The Best Cliffhanger Ever
I remember buying this comic book at Churchill’s Pharmacy, corner of South Park Road and Brightwood Road, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. It was October, 1965. I had just turned fourteen.
I read the book in the store, after paying for it. They were nice at Churchill’s but like everywhere else, if you read the books before buying them, they’d remind you “this isn’t a library.”
The issue contained the second chapter of a three-part story, fondly referred to around Marvel in my day as the “Master Planner Sequence.” This chapter, “Man on a Rampage,” features Spider-Man on a desperate quest to recover the only thing that can save his beloved Aunt May’s life, a serum called ISO-36, the only supply of which has been stolen by the Master Planner’s thugs.
The Master Planner turns out to be Doctor Octopus. Spider-Man ends up battling Doc Ock in his underwater hideout. Spider-Man’s desperate fury drives away Doc Ock, but their battle has so damaged the structure that, as Doc Ock flees, an immense piece of equipment topples over on Spider-Man pinning him under it.
The container with the serum lies tormentingly in sight.
The dome overhead is breaking up. Water is rushing in.
There is no way out. No hope.
For me, that was the best cliffhanger ever:
That’s just me. I’m sure you have your own favorites. But I won’t ever forget standing agape in Churchill’s Pharmacy trying to process the realization that I’d have to wait an entire month to see what happened.
As for the story, well, some would say it was amazingly coincidental that Doctor Octopus happened to need, and steal, the only thing that could save Aunt May. Stan did justify it to some extent, though. Aunt May was dying because of radioactivity in her blood. Her blood was contaminated by a transfusion of nephew Peter/Spider-Man’s radiation-altered blood. Like Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus gained his powers from radiation. It is not an inconceivable stretch that he’d be interested in a serum that affects radioactivity in the blood.
Yeah, I know, it’s still a coincidence.
But as I often say, you have to look at those early sixties stories in the context of the times. Back when Superman’s main problem seemed to be keeping Lois from guessing his secret identity, the emotional content of the Master Planner Sequence was stunning.
So Stan did that leg of a three-part continued story in the “normal” way, generating powerful conflicts, building to a climax/cliffhanger and breaking there. “As seen on TV,” you might say, since that’s the technique employed almost exclusively by usually-one-part TV dramas that have a special two-parter. It was/is the standard even for sitcoms.
And the pay-off was great:
Baiting the Hook
As noted yesterday, there are many ways to do multi-issue or continued stories. Not all involve a climax/cliffhanger.
If you don’t have that how am I going to wait a whole month to find out what happened cliffhanger? to bring the readers rushing back, how do you do it?
Lots of ways.
First, and ultimately the most important, nothing makes a reader more inclined to pick up the next issue than if the book they just read is great. That’s the mightiest hook you can sink.
If the book in hand is terrific, other kinds of teases may not be needed, but won’t hurt. If the book in hand is, perhaps, good, but not the greatest issue of all time, teases may help.
If the book in hand is bad, well, probably nothing you can do will work. But, if the teases are really compelling, at least there’s hope that the reader will give you one more chance.
The simplest tease is the next issue blurb. Even if it’s just the title, if it’s a really compelling title, that can stir interest.
I’ve know I’ve written a few good titles along the way. I can’t think of any right now. Maybe they weren’t that good.
Aha! I came up with one for Legion of Super-Heroes #42, in which the Legionnaires are in terrifying danger but have gotten new, protective costumes: “Fear and Clothing.”
Well, I liked it. And the editor laughed out loud.
Some little hint about the must-see events that will occur in the next issue is good, too. At the end of Amazing Spider-Man #31, Stan wrote:
“Next issue: We shall learn the fate of Peter Parker’s Aunt May, as well as the identity of – the Master Planner!”
The next level of tease is, essentially, a dramatization of the next issue blurb/hint about must-see things in store—a page, a few panels or a single panel that plays out a dramatic development that affects next issue. In addition to his next issue blurb, Stan used that type of tease at the end of the first chapter of the Master Planner Sequence:
Stan was amazing. He had range. He was able to get me just as worried about Aunt May’s illness as he did about the coming of Galactus.
It’s a good thing. He didn’t offer a title for issue #32 and the next issue blurb admonishment “You must not miss it! ‘Nuff said!” is right up there with the lamest of all time.
If he had given the title of the next chapter, “Man on a Rampage!” I think that would have sold me all by itself.
But, as you see, other than for the usual problems he’s aware of, Spider-Man is hale and hearty. There is no intense, immediate, hero-in-peril cliffhanger.
Next issue blurb dramatizations are not limited to panels or sequences at the end, of course. Well-crafted panels or sequences not directly involved with or critical to the main story in the issue somewhere in the middle can be just as effective. The key term is “well-crafted.” If it’s good, clear and comprehensible as a portent of things about to happen that relate to the main story, it’s a tease. If it’s one of those what’s-this-and-what’s-it-got-to-do-with-anything? confusing bits, it’s bad writing.
NEXT: Long Term Teases, or This Better Be Good….
I suppose it is conceivable that Martin Goodman said such things never intending to honor them. Goodman actually giving profit participations is still, to me, inconceivable, knowing what I do of him and the deals he made.
The Judge ruled in Marvel’s favor, finding all the evidence showed that either Stan thought of the initial idea or that Stan directed Kirby to create something. Work for hire.
