Monday, September 25, 2017


JANUARY 3rd, 1977 – FEBRUARY 27th, 1977
FEBRUARY 28th, 1977 – MAY 7th, 1977
By Stan Lee & John Romita

I read an interview some years ago with John Romita where he discussed the genesis of the SPIDER-MAN newspaper strip. It’s been a long time, but I seem to recall that Romita wanted the thing to be purely an adventure strip. He had grown up on the works of Milton Caniff and Hal Foster and imagined Spider-Man headlining a nonstop series of high adventure and cliffhangers. Stan Lee, on the other hand — at least per my recollection of Romita’s comments — wanted the series to read more like a soap opera strip in the vein of MARY WORTH.

Personally, I think either concept could fit Spider-Man. The character is, after all, the star of a monthly action-adventure comic book — but at the same time, the soap opera qualities of Peter Parker’s personal life were a major component of the series from the very beginning. And personally, at least as an adult, I’d be very happy with a Spider-Man comic strip that mostly revolved around Peter rather than his alter ego.

But in any case, the strip’s first story arc seems to go more in Romita’s direction over Lee’s. It’s more or less wall-to-wall action as our web-slinging wonder finds himself up against Doctor Doom. The idea to kick this strip off with Doom rather than an established Spider-foe is an interesting one, but it makes sense. More than, say, Doctor Octopus or the Green Goblin, Doom is (or at least was at this point) Marvel’s most recognizable villain.

From the get-go, we can pretty easily infer that this strip exists in its own continuity, separate from Spider-Man’s monthly adventures. As things go along, we’ll learn that some of the web-slinger’s villains already exist and have fought our hero in this universe, but others have not. Case in point is Doctor Doom, who met Spider-Man very early in his career (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #5, 1963), but who here encounters him for the very first time.

Doom shows up in New York to address the United Nations on the subject of terrorism and how to quash it. We learn in short order that the U.N. was pressured into inviting Doom by the Daily Bugle, which is pretty impressive when you think about it. Most modern-day interpretations of the Bugle tend to present it as more of a sensationalistic paper, but early on in Spider-Man continuity, publisher Jonah Jameson was a legitimate media magnate, and the Bugle was a respected publication. Lee and Romita split the difference here, giving us a Bugle which can sway the United Nations, but which is published by the extremely right wing Jonah Jameson, the only publisher in America who approves of and endorses Doom’s dictatorial methods.

We’re also shown pretty quickly that this version of Spider-Man is still as feared and mistrusted as in his earliest days. The police worry he will disrupt Doom’s appearance and even shoot at him on sight when he approaches the U.N. Of course he does make it in and fights Doom — they actually go two rounds in the arc, once when Doom lands at JFK Airport and beats Spider-Man handily, and once when Spider-Man challenges him at the U.N. and defeats him thanks to some specially doctored web fluid — and in the end the Monarch of Latveria departs New York, having decided that the U.N. is undeserving of his help (since they decided not to turn over full control of the organization to him when he demanded it).

We get a recap of Doom’s origin partway through the story, as Spidey recalls it while briefly passed out. It’s pretty much identical to his comic book origin, though interestingly, there’s no mention of the Fantastic Four. Not that they’re essential to Doom’s backstory, but their omission here is notable as, at this point in the strip’s continuity, it implies that Spider-Man is the only superhero in New York (if not the world). The city is referred to by Walter Cronkite in a newscast as the home of Spider-Man, and the wall-crawler is treated by most characters as if he’s the only game in town.

Eventually this would change, of course. The SPIDER-MAN newspaper strip famously featured a crossover with the X-Men in the early nineties (which was later adapted into a couple episodes of Spider-Man’s animated series), and nowadays it seems nearly every arc in the strip guest-stars whichever Marvel character has a movie in theaters or a show streaming somewhere.

This initial arc is a little simplistic, at least moreso than one would expect from the Lee/Romita comics of a decade or so earlier. But at the same time they’re both just getting their feet wet in a new format.

The next arc, which was titled “Arms and the Madman” in that old BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book I mentioned last week, finds Doctor Octopus calling on Aunt May, much to Peter’s chagrin. The opening strips in this storyline spotlight a problem which occasionally plagued the Lee/Romita comics years earlier as well: a disjointed sense of when things are happening in relation to each other. To wit: Spidey returns home from his final fight with Doom. Then, “meanwhile,” Doc Ock calls on Aunt May, finds she’s not home, and pins a note to her door, then walks away. Meanwhile again, Peter is just changing out of his Spider-Man costume when Mary Jane shows up. Then, another meanwhile shows us Ock returning to May’s apartment, ringing her buzzer, and being greeted by her at the front door.

So thanks to the proliferation of “meanwhiles”, it seems Ock calls on May, sees she’s not there, leaves, makes a U-turn and returns about two minutes later to find she is home after all. It’s really disconcerting.

Like Doom, Doc Ock is established here. He’s fought Spider-Man before and met May before, though the oblique references don’t specify exactly when or how this all happened. We also meet Mary Jane Watson, as noted above, and find that she’s dating Peter. She has a new part-time job working as a museum guide and brings him along to check out her act – but Peter is more concerned about Doctor Octopus’s intentions toward Aunt May and ditches MJ.

You may notice that this arc, at least in the early section, hews much closer to Stan Lee’s vision for the strip, with lots of soapy antics. Peter spends a great deal of this one – or at least more than in the previous story – out of costume, and I generally like it more for that reason. The Doom arc was okay, but it had too much Spidey and not enough Peter. This one, on the other hand, strikes an excellent balance.

So as it turns out, Mary Jane’s new job dovetails with Doctor Octopus’s plan, as Ock takes Aunt May on a date to the museum, where he surreptitiously knocks her out to create a distraction allowing him to steal the priceless Dragon of Kiangkow on loan from China. The remainder of the arc concerns Spider-Man chasing Ock around town, attempting to retrieve the idol before China declares war on the United States in retaliation for the theft. (Yeah, that seems a little far-fetched to me, too.)

Eventually the idol is recovered, Ock is arrested, and Spider-Man – briefly suspected of the theft himself – remains on the NYPD’s “shoot first and ask questions later” list even after he clears his name. This second storyline isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but its reliance on Mary Jane and Aunt May as supporting characters, plus its use of a classic Spider-Man villain, help it to feel more like a vintage Spidey adventure, and for that at least, it’s superior to the initial Doctor Doom outing.


  1. Reads like a blueprint to the 1981 Sunbow SPIDER-MAN Animates Series (the pre-AMAZING FRIENDS season with Aunt May, Betty Brant, JJJ, and Joe Robertson), where Doctor Doom was the main baddie (due to a long-run storyline about Latverian rebels trying to overthrow him). The series also portrayed Jameson as Pro-Doom.
    I should note that my early experiences with Spidey and Doctor Doom had me under the impression that he was a regular Spidey Baddie.

    1. Yeah, this strip definitely feels like a precursor to the eighties Spider-Man shows in more ways than one. There's a Mysterio arc coming up whose concept would be very loosely adapted into an AMAZING FRIENDS episode, and in general Romita's design for Peter Parker looks more like the eighties Marvel Productions Peter Parker than the comic book Peter of the same period. It's actually kind of fascinating that those shows seemed to borrow so much from this version of Spider-Man.