Personal Moments

After doing Supernatural Law for decades (2014 marks 35 years, thank you very much!), people assume that I’m a lawyer or at least have a legal background. The only background I had in the law when I started SLaw was a literal one: Court Street, where Brookyn’s legal and municipal buildings are located, was only a few blocks away from my apartment. Creating the legal situations for Wolff & Byrd’s clientele is fun, but I must confess: my real passion when I write comics is what I call the “personal moments.”

Whether it’s Alanna Wolff having a moment with her dad, Jeff Byrd fretting about asking someone for a date, or Mavis consoling Alanna’s sister Corey after inadvertently upsetting her, it’s those personal moments I look forward to.

In fact, it wasPETER & BETTY 1963 the personal moments I enjoyed the most when I read comics as a kid, and later, as a fan. And my all-time favorite personal moment in comics was the very first one I noticed. It was Amazing Spider-Man #7, which I bought at Sam’s candy store on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn (where I got all my comics) in September 1963.

Spider-Man was a relatively new character but quickly became a favorite of mine. It was obvious even then that the character was going to give old-timers like Superman and Batman a run for their money.

That issue featured the return of Spider-Man’s arch-villain, The Vulture. Sure, as a nine-year-old, I thrilled to the costumed characters clashing, their airborne tussle, and the final battle in The Daily Bugle’s pressroom. But the real highlight of that story, to me, was the last page.

After defeating The Vulture, Spider-Man has resumed his everyday identity as high school student Peter Parker. He notices publisher J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary, Betty Brant, sitting under a desk. “It’s the only safe place, Peter,” Betty says. “This office was a madhouse a few minutes ago!” Peter asks if he can join her. Betty gestures to the spot next to her on the floor. “Be my guest!”

That page, with its gentle banter, dialogued by Stan Lee and with understated art (a furious, frustrated JJJ barreling past notwithstanding) by Steve Ditko, hit all the right notes with me. And it was so unlike anything I’d ever seen in a superhero comic up to that point! Ditko gets a bad rap for not drawing attractive females, but Betty looked adorable as far as I was concerned. And one can feel the discrete satisfaction of the shy science major coming into his own as the girl he fancies tells him playfully that she suspects he harbors “a secret little joke.”

The final panel, a long shot of the teens nestled behind an office desk, papers fluttering about, as Peter puts his arm around Betty is about as wonderful as it gets. Even at the tender age of nine, I thought it was so sweet! It is a tribute to the storytelling chops of Lee & Ditko that this scene would resonate and continues to delight all these years later. That page represents all that I would come to like about the comics: a lighthearted and romantic coda as a complementary contrast to action, adventure, and dizzying escapades.

That sequence is always in the back of my mind when I write a “personal moment,” in the hopes that I can hit that sweet spot for the reader in much the same way as I was charmed when I first read that last page of Amazing Spider-Man #7.

Batton Lash