Next we come to a somewhat seminal issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the story in which Peter Parker finally graduates from college. Peter had begun his sojourn in Higher Education back in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #31 in 1965, so writer/editor Marv Wolfman may have thought that it was time to move his life ahead a bit. In practice, this turned out to be a bumpy decision, as later writers kept finding excuses to put Peter in Graduate School and the like, as youthfulness and the collegial atmosphere were considered important keys to the character’s long-running popularity. But so it has always been with the Marvel characters (and comic book characters in general): one step forward, one step back.
As you can see, Marv (or somebody in authority) had John Romita rework the Spider-Man head on this Ross Andru cover. It’s an understandable change. For all that he’d been drawing the series for something like five years at this point and his version of the character had solidified, Ross’s Spidey head on the initial version does seem a little bit misshapen. It also looks to my eye as though John had previously redone the Peter Parker head, and possibly the head of the Dean handing Peter his diploma. These sorts of adjustments, especially on covers, were commonplace throughout the 1970s, for all that no artist liked them.
Speaking of Ross Andru, this issue was also his swan song on the character, which seems appropriate on some level. Ross had inherited the strip from John Romita, who was impressed with his ability to use actual New York landmarks from throughout the city in his compositions as well as the way that he’d move the camera around to interesting places. Andru’s Spider-Man was synonymous with the 1970s, and while his Spidey was once compared to “a little old man in a Spider-Man costume” for his stocky and somewhat ill-balanced proportions, he also delivered clear, sharp, strong visuals month after month, even when called upon to depict the craziest events. Ross’s Spider-Man, and especially his Peter Parker, was worlds away from where the character had started out under the pen of Steve Ditko, but through longevity if nothing else, it attained its own legitimacy.
But before Marv could get to the main event, he had to wrap up the storyline from last month, which saw the Wall-Crawler defeated by the White Dragon and about to be dropped into a vat of boiling oil in an attempt to coerce Peter Parker’s fellow student Philip Chang to sign up with the Dragon’s Triad gang. Marv decided to break this issue into two stories, the latter one dealing with Peter’s graduation–which meant that he had a limited number of pages to wrap up the White Dragon adventure. Spidey is able to protect himself from the flames by encasing his entire body in webbing. Then, he makes a mad dash to the nearby river to put the rest of the fire out. After a quick confab with the rescued Philip to get some essential backstory, Spidey tracks down the Dragon for Round Two, blocking off all exits from the street they’re on with his webbing to prevent his foe from escaping.
What follows is an expedient fight scene in which Spider-Man gives a much better account of himself than he did last time these two sparring partners went at it. Remembering that he’s got the proportionate strength and speed of a spider whereas the White Dragon is simply a kung fu master in a tricked-out costume, the web-slinger takes him apart with an economy of effort, and the story ends literally with the villain webbed up and awaiting the authorities to arrest him. The whole thing feels very abrupt, to be honest–the White Dragon was kind of a turkey super-villain, but his story deserved a better resolution than this.
But that’s all of the action we’re going to have this time out, as the rest of the issue is dedicated to Peter’s graduation ceremony. And it does illustrate just how important the wall-crawler’s supporting cast was to his series in these days. Today, you can’t imagine dwelling on Aunt May and Robbie Robertson and so forth for this many pages. But here, it was done matter-of-fact. Seriously, the loss of a deep supporting cast is one of the things that I think has weakened Spider-Man’s series over the years, as most of them have been turned into super heroes or super-villains or corpses over the years.
The sequence opens with Robbie Robertson setting up a closed-circuit television set at Aunt May’s hospital bedside so that she can watch her nephew graduate, fulfilling all of her dreams for him. It’s an odd pairing, to be honest–while Aunt Man and Robbie have met over the years a little bit, they mostly moved in separate circles. Still, Robbie is a good guy, so he helps out here. Meanwhile, Peter goes to pick up his cap-and-gown, only to find that they don’t have one for him. They do have an extra, though, so he wears the ill-fitting replacement, in true Parker Luck style. The keynote speaker, as it was at Peter’s High School graduation, is of course J. Jonah Jameson, who gets an entire page to be comedic almost to himself. Jonah was one of the great recurring foils in comic book history, and there’s more than a hint of Marvel publisher Stan Lee to him.
Finally, the moment is upon us, and…Peter’s name is skipped over! What’s happened? Well, it turns out that, with his busy schedule as a student, a newspaper photographer and a secret super hero, Peter forgot to fulfill one necessary criteria to graduate: a gym class. So he’s going to have to make it up over the summer in order to get his diploma for real. Still, this symbolically represents the final day of Peter Parker as a full time college student, and it’s treated as a momentous turning point (one that’s only accentuated by the fact that it’s also Ross Andru’s moment of departure from the series.)
7 thoughts on “BHOC: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #185”
Thanks for posting the printed comic and not the digital recolored version. May be nostalgia, but I feel like it showcases Andru’s art better.
Andru’s like Mike Sekowsky for me — I saw so much of their art that even when I’m conscious of the odd qualities, I just think of it as normal.
I think comics in general are worse about supporting casts, though that may be my imagination.
What can I say — it was Andru’s stint that got me started on Spidey so he’s my Spidey artist. Well delineated and dynamic enough for me. I so associated Andru with Spidey that I was shocked at what he had drawn previously … Wonder Woman?? Really?
I started reading Spider-Man with Gil Kane but Ross Andru soon became my Spider-Man artist. I grew up in MA but could appreciate the NYC vibe and liked the overall energy of the series under him. It especially helped when there were too many Cyclones and White Dragons he would have to make feel like threats. I think the only Spider-Artist since that I’ve liked as much as Andru was Mark Bagley. Otherwise, I’ve followed Spider-Man mostly for the writer or story direction more than the art.
“In practice, this turned out to be a bumpy decision, as later writers kept finding excuses to put Peter in Graduate School and the like, as youthfulness and the collegial atmosphere were considered important keys to the character’s long-running popularity.”
It wasn’t later writers that started that, it was current writers. It was the plan even when that story was done to keep Peter in school as a graduate student — I don’t remember if it was Marv or Bill Mantlo (over in SPECTACULAR SPIDEY) who first mentioned it, but it was a smooth transition. It was later, when he left graduate school, that things went a little awry (at least to my eye).
They shuffled the characters around a bit — Marv established that Harry and Flash hadn’t graduated,, and moved Betty back into the Bugle offices, as Joe Robertson’s secretary, to make sure Peter would have a cast of pals & gals in whichever setting the stories needed to be in.
And Ross was off from here to an editorial gig at DC, where his credits would start showing up only two months later…
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It was during Ross Andru’s run that Amazing Spider-Man became the field’s top-selling color title. It became the number-one book during the 1973-1974 sales year, ceded it back to Superman in 1974-1975, and then again took the top spot for 1975-1976.
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