Remembrance of Comics Past: Amazing Spider-Man #97

ASM 97 Front

If you’re buying comic books as a collector, you can’t get lazy. Because if I learned anything in my 20+ years of collecting, it’s that if you slack for even one second, that’s when you end up with a less than satisfactory purchase.

At least that’s the case behind my purchase of Amazing Spider-Man #97. It’s not quite the nightmare that I’m making it out to be with that introduction, but nothing gnaws at my insides more than mistakes made because of my own foolish carelessness.  When I was in high school, at the end of every school year we had these big statewide tests in math, social studies, science, etc. As someone who was hyper competitive, I always strived to get a perfect 100 on these tests, and was successful on a few occasions. However, during my geometry final, I missed a perfect score by one question all because I got lazy and forgot to go back and check my work. If I did, I would have found my mistake fairly quickly. So instead, the 95 or whatever I ultimately got exists on my permanent record which no one gives a crap about just to taunt me. Just like ASM #97 taunts me as another example of my laziness.

Comic book historians and enthusiasts will note that ASM #97 is one of three issues from the early 1970s which controversially was without the standard comic book authority “code” on the front cover. Because this issue, as well as ASM’s #96 and #98, dealt with the issue of Harry Osborn’s drug use – a taboo topic according to the comic book authority – these comics are comparatively worth more than other ASM’s from the period as the authority essentially didn’t sanction their release with the use of its “code.” Keep in mind, these issue don’t advocate drug use, but just the sheer discussion of it made these comics controversial. As a result, these three comics are landmark issues as they marked a moment where the big publishers started to explore edgier, more adult-themed content.


With that in mind, these three issues have long been part of my “comics to keep an eye on” short list while I was on my quest to own every issue of Amazing Spider-Man. In other words, if I found any of these three comic books for a good price, I was just going to go ahead and buy them, regardless of the circumstances. Perhaps that explains why I got lazy with ASM #97.


Those who are familiar with the comic book grading system know that there are a number of factors considered into the final determination of an issue’s condition. The front cover takes precedence for most only because it’s the most visible to the naked eye, but if the inside or back cover of a comic are severely damaged, it will lower the overall value of the book.


Now, I’ve been on record as saying that with many of the older, more expensive issues of ASM, I’m willing to sacrifice the condition of the insides or back cover if it the front cover is attractive enough and the price is right. That still doesn’t mean I should be ignorant to what’s “wrong” with the comic book. If someone cut out a panel that affects the story on the inside, or the back cover is one big water stain, I at least need to know about this before making a purchase.


When you’re buying a comic book in person, one of the things you’re told to do is to take the book out of its bag and give it a full once-over. Check the front and back cover up close and even check the insides to see if anything is cut out or if the coloring is extremely yellowed. Some of the (better) sellers at shows and stores will even tell you to do this before they complete a transaction. They obviously want to make sure you’re happy with the final product, though I don’t think anyone should go ahead and expect them to be always looking out for your best interests (with that said, they shouldn’t actively be trying to rip you off either).


ASM 97 BackThe dealer I bought ASM #97 from certainly wasn’t trying to rip me off. In fact, I think he was more or less indifferent to my existence. I wasn’t looking at any of his big money stuff, so he gave me some distance as I perused his offerings. When I came across his copy of #97, the sticker on the front of the bag listed it as Good/Very Good condition. The price was certainly in-line with that condition. So I picked up the comic, still in the bag and gave it an once-over. The front cover was absolutely beautiful for a Good/Very Good. So I made the assumption that the guy was just a very conservative grader and was looking to get rid of an old, classic issue of ASM that for one reason or another, was insignificant to him, since based on the front cover, he could have reasonably asked for more money.

I’m sure many of you are sensing red flags galore here, but just like someone watching a horror movie screaming at someone not to go into that room – you can scream all you want at me for not opening the bag and taking a closer look at the comic book. It doesn’t matter because I never opened and checked it until hours, possibly days, later when I took it out and noticed writing, in thick black marker all across the back cover. It’s not the least bit visible from the front, nor does it impact the inside material in any way, but it does explain where the Good/Very Good determination came from.

From that day forward I always made sure I checked all elements of a comic book before buying it. If I was dealing with someone online, either through eBay or another web site, I always requested scans of both the front and back and any pertinent information about the inside pages. If they couldn’t/wouldn’t provide it, then I wouldn’t buy the issue. I’m not necessarily opposed to owning something that has damage on the back cover, but as I said earlier, I have a right to know. And I certainly should know better than to just take for granted that a comic book that looks fantastic on the front is going to look the same all the way through. Just like that geometry test, ASM #97 will existence for the rest of my life to remind me of my laziness.

All images from Amazing Spider-Man #97: Stan Lee, John Romita Sr., Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia

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