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CSBG Archive

Silver Age September – Spider-Man Versus the Master Planner!

After a month of spotlighting the strange (if endearingly strange) history of comic books (and especially the Silver Age), I think it is worthwhile to show the comic books of the Silver Age that are simply great stories period. Here is an archive of all the Silver Age comics features so far!

Today we finish up Silver Age September with one of the most famous stories of the Silver Age, Amazing Spider-Man #31-33, Spider-Man versus the Master Planner!


This story is important for two separate reasons. First off, issue #31 has Peter Parker starting college, where he meets two people who become very important in his life – Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy! Plus, Aunt May has gotten very sick from the blood transfusion Peter gave her awhile back, so Peter has that on his mind. Check out Harry and Gwen’s intros…

Peter had been dealing with this criminal known as the Master Planner, who had been having his minions committing a bunch of crimes. Eventually, Peter discovers that the Master Planner is his old nemesis, Doctor Octopus!

Here’s the problem – there’s a serum that could be used to cure Aunt May. However, the serum would also help Doctor Octopus, so Doc Ock steals it. Spidey breaks into his underwater headquarters to steal it back and manages to get it from Doc, but not before a ton of machinery falls on top of ol’ Spidey. Plus, the underwater headquarters is leaking. PLUS, Doc left armed guards outside the door!!

This, of course, led to Amazing Spider-Man #33, and one of the most famous sequences of the Silver Age…


And what people sometimes forget is that it is followed by yet ANOTHER amazing sequence!!

What’s particularly interesting about the second sequence is that if you took out the thought balloons, Ditko’s art is so well done that you could still totally see what Peter is thinking just by his body movement. Awesome.

A total and utter classic storyline.


I was watching Jonathan Ross’s Steve Ditko documentary, and when he interviews Alan Moore about the Master Planner saga, he mocks Stan Lee’s contribution, saying that he cluttered up the great art with awful word balloons and narration during the machinery lifting scene.

I so disagree, especially if you take into account the target age of the book. As a kid, that dialogue inspired me beyond belief. I have no doubt that Ditko deserves a lion’s share of the credit for this book as he was the sole plotter by this point as well as the artist, but man were those words great.

^^ Yeah, I felt the same way watching the Ross documentary. As an art comic for sophisticated readers, the sequence probably works better wordless, but if I was reading those pages as a kid without the dialogue, I’m almost certain I would have passed over them without much thought.

Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Moore in his heart of hearts knew this, but it’s Moore, so of course he’s going to take a shot at Stan Lee, the same way he takes a shot at DC whenever he can, or anyone else in the comics world he belives has done an injustice.

This story arc was amazing. Silver Age Spider-Man (written by Lee and drawn by Ditko or Romita) is my all time favorite comics run. One thing I’ve always loved is the dripping shape of Gwen’s word balloon in the last panel on page 10 of issue #31. It really captures how pissed off she is. (I guess that has been done in other places but this issue was the first time I saw something like that.) I thought this story was homaged pretty well in the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, which was sadly canceled way to soon.

I think the important thing about comics is that it’s the combination of words and art that makes them special. So even though Ditko’s art was awesome, Lee’s dialogue does not hinder the sequence. Does that documentary about Ditko discuss why he left Spider-Man? If so I may have to check it out.

Or maybe he genuinely feels that way.

Meanwhile, I always thought Gwen had so much more personality when Ditko was on the book.

Or maybe he genuinely feels that way.

Cass acknowledged that maybe he genuinely feels that way. She was just saying she “wouldn’t be surprised” if in Moore’s heart of hearts he knew otherwise.

But look at what Lee does on the page of Spidey lifting the machine.. He also used to work with the letterers to mark out where the caption boxes and word balloons would go. On that final push Spidey does on that full page splash, Stan Lee lets the art shine when it counts, with only one caption and one word balloon.

The awesome design element in those 4 pages from #33 is that, as Spidey lifts the machinery, the bottom panel(s) on each page gets taller until it finally takes over the entire page. Brilliant.

always amazed me how spider man used his guilt over uncle ben and wanting to save aunt may as giving him the strength to lift that machine. a cool pick.

