Monday, December 4, 2017


SEPTEMBER 1st, 1980 – NOVEMBER 1st, 1980
NOVEMBER 2nd, 1980 – JANUARY 11th, 1981
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Morose over breaking up with Carole, Peter pays a visit to Aunt May but finds her living in terror over a mystery man called “the Protector”. May explains that this guy has been shaking down the elderly in her neighborhood, demanding protection money in exchange for not roughing them up. Eager for something to take his mind off Carole, Peter sends May to stay with Anna Watson and awaits the Protector’s impending arrival.

Side note: Recall that briefly when the strip started in 1977, Aunt May and Anna were roommates as they had been during the Lee/Romita comic book run a decade earlier. Then, quickly, it was established that no, May lived by herself (albeit in an apartment rather than a house, which is still the case here), but it seemed as if Anna was her neighbor. But now, it looks like Anna lives someplace else entirely, away from the neighborhood and out of the Protector’s reach! She sure moves a lot.

Anyway, the Protector does show up, and surely this is one of John Romita’s finest character designs. He’s just a big bruiser with curly hair, a cowboy hat, an open vest with no shirt underneath, and a bullwhip. And wouldn’t you know it, just as he’s about to come to blows with Peter, Mary Jane arrives and starts flirting with him!

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, mind you; though she clearly has a thing for Peter, it’s been established previously by her dalliance with Kraven that comic strip MJ is really into big, brawny guys. But to her credit, MJ quickly realizes the Protector is a criminal and attempts to escape from him, but he forces her into a joyride in a stolen Mercedes as Peter changes to Spider-Man and gives chase. Naturally our hero catches up with his quarry, leading into the weirdest fight scene in any of these strips so far: Spider-Man goes toe-to-toe with a guy armed with a bullwhip, and they’re basically evenly matched.

Let me repeat that: Spider-Man breaks a sweat fighting a normal man wielding a bullwhip.

In particular, the web-slinger is tagged on the shoulder by the Protector’s lash, rendering one arm useless. Thing is, the Spider-Man I know could take a clown like the Protector with both arms tied behind his back. Even in the relatively lower-powered world of the newspaper strip, this is ridiculous. This Spider-Man has battled Doctor Octopus and Kraven, and has repeatedly demonstrated his spider-strength, smashing things, lifting things, etc. The Protector should be no match for him.

In the end, of course, our hero beats the bad guy with some timely dodging and disarming, but still — it should never have been close in the first place!

The Protector’s defeat leads directly into the next storyline, as the police arrive on the scene to arrest both of them. Spider-Man escapes but, in typical Parker fashion, mopes over the fact that for all the good he does, he will apparently never be accepted by the public at large. The subsequent arc, which was titled “When a Wall-Crawler Turns Bad” in THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN back in 1986, retreads some of the ground Lee and Romita already covered a year or so earlier when Peter hung up his costume — but instead of quitting as Spider-Man entirely, Peter remains in costume and quits being a superhero in order to use his power to make some money — thus also covering a bit of what we already saw in the Mysterio arc some time back, as well.

It could be this repetition which, in part, sent John Romita packing from the ongoing strip. Very early in the arc, he jumps ship and is replaced as artist by Stan Lee’s brother, Larry Leiber. I have to say, at this point, Leiber does a decent job of aping Romita’s style. I actually went a handful of pages after the transition before I noticed things looked just a little bit off, and went back to find that Leiber had taken over a few weeks prior.

When Spider-Man makes it onto the TV show “That’s Impossible”, he believes he’s finally made it in the world — but he finds himself unable to cash his paycheck since it’s made out simply to Spider-Man, and worse, when he goes back to the TV studio to demand cash instead, he learns that he’s been blackballed thanks to an editorial in the Daily Bugle blasting the show’s producers for using him (which again illustrates just how influential the Bugle is in this continuity, despite its publisher having a very clear and irrational vendetta against Spider-Man).

Fed up, Peter finally decides that if he can’t make a living legitimately as Spider-Man, he’ll use his powers for crime, instead. He just wants one big score, then he’ll stop — but even as he plans his caper, we realize Spider-Man could never really go down that path. He looks specifically for a “victimless crime” since he can’t bring himself to hurt anyone or steal from someone who needs the money. So he sets his sights on a priceless diamond sculpture, the Desert Star, on display at the museum. But not long after stealing the thing, Peter learns that the Star’s home country, Saudi Kampur, has threatened World War III if their property isn’t found.

