Eyes Down...


...removing any traces of the slave trade from Bristol might require half the city to be pulled down, and not just the plaques of signs with Colston's name on it....
Nigel Currie

Until recently, until a lot of publicity was given by the Bristol Post to a very small but vociferous minority of mainly non-Bristolians, the majority was not even aware of Colston's link to slavery...
C Stephens

All these do-gooders who want to change the name of the Colston Hall should be more concerned what is happening in Bristol an other cities regarding girls that are groomed for prostitution and are usually under 18 years of age.
Wendy Fryer

If the name of Colston Hall has to change, the suggestion to change it to the "Corstan Hall" [after Jean Corstan MP] is a good one...It has absolutely no connection with the salve trade, so should not offend thsoe minority groups who are trying to change it, whilst happily living here in this great city. These people should shut up or move somewhere else
P Collins

What a great idea...to suggest naming one of the new trains after Edward Colston. What a great way to remember a truly great Bristolian who, ok, was linked with the slave trade, but...
Mr G Briggs

Amazing Spider-Man #22


Preeeeeeesenting…the Clown, and his Masters of Menace!

The former Circus of Crime

Supporting Cast: 
Liz Allan, Flash Thompson, Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May (one panel only) + Mrs Van Der Twilliger and a chorus of police, doctors, schoolkids and art-lovers. 

This is the first time Spider-Man fails to appear on the cover of his own comic; it won’t happen again till issue #58. (Issues #63 and #72 have symbolic covers in which only the villain and the spider-signal feature; issue #79 has Peter Parker in peril) 

The splash page is purely symbolic (we never see the Masters of Menace in a circus ring, and Spider-Man certainly doesn’t see the Ringmaster walking out on them.) The cover is more or less an enlargement of the first panel of the first page. 

In Duel With Daredevil the Circus of Crime appeared to consist of Samson, a strong man; two trapeze artists (unnamed) and a human cannonball (also unnamed). There are also figures on stilts, a figure in an “Arabian nights” costume, a bald uni-cyclist, and at least two clowns. (When the Ringmaster first appeared in Hulk #3, he had a clown, a cave-man, a midget human cannonball, and a grotesque with a long neck working for him.) The Clown and Princess Python appear here for the first time: but in a classic piece of Stan Lee "backfilling" everyone takes it for granted that they were in the team which Spider-Man defeated a few issues back.

p2 “In a sleazy hotel room in a shabby hotel, some sneaky sinners are startled by the sight of a sparkling spider-signal.” Lee doesn’t generally go in for this level of alliteration. (The Batman TV show, which loved it, is still a year in the future.)

p2With my little gizmo secretly stuck to his fedora… Obviously, the Ringmaster wears a top hat, not a fedora. It isn’t immediately clear why Parker gets this wrong. It’s an incredibly weak joke.

P4 “Some of these new biochemical discoveries of Dr Henry Pym are awfully interesting.” Dr Pym is, of course Gi/Ant Man. Why Peter Parker is reading his research in a high school science class is unclear. (There doesn't seem to be a teacher in the room, so maybe this is some kind of private study period?) 

p9 “Those crummy rat finks! I got them all together! Taught them all they know!” It is a good thing the Ringmaster literally recites his soliloquies out loud, so people hanging by the window can find out what is going on. 

“One things for sure! I’m not Tuesday Weld” Tuesday Weld was a child actor turned adult Broadway star. Interestingly enough, she had guest starred in two episodes of an entirely forgotten circus-themed TV drama/soap “The Greatest Show on Earth.” 

p9 He’s probably…using my old hideout…the warehouse where we stores all our circus equipment….on west 22nd Street.” West 22nd Street is between Grenwich Village and Times Square, in the Chelsea theater district, a by-no-means unlikely place to be storing circus gear. 

p11Boy! Didn’t any of you ever hear of the Good Neighbor Policy” The Good Neighbor Policy refers primarily to Roosevelt’s foreign policy towards South America in the 1930s. Again, this joke makes much more sense if Stan Lee, rather than Peter Parker, is making it. 

p17 “Before they can take it on the lam…”  i.e before they can run away with the loot. 

Peter Parker’s financial situation: Peter sells pictures to the Bugle for the first time since issue #19. Jameson says the pictures of the Circus of Crime being arrested are “wizard” and “front page stuff” so Peter probably takes $2,000, leaving $4,000 in the cookie jar.

I think Spider-Man fans may want to shout at me this month; because having been quite rude about the generally well-regarded Scorpion story, I am going to give a cautious thumbs up to the frequently overlooked second appearance of the Circus of Crime. 