Does anybody know what the plans are for an Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Volume 2? I was kind of hoping what with the new movie they’d put one out. They’ve already announed a few for next year, but not for Spidey. How far in advance do they usually announce this? I know this material is available in the Masterworks format, but man, I really, really love reading those letters pages.

The scene with Spidey fighting all the bad guys reminded me of when he fights Firelord [Galactus’ herald] where he’s been running away from him & trying to stop him & finally just goes on instinct & beats the tar out of him.

i like to think that Spidey’s actual prowess is controlled by his self limitation & that he, like Cap, only get better, stronger, & faster under great pressure.

Great issue. Even today, even with all that clunky dialogue setting up Parker as the misunderstood victim, it still works, as after reading it I still get an emotional reaction.


Great comic, in a month of great comics, thanks.

While I think some of this narration/thought balloons in this sequence is overwrought, it’s not like Ditko would have done any BETTER himself. Have you read, say, Mysterious Suspense (first Question solo), or his 80s Static stuff? It’s been awhile, but MAN, Ditko is just as overwrought (and CROWDS the page with words!). (And mind you, I’m not making any statements one way or another about his “political” beliefs — he just FILLS the pages with words.)

However, I can see where it would chafe Ditko (or Kirby) to have Stan sticking his words in where they weren’t intended, or “cluttering” up a layout.

As with most of the arguments pro/con Stan Lee (with regards to his collaborations with Kirby or Ditko), an absolutist position on either side misses out that we only have these original comics in collaboration, and NONE of the books that Lee, Kirby, or Ditko did solo (or with others) measure up to what was done with the early Spidey, FF, Cap, and so on.

Yes, I love the Fourth World, (Bill Reed, for some reason, loves Ravage 2099), and I think Ditko’s The Safest Place in the World is an underrated gem, but nothing these guys did quite reaches the magic they got working together.

And thanks to sipply for pointing out the design of the lifting sequence, where the bottom “lifts” up the rest of the page. I didn’t quite catch that scrolling through (and I’m not sure I actually own this sequence, just read it in the Essential volume 2 from the library). One of the downsides of digital reading, I suppose.

IIRC page 4 of the lifting sequence is the verso page of an opening with ads on the recto page. So a kid reading this back in the day had to turn the page to get the triumphal splash page–absolutely brilliant.

Classic sequence.

And the thoughts slow it all down even more, making it seem all the more agonising.

Oh, and befor I go, that Jonathan Ross documentary was grossly unfair and unbalanced. Didn’t even try to take both sides into consideration and just took Ditko’s word. You think folk would be proud that Stan did so much for the comicbook industry and yet there are folk who just can’t help but have a go at him. Pathetic.

@Boabie: You need to watch that Jonathan Ross documentary again, because not only does Ross display nothing but total respect for Lee in the film, the documentary also features bits of an interview with Neil Gaiman, who shows that he’s clearly in the tank for Lee.

@Travis Pelkie: Agree 100%. Ditko was/is an amazing genius, but it’s Lee’s dialogue and characterization that make it easy to appreciate his talent. I find it a lot harder to enjoy Ditko’s art in something like the Question, where the cheerless characters speak over one another in ideological gobbledygook, than in Spider-Man, where Lee’s word balloons bring levity to the somber life Ditko has plotted out for Peter.

And I’m sure this will be an unpopular position in light of recent events, but really the same holds for Kirby. The man’s incredible creativity and sense of dynamism made the Fantastic Four the success it turned out to be, but at the same time, those characters, the words that made them who they were, belonged to Lee. That’s why the Forever People will never be the Fantastic Four, because the Forever People are Kirby’s IDEAS. You read the Forever People and you’re reading a magnificently illustrated idea of Kirby’s, in the same way that Mr. A personifies Steve Ditko’s ideology. Lee gave the Fantastic Four internal lives and distinct, believable voices. That, as much as the mind-blowing plots and character designs, has contributed to the longevity of the title, current FF incarnation not withstanding.

Wait, Gaiman’s pro-Stan Lee? A word guy supporting another word guy? No! :)

Boabie did word things nicely, though, and pointed out Stan’s contribution: “And the thoughts slow it all down even more, making it seem all the more agonising.”