Does this sound familiar? It’s basically the exact plot of the strip’s second arc from way back in 1977, wherein Doctor Octopus stole a priceless relic from the local museum and Spider-Man had to bring him to justice before China declared war. Coincidentally, as this current arc wraps, we get a teaser for Doc Ock’s return in the subsequent storyline. Perhaps Romita was right to bail when he did, as the strip has suddenly become incredibly repetitive in the span of just a single arc.

In the end, of course, Peter’s conscience gets the best of him and he returns the Desert Star (with a few complications along the way). All’s well that ends well, though as with the story where he gave up on Spider-Man, Peter has a weird personal journey here. He’s right back where he started, after all: no money, and Spider-Man is still wanted by the cops. He thought show biz and then crime could remedy those situations, but they didn’t. However, as previously, he’s found no solution to his problem. He’ll just return to business as usual, and likely never mention or think about this little episode again.

As discussed last time — and hopefully made clear through my posts of the past few months — I’ve generally really enjoyed this excursion into the early days of Spider-Man’s newspaper strip. It’s a fun “side-continuity” and, while some of the storylines were real duds, others were actually very enjoyable. I have a personal preference for Spider-Man fighting gangsters and other “street-level” bad guys, and I love how much the strip delves into the soap opera aspects of Peter Parker’s life. The monthly Spider-Man comics, whether before the strip debuted, during its early run, or subsequently, have always focused mainly on Spider-Man’s heroics. The strip, meanwhile, often shuffled Spidey to the side, letting Peter’s life take center stage. It’s an approach I really enjoy, at least for this particular iteration of the character.

I’ve enjoyed these strips enough that I went ahead and picked up the subsequent two volumes. Even without John Romita aboard, I’m willing to keep going and see what happens next to comic strip Spidey. So, while we’re wrapping things up for now, don’t be surprised to see another excursion into the funny pages at some point in the upcoming future!


  1. I assume the Protector did so well against Spidey simply because, back before the 80's when Marvel started codifying power levels and what not, and then "realism" came, it seemed like if you were a villain, you could survive anything a hero dished out. Regardless of their power levels. It was just a thing. A guy with a whip? Hell, he could probably give the Hulk a run for his money. Nowadays it looks silly, but back then, he was a bad guy, bad guys just held up better.

    I would love to see the logic that got Stan to "bull whip wielding cowboy who is running a protection racket against residents of a neighborhood, instead of the businesses there." Seeing as we're in the latter half of 1980, I wonder if that brief fascination America had with cowboys caused by the movie Urban Cowboy had anything to do with that choice.

    Nice to see these are continuing; the comic strip posts are always a good read.

    1. True enough... Roger Stern has also said that Spider-Man's power level gradually decreased throughout the seventies and he made it a personal mission to restore him to his former glory when he took over AMAZING (hence showing Spidey smack the Tarantula around without breaking a sweat after going toe-to-toe with him in prior stories).

      Stan seemed to base a lot of the newspaper storylines on current events (terrorism, muggings, cults, etc.), so being influenced by a movie certainly would make sense too.

      I'm taking a break from comic strips for a while, and I have a different, more finite strip in mind to cover next (most likely next summer), but I do intend to get back to the Spider-Man stuff at some point too. I've been checking out so many old action-adventure strips that it's hard to decide which ones I want to look at sooner rather than later!

    2. Perhaps by the time you do your next bunch of comic strips Zarkov can show back up again. That'll be enough time, if your Flash Gordon series is accurate.

    3. Ha!

      I may actually do one more round of Flash Gordon someday. There's a fourth volume from Titan which includes all the Sunday strips by Alex Raymond's apprentice, Austin Briggs, who succeeded Raymond when he left the strip. Briggs also worked on the daily Flash strip, but I have less interest in covering that.

      I definitely want to do more Alex Raymond on something, too. Either the strip that preceded Flash, SECRET AGENT X-9, or the one that came after, RIP KIRBY. (Or maybe someday, both!)

  2. Thanks so much for your great reviews of the Lee / Romita newspaper strip! As a kid I collected these daily from the newspaper, somehow knowing even then that they would be hidden treasures. In the 80's I wrote a fan letter to John Romita, letting him know how much I appreciated his work on the strip (he had been off of it for several years at that point). He was kind enough to send me back one of the daily strips with his original artwork, along with a full-page handwritten letter. What a classy, talented guy!

    1. Wow, that's really cool! I met John Romita once at a convention many years ago and he was just a great guy. He was signing with his son, and I got both their autographs along with a really quick doodle of Spider-Man's face from Jr. That page is one of my prized possessions.

      Thanks for reading along with these; I'm glad you enjoyed them.