It's a heist story -- specifically, a thieves-fall-out tale. A number of plot lines lead our hero on a moderately merry dance. The Circus of Crime are out of jail (after 6 months); Spider-Man tracks them down to their hotel room and intimidates them with his Spider-signal. (Unusually for Ditko, the cover is simply an embiggerment of the first frame of the story.) During the confrontation, he cleverly slips a spider-tracer into the band of the Ringmaster’s hypnotic hat. But after he has gone, the circus troupe turn against the Ringmaster, who has after all landed them in prison twice before, and kick him out of the band. The team, now led by the Clown, decide to rob an art gallery as their first solo gig. The Clown distracts everyone with his juggling unicycle act, while the rest of the gang make off with the paintings. But wouldn't you know it! The art exhibition they chose to rob is the one being sponsored by J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle -- they end up putting J.J.J. in hospital. 

The Clown doesn't do a great deal in the story -- Princess Python is the central baddie -- but he is a splendidly sinister Ditko creation, all painted on sad face and frown, who idly juggles and unicycles while planning daring crimes. 

Of course, when Spider-Man tries to track them down, his spider-tracer leads him to the hide-out of the Ringmaster, who is no longer part of the band. But Spider-Man hypnotizes the Ringmaster with his own hat and finds out where the gang is hiding out. Princess Python offers to turn the other members of the gang over to the police, and share the loot with Spider-Man. The Clown, realizing he’s going to be double-crossed, takes the paintings himself and makes off with them; only to intercepted by the Ringmaster, who decides he's going to have the artwork -- but he in turn has been trailed by the police. 

The story is structured as a sequence of two to three pages scenes, only a minority of which involve fighting: the robbery (page 5-7); Spidey tracks down the Ringmaster (page 7-9); Spidey fights the Clown, Cannonball and the acrobats (pages 11 - 13 and 15); Princess Python tries to seduce Spidey (page 16 - 17) ; Spidey's big fight with the python (page 18).  This makes for a very pacy read. By Stan Lee’s criteria, there is little “action” in the comic — no single extended fight. But more happens on each page, both in terms of plot movement and in terms of physical action than in many a 12 page battle sequence.

No-one would accuse Silver Age Marvel of having been a hotbed of feminism; but Amazing Spider-Man isn't usually the worst culprit. (Early Fantastic Four can be genuinely uncomfortable to read because of its casual sexism.) But the relationship between Spider-Man and Princess Python is downright weird. When the Princess initially tries to seduce him, Spidey remains as acerbic as ever: 

"Why don’t you and I team up? We could make beautiful music together!"
"Sorry ma’am. I happen to be tone deaf."

But when she confronts him physically we get this kind of thing: 

Spidey: "What can I do now? I can’t fight a female. I can’t use force against her…"
Princess: "My only chance is to take advantage of being female…"
Spidey: "I don’t want to have to get rough with a female…"

It's almost like Stan Lee himself feels uncomfortable with the idea of a lady baddie and keeps drawing attention to it. The very word "female" sounds clumsy, coming from someone who normally calls women "gals" or "chicks". (Note that at the beginning of the story, Betty admitted that she was a "foolish, jealous, female"). But the taboo against male on female fight scenes seems to have been taken out of all proportion. As far as it goes, it is sensible to bring up schoolboys  — who, by hypothesis, fight each other all the time to establish status — to think that it is not manly to start a fight with a woman, or with a smaller man, or with anyone wearing glasses. And you wouldn’t stage man vs woman wrestling bouts or prize fights for the same reason you don't have mixed tennis tournaments —  there is too much disparity in strength and stamina for the fight to be fair or interesting. But it seems that this playground honour code has been turned into an unbreakable moral principal. Is it really the case than a male can never hit a female? What does a male police officer do if a female criminal is resisting arrest? Don't male soldiers ever have to confront female warriors on the other side? What does a gentleman do if a lady hits him first? 

It will be a long time before Spider-Man has to confront this dilemma again: he doesn't have another female opponent until Medusa (#62) and the Black Widow (#86). 

There is a strong sense that this issue is trying to create a new, post-triptych format in which characters have comic foibles rather than personalities. When J.J.J threatens to fire Peter Parker (a freelancer) no-one even bother to pretend they think he means it. When he learns that Betty has kept a vigil by his hospital bed he exclaims “Too lazy to go to work, eh!” and Betty smiles ”He’s as nasty as ever — so I know he’s all right now!” The issue before last Jameson was paying masked supervillains to murder Spider-Man: now he is a Perry White style comic foil whose bark is worse than his bite. Similarly, Peter and Betty are repeatedly shown together during the art heist, giving the impression that they are now a couple in the way that Lois and Clark are. The final page, with Peter saying “Oh no! The painting have been recovered! We’ll have to look at them again!” and the three of them marching off together feels very much like the end of situation comedy. 

