Monday, October 2, 2017


MAY 8th, 1977 – JULY 3rd, 1977
JULY 4th, 1977 – OCTOBER 2nd, 1977
By Stan Lee & John Romita

And now a few notable items I didn’t have time to get into last week: As we’ve seen, these strips take place in a separate continuity from the ongoing Spider-Man comics, but a continuity with a similar backstory. Notable tidbits include:
  • Peter resides in an apartment in Chelsea, which was his status quo in the comics at this time (and would remain so for much of the eighties) -- in fact, the apartment is even illustrated by John Romita with the same layout and furnishings as in the comics.
  • Aunt May lives in an apartment, rather than a house, in Forest Hills. This development dates back to the original Lee/Romita run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, where May and Anna Watson shared an apartment together after Peter moved out of May’s house to room with Harry Osborn. Interestingly, the first story arc had May and Anna living together, but the very next one saw May living alone.
  • There’s no sign of Gwen Stacy in any of these strips; she had been killed off a few years earlier in the main continuity but it’s unclear whether she ever existed at all in this one. Mary Jane Watson is Peter’s primary love interest in these stories as in the comics of the era.
  • And, as mentioned last time, Spider-Man seems to be New York’s only superhero at this early stage in the strip’s history.

Our third story arc introduces the strip’s first original villain, and features the newspaper debuts of two stalwart supporting cast members from the Lee/Romita comic book run. It’s also the most soap opera-ish of all the storylines so far, insomuch as it features more Peter Parker out of costume than we’ve yet seen.

The arc opens with a bit of classic Stan Lee confusion, as Aunt May is upset that her friend, Anna Watson, has been mugged. Mary Jane is also present, but is far more casual about the matter, trying to calm Peter down when he gets angry. Thing is, Anna is MJ’s aunt! She should probably be the most rattled by the incident, not the least! But she takes it in unusually casual stride, and their familial connection is never mentioned once, which leads me to the conclusion that Stan suffered one of his famous memory lapses during the scripting of this strip, and forgot MJ and Anna are related.

The arc’s main storyline is concerned with Spider-Man’s fights against a creature called the Rattler. As the story proceeds, we learn that the Rattler is actually a kindly reptile shop owner who was transformed into a snake-man by an experimental antidote serum after he accidentally injected himself with venom. The Rattler’s only goal is to get more of the serum so he will never revert to his human form. It almost seems like Lee and Romita plotted this story with the Lizard in mind, but decided to turn him into a new character instead. The creatures are very similar in origin – though the Rattler’s super-slithering powers are more reminiscent of Marvel villain the Cobra than the Lizard.

More notable than the villain, however, is the fact that this arc rounds out the supporting cast with appearances from Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, who spend much of the strip hanging around with Peter and Mary Jane. There’s someone missing here though, and her absence sticks out like a sore thumb: seeing a Lee-scripted/Romita-drawn