Some years before I had begun to get bored with comics as I started to notice a certain sameness to the stories. I remember realizing that the adventures my friends and I made up as we played Superman in the backyard were more exciting than those in the comics. Two things prevented me from getting back into comics up to my earlobes right then–first, my family, always in hard times, had fallen into even harder times, and there simply was no money for such things, and second, those whatchacall’ems–Marvel Comics? They were impossible to find around Bethel Park, Pennsylvania in those early days. How Bruno’s Barbershop acquired one remains a mystery.
During the summer of 1964, I spent a week in Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital where I had minor surgery and a major revelation. There were lots of comic books lying around in that kids’ ward, and I had lots of time to read. There were Archies, Harveys, Dells, Charltons, Nationals–and Marvels! All of the Marvel Comics were ratty and dog-eared–read to death, it seemed. Their wretched condition plus some childish loyalty compelled me to read one of the relatively pristine Superman comics first. I hoped that perhaps all comics had gotten better since I’d stopped reading them back when I was an eight-year-old kid. I was twelve, then. An eternity had passed. Anything was possible.
No such luck. Superman was right where I left him, worrying about Lois Lane discovering his secret identity and seemingly avoiding doing anything exciting with his powers–! Oh, well…
I turned to the Marvels. The Amazing Spider-Man no. 2. I was blown away. It was so… credible. When the villain, the Vulture, took to the air, people were shocked at the sight of a flying man. Just like I would be. No one ever seemed to notice–or care–when Superman flew. Everyone in Spider-Man seemed real–at least, in comparison to the cardboard cutouts that populated Superman. Not only did Spider-Man use his powers the way I imagined that I would, but he, and his civilian self, Peter Parker, seemed a lot like me in many ways. In and out of costume, Pete made mistakes. He had problems. One problem in particular hit home. Pete was broke. His number one problem was lack of money.
It seemed that all my life lack of money had oppressed my family. We always seemed to be on the brink of financial oblivion. Struggling. Hanging by a thread. Wolves at the door.
Just like Pete and Aunt May.
Pete was a good boy. Again, just like me. He wanted to do good with his powers. he meant well. But there was the small matter of keeping body and soul together. He and May had to eat. So Pete had to use his powers, as honorably as possible, of course, to make some money, first and foremost. If he hadn’t been bitten by that radioactive spider, he probably would have had to drop out of school and get a job at the supermarket.
For me, at twelve, getting a job at the supermarket, or any other job beyond delivering newspapers seemed even less likely than gaining spider powers. Nonetheless, The Amazing Spider-Man no. 2 clearly indicated a solution to my family’s money troubles simply by the fact of it’s vast superiority over any issue of Superman. Somebody, I reasoned, must get paid for making the comics. All I had to do was figure out why Spider-Man comics were better, learn how to do that, make some Superman comics that were as good as Marvels, and sell them to National. Simple.