for the book and to Romita was in my opnion the right call by Stan Lee. It was a gutsy call given this was your companys #2 selling book at the time and it paid off huge.

    Artistcally the debate continues…..

  14. Thanks Mike. I think Jack could take a few cues from you on how to make a point without resorting to slagging other people. You’re always the voice of reason. One of the reasons I enjoy your post (and your comments) so much!

    cheers, mel

  15. You know you have a great spotlight pick when the comments section gets heated like this!

    Would it be fair to argue that Daredevil 16 is more of a holy grail for Romita-Spidey fans? First is first. Like Mike said, it’s his try out. Also has his renditions JJJ, Peter and Aunt May. And it’s a Silver age Spidey crossover with a great battle cover. I’d dare say he didn’t go full Romita on Spider-man in DD, still looks a little Ditko-esque (smaller eyes, more webbing on costume). It’s the missing link!

  16. Hey Darren,

    I think you have a very fair argument there. First is first. The bookst do get some love from Overstreet, but is that for the character appearance or the artist? I love those two DD books.

    There are many things we may never know how this change of artist/comic direction went down. Steve Ditko and Stan Lee have kept it mostly between themselves. It is alot of fun speculating though!

  17. Just curious, but has anybody compared Mary Jane’s anatomy to any KIrby women, such as Sue Storm, Crystal and Medusa of the Inhumans or Jane Foster? I think Romita took the template for hot chicks from Jack.

    To quote the man himself: “If I had never met Jack Kirby I would still be doing that sleepwalking everybody else was doing.”

  18. I don’t know about that one Mel. Romita had been cranking out romance comics for DC for a couple years prior to any of those characters being drawn by Kirby. Romita probably was a better artist for having worked with Kirby, but he wasn’t some turnip that fell off a truck prior to their meeting. Kirby also drew beautiful women ( the four you mentioned and Sharon Carter were on my list). I do think Romita’s MJ and Gwen Stacey were top-notch. Romita’s Medusa in ASM #62 is the best I have ever seen her look.

  19. Hey Mike
    Don’t forget who pioneered the romance comic. Yep. Kirby and Simon. I bet Jovial John took the odd page from their book when he dove into the romance genre.

  20. A few thoughts:
    1. I prefer Ditko, but have to admit that Romita’s is the more iconic, more widely popular and “recognized” Spidey (and incredibly so, given that Ditko designed the costume).
    2. To suggest that Romita “saved” Spider-Man is rather ridiculous, quite frankly. Spider-Man reprints were the lead story in Marvel Tales (except #2) before he took over the mag completely. Spider-Man had replaced The Human Torch as Marvel’s “top teen” long before Ditko left, and, while I don’t have sales or print figures in front of me, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that ASM had almost, if not completely, supplanted the FF as Marvel’s bestseller before Ditko’s exit. Look at all the Spidey guest appearances and the old advertisements for early Marvel merchandise: Spider-Man was the “face” of Marvel from a VERY early time; certainly by 1966, if not even a year or two earlier. I’d wager the only reason FF was ever a bigger seller in the first place was their head-start.
    3. As others mentioned, Romita’s Daredevil “Spidey try-out” issues would probably make appropriate entries for the Undervalued Spotlight. Again, I don’t have the values in front of me, but I’d bet it’s worth very little compared to any contemporary ASM issues. It’s probably undervalued simply because it’s from a lesser-collected title than ASM. In addition to being the iconic artist’s first work on the character, it’s a (somewhat) early Spider-Man crossover, and only his (2nd? 3rd? meeting with DD).

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