Which is far from being a criticism. If the Amazing Spider-Man is to continue as a monthly comic, it can't be in a state of permanent crisis: there needs to be a comfortable status quo which can be disrupted and reestablished each month.

This is a perfectly adequate story, with tons of plot movement, some dead ends, and some minor twists. Lee and Ditko could carry on giving us this kind of thing almost indefinitely. But three issues on from The End of Spider-Man, and there is still no real sense of direction for the new, self-confident Peter Parker.

Amazing Spider-Man # 21


Where Flies The Beetle...!

The Beetle

Guest Star: 
Johnny Storm, Dorrie Evans

Supporting Cast: 
Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan. 


Spins a web, any size:  The Torch and Spidey do their usual routine in which the Torch shoots fireballs at Spidey and Spidey throws web balls at the Torch. (Spider-Man claims they are “asbestos web balls”, by which he presumably just means they are fire-proof. The Beetle claims to have "asbestos armour" on page 19).

Spider-Man also flips the fireballs with ping-pong bats made of web. 

p 6 “I couldn’t win a popularity contest even if I was the only one entered! Nuts!” It isn’t clear whether losing a popularity contest to Khrushchev is worse than losing one which you are the only entrant. “Nuts!” is a fairly mild swear-word to use when no-one is listening but it’s an improvement on “suffering spider-webs”.

p 6: “He’s so cultured and down to earth…” By “cultured” I think Dorrie means “good mannered”. Although he is a straight-A student and has presumably studied music and literature, Peter has never shown any particular interest in the arts before.

“It would be wonderful if some of his poise and polish were to rub off on you” This recalls Betty Brant’s comments about Peter’s new-found inner confidence a couple of issues back. We’ve come a long way from Peter the shy wallflower. 

p8 “Well, I’ll be spider-webbed string-bean.” A string-bean could be a vegetable, a banjo player, or a thin guy. Spider-Man doesn't seem to mean anything specific by it.

“You’re probably wondering where we go from here with Spidey!” writes Stan Lee on the letters page in Amazing Spider-Man #22 “Well, if it’ll make you feel better, we’re wondering too.” Hype, of course, albeit a sort of reverse psychological hype. But there is an overwhelming sense that after Ditko effectively brought the Story of Spider-Man to a satisfying conclusion in issue #18 and #19, the comic spends three or four issues marking time searching for a new direction. The action is fun, the villains are evil, but nothing very interesting can happen to this self-confident, self-assured Spider-Man.

Where Flies the Beetle is a distinct improvement over the The Coming of the Scorpion. It follows the characteristic Ditko pattern of interweaving a number of plot lines relating to Spider-Man and Peter Parker, rather than Lee’s characteristic build up to a fight. But it doesn’t make much use of the familiar Spider-Man plot engine. Liz and Flash are barely present; Aunt May appears for literally one panel. The main soap operatic impetus comes not from Spider-Man but from his guest-star. This is the Human Torch’s ninth appearance since Amazing Spider-Man started, but we won't see him again until #77. 

When the Torch appears in Amazing Spider-Man he is generally represented as an entitled, slightly arrogant, but very competent celebrity, who Spider-Man resents because of his own relative obscurity. In this final appearance, the Torch is much more as he is in his own solo-strip in Strange Tales: a teenage high school student who happens to have a superpower. (In the early Strange Tales appearances he even had a secret identity, kind of.) Flash and Peter regard him almost as "one of the guys"; Betty doesn’t have any idea who he is. You could easily run away with the idea that he’s a fellow student at Midtown High. (Actually, he lives in Long Island with his sister and commutes to the Baxter Building.)

Continuity is vague. Jameson hasn’t changed as a result of accidentally unleashing a super-villain last month; Betty, who was angry with Peter from two-timing her with Liz (which he wasn’t) is now angry with Peter for two-timing her with the Torch's girl-friend Dorrie Evans (which he obviously isn’t). Even the partial reconciliation between Spider-Man and the Torch in issue #19 is placed on hold. It’s like we’re slipping into superhero non-time: Betty is always surprised and shocked that Peter is dating someone else; the Torch and Spidey are always feuding…

The plot is pretty much a text book romance comic: you could substitute any other characters and it would come out much the same. Doris Evans is cross because her boyfriend Johnny Storm keeps running off to be a superhero during their dates. (This was somewhat foreshadowed in Amazing Spider-Man #17.) She extracts a promise from him that he won’t “flame on” during the next 24 hours. By an astonishing co-incidence, an old Strange Tales baddie called the Beetle has just got out of jail and hatches a plan to get his revenge on the Torch. By another astonishing coincidence, Peter Parker has an entirely innocent meeting with Dorrie; but Dorrie, being a minx (like all gurls) goes out of her way to tell Johnny what a nice boy that Peter Parker is. So Johnny storms off to to tell Peter Parker to lay off his gal. 

