Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hey You Guys!

Spider-Man, where are you coming from? Spider-Man, nobody knows who you are! Beginning in the fourth season of PBS's educational program The Electric Company in 1974, "Spidey Super Stories" was a recurring sketch featuring an unusually quiet web-spinning wall-crawler. Marvel Comics published a tie-in comic, featuring Spidey interacting with characters from both the TV show and the Marvel universe proper. And while it feels a little scummy to make fun of a comic book aimed at kids just learning to read...I'm going to anyway.

So, from September 1978, here's issue 35 of Spidey Super Stories!

And if you're worried things'll get too heavy, fret not. This comic has Morgan Freeman's seal of approval. But before we meet Spidey and his special guest-star, we're introduced to Peter Parker's boss J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle, who sums up his relationship to our hero in one panel.

That says it all, really. Jonah does not care that he is holding an album cover clearly depicting Spidey saving a little girl from a horrifying death by inferno. Jonah does not love him, even though everyone else does. Even Harry Osborn, who seems to be either back on drugs or seconds away from turning into the Green Goblin or both, is feeling that Spidey magic.

But enough Jonah! On to our first story. (Of three! Plus a few one-pagers. Spidey Super Stories did not stint on content.)

Although there's a lot to make fun of in this comic, there's also a lot of sheer awesomeness, and criminals robbing a bank by busting through the front wall on the back of an elephant is pretty awesome. Luckily for them the bank painted their vault in a cheery circus design, making it much easier for the elephant to identify.

Spidey has a go at stopping the thieves, with little luck. He's about to be crushed to death by the pilfering pachyderm when suddenly...

I didn't read issue 14, but I think the name "Shanna, Queen of the Jungle" pretty much tells us all we need to know. In the mainstream Marvel universe she's known as "Shanna the She-Devil", but feminist Satanism is a little advanced for the intended age group of this comic.

Jumbo is torn between his two masters, but ultimately chooses the babe in the bikini. Shanna and Spidey make short work of the crooks, and Shanna tells Spidey she's on the trail of the terrible Trapper, who's been kidnapping animals and training them to steal. But the Trapper and his felonious furries aren't at their nature preserve hideout, so where could they be?

Yes, robbing the First National Bank was small potatoes next to the Diamond Square Galleria! All your Jamba Juice are belong to us! It's a good thing the crook squealed before Shanna sent him plummeting several feet to his death slight bruising.

So the Trapper is robbing the mall, starting with the men's notions counter at Nordstrom's, I guess. And he's got his whole menagerie with him. Let's see, there's a gorilla, a tiger, some lions, a rhino, and...aaah oh my god what is that thing!!!???


It's some kind of hideous blue bear-ape-man mutant thing! Forget robbing the mall, take that thing on tour, you'll make millions!

Anyway, Shanna and Spidey spot this going on through a window, and although Spidey's all ready to rush in and bust some heads, Shanna stops him.

If you're a single straight guy like Spidey, and a jungle babe in an animal-skin bathing suit has a plan for you involving costumes, you are not going to ask any questions. Even if she has somehow managed to tuck her hair neatly behind her eyes.

Aaaahhh! It's back, it's...oh, ok. It's just a blue bear. I guess the artist is better with profiles. Anyway, sorry to ruin the surprise ending for you, but if your age is at least numbered in double-digits you would have figured out that the gorilla that starts monkeying around (sorry) messing with the Trapper is actually Spidey in disguise. The Trapper calls on his other animals for help, but...

Horrible blue bear-thing is resolutely supporting Shanna on this one. So she could have commanded the animals at any time, and the whole point of putting Spidey in the gorilla suit seems to have been just to fuck with the Trapper...or with Spidey...or both. Hot chicks can be cruel, man. With his animal cronies abandoning him, the Trapper makes a break for it.

Where could he be? In the basketball net? Behind a fishing pole? Is he perhaps perched atop the precarious pile of kayaks? Where, oh where, could he be?

Yeah, he's in the tent. But so is that crazy ape!

Ha ha ha! Oh, Spidey, I love when you laugh at your own jokes! Meanwhile, the unattended wild animals have devoured the hapless mall patrons. The End.

Before we move on to our next tale of derring-do, we get a one page origin story of a villain we'll meet in story three. 

Oh, alrighty then. Question asked and answered.

A kick in the ass gives him the inspiration he needs...


And there you go. Good thing the chef didn't tell him to go jump in a lake, or the world might have been robbed of the majesty of Kite-Man the Night Flyer.

Good idea. Probably could have led with the stunblaster, in fact, and maybe done without the whole kite motif. But we'll get back to the Night Flyer. First...

So many things to note about this introductory splash page. First, yes, that is Rita Moreno's director character from The Electric Company. Second, yes, the pizza vendor (the titular "Godmother") is actually calling that older fellow with the horrible comb-over "young man". And third, and most importantly, no, I don't know why Spider-Man is filming a movie in which he is playing himself as a groom getting married in the middle of the street while wearing an old-timey tuxedo over his costume. What's more, it is never explained at any point in the entire story.