That’s where Stan contributed, and why, even though as Brian said you can read Peter’s thoughts through the Ditko body language, it wouldn’t have worked as well without the thought balloons.

I think you “read” a wordless sequence a lot faster, in general, probably particularly a fight scene, and the thought balloons, as Boabie said, slow it all down and emphasize the agony — which is what we’re supposed to be feeling, reading it. That’s what makes this sequence memorable and, dare I say it, raises it to “art” or “literature”.

I think there are only certain people that can pull off wordless sequences well — Peter Kuper is a master, Sergio Aragones, Eric Drooker. I myself enjoy Dave Sim (with Gerhard) on the Cerebus “extra” story “A Night on the Town”, where the only “talking” is accomplished through images inside word balloons. There may be other artists that can pull off wordless sequences for long stretches, but they aren’t coming to mind right now.

I also agree with you, Cass, on Ditko/Kirby plus Stan. I think in light of this Kirby decision your position might be unpopular, but I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that Stan DID contribute SOMETHING to the early Marvel stuff. (I do think that Steve Bissette, in calling for boycotting Marvel due to the Kirby decision, does bring up relevant points that us fanboys should keep in mind when purchasing Marvel stuff, but then, those points have been relevant for the last 50 years….)

Of course, I don’t think it’s wrong either to think and feel that Kirby and Ditko have gotten screwed over some over the years by Marvel, but that’s another argument…

To answer sandwich eater’s question about the Ditko documentary – no, it does not really discuss Ditko’s departure from ASM, at least not in the sense that we get a specific answer from the man himself. In fact, the documentary is only interesting in that it features a bunch of interviews with various creators about their views of and/or experiences with Ditko. True to form, Ditko refused to speak before a rolling camera or on record, so given its title “In Search of Steve Ditko”, it really does not deliver the goods (for us viewers; Ross himself, together with Gaiman, did pay Ditko a private visit, and they gush about it afterwards…)
As for the subject of this post – this is such a great story arc in probably the greatest Silver Age series. Personally, I find the Lee/Ditko and then Lee/Romita runs on Spider-man the only Silver Age material that is still fresh and enjoyable to read; the stories really have a timeless quality that most other Silver Age material lacks.

Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Denny Oneil: best writers of the 60’s, bar none. Discuss.

That splash page is ‘Amazing’!

Just reinforces why Spider-man was voted Marvel’s number one character.

Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Denny Oneil: best writers of the 60?s, bar none. Discuss.

Ugh. I’d never put Roy Thomas in the same breath as Stan Lee. I find his stuff convoluted, fanwanky and all-around awful.

Edo, I agree that Silver Age Spidey is timeless. I read through it a couple years ago when I was an undergraduate student, and it struck me how fresh the series felt, and how Peter’s college life was similar to modern college life. In fact, the only things that stuck out were relatively minor, like how MJ called boys, “dad.”

As for the documentary I’m a little disappointed because I’ve always wondered why Ditko suddenly left the most popular breakout character of the 60s. I harbor a foolish hope that he might return for Spider-Man’s 50th anniversary (it’s coming up), but I doubt that he’d even consider it. I’d love to see a Lee/Romita story for the 50th anniversary, and that’s probably much more likely to happen.

Danny, I recommend picking up the Amazing Spider-Man dvd collection. It includes the letter pages and ads. It’s out or print now, so you’ll have to get it used. It’s expensive, but it’ll end up costing you pennies per issue since it includes all of Amazing Spider-Man from Amazing Fantasy #15 to 2006. I really love it. I bought it 3 years ago when it was in print and I still haven’t read all the comics. (I’m stuck in the clone saga right now.) The only downside is that it is straight up scans of the originals so you won’t get the recoloring that marvel does in its collections.

This is probably my favorite comics story. Ever.

Not just the lifting-the-machine sequence, but starting college and managing to piss everybody off by being preoccupied with his ailing aunt.

Three great, great books.

I have to agree with T’s first comment. Reading those words as a kid kinda sorta changed my life.

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