Thursday, June 1, 2017

TRULY GONE&FORGOTTEN : THE MANY SPIDER-SIDES OF SPIDEY SUPER-STORIES


Spider Super Stories was a fairly long-running title which was produced by Marvel Comics and the Children's Television Workshop in the mid-to-late Seventies, as a spinoff from the live-action Spider-Man segments from PBS stalwart The Electric Company.

That's as much of the backstory to this entry as I can manage in a single sentence, and it puts me on the crux of comprehension versus unfamiliarity; anyone born after, say, 1980 probably will have had no experience with The Electric Company's original incarnation and this will still seem strange and confusing. Anyone born before 1980 won't really need it explained to them. And, frankly, I'm fooling myself if I think that anyone under forty is reading this blog. Hey, bearded, graying readership! Let's go get AARP cards and play some technically-savvy but showboating-absent basketball at the Y.

In any case, Spider Super-Stories were enthusiastically dumbed-down superhero stories featuring Marvel's Friendly Neighborhood web-head, with the menace level turned to "Luthor stole forty cakes" for the sake of the kiddie-winks. The villains in these comics were typically (a) villains who had appeared on the short, live-action Spider-Man segments on Electric Company proper, (b) Marvel Comics villains trying to do things like ruin a circus or steal the Mayor's hat or something, and (c) few-and-far-between original characters or re-imaginings of established Marvel villains (I'll get to their version of Stilt-Man eventually, I promise you, it's worth it).

While the latter were far less prevalent than the others, they was something of a theme, or so I noticed. And while I'm sure that the recent Spider-Verse books have probably re-introduced some of these one-and-done characters, I ain't read 'em and I'm coming at this with fresh eyes. Don't ruin it for me.

So, here's the Electric Company-verse's small coterie of associate spider-people!

It does not work.
Spider-Woman (Spider Super Stories vol.1 No.11, Aug 1975)
When Peter Parker strips down to his skivvies for a relaxing bit of sun-bathing, it's Valerie the Librarian (a recurring Electric Company character, played by Hattie Winston) who stumbles across his sticky wad of crumpled up spider-costume. This is what you get when you store all of your clothes in a ball of web-fluid and stick it to the underside of ledgers -- incriminating stains which you wouldn't want to have to explain to your mother.

Idly wondering if she might ever become a hero-type, Valerie takes the happened-upon-costume as a sign. For me, it would be a sign not to wear a stranger's weird clothes which dropped from a tall building into a sticky mess in my hands, but then again I'm picky.

Gluing suction cups to the hands and feet, Valerie takes to the streets with Spider-Man's stolen web-shooters, on top of everything else. This is grand theft! Call the police!

After a brief scuffle with the Vulture, Valerie gives up the cross-dressing costume drama, presumably returning Peter Parker's heavily-refitted uniform to the original owner. Personally, I bet the tapered leg and cinched waist would look spectacular.

Well, the dog seems to think it's a good idea.
Spidey-Kid (Spider Super Stories vol.1 No.34, May 1978)
Diminutive Homer, after being gently rebuffed by a local gang of baseball-happy kids, decides to prove his worth as a potential athlete by donning a Halloween Spider-Man costume and proving to his pubescent pals that he has genuine spider-powers. He doesn't and this might end up in tears. This is why they didn't allow the Human Torch to be on that one cartoon show, for fear that kids would dress up like him and huck themselves off a roof, aflame. Sounds like a party.

Spider-Man himself sees Homer parading around like a nerd in his homemade Spidey costume, and decides to help him out by discreetly assisting Homer in duplicating his powers. Spidey throws a little sticky webbing on Homer's feet so he can climb a wall, fakes a stream of webbing (haven't we all, just once?), and arranges for a thief to murder Homer's uncle.

The one bit of crime which Homer helps fight is when a trio of hobos steal his pet dog Rags, so as to sell him to the Pound for three bucks. I did not know the Pound paid for dogs or that hobos were on dog-collecting patrols. Frankly, that's far too horrifying a concept to be explored in a comic book aimed at six year olds. Gave ME the heebie-jeebies, and I'm on the court at the Y already.

"Oh mah god, that's Stone Cold's music ..."

Web-Man (Spider Super Stories vol.1 No.25, Aug 1977)
Spider Super Stories invented a not-particularly-threatening Spider-Man villain seemingly based on what I did with my coloring books out of sheer boredom: color him backwards! Whoa-ho, lookit me create characters!

Web-Man is a creation of Doctor Doom, who spends this story hanging out in a suite of apartments in the rent-controlled district of Manhattan. Nah, I kid, those apartments are all gone and have been replaced with Trump Towers. It's Trump Towers all the way down.

Using a "twin machine" -- a tube connected to a two-way mirror, like at your more respectable interrogation rooms and peepshows -- Doom creates not one but TWO Web-Men to fight Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Web-Men are fucking idiots and keep doing things like slamming into walls. When Spidey himself busts the mirror which birthed them, they vanish, and I guess Spidey then beats Doom's face to paste. Nah, I think they had cookies and milk, disappointingly. After a few of these stories, you really start to miss the old gratuitous violence of the mainstream books ...

Spiders From Mars (Spider Super Stories vol.1 No.29, May 1977)
Nicely played, pot-smoking writers:






4 comments:

rnigma said...

Yeah, I do recall those Spidey Super Stories... They were the comic book equivalent to those Spider-Man sketches on the Electric Company, which were about as cheesy as the Spidey TV show.
(And a happy 80th birthday to Easy Reader himself, Morgan Freeman!)
Of course, DC had to come out with their own dumbed-down-for-kids-learning-to-read comic, "Super A."

Eric said...

At least I don't print your blog posts out on paper so I can read them?

Also, if I'm typical of your readership, I was terrible at basketball even before my knees started making weird noises when I go up stairs. Any chance we can just hang out on the bleachers rolling up D&D characters like my friends and I did during gym class back in high school?

- Sincerely,
One of Your Bearded, Greying Readers.

Calamity Jon said...

Let's go reserve a room at the library instead; it's damp under the bleachers and it fires up my rheumatism ...

Hopper said...

I was planning to post the same comment about my knees, but Eric beat me to it. And I only turned forty this year, although I grew my greying beard last year. Damn your cutting observational skills about your readership, Jon.

Popular Posts