We have seen that the Spider-Man plot-machine relies on Flash, Liz, Betty and Jonah all knowing our hero as Spider-Man and also as Peter Parker. Rather implausibly, Dorrie Evans and Johnny Storm are also brought into this mechanic: Dorrie bumps into Parker in the street and thinks he is nice, but is terrified of Spider-Man; the Torch knows Spider-Man as a fellow crime-fighter and thinks of Parker as a nobody who is hitting on his girlfriend. (The Torch doesn’t remember Peter from when he came and gave a talk at his school; Dorrie doesn’t remember Spider-Man from when he gate-crashed her party.)

And so, the inevitable confrontation between the Johnnie Storm and Peter Parker. Peter and Betty are looking in the window of a pet-shop, which is what passes for a date, when along comes the Torch and starts berating Peter. (Peter’s response to Johnny’s “do you know who I am?” is one of the best ever bits of Spider-Snark. “Sure! Either you're the Human Torch or some jerk walkin’ around in his pyjamas! Or maybe both!”) As if by magic, Flash and his cronies appear. This gives Jealous Betty the impression that Peter has been dating Dorrie behind his back. (How does Johnny know where to find Peter? And would a big-league superhero really go after a high-school kid in that way?)

Parker promised himself two months ago that he was going to stop being so self-pitying from now on: and he initially reacts to the new situation with rage (crushing bricks with his bare hands) and then sensibly decides that he doesn’t really care what Johnny Storm thinks of him anyway. However where the Human Torch is concerned, Spider-Man hasn’t sworn off acting like a dick. “If he’s jealous of Peter Parker, how would he feel if Spider-Man made a play for his gal?” 

Although much is made of Marvel Comics' popularity with teenagers, I can't help thinking that this is romance as imagined by kids who are far too young to date. No-one is looking for sex, thank you Comics Code; no-one thinks about marriage; no-one even kisses. Romance is a kind of a game, in which the main object seems to be to make the other side jealous. Men compete for women; women sulk when it looks like the men are cheating on them. In fairness, the men are mostly schoolboys, with homework, detentions and playground fights to worry about: the women often have the grown-up jobs and responsibilities.

Implied sexism apart, this is an impressively put together piece. It’s in the same farcical vein as The Return of the Green Goblin (although without any of that story’s emotional impact). Parker meets Dorrie by accident; the Torch threatens Parker because he thinks he’s hitting on her; Spider-Man goes back to Dorrie’s to needle the Torch and finds the Beetle already there; the Beetle and Spider-Man have a fight; the Beetle runs away with Dorrie; the Torch turns up, finds the place trashed, and assumes Spider-Man did it; Spider-Man chases the Beetle, the Torch chases Spider-Man, eventually the two of them join together and defeat the Beetle. It is not a vintage fight, but Ditko has some fun with the three pronged brawl: at one point the Torch flames the Beetle, the Beetle brings the ceiling down to squash the torch; and Spider-Man fall through right in between them. (Interestingly, the cover shows Spider-Man caught in the crossfire between the Torch and the Beetle, where issue #17 showed the Torch caught in the crossfire between Spider-Man and the Goblin.) 

As ever, the payoff to the fight is a bit of a let-down. It rather feels as if everyone spars and then Stan Lee declares Spider-Man the winner on points. Spider-Man catches the Beetle in his web, the Torch makes a cage out of flame, and then somehow, off stage, Spider-Man puts him into a web cocoon. The obvious moral — that Spidey and the Torch work better as a team than as opponents — is not drawn. 

In the final panels the new, non-whiny Peter Parker has a moment of insight which establishes the foundations of a “new normal” for the character. “I wonder if the world will ever acclaim me as it does others? Or am I always to go through life shunned and loathed! If only I could reveal my secret identity…if I could let people realize who I am…! …But I just don’t dare!” This is a call back to last issue when he wished he could share his secret with Aunt May, but felt that he “couldn’t take that chance”. This is going to become a major strand of the story-machine from now on: Peter Parker’s life is full of problems because of his double identity; but he cannot go public because the shock could kill Aunt May. It’s a bit of a hand-wave, but it will do.

There is nothing wrong with this issue. It’s a lot more fun than a lot of what Marvel put out in the same month. (Gregory Gideon, anyone?) and streets ahead of the Distinguished Competition. Spider-Man could have rolled along happily for decades in this format: the snarky teenager, the jealous girl-friend, endless sparring and rescuing and thief-catching. But there is no question that the temporary exorcism of whiny Peter has made Spider-Man a less complex and therefore less interesting character.