The Judge made it clear she was not ruling on the issue of who created the characters or even who had the initial idea for them. The thrust of the Kirby Estate's argument was that although the characters were created with the intent that Marvel would publish them (fulfilling the "instance" requirement of WFH), they were done at Kirby's expense, because he was not paid for rejected pages. They argued that meant he was working on spec, but the judge rejected that argument.
Jim Shooter wrote:I do not believe Martin Goodman ever offered any ancillary participations to any artist. Or even Stan. From what I do know, the notion is inconceivable.
Mark Evanier says that both Ditko and Kirby told him that Martin Goodman promised them some sort of profit participation for the licensing of characters they created, and then later reneged on that promise. Based on what I've read about Goodman, it seems likely he never intended to honor those promises, and of course nothing was put into writing.
If anyone wants to read Ditko's point of view in Ditko's words, you just need to pick up a copy of this.
Avenging World by Ditko Book #1
Ditko tells his story.
John Romita was meticulous, therefore slow compared to the "that's good enough" types. He was probably fast, or middle-of-the-pack compared to Hal Foster, Milt Caniff, Alex Raymond or (insert name of uncompromising genius). John idled at great, but wouldn't settle for less than full throttle. The results were brilliant. Brilliant results of hard work should look effortless. If the art is dazzling, no evidence of the blood, toil, tears and sweat can be seen at all.
Hi Dan — I read where John Romita said that drawing was 'hard work', which surprised me as his stuff always looked so effortless and pristine.
Salamurai, I would have to concur with you that of all the comics I was reading as a kid in the 1980s, G.I. Joe had the greatest edge-of-your-seat, cliffhanger feel. Maybe it helped that because of the ensemble nature of the cast, you could never really be sure which characters would live or die…or die and come back later.
The greatest cliffhanger ever, for me, was GI Joe #32.
Because I missed #33, where a long-term storyline resolved, and the next several issues were toy-selling missions that avoided getting into the events of 32 & 33. The plot wasn't revisted until #38, at this point catching me up on what had happened. SIX MONTHS LATER.
and I didn't get a copy of that one missed issue for another four years.
Paul Dushkind said…
So why was John Romita giving a deposition in 2010? Was there a lawsuit about who created Spider-Man?
Surprised you didn't har about it.
The Kirby heirs filed notices of termination of copyright to all of the 60s superheroes (plus Rawhide Kid) including Spider-Man. Claiming Jack Kirby not only created all those characters, but did so (1) while not an employee of Marvel and (2) at his own direction and then brought them to Marvel. Because if he was a marvel employee or if he did the work at Marvel’s direction (Stan: There’s a new group, 4 people, here’s their powers, now create the book), as opposed to him doing it independently, it was work for hire and the creations could not be reclaimed even if he was 99.9999% or even 100% responsible for them otherwise. They wanted money from all the movies up to and including the Wolverine movie (on the theory it’s a further mining of the mutant concept) You can only reclaim under the law if you had the initial copyright to start with if you did it work for hire, no go.
Disney then sued the Kirbys to have that declared null and void in federal court
Rumor is that their attorney Toberoff, who successfully reclaimed the Action Comics #1 elements of Superman for S&S heirs (there is no doubt S&S created Superman in his Action 1 form yrs before they brought it to DC) , turned down a Marvel settlement offer
In the lawsuit, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber and John Romita Sr. testified at depositions about the working conditions at Marvel, the creations of the characters, etc.
Kirby heirs tried to use the twotomorrows guy and Mark Evanier as expert witnesses. They were deposed but the Judge ultimately dismissed them as nonexperts relying on hearsay.
Marvel filed for Summary judgment (no issue of fact-they were all either initially conceived of by Stan Lee or created by Kirby at the direction of Stan Lee) and Kirby cross moved (with affidavits from Neal Adams, Joe Sinnott and I think Steranko, not sure).
At least portions of the deposition are all available online and very illuminating about early Marvel.
The Judge ruled in Marvel’s favor, finding all the evidence showed that either Stan thought of the initial idea or that Stan directed Kirby to create something. Work for hire. Kirby never had the copyright. The Kirbys have appealed. I believe it is a solid decision though.
ROMITA: As much credit as Stan has and gets, I think he deserves most of it. I think he was the best editor that ever lived, and one of the best writers. I always felt "Why should I ask for equal credit with the guy who did most of the creation here?"
SPURGEON: Do you think one contributing factor that left Stan open to those accusations is the way Marvel was set up as a company?
ROMITA: The corporate people could have squashed it a long time ago. It didn't have to be "Stan Lee Presents" all those years. What they were doing was doing what they thought was the best commercial trick: If "Stan Lee Presents" is the way to sell books, let's do it. Stan didn't have it in his contract that it was going to say "Stan Lee Presents" forever; that was a commercial decision by several different entities, different conglomerates down through the years. Martin Goodman allowed it to be "Stan Lee Presents" because it was good business. Martin Goodman wouldn't give you the skin off a grape [laughter] if it weren't business wise. Same thing with the all the conglomerates and guys that came after, right down to [Ron] Perelman, who knew where his bread was buttered. "Stan Lee Presents," that's the way to make it work. That's not a mean accomplishment. I don't remember that "Jack Kirby Presents" never got a huge sale out of anything. Certainly John Romita didn't get a huge sale out of anything before he went to Stan Lee. I have to face that. I'm not kidding anybody.
