Monday, April 28, 2014


The Batman-Elongated Man crossover was probably the first non-regular crossover I ever saw, but I believe the first one I ever BOUGHT was a MARVEL TALES reprint of SPIDER-MAN #16, "Duel with Daredevil," by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Around the same time I also bought SPIDER-MAN #50, the conclusion of the original Green Goblin saga by Lee and Romita, and the two issues pretty much summed up the strengths of Silver Age Marvel. The latter was tense and dark and full of adult-seeming psychological undercurrents-- but the first was just pure superheroic fun.

I suspect that artist/plotter Steve Ditko may not have cared to devote an issue of his series to hyping another Marvel feature, but no other Marvel artist of the period would have been capable of rendering the balletic encounter of Marvel's two super-acrobatic heroes, as suggested by the story's splash page.  The Lee-Ditko story doesn't stress any of Spider-Man's ongoing melodramatic plotlines, except for his relationship with girlfriend Betty and the encroaching introduction of the mysterious Mary Jane Watson. Any greater soap-operatic threads would have been out of place given the overall antic mood of the story, and if anything, Daredevil's alter ego got the majority of the "tragic romance" elements, all to the end of persuading Spidey fans to check out the new hero.

Although Ditko fully plotted many of the Spider-Man tales in later years, this feels like a Lee plot to me, since it's so strongly focused on introducing the important elements of the new hero on the block-- like the salient fact that he's physically blind but can perceive everything around him with his super-hearing and "radar sense."  A circus comes to New York, advertising that Spider-Man will be the main attraction. Spidey knows nothing about the matter, but since the circus claims that the profits will go to charity, he decides to show up. But the circus is the Circus of Crime, headed by the Ringmaster, who specializes in using his hypnotic top hat to mesmerize the attending crowds, in order to rob them. The villain realizes that Spider-Man is a threat and puts him under hypnotic thrall. But Daredevil in his identity of lawyer Matt Murdock has also attended the performance to "watch" Spidey's performance via his super-senses.  The Ringmaster's hypnotic hat doesn't work on the sightless hero, so the villain sics Spidey on him, so that the two heroes are forced to fight it out under the big top-- though the emphasis is on skill more than power. Eventually Daredevil frees Spidey from his enthrallment, and then sits back and lets the book's featured hero have the honors of demolishing the Circus of Crime. In this scenario I see the hand of Stan Lee, who, even in the act of hyping a new hero, was aware of the necessity of giving regular readers bang for their buck-- or rather, their twelve cents.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby turned out a number of good crossovers in the Silver Age, but this is only one of two Lee-Ditko crossovers that ranks with the best of all time.

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