So last year, after rereading the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man run, I started the Stan Lee/John Romita era that came afterwards. While I prefer Ditko, it wasn’t until Romita took over the art that Spider-Man became Marvel’s biggest hit. Reading Spider-Man: Spider-Man No More confirms that I prefer Ditko but it’s interesting to see how things changed.
One big change was that John Romita sexed things up. The Lee/Ditko relationship between Betty Brant and Peter Parker (the big romance of the early years) was so chaste I frankly wondered if they were just good friends. Romita had been drawing romance comics for years; he knew how to make his leads look sexy, he had a stronger sense of cool-looking fashion that Ditko (whose style sense, even in the 1970s, seemed stuck in the 1950s) and there was just more sizzle to the relationships, with more of a romance comics vibe to the stories. Peter himself gets to be a little cooler: he moves out of Aunt May’s house and in with his friend Harry Osborn, gets a motorcycle and finds himself torn between the flamboyant Mary Jane and the sexy, but less wild Gwen. Gwen was much more Stan Lee’s style of love interest, sweet and (once they got together) devoted to Peter; it was later writers who deepened MJ’s character and made her Peter’s definitive love interest.
That’s not to say the stories were lacking in action. The Romita/Lee era continued to add new villains, including the Rhino (seen on ASM #43 here), the Kingpin, a new Vulture and Jonah’s son John, who became a hulking brute temporarily. The hulking part is significant: Lee/Romita went much heavier for big, burly villains. Even the Kingpin’s presented as a mass of muscle, as dangerous a physical threat as he is by virtue of running the underworld
Stan Lee’s flair for melodrama didn’t fail him during this period. Frederick Foswell, a supporting character for years, returns to crime but redeems himself by dying to save Jameson. In #50, Peter finally resolves to walk away from his life as Spider-Man, live normally, find happiness. He’s Spider-Man … No More! But in the end he realizes he can’t do it; Uncle Ben died because of his neglect, he won’t let that happen again.
Lee’s dialogue get a lot snappier among the supporting cast, as if to keep up with Romita’s hipper visual rendition. That sometimes felt a little forced, but I didn’t find it so as a kid (of course I didn’t find Teen Titans’ swinging dialog silly either). And the melodrama often felt melodramatic and overdone, which it didn’t when Lee was with Ditko. That may reflect that by the end of this TPB, it’s 1967, Marvel’s line was expanding and Lee had a lot more to write.
So I’m not sure if I’ll get the next collection any time soon. But I did enjoy reading this one.
#SFWApro. All art by John Romita, all rights remain with current holder.