Despite growing up a mere 40-minute train away from New York City in the suburbs of Long Island, I never really grew to know and love the “Big Apple” until I was in college. Interestingly enough, it was also during this time in my life that my interest in collecting Amazing Spider-Man comic books received a bit of a jolt, though not quite a full-on revival. And somehow, connected to all this is the “debut” issue of ASM’s reboot, aka, volume 2, #1.
Let me clarify the first point of my story by saying that the city was not some foreign place to me as a child and teenager. My family and I had a tradition of heading into Manhattan at least once a year, usually around the beginning of summer vacation, to see a Broadway show since I was about 7. As I got older, I attended a few concerts at Madison Square Garden. One time, on the day after Christmas, my brother and I traveled into the city to try and get tickets to the Late Show with David Letterman. He was on vacation, not that we would have been successful the day-of anyway. But the point is there was a certain 20-30 block stretch between Penn Station and Columbus Circle that I was comfortable with.
Still, every time I went into New York City, it was always with a bit of uneasiness. The first few visits were during the middle of the 1980s, a dark era for the city. My family never rode the subway. There was one time my father got into a heated argument with a cab driver because he didn’t feel like taking us the 10 or so blocks from Penn Station to Times Square. I was legitimately scared and didn’t want to take a taxi back to Penn Station at the end of the evening, because I was afraid the same driver would pick us up and confront my father.
My four years in college came at a point where both my confidence and independence were growing and the city’s “edge” was being washed away by the Giuliani-administration. Similar to my upbringing, I went to college on Long Island. The train station was a short walk away from campus, and as part of the academic program I was enrolled in, we were encouraged to go into New York to see plays, operas, museums, etc. as part of a “cultural credits” program. But again, a lot of these places were in that 30 block comfort zone. Eventually, I wanted to start exploring parts of New York that were not between 34th and 59th streets or 5th and 8th avenues.
Two of my college roommates were frequent city-visitors. One was studying to be an actor, and another was a Jack-of-all-trades artist (a poet, a DJ, and pretty much everything else) and this is where my adventures in the city got a jump start. We’d have dim sum in Chinatown and go people watching down on St. Mark’s Place with NYU students who paid three times the tuition as us. There was one night during my freshman year when my roommate and I saw a rock show at the Bowery Ballroom. The first part of the night I remember is getting on the wrong subway and ending up in Brooklyn (it turned out to be Atlantic Terminal, which today is known as the place where I switch trains every morning). The second part of the night involved us meeting up with a couple of seniors from school who thought it would be fun to try and find a strip club for us to hit after the show. We couldn’t find any under 21 clubs, so we ended up getting take-out from greasy spoon, and I sat in the back-seat of this guy’s car, chowing away on fried clam strips at 3 a.m. It was probably the best night of my freshman year.
One of my roommates was into comics, but not the mainstream stuff like Spider-Man or X-Men that I was accustomed to. He was into things like anime and Manga, so we’d sometimes hit bookshops like The Strand, or St. Mark’s to check out their latest stock. And this is where it all ties-in to ASM V2 #1. While we’re on these adventures, down in the NYU/Union Square area, there would be a couple of street peddlers selling mainstream comic books. It had been years since I bought a Spider-Man comic, but for old-time’s sake, and because it was something that I kinda, sorta had in common with my roommates, I’d peruse the table and see if there was some kind of Silver Age bargain that would inspire me to buy ASM again. I never found anything older than a Bronze Age issue, but one comic I found at every one of these tables was ASM V2 #1.
Despite the “first issue” designator on the front, I knew this was some kind of reprint or a reboot. I had stopped reading ASM more than 30 issues prior during the peak of the Clone Saga silliness, so I had no idea what was going on. The last I checked, Peter Parker was actually a clone, and Ben Reilly was the real Spider-Man. And Aunt May was dead. I had no idea that Norman Osborn was still alive and masterminded the whole clone thing and paid a look-alike to be Aunt May and die. And if I was around to read all that, I probably would have been even more disgusted with the series. As it stands today, I still have a hard time reading the issues from this era, and there’s definitely a run of ASM’s in the 400s that I’ve never cracked open to look at, despite buying them. Those comics are essentially a means to an end. I can’t complete my collection without them, but I don’t have to read them if I don’t want to.
The more I saw this “first issue” of ASM, the more I needed to know what the heck happened to the series where they needed to reboot the whole thing? Did they kill Peter Parker off during the Clone Saga and they wanted to start all over again? Was the series being totally restarted in the fashion that DC did with its New 52 years later? And where did the first series of ASM officially end? At the peak of my teenage collecting, I was stoked about ASM #400. Did they ever make it to #500?
Even though I was out of practice, I still remember thinking whatever they were charging for this comic at these tables on the street was probably too much. The fact that every black market comic book merchant was selling a copy of this comic, reminded me of the fateful, over-published X-Men #1 (volume 2) which had the interlocking covers. Marvel claimed they sold over 8 million of those books, though I’ve read that a lot of comic book merchants had unopened boxes of these things in their storage rooms.
But despite being flummoxed by the frequent site of a new “first issue” of ASM, this discovery undeniably sparked my curiosity in Spider-Man and comic books once again. The more I learned about what had happened at Marvel and the title in the years since I stopped collecting, the more I started to look for these sellers on the street every time I was in New York. It got to the point where I’d be disappointed if I didn’t see at least once guy peddling a copy of this comic book. Not that I ever dropped the $20 or whatever they were asking for, to buy it. A couple of years after first seeing this comic book on the street, I bought this issue and a few others from volume two as part of a package deal on eBay. In retrospect, I probably still overpaid for these comic books, which are nothing special from a collectability standpoint. But they were the first ASM comic books I picked up in years. My collection hit another pause immediately after this purchase, and was not reignited until after the Spider-Man movie came out in 2002, but the point was, I was now back on that horse, galloping slowly.
And I have to wonder how my life as a collector would have worked out if I went to college in some other city or suburb, or didn’t connect with roommates who were so interested in discovery new parts of New York City. My connection to Manhattan would have likely revolved around the same few places like Times Square and Rockefeller Center, and I most certainly would have never become a New York City resident (and later a resident of – gasp – Brooklyn). You could also make the case that I would have never met my wife, or had the beautiful son I have now. But for the sake of this post, I also probably wouldn’t have stumbled across some guys trying to make a few bucks off a reboot of my favorite comic book series as a child and teenager. In which case, I might have never started collecting again, and found myself so close to realizing a silly dream I had for myself as a kid.
All images from Amazing Spider-Man #1 (v2): Howard Mackie, John Byrne, Rafael Kayanan, Jimmy Palmiotti & Scott Hanna