SPURGEON: You're saying there's a bottom-line commercial component that can't be denied.
ROMITA: I don't believe it I would have had the run for 25 years on some form or another on Spider-Man — whether I was plotting stories for somebody else, like Gil Kane, or just inking somebody else or doing roughs for somebody else to finish, doing thousands of covers, toy designs, Macy's Spider-Man balloon — I would not have had that run with anyone but Stan Lee. I didn't make that run as a John Romita enterprise; I was a part of a group. I was not my own unit. So to me, Jack Kirby's success on Fantastic Four, Thor, and all of those things, I think if it wasn't for Stan Lee, they would not have been successful. When he worked for himself, he had what I would call critical successes and commercial failures. That's fact, I think.
Remember, I admire Jack as the genius of comics. I admire him as an idol. But I have to admit, he never sold anything on his own.
CBA: Stan is a well-loved guy, and he takes a lot of heat, but he's also a showman and he has that hyperbole.
John: Oh, he's a con man, but he did deliver. Anyone who says he didn't earn what he's got is not reading the facts. Believe me, he earned everything he gets. That's why I never begrudged him getting any of the credit, and as far as I'm concerned, he can have his name above any of my stuff, anytime he wants. Every time I took a story in to Stan—and if Jack were reading it, he'd have felt the same way—I had only partial faith in my picture story. I worked it out and I believed in the characters, but I was only half-sure it was going to work. I always had my misgivings. By the time Stan would write it, I'd start to look at that story and say, "Son of a gun, it's almost as though I planned it," and I'd believe a hundredfold more in that story after he wrote it than before—and if Jack would've allowed himself to, he would've had the same satisfaction. I sincerely believe that.
I think Stan deserves everything he gets. Everyone complains, including me sometimes. I used to say, "I do the work, and Stan cashes the checks." [laughter] It was only a half joke, but it's the kind of a grumble you do when you're tired.
Stan and Romita would plot the stories and then Romita would further develop the plot with the artists (when he wasn't drawing it himself).
As far as how Romita Sr. Thought about Stan:
CBA: Was everything out of the Bullpen in the mid-to-late-'60s coming from Stan?
John: It was all Stan. Even when Roy was first Editor-in-Chief, it was still Stan until Stan left town. Everything had to be okayed by Stan, no matter what we did. Even when I was given carte blanche on some projects, I still had to clear it through Stan. In fact, even if I didn't have to, I would've anyway, just out of habit. He was the Editor-in-Chief and Art Director, and everything else. From the day I first walked in there when I was 19, I couldn't see it any other way.
CBA: Did you guys feel funny when he would get the lion's share of the publicity?
John: Well, we joked about it. I would kid him about it. Originally nobody thought about plotting credits, except Ditko. Ditko got plotting credits, then Jack Kirby got plotting credits immediately. I got no credits at all during the first run; I got them in retrospect. Later on, he would tell people we co-plotted. I never was offended by it, and I always assumed it was his right, because it was thought these characters really came from him. Even the ones Jack Kirby created with him, I felt were full of the Stan Lee stamp. I always assumed he had a right to do this. Now, when he left the office, and it was still "Stan Lee Presents", I was very puzzled. [laughter] That was just good PR for Marvel. He always took the benefit of the fact that they figured continuity was more important than reality. He was called Publisher of Marvel Comics for years when he was out in California, but Mike Hobson was Publisher.
So that's what Romita was doing in those issues he is credited as "innovator" or "storyteller". I always figured he was doing rough breakdowns like George Perez in the current Superman, kind of like directing the story.
I don't remember reading about Romita complaining for having to plot. The closest I've seen is admitting he was getting stuck at times and had to ask for his family's input.
"My whole family used to help me plot. If we were taking trips to Cape Cod, for instance, that would be six hours in the car. We'd be plotting stories all the way. I would tell them, "Stan wants me to do a certain thing, and I'm having trouble with this and that." John Jr. at the age of the 10 and 12 was helping me plot. My wife was helping me plot. My oldest son, Victor, who probably could be a writer if he wanted to – he works for IBM – has a wonderful story sense. My whole family was plotting those stories."
"It's disillusioning to discover that quite a few artists resented having to plot stories and create new characters."
Actually it makes a lot of sense. In those early days it seems it was usual for artists to be considered (and also consider themselves) as simply illustrators. There were obviously artists like Kirby and Ditko with greater creative ambitions, but from what I've read, in DC the paradigm was that artists (names like Curt Swan and Dick Sprang) were expected to just illustrate what was in the (full) script. (If I'm wrong, please correct me).
If you became a comicbook artist and that's what you expected, it makes sense that if you were asked to come up with the structure of the story and fill in the details (especially if that was for the same pay), it could rub you the wrong way.
So why was John Romita giving a deposition in 2010? Was there a lawsuit about who created Spider-Man?
I didn't realize that Romita plotted Spider-Man stories he didn't draw. It looks like no artist got credit for plotting unless he fought for it. It's disillusioning to discover that quite a few artists resented having to plot stories and create new characters. When I was young, I thought that Marvel's artists would have been thrilled with the creative freedom.
