Amazing Spider-Man #4 has always been one of my favorite issues of the series, and it was the first single-digit issue of the series I picked up for my personal collection. Steve Ditko's four-panel cover is very effective at showing what this comic is about. "See why I'm called the Sandman?!!!" the character says after overwhelming Spider-Man in a fight. It's easy to see why this is a different kind of Sandman character than we're used to from children's stories, and that makes this cover such an effective hook. I always found the character a little scary as a kid, because he seems pretty unstoppable on that cover. While I've still got my copy of this Silver Age Marvel key, you can get your copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #4 (Marvel, 1963) CGC FN/VF 7.0 Off-white to white pages and much more high-grade Amazing Spider-Man up for auction in this week's 2021 July 18-19 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122129 from Heritage Auctions.
The Sandman's origin as related in Amazing Spider-Man #4 is a small twist on a common Marvel theme. Hiding from authorities on a forbidden beach near an atomic testing facility, a small-time criminal is caught up in an atomic explosion, and then: "The molecules of his body merged at that radio-active instant with the molecules of the sand under his feet, and his body took on the qualities of the sand itself — becoming virtually indestructible!"
The circumstances of the times always influence comics in great and small ways, and it's possible that real-world news about radioactive beaches… of all things… provided a little spark of inspiration for Stan Lee and Steve Ditko here. In the early 1960s, "Scientists with the European Atomic Energy community are using "hot" sand, treated with radioactive isotopes, to study the action of undersea currents on coastal sands." This strange news sparked a number of articles in 1960-1962, and in the early months of 1963 came the inevitable "what could possibly go wrong" moment, after an international incident sparked charges that France was stealing radioactive sand from the coasts of Brazil in order to convert it into material to make into atomic bombs.
While this is far from the smoking gun type of inspiration that can often be found, my real take-away from looking into this is that radioactive sand made the news in the early atomic era surprisingly often, even the notion of weaponizing it, and the concept could easily have jumped from the Cold War cultural zeitgeist and into The Amazing Spider-Man #4. You can get your copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #4 (Marvel, 1963) CGC FN/VF 7.0 Off-white to white pages and much more high-grade Amazing Spider-Man up for auction in this week's 2021 July 18-19 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122129 from Heritage Auctions.
The Amazing Spider-Man #4 (Marvel, 1963) CGC FN/VF 7.0 Off-white to white pages. Origin and first appearance of the Sandman. First appearances of Betty Brant and Liz Allen. Currently tied for the #44 book on Overstreet's Top 50 Silver Age Comics list. Steve Ditko cover and art. Overstreet 2020 FN 6.0 value = $900; VF 8.0 value = $2,550. CGC census 7/21: 96 in 7.0, 256 higher.