Posted - July 9, 2014 | Updated : August 26, 2015

Amazing Spider-Man #21
Where Flies The Beetle

This issue is a smorgasbord, that's right, a smorgasbord of beautiful Ditko art. Starting with the stunning splash page.

spider-man fighting the beetle

I first encountered Ditko, not in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, but in a later work, Blue Beetle from Charlton Comics . Look at how Ditko conveys the point of impact of a punch, that little "asterisk" thing he does. And the dynamic movement displayed here by Spider-Man, signature Ditko - he drew the Blue Beetle the same way. As for the Beetle, that "classic" armor is just a good design (there have been several "marks" since this time just like Iron Man armor). I love the suction cup gloves. He's a fun villain (I remember the awesome way John Byrne drew him) and I'm looking forward to this issue.

Now in two wonderfully detailed panels we get a concise summation of the Beetle's recent history.

a brief history of the beetle

The way that Ditko drew the jail in the background, there's no colorist credited, so I'm assuming Ditko did the colors too, and he gave that jail a background of cumulus cloud and blue sky, so the Beetle is getting out of jail on a bright, beautiful day. And in the right panel, a mini-montage of the Beetle suiting up together with a stylized battle with the Torch. Perfect way to start the issue.

The beauty of the Beetle "two-panel" is echoed and enhanced by a Spider-Man "two panel" on the bottom of the same page. It's like two beautiful "braces" one on top of the page, the other on the bottom.

spider-man studying then

The panel on the left showing Peter Parker in a situation that all of us can relate to: Working hard, back stiff. Peter Parker is Marvel's "Everyman" and panels like this one really bring that home. And in contrast, the panel to the right shows that "Everyman" is special. We are special. We are Spider-Man - simply and beautifully drawn by Steve Ditko.

One of the popular Silver Age tropes of Marvel is the contrast between the Human Torch and Spider-Man. The Human Torch is the "golden-haired boy" (literally) while Spider-Man is the "hard luck hero". We come back to that again in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #21, these three panels are a good sample.

spider-man and human torch

Looking at the three panel strip above, I think the leftmost panel is very much superior to the other two. Perfectly proportioned Spider-Man poised on the ledge. Behind him, so distant he's almost abstract, the Human Torch flyng low on the New York skyline. Beautiful layout. Again the colors used to convey the clouds. Ditko took the time to detail every brick in this tiny panel. Kudos Mr. Ditko, just beautiful.

Stan Lee starts us off on the action with the Beetle stalking his old foe - the Human Torch.

the beetle stalks the human torch

What?! I always thought of the Beetle as a Spider-Man villain. It turns out he's a Torch villain back from when Johnny was headlining Strange Tales. Ah Johnny. The hapless Johnny. His slot in Strange Tales was eventually shared with Dr. Strange, then Nick Fury took over the Torch's half before the good Doctor inherited the entire Strange Tales franchise. Ant-Man is the poster boy for the failed Silver-Age Marvel hero, but I thnk the second Human Torch isn't far behind. And with the Torch's fall I guess his villains too had to find a more popular hero to be associated with. Thus, Spider-Man would eventually inherit the Beetle. But not yet, these days Johnny Storm is still running strong.

Here's a unique but sensible panel.

spider-man hanging upside down

Basic idea: Spider-Man swings around fights crime. Right? Question: What if there is no crime? What if New York suddenly became Tokyo? Answer: Spider-Man goes around asking people if "he can lend a hand". How many times have I fantasized about super-strength when I'm moving house. Spidey would be a godsend.

I'm pretty sure the Coca-Cola Company didn't pay for this.

peter is offered a coke

It's the unpaid advertising that will keep on paying (specially because of lunatics like me who reprint it).

Just one last detail I'd like to note before we get to the main event. During these days Peter was dating (a very whiny) Betty Brant, no MJ or Gwen in sight.

betty brant is distraught

Enough crying! You want to see what real pain looks like Betty? Let's go. . .

. . . to the main event!

A tricky "web flip" from our hero.

spider-man fighting the

The "Clank!" sound effect reminding us that the beetle is armored - even though he looks like he's wearing some kind of jumpsuit.

Heaven forbid that we have Peter and Johnny on the same Silver Age mag and they DON'T have at each other. Torch dishes it out . . .

the torch attacks spider-man

Spidey counters.

spider-man attacks the 

Did you like those panels? They're up in the sky and Ditko makes us feel we're in the big blue; free and powerful just like them - Steve is really in the zone this issue. But we haven't seen anything yet. Steve Ditko takes us in close and gives us the best page in the whole issue.

spider-man vs. the torch

Wow! Look at the ping-pong paddles Spider-Man created from his web. Look at the Human Torch's flame shield and the Dr. Strange-style fire effects - it almost makes me want to shout "Flames of the Faltine!".

Wait a minute, where's the Beetle?

Here he is with a show of strength.

the beetle rips a section
					of wall

The "suction the wall and rip it free" is a Beetle classic and it never grows old. At least not for me.

Those are pretty much the highlights of the battle. Before the issue closes it spends some time on the character of one Peter Parker. First is the "pity party" panel.

peter thinking

Don't mean to sound so schmarmy. I'm a - regretfully - regular denizen of the painful well of self pity myself. It sucks and it's hard to stop, and Peter's fifteen so what's my excuse? Stan Lee presents us with the problem (self-pity) but also gives us a great salve for it: Solitude.

peter on a tower

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