Like a lot of ten-year-olds, I was disappointed when Steve left Marvel, but it's just as well that he did. Otherwise, he would have tried to turn Spider-Man and Dr. Strange into Mr. A.
Carl Barks got many of his ideas from National Geographic. One reason he was a great writer is that he took inspiration from outside interests. He didn't just imitate other comic-books.
Pete, I've seen Buscema complain a great deal about having to draw Spider-Man (and in general super heroes), but I've never seen Romita complain about it. Romita actually did the bulk of the plotting on Spider-Man for most of his association with the book. That's why you'll see him listed on the Buscema issues which were inked by Jim Mooney and others. Romita gave Buscema the plot, by way of Stan, Buscema would pencil the book, Romita would make any changes called for by Stan's revision, and the book would be sent to the inker.
Romita seems to have enjoyed the process for the most part. The only complaints I've seen him make are comments about Stan making MJ and Gwen too much like Veronica and Betty. Strong women characters were not Stan's best area.
Gene Colan loved working with Stan, for the same reason he didn't like working with Jim. Stan would give Colan a minimal plot and that allowed Colan to spend a whole page on a man turning a door knob, and decompressed story telling of that type. Stan probably liked working with Colan because there were lots of slow leisurely paced pages with expressive faces which allowed Stan to write the kind of snappy dialog he enjoyed writing. What worked for Gene and Stan didn't work so well when Colan was given a tightly plotted story.
I believe that Romita mentioned Ditko because he was the guy he was replacing as an artist, not that Stan Lee wasn't as instrumental in building the foundation of Spider-Man.
@JediJones: The truth is that a lot of Carl Barks (and those who followed in his footsteps, Don Rosa being the best of them) stories involve globetrotting and use jungles as scenery. Off the top of my head I remember the ducks in a rowboat in Carl Barks's "The Forbidden Valley", "In Darkest Africa", "Mystery of the Swamp" and Don Rosa's "Escape from the Forbidden Valley" (yep, that's a sequel). I don't remember rowing into a big cave in particular, though.
I've read interviews with Johns Buscema and Romita where each gentlemen remarked that he found it onerous to not only draw the stories but to plot them as well.
It appears Stan expected this of his artists, and of course that included the early, seminal Kirby and Ditko efforts.
I also read where Romita stated he owed his Spider-Man success to the foundation built by Ditko (no mention of Stan).
Incidentally, from ASM #26 onwards, the credits say 'Scripted [and edited] by Stan Lee and plotted and drawn by Steve Ditko'.
Gil was one of my favorite artists, and one of my favorite guys to work with.
Mr. Ditko is an extremely principled person in an age when that quality is rare and even thought of as insane. But I've always found him to be incredibly likeable and I admire his strength of character.
Yep, Ditko is very composed and expresses himself with calm precision. He has gotten a little "heated" here and there that I've seen, but even at those times he was pretty much under control and well-planted. If I talk to him, I'll ask him about the plots.
Jay Jay, I get the impression Ditko is very misunderstood. His personal philospophy is something he believes in very deeply for himself.
He is convinced he is correct, but he would never try to impose his will on another person. This doesn't mean that he would budge an inch from his own view in an attempt to find common ground.
@Brian: That was a great issue. One of the finest Iron Man runs of all time.
@Ray: I felt the same way about Incredible Hulk #345! The next issue blurb read: "Our Double-Sized Finale." I was positive that Hulk sales might have been dropping for some reason and that THIS was IT. Such a rush for a longtime Marvel reader. We're talking back in the days were long-running, high numbered books were rarely axed.
Ah – that's too bad. You guys make me feel young, as I didn't collect any of these classics you are discussing. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to buy a lot of Silver Age Green Lantern while I was collecting in the 90s. They weren't always in the best shape – but I got a good chunk of them. I really did not like how Gil Kane made his mask too heart shaped. But other than that I thought he was awesome.
Fun fact – last comic show I was at had an old guy selling ~200 comics from his child hood. He had GL #1 and #2 just LAYING on the table in Mylar. I asked if that was the mint price vs real price, as surely one wouldn't leave a $1000 just laying on a table. Well – yeah – he did. Damn my morals and straight up bringing ;o)
In defense of cliffhangers back in the sixties, I'll say this: those issues came out like clockwork. If you had a store near you that carried comics, the resolution of the cliffhanger was only a month away.
I do not believe Martin Goodman ever offered any ancillary participations to any artist. Or even Stan. From what I do know, the notion is inconceivable.
I was EIC from January 1978 through April 1987.
Yes, we felt that reprinting Spider-Man from the beginning and other classic Marvel stuff was the way to go. Thanks for the kind words.
2 Spidey comics from my childhood that also had great cliffhangers. Spider-Man 179. Harry has been tied up and tormented by the fake Goblin for several issues. In the final panel – Harry finally breaks free, with a maniacal look on his face. You just know the next issue will be great.
The other one was issue 192. A phenomenal saga highlighting Spidey and JJJ's relationship. At the end of the issue, Spidey is exhausted, harried, and finally knocked unconscious. JJJ is tethered to him, and he takes advantage of the situation – reaching toward Spidey to remove his mask. But we don't know what happens yet.