And here we see our villain's fiendish plan in action - which I admit I kind of love. She overloads the pizza with pepper, and when her customers turn away to sneeze, she picks their pockets. She probably overdoes it by trying to convince them they're sick, though, as the difference between sneezing from a cold and sneezing because you have inhaled a large mass of particulate spices is kind of obvious.

Spidey sees her picking pockets and decides to follow her. He tracks her to an underground poker game, because this story wasn't insane enough, where she loses all her ill-gotten gains to a cheating cheater who cheats. Spidey can tell that this lady isn't truly a bad sort, and asks to know why she's been stealing from her customers.

She's so sick she is dressing her baby in ridiculous clothing inspired by old Little Rascals shorts. It's a heartbreaking story. So Spidey hatches a plan! First, he nabs the poker players and steals back their winnings, then gives it back to the customers our Godmother stole it from in the first place. And then...

And all is well. But wait, you say! Spidey's plan to make money is just to go back to selling pizzas, which she was presumably doing in the first place, and so was presumably not making enough money, hence the pocket-picking? How will that help? Ah, I say, you clearly have not been paying attention! If you look closely, you will see that they have raised the price of soda by five cents! The pizza is just a loss leader, everyone knows soda is where you make your profit! Problem solved. And if that doesn't work, it's cool. The baby is about to choke to death on a slice of pizza while nobody's looking, so they won't need the extra cash anyway. The End.

Next story - The Perfect Plan of the Night Flyer! Peter Parker is finishing up an awesome date with Mary Jane (the girl - he's not stoned, this is a kids' comic) - when the Night Flyer goes flying by. Now, WE know he's mean because he told us, but Spidey has no reason to be suspicious. Nonetheless, when those wavy lines start coming out of his head, Spidey goes on the offensive. (Bad vibes are not admissible in court, Spidey.)

Ahem. The correct sound effect is "thwip thwip". If you're going to teach children to read, please check your spelling. Spidey runs out of webbing (that date with MJ went REALLY well) and the Night Flyer kicks him to the ground. Luckily...

Captain America catches his legs (the back of his head is about to eat pavement). Remember Captain America from issue 17? Or every other Marvel comic since the '40s? Or from that Kinks song where he's falling?

Cap and Spidey follow Night Flyer to Grand Central Station, where they all board a train. Cap reveals the criminal's evil plan. One million dollars, or else...

So yes, the evil-doer's plot involves taking a train from New York City to Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota. And Cap and Spidey get on the same train to follow him. Ignoring the fact that there are no train stations in Rapid City, SD (yes, I do my research - you think I just pull this stuff out of my ass?), that's still a trip of over 1600 miles. Cap and Spidey have a LONG time to figure out how to stop this guy.

The Night Flyer, however, didn't count on being asked for a ticket. Curse you, Amtrak agent! One stunblast and he's away, flying the rest of the way to South Dakota, leaving Cap and Spidey to follow.

"Soon", says the caption; "soon" is an extremely relative term in this instance. Cap is enthusiastic; Spidey is a bit more realistic, perhaps realizing that they could have spent the entire day it took to get there coming up with a better plan than "the two of us will search the entire mountain by ourselves".

Ah, well, that's how life goes. Nice view and all, but it's gotta go. Too bad. Too bad you're going to blow it up while you're standing directly on top of it, too.

Cap's plan, meanwhile, has miraculously worked, and Cap discovers the Night Flyer just in the nick of time.

"Your shield is useless against my ability to slightly shift my weight to the right!" Shame Cap didn't think to just charge him. He's only a few feet away, and he looks kind of top-heavy. But all is well - Spidey snipped the wires! Hooray! And it's another day-long trip back to NYC, this time with a dangerous lunatic on board.

Going by their body language in the first panel there, Cap seems to be hitting on Spidey, who is having none of it. Perhaps it's Night Flyer's resentful glares killing the romantic mood, but I suspect Spidey is pissed that Cap waited until they were on the train to tell him that capturing this Z-list villain would take days, most of which would be spent in the coach section of an Amtrak train. I particularly like the abrupt ending. "How would you like to celebrate?" "After a night like this? No! And you know what else, Captain Douchebag? Fuck. You." The End.


  1. Wonderful piece, Brian - now that's an all-ages comic, simple stories and awesome art. Were there any credits? I especially like the third tale's Kirby vibe. And the Shanna stuff reminds me of Frank Springer.

    Mind. worst Mount Rushmore ever - blowing it up would be a blessing!

  2. Thanks, Martin. This really was a great kids series - I loved it when I was little.

    And credits, indeed - from the inside front cover (beneath the JJJ bio):

    Salicrup & Karas: Writers
    Mortimer, Perlin & Esposito: Artists
    A.J. Hayes, Julie Mishkin: Editors
    Dave Kraft: Consultant
    Marie Severin: Art Director