The Paper Anniversary

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By Mark Ginocchio

I sometimes wonder if I pulled a fast one on my wife.

When we first started dating more than 11 years ago, I wasn’t a full-blown comic book “geek” or whatever your word of choice might be. And I certainly wasn’t the kind of guy that would obsess day after day about trying to collect every issue of Amazing Spider-Man (to the point where I’m now only four issues away from having the whole thing). So how did I come about receiving a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #50 for our first wedding anniversary nearly five years ago if I wasn’t this guy?

My wife and I first started dating in college only because she had the wherewithal to bluntly announce her romantic interest in me. Oh sure, I was absolutely interested in her, but I was far from a Casanova as a 19-year-old and when I went to hang out with her one night and she coyly told me she had a “crush” on someone, I felt so dejected and rejected that I was ready to run out of her dorm room and never come back again – until she stopped me to say who she had the crush on. From that point on, I realized I had met a woman who would continue to surprise me.

When I was in elementary school and junior high, I connected with Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker more than any other comic book character I had read about. Peter’s inability to eloquently balance his personal life with his life as a superhero was relatable. His inability to find true happiness due to his insecurities and self-doubt was tragic. This man had family and love pulled from his grasp, and went around New York City acting selflessly while being characterized by the public as a menace and a vigilante.

I accumulated a collection of close to 100 Spider-Man comics when I was kid, and even owned a few “key” issues like Amazing Spider-Man #300 (first Venom), Amazing Spider-Man #42 (first Mary Jane) and Amazing Spider-Man #121 (death of Gwen Stacy). But my desire to collect died as I hit my most vulnerable teenager years, and I was too busy trying to “fit in” with my peers than spend the time and money it took to follow Peter Parker and his clone through the mid-1990s. Perhaps if I knew somebody at this point in my life who made me feel as special and comfortable as my wife, I would have stuck with Spider-Man, but as my grandfather once said, “all good things come to those who wait.”

The specter of Spider-Man first made itself apparent in our relationship in the aftermath of Sam Raimi’s movie in 2002. I announced to my then-girlfriend that I really wanted to see this movie, and that it meant a lot to me to finally see a version of Spider-Man realized on the big screen. She didn’t argue, but I felt compelled to make my case anyway. While visiting with my parents, I showed her my childhood collection of Spider-Man comics and explained what they meant to me. I told her as a kid I dreamt about owning every issue of Amazing Spider-Man. When she saw the impressive stack of comics in front of her, she asked how close I was to realizing this dream. When I told her I was still hundreds of issues away, she understood how silly this goal was.

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But she wouldn’t give up on it.

She kept asking me if I ever wanted to get back into collecting, and all I could focus on was the time and cost it would take to fulfill my childhood dream. It was too big, too expensive and it wasn’t what she signed up for when she told me she had a “crush” on me a few years prior. Still, she was insistent enough that I at least put my toe in the water. I picked up some lots of back issues from the 1980s and 1990s. I signed up for a subscription to get all the new issues. Within a few years, I had close to 300 Spider-Man comics in my collection, but I was still left with about 200 of the most expensive, and hardest to find issues out there.

Spider-Man still felt like a tertiary character in our relationship when we were married in November 2007. There was no Spider-Man/Mary Jane cake topper on our wedding cake. We did not ask our photographer to take any pictures of the epic “upside-down kiss” from the first Raimi movie. We did not exchange the three extra blenders we received for one of the Spider-Man comics missing from my collection. That’s why I thought nothing of it when one night, my wife and I were walking past a comic book shop in the East Village of New York and she asked me about the one Spider-Man comic I wish I had more than any other. I had to think for a moment, but I was still able to answer “Amazing Spider-Man #50” fairly quickly.

Amazing Spider-Man #50 is one of the most famous comics in history. Its “Spider-Man No More” cover by artist John Romita Sr., consistently ranks as one of the most iconic Marvel covers. The comic marks the first appearance of one of the most diabolical bad guys, Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin. Amazing Spider-Man #50 is a true “collectible” in every sense of the world.

Beyond the collectability of it, I also immensely enjoy the comic’s story. Peter had dabbled with “quitting” as Spider-Man many times during the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko-era, but based on how the tone of the series changed from loner teenaged-superhero saga under Lee/Ditko to a more conventional 60s teen soap opera (with superheroics) under Lee/Romita, Peter’s declarations of “quitting” felt more sincere this time around. Why would Peter want to keep sticking his neck out when he had the likes of Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane vying for his affections (and with Romita handling the illustrations, these two characters were as beautiful as ever)? Peter dumps his Spider-Man costume in a garbage can and the reader is left legitimately wondering if this is indeed the last we’ve seen of Spider-Man.

And yet, Peter’s morality and subscription to the mantra, “with great power must come great responsibility,” still found a way to win out. When he walks by a rooftop and sees a security guard getting surrounded by a gang of criminals, he instinctively saves the day. Peter then realizes that the security guard reminds him of his late Uncle Ben, who died because Peter deliberately didn’t stop a burglar when he had the chance and the crook went on to murder Ben. Peter then understands that he cannot allow another person to lose their “Uncle Ben” if it’s within his power to affect the outcome, no matter how much he wants to live a quiet normal life, riding around on motorcycles with Gwen.

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The passionate way I described this comic must have resonated with my wife. A few months later, for our first wedding anniversary – the "paper anniversary" – I opened the package and between two pieces of sturdy cardboard was a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #50. It was beautiful. It was wonderful. It was how I always envisioned this comic.

I was also confused.

How much did she pay for this? Where did she buy it? My wife had never purchased a comic book of this age and value before – I hope she didn’t get ripped off by some vulture. She eventually convinced me not to worry. That she went about picking up this item in a safe and responsible matter. She told me she bought this for me because it was my dream to own every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and while she couldn’t afford to make such a purchase for one anniversary, she could at least make my chase one comic book lighter.

When I eventually recovered from the thrill and the panic of this gift, I realized there was something seismic about owning this comic. It was now, by default, the most important and valuable comic book in my collection. I suddenly had a larger question in front of me: with Amazing Spider-Man #50 now a part of my collection, was I now responsible for achieving that childhood dream that I had once derided as being silly and farfetched? If I just took my copy of Amazing Spider-Man #50, buried it in the box with all my other comics, and deliberately decided to stop my collection there, was the time, care and money my wife put into that purchase all spent in vain?

Like that security guard on the roof for Peter, Amazing Spider-Man #50 was a major turning point for me and my collection. Very suddenly, I had donned my superhero chasing attire and declared to the world that I was officially “back” in the collecting game.

I don’t know if my wife realized she would go on to inspire me to this extent. While she never discouraged me in the time that followed, there have been tense moments about the amount of money I’ve needed to achieve my “dream,” especially since our first child was born a little less than two years ago. But then my wife finds new ways to surprise me, whether it’s a random issue for a birthday or Christmas, or the fact that she convinced me that I had a story worth sharing at my Chasing Amazing blog. And while I do hold on to that hope that one day I’ll come to own every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, that comic I received for our first wedding anniversary remains a sentimental favorite and my most valuable. It was the comic that confirmed to me that every dream is worth chasing, especially when that one person you love more than anyone else is there to cheer you on.

 

Mark Ginocchio is a professional writer and editor living in Brooklyn, NY. His blog, Chasing Amazing, documents his journey to collect every issue of the Amazing Spider-Man series. He is currently missing Amazing Spider-Man #1, #3, #6, and #16.