I'd hate to say it – but they rarely make 'em like that anymore
Thanks anyway, Dimitris. I sure wish it would have been by Carl Barks in that case. Then I wouldn't have had to spend all that time wondering what happened next!
Now that this article jogged my memory about it I'll probably do some investigating on more duck-oriented forums. I guess it's possible what I was reading was reprinted from a newspaper strip as well.
Another one of the earliest comics I read was another Donald Duck comic that I used to read at the barber shop. I know this one was an actual comic book and in color. I don't remember much about it, other than that Donald, Scrooge and/or the nephews spent some time in a rowboat on a river, possibly in a jungle or Aztec-like setting, and possibly rowing into a big cave or tunnel at some point that may or may not have looked threatening.
"I know Stan had wanted the Green Goblin, initially to be a mystical thing-almost like a genie in the lamp"
I love reading about comics history and I admit I had never read that before. Interesting.
I am a huge Carl Barks fan and I am pretty sure he never did multi-parters (if he did, I'll be surprised) so that wasn't a Carl Barks story JediJones, otherwise I could be some help.
I loved Kane – could recognise a panel of his from a mile off! Brilliant original talent. Didn't imitate anyone and told a story really well.
Kane died in 2000. He'd been struggling on and off with cancer for a decade or so before that.
Is Gil Kane still around?
Gil Kane is absolutely correct. I once had a very active philosophical debate about the nature of the Dark Dominion series with Steve and he was as passionate about his points as I was, but completely polite, merely stating his position. It was a truly fascinating conversation.
Gil Kane said Ditko was very easy to talk to.
The way Kane described it was even though Ditko was completely rigid, he never got excited, and didn't even give the impression he was irritated but trying to remnain calm. Instead Kane says Ditko would quietly and politely explain his positions, never becoming heated.
Someone should ask Ditko if he was paid for plotting Spider-Man. I know he doesn't do interviews, but a simple yes or no wouldn't be much to ask.
When I was very young I had some kind of black-and-white reprint, maybe a digest-sized edition, of Donald Duck/Scrooge comics. This would have been around 1980 and probably the first comic I ever read. I don't know where I got it, maybe a hand-me-down.
The problem for me was that the story ended on a cliffhanger. Those Spider-Man pages remind me of it, because I think it was Donald, Scrooge and the Nephews all trapped in some kind of cylindrical structure, which started either filling up with water or some solid material. It bothered me for years that I would never be able to find out how (or if?) they got out of the trap.
That's unfortunately the dark side of cliffhanger stories, especially in comic books. What if you're just a kid who ends up with that issue somehow, but are left hanging and have no way of tracking down the next issue? In the age of the internet, it's probably not such a problem anymore.
I haven't thought about that for a while and I no longer remember the details of the story I read as well as I used to, but I'm still curious to find out what happened. As long as those details I'm remembering are accurate, I'm hopeful I'll be able to wander over to a Donald Duck forum when I get the chance (Carl Barks, maybe?) and find someone who can pinpoint what issues these were.
Spider-Man successor artist John Romita, in a 2010 deposition, recalled that Lee and Ditko "ended up not being able to work together because they disagreed on almost everything, cultural, social, historically, everything, they disagreed on characters…."
P.S. I wonder if the 60s politics didn't hurt things as well. Stan being something of a democrat/left of center and Steve being a Randian.
the attitude toward protestors seemed to change once Ditko left the book.
From what I understand, it seems that Ditko's objectivist philosphy, which he was trying to explore in the book more and more, was, he felt, being undermined with how Lee scripted Peter Parker.
Ditko can't really compromise and as the sixties wore on grew increasinly unwilling to do so. Since Stan editor overrules Ditko artist/plotter in disputes with Stan scripter, he felt he had to go.
Stan says he has no idea why Ditko left. Ditko says Stan "chose not to know."
That quote always made me think it may have had to do with merchandising or other profit sharing that allegedly Goodman had promised orally and then reneged on which Ditko's philosophy would not let him ignore. Stan may have "chosen not to know" about that in the sense of not getting involved or sticking up for the artists or what not. I dont know, just speculating.
As for why Stan was not speaking to Steve, it seems to me that it must have had to do with their plotting disputes. I know Stan had wanted the Green Goblin, initially to be a mystical thing-almost like a genie in the lamp. Ditko delivered the familiar version. Perhaps he was ignoring plotting conferences. Perhaps stan was annoyed Ditko demanded plotting credit.
On the other hand, Ditko has had a lot of disputes because of his personal philosophy so perhaps this was one of them. He seems fairly rigid and that can be hard to deal with.
Um, that should be IRON MAN 199 above– darn fast typing!
@Joseph T.– I remember that cliffhanger in IRON MAN #299! I actually started reading the book with 192, but quickly picked up all the back issues I could afford at that age (12), and became really wrapped up in the Stane/Stark battle (it's still one of my favorite IM runs). So, yes– that was quite the ending! And I'll bet I was not the only reader who thought the resolution of it in the next issue would be a lot different than it was (don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read it).
Oddly enough, I was reading the Spider-Man epic Jim writes of here around that same time, thanks to the reprints in Marvel Tales, and loving it just as much as the AMAZING SPIDER-MANs being published at the same time. Jim, are there any stories about reprints you might want to tell? I know you briefly mentioned how some of the reprints were a moneymaking attempt forced on you by higher-ups trying to beef up the value of the company (don't know exactly when in your tenure that occured). But it also seemed to me at the time that you were really trying to remake Marvel Tales (and related reprints) into something better– just before your EICship started, I think Tales was about…five years behind the regular, ongoing Spidey books? And you and your editors were smart enough to take it back to Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1981 or '82, and to go up through SPIDEY #50, letting younger fans like me catch up on those amazing stories and that art. In addition, there was an affordable reprint of the Kree-Skrull Wars, FF Annual #1, and others. Was this a conscious creative decision? It really felt like there was a desire at Marvel at the time to not only push the envelope(s) with current titles, but to help new readers get a sense of the company's history through the reprint books. Anyway, whatever the motivation, this fan says thanks– I never would've been as invested in the characters without those backstories.
The last page of ASM #32 is indeed brilliant! The first row of panels shows Spider-Man trying unsuccessfully to lift the weight off his shoulders and then, seemingly, giving up. The second row reminds us of the people who are depending on Spidey (adding more gravitas to his situation), and also informs us that even if he's successful he will still have to deal with Dr. Octopus's henchmen.
And for the last row Ditko decides to focus on Spider-man from a distance, showing him as a small figure below the massive wreckage, with the dripping water signaling that time is running out (Spider-Man, also, had to deal with the fact that the roof was ready to collapse and he would drown unless he got out in time). A masterful panel that exudes desparation.
Both Stan Lee and Steve ditko deserve credit for the wonderful stories they did together, but as far as pacing goes Ditko should be given a lot of credit as he was plotting them himself, after some time. Stan Lee himself admits that he had nothing to do with the pacing of the opening sequence of ASM #33 where Spider-Man lifts the weight in such a dramatic fashion, in Jonathan Ross's "In Search of Steve Ditko" (It's from 0,31 -> 0,52).
Hey Jim–I enjoyed Piperson's comment in response to your last post about the weaknesses in Claremont's writing, I'd enjoy a blog from you on that. I had the same reaction, it seemed like Chris Claremont was constantly drawing out "teases" interminably. I remember picking up an issue of X-Men every so often–sometimes 10 issues apart–and thinking, "Wow, I haven't missed a thing, everyone's still wrapped up in the same drama. And I thought the alternate futures storylines borrowed a bit too much from Alan Moore's Captain Britain–I hasten to add, I'm not accusing Claremont of plagiarism, I just think the material was in the same territory, plot-wise and it wasn't as well-written or suspenseful as Moore's story, in large part because it felt like it was never going to end! No disrespect intended to Claremont, who was a great writer in many ways, but he definitely had his weaknesses. Neil Anderson
I know both Lee and Ditko reasonably well. I wasn't there at the time when they weren't speaking to each other and I don't know for sure the particulars of that situation. But I do know that they have vastly different philosophical points of view — I'm talking about on life, the universe and all that's in it, not just comics. I know that they had differences on the way Spider-Man should be handled. I've talked with each of them about it. I know that Steve is adamant about what he thinks, and that includes judgments about the work. I know Stan is pretty sure he knows what he's doing and wouldn't be inclined to go a direction that didn't make sense to him. I suspect that's what it came down to. I have never seen or sensed any malice in Steve. I think Stan is fundamentally a good guy.
Stan, by the way, is a clever and skilled enough writer that he can take almost any art you give him and write copy that makes it into a story. A good story. His story. I have been given to believe from speaking with each of them and others on the scene at the time that as Stan's copy varied more and more from Ditko's intent, Steve became more and more unhappy. Ask Romita.
P.S. Credit for plotting a book back then didn't necessarily mean being paid for plotting a book. Did Steve say he was being paid? If so, believe him. If not, I doubt it.
I do remember Tower Books, when they pubbed THE TERRIFIC TRIO, a reprint paperback of THUNDER Agents stories, they reprinted the first part of a two-part Dynamo story from TA #2. But instead of also reprinting part 2, they did the Dynamo story from issue #3. Thought they were idiots then and think so now.
My favorite cliffhanger as a kid was Incredible Hulk #276.
For a few months, the Hulk had undergone massive changes. No longer a savage simpleton, he now had the brain of Bruce Banner. For sixth-grade me, the book felt weird, wild, and wonderful. Between Bill Mantlo's crazy plots and Sal Buscema's emotionally charged art, I was hooked.
In that issue, though, everything was taken to the nth degree. The U-Foes worked together and beat the living crap out of BannerHulk. And when they were done, they took the unconscious body of Banner and decided to kill him on live TV! Meanwhile, Betty, Rick Jones, and the alien Bereet start arguing, and Betty finally agrees to help…but for the last time!
Heaven help me, for the next 30 days, I thought the next issue of the Hulk would be the last.
Looking at the issue now, I don't know why I thought that. The Hulk had been in tough jams and survived. And there was nothing about this issue that 40-year old Ray would think was extra-crazy, but sixth-grade Ray bought it completely.
I know you had significant troubles with Bill over the years, Jim, but I'm glad you got as much work out of him as you did, because I loved Mantlo's work. And when you paired him with Sal Buscema, it was magic. I was sorry to read that they fell out towards the end, but I'm glad I got as many good comics from them as I did.
Jim, You saw the letter Steve Ditko sent to Comic Book Marketplace posted above.
Any idea why Lee wouldn't speak to Ditko? Ditko says he had to leave his pages with Sol Brodsky without ever speaking to Lee. It sounds like Lee had cut Ditko off for a period of well over a year.
Ditko says he was plotting Spider-Man with no input from Lee even before issue #26 when Ditko began being paid for plotting the book.
I've got to say I have a hard time seeing any deeper emotional content in the early Spider-Man than I do in the Superboy stories from the late 50's early 60's.
I have to agree with a lot of the pro-Stan sentiment above. It seems almost a knee-jerk reaction to downgrade Stan's contribution whilst praising Ditko or Kirby.
There are countless stories of Stan plotting with his artists and putting elements in place for year-long arcs.
Even if we relegate that to one side it still doesn't take away from Stan's dialogue & captions. Peter Parker had a unique voice and the whole comic had some razor-sharp one lines.
There are numerous examples of great Stan dialogue, the Galactus & Reed Richard exchanges, FF – This Man This Monster!, Spider-man No More etc. etc.
So let's cut the guy some slack – he's earned his right to be acknowledged as a true comic genius!
The most memorable cliffhanger I ever bought off the racks or shelves was Iron Man #199. Anyone who had been reading since issue #170 knows how that felt. It moved me like no other comic before or since but the month long wait was spoiled by a page in the Marvel Age Annual that ran in between stories. Others from the era include Defenders #106, Avengers #213, 215, (I was so young at the time that I actually believed it) #217, #224, and #229, G.I. Joe #12 and #16, Amazing Spider-Man #249, Spectacular Spider-Man #107-109, and Incredible Hulk #345. Honorable mention to stories I first read as back issues: Alpha Flight #12, Legion of Super-Heroes (Vol 3/1984 series) #25, and Suicide Squad #26, just to list a few.
To me, this sequence perfectly defines who Spider-Man (or, more accurately, Peter Parker) is. The same sense of never giving up has been played upon over the years: off the top of my head, I can think of his fights with the Juggernaut and Firelord from the 80s. This is why the whole Mephisto deal doesn't ring true, despite the fact that he made the deal to save Aunt May.
As someone else alluded, Stan's contribution is often dismissed as "all he did was the scripting" as if it's the least important aspect of a comic. Nothing Jack or Steve ever subsequently scripted themselves ever had the emotional resonance of the stuff Stan dialogued for them.
I've said this before, elsewhere, but it bears repeating: Even IF you reduced Stan's input to 'merely' dialoguing, it was the magic ingredient that had a disproportionate effect on the published product.
I doubt that sequence, powerful as it was, would have been even half as effective if Steve, bless his heart, had scripted it himself.
While on the subject on writers and craft – what is it that causes writers to put utterly absurd, retarded details in their stories? Or rather – why does no one STOP them? Where are the people too look at something and say, "This is dumb, this is a way to fix it with minimal affect to anything else." I am mainly talking about TV and movies.
I understand suspension of belief is required for some stories – but there is a point where even the most brain dead watcher will say, "That… that makes no damn sense!" And what is worse, using MINOR tweaks would make everything gel. A couple examples:
Transformers. Ugh – I could spend all day on a rant against this film. First, they are an advanced cybernetic life form, but somehow Bumble Bee can't replace/repair the technology of a Soundblaster 16 from 1996 so he can talk? Second the convoluted and idiotic laser scribing of a map on the explorers glasses. And finally Megatron is frozen in ice. Ice. They travel in space which can be near absolute zero, but ice is too much for them.
Quick fixes: Bumble bee can talk – he just used the radio at first to not freak Sam out. The explorer finds an artifact that later Sam activates to find the map. Finally – have Megatron gravely injured from a battle or even an accident and forced into 'sleep mode'.
I really liked the film "Reign of Fire", except for the ridiculous plot that of all of the dragons ruling earth now there was only one male (or was it female?), so killing this one would end their reign. Eventually. (Note – reptiles are known to give 'virgin births', cloning themselves." These dragons are not super powerful – large bullets and missiles kill them fine.
Quick fix – simply put, there were a LOT of dragons. Too many for the armor and planes to kill all at once. So man and dragon destroyed one another, and the small population of dragons keep a defenseless humanity in the shadows.
See – not too damn hard.
I'm a big-time Spider-Man fan and this is one of my all-time favorite comic-book stories. Spider-Man or otherwise.
I remember back in the late '70s, when I was around 12-years old, the first comic-book store, called Starship Enterprises, opened in my area. I begged and pleaded and I finally got my mom to take me there. Needless to say I was dumbfounded. They had an entire wall of back issues of old comics, and one of the first things that caught my eye was a copy of ASM #33. The cover showing a close-up of Spidey trapped beneath tons of steel girders and water rising all around him. That cover instantly had me hooked. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I kept wondering at what delights could possibly be contained within. However, at the time, I think it was priced something like $10.00, which might as well have been $1,000 for me back then.
A few years later I finally got a copy from another comic shop owned by a friend of mine. This was in the days before Marvel Masterworks and other trades so, I finally got to read the story and I was surprised to see it was a continuation from the previous issue. I read it anyway, and I was not lost or confused at all. I absolutely loved it, and it instantly became one of my favorite comics I'd ever read. Eventually I also obtained #31 and #32 and got the rest of the story.
Wow, talking about those comics has got me so fired up, I think I'll go pull out my Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus and read them again. Catch ya later.
I think it all boils down to "is it a good story". If so, a cliff hanger or other method will enhance the story, and the effect works.
Then you look at stories that suck, and having a cliff hanger or teaser just gets old real quick.
For example, I lost interest in Alias after the writing went to shit, and got board with LOST after season 2. On the other hand, Breaking Bad or Dr Who have used teasers or cliff hangers and have left me on the edge of my seat for a week because the story is so compelling.
Jim wrote: "…nothing makes a reader more inclined to pick up the next issue than if the book they just read is great. That’s the mightiest hook you can sink." & I thought "yes, Yes, YES"
J. L. Bell
This summer I took my godson and his twin brother to their first comic book store. It was selling off a collection of Silver/Bronze magazines in indifferent condition, with prices just right for beginners. (Since we were in London, 99p.)
One little guy picked out Adventure, #378: "Twelve Hours to Live!" He read it at home. I snuck a peek. Hmm. I asked if he was okay with the story not being complete. "No, it's done." What?!
Evidently my godson's brother, who'd never seen the Legionnaires before, thought he'd happened to find their last adventure. The guys had seen comics in anthologies and British magazines, but I suspect they weren't familiar with the rhythms and economics of the old American comic book.
So when I got back to the States, my top priority was to hunt down Adventure, #379. I lucked into a copy more easily than I imagined, so now I have a holiday present all set to go. Still, I learned not to be too sure how new readers might view old cliffhangers.
Why must we ignore the best of Superman and use the worst to describe the era?
It was one of the best comic stories of all time. I was a young kid at the time, but that story taught me a lot. It taught me that you have to do the right thing no matter what the personal cost to yourself. That no matter the odds against you, if you fight you can win. The scene of Spidey lifting that machine is an image that has stayed with me forever and hell I have never forgotten the issue numbers. Ditko was at the absolute height of his creativity and story telling abilities at that time.
I've often wondered if that sequence was inspired by a Hogarth Tarzan strip from the 40s in which Tarzan frees himself from a mine cave-in.
Great example. Your comment about the lamest next issue blurb, though, reminded me of ASM 39, that great issue with the fantastic cover which ends with Spider-Man captured and unmasked and the Goblin finally revealing his identity. Great drama, great cliffhanger. And then the blurb: "Next issue: Spidey Saves The Day!" Well, even a 10 year old would be pretty sure that Spidey would end up ok.
The cliffhanger is not just in the plots but in the words Stan wrote, imo.
"Stan just did…" is imo missing the whole point of early Spider-Man. So much of what mattered was the dialogue.
and STan would often shape plots through his dialogue as best he could.
Now, this arrangement they had led to some screwups. In the Master planner storyline, Stan scripts some henchman as if they work for the Cat, because he;s not aware they were meant to work for the Master Planner next issue.
well, while I disagree with emotional lack in Supey's adventures at the time (return to Krypton, for example, made me cry then and STILL do), when I read this (here in Italy was published in 1971) I was eight years old. I completely agree on the fact that this is probably (no, absolutely) the best cliffhanger ever made in comics. Yes, it was long ago, and maybe Stan is a little too verbal…now you can't do a character like the early Spidey, ALWAYS talkin'to himself. But the complete lack of irony, that was a Spidey's mark in every issue then, took me completely by surprise. Now we know that Ditko and Stan disagreed over the direction the character should have taken, and maybe the intensity of the story is somehow related to this. But THEN, eight years old myself was completely blown away by this story. Is veeery satisfactory to think that one of the all-time best comic writer felt the same thing I felt then.
Here's what Ditko had to say about the credit for these episodes back in 1998:
In your Comic Book Marketplace #61, July 1998. page 45, Stan Lee talks about "…a very famous scene…" of a trapped Spider-Man lifting heavy machinery over his head. The drama of that sequence was first commented on and popularized by Gil Kane. Stan says "I just mentioned the idea…I hadn't thought of devoting that many pages to it…" I was publicly credited as the plotter only starting with issue#26. The lifting sequence is in issue #33. The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about Spider-Man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book. Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan's office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.
around the same time Stan did an Iron Man/SubMariner crossover with Gene Colan providing the artwork – Tales of Suspense and To Astonish – it worked well because it was minimal plot overlap, they jsut happened to intersect and have a helluva fight that Colan started and Jack Kirby finished when Gene took ill.
You should post the COVER to ASM 33. I can't imagine as a kid reading 32 waiting a whole month, then seeing the cover of 33 reshowing Spidey pinned under the machinery with the title THE FINAL CHAPTER! One of the best cliffhanger covers of all time, easy.
Stan Lee was not involved with the plotting of those Spider-Man episodes. It's all Ditko. All Lee did was write the caption and dialogue copy. He and Ditko weren't speaking to each other, and Ditko would just turn in the story art without any input from Lee. Any credit for pacing or handling of cliffhangers belongs to Ditko and Ditko alone.
JOHN PETER BRITTON
That's when American comics were American comics the best!
Perhaps the best Spider-Man story of all time! Perhaps the best comic story of all time!
Nice post for Steve Ditko's birthday!