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Living up to the expectations of your legacy is something complicated even for the best of us. It happens in every single aspect of life and it certainly happens in comics, with a lot of great stories that perhaps don’t live up to people’s expectations simply because they have been hyped way too much due to its cultural relevance and influence in the medium throughout the years.
This, my friends, is not the case.
Spider-Man’s 1965 three-issue storyline, If This Be My Destiny…!, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko (co-creator of everybody’s favorite wall-crawler), is a legendary comic book storyline that is definitely deserving of the praise and legendary status that it has. And it is also a great example of how to do a lot with a little space.
What is If This Be My Destiny…!?
Written issues #31, #32, and #33 of The Amazing Spider-Man comic book title, we see the first days of Peter Parker in college as Aunt May starts falling ill because of a blood transfusion that she had with Peter in a previous issue–it turns out that Peter’s blood, fused with the radioactive elements of the spider that bit him and gave him his powers, is affecting May. Doctor Connors can help her, but he needs Peter to gather a certain amount of money and a few objects to make it happen. As he does this, a mysterious villain has his own series of plans and Spider-Man is going to have to put an end to it.
How was it?
I have met some people that want to get into comics but they usually have two reasons why they don’t want to read comics from the sixties or seventies: either they think comics were too goofy at the time or they don’t like the way the panels and art style were structured. And while there is justifiable reasoning behind the first reason (let’s face it, some comics were a bit goofy at that time), I personally think there is a lot worth praising in comics of this era in terms of structure to get the most out of the pages.
Stan Lee is a legend and is one of the most important figures in comics (perhaps the most important). He was a brilliant creator of characters and a very capable writer, but I think his writing has become somewhat underrated. Back in the day, no one was doing what he was doing in terms of writing and his issues in the Spider-Man title still hold up very well. And this story is a prime example of that.
If This Be My Destiny…! shows comic book storytelling of the old days in the best possible manner. We have a lot of panels on each page that keep the story going. The dialogue is elaborate but flows in a natural manner. You know Stan was a bit into purple prose with some of the dialogue in these issues, but I think it added to the dramatic elements of the story.
This storyline is mostly remembered for introducing Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy to the Spider-Man mythos and that legendary panel sequence drawn by Ditko, but the reality is that the story truly captures Peter’s sense of commitment and responsibility to his Aunt May, how the guilt of his Uncle Peter inspires him to do well and the lengths he is willing to go in order to make a positive difference.
It astonishes me how the core values of Spider-Man still ring so true in these issues. Peter pushes his body to his limits to get the stuff for his Aunt, gets beaten savagely, and even breaks his own leg in order to make it happen. To this day, there are not many Spider-Man stories that put him to the test the way this storyline does and the climax, with that legendary Ditko panel sequence, is the embodiment of everything this character stands for.
I don’t want to get too nostalgic, but I feel that Spider-Man is viewed more as a comedic hero nowadays. The cathartic elements of his character are what makes him so relatable to us and I think Stan understood that perfectly, which is why this storyline is still so relevant to this day.
What about the artwork?
Steve Ditko is not only the co-creator of Spider-Man and many other legendary comic book characters; he is also a very interesting artist in the sense that his work might not be the most beautiful, but much like Jack Kirby, he knows how to use it to get people’s attention and make each panel count. He is truly a master in that regard.
This storyline is no different: Ditko gets the most out of each panel along with Stan and it makes sense because he always had a strong input in the Spider-Man stories he did in the early days.
There is an energy and passion in his work that makes it timeless. It doesn’t matter when or how you look at it; you know that there is an element of greatness in his artwork and it fits a character like Spider-Man.
Everybody is going to talk about that legendary machinery sequence and it’s brilliant, but the whole thing is marvelous (see what I did there?). His artwork is not there just to look nice (which is always welcomed), but also to tell a story and emphasize key moments. And that is a skill that very few artists can do better than Ditko.
What does it represent?
One of the quintessential Spider-Man stories. You can’t fully understand the character without reading these issues. Peter Parker might get older, get married, and go through many of life’s ordeals, but If This Be My Destiny…! captures that desire to do whatever it takes to protect a loved one. It’s the heart of the character of Spider-Man and his heroic nature.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, not many storylines live up to the hype because people expect too much, but If This Be My Destiny…! is an example of a story that deserves all the praise. It’s the zenith of Lee and Ditko’s partnership and one of the best comic book storylines of its entire decade.