This is the latest in a recurring feature recommending classic comics that you should probably reread now you’ve got some time on your hands. The last one was Batman #251. Next up: Amazing Spider-Man #121 and Amazing Spider-Man #122.
It’s not often that a comic can make such an impact on the industry that it is regarded as ushering in a new era, but for many readers, Amazing Spider-Man #121 and Amazing Spider-Man #122, a two-part story, is often regarded as the end of Marvel’s Silver Age, and the start of the Bronze Age.
The two-part arc was written by Gerry Conway, who had taken over the writing chores after Stan Lee left the title. Art was by Gil Kane with inks by John Romita, and Artie Simek did the letters.
Spider-Man under the guidance of Conway was starting to evolve into a dark series in 1973. Harry Osborne was in a spiral of manic bouts after taking LSD and Gwen Stacey and Mary Jane Watson are at his bedside trying to see him through his latest episode. His father Norman Osborne blames Peter Parker and his trauma and anger result in him rediscovering his Green Goblin persona. Parker himself is feeling under the weather, and after a stormy encounter at The Bugle with JJJ being more menacing than usual, Peter heads out as Spidey to discover that The Goblin has kidnapped Gwen and sets the events that changed Marvel forever into motion.
To fully explain the plot beats of the story means massive spoilers, but I really can’t imagine any fans of the series not knowing the eventual outcome, but just in case I shall write around them.
After the issues were released, there was a lot of backlash to the events that saw fans writing to the company to complain about the developments. Some were so angry they said they would drop the book, and rumor has it death threats were issued to the creative team.
Stan Lee eventually went on record to say that he would never have allowed the story to unfold the way it did, but he was unaware of the events as he was “out of town”, but then Stan would say that anyway.
The story was perhaps the first time a character had actually “died” for real in a comic book, and it did not go unnoticed.
Things became even more controversial as eagle-eyed Marvel readers noticed a sound effect added to a panel that insinuates that Spider-Man himself was to blame for the trauma that unfolded. It has long been argued about, and once again tragedy becomes a major motivation for the character of Peter Parker.
Amazing Spider-Man #122, the following issue by the same team, also saw another major character death, this one not so permanent, and Conway piled on the drama as Spidey and The Goblin have a climactic battle that ends in one of the most memorable scenes in comic history.
It’s worth noting that these two issues were not a special six-part mini-series or square bound graphic novel, but simply two issues in a run of a comic that went on to make history.
Due to the events in the books, the back issues cost a small fortune to buy now, but they are readily available in any number of reprint editions that you can find easily and cheaply online.
Despite Stan saying he regretted the story being published, it has to be said that it is still incredibly powerful to read, and reminds us that despite how dark and gritty things would become in comics later on, there was simply nothing that came close to this level of drama anywhere else.
It still remains a benchmark, and for many people, it was the end of a sillier age of comics, and the start of something new, daring, and exciting.
Of course, the story would be revisited, and in some ways that would diminish the initial impact. The fallout of a future storyline would lead horribly to the notorious Spider Clone saga that nearly destroyed the Spider-Man titles two decades later but read as a two-part story, Amazing Spider-Man #121 and Amazing Spider-Man #122 are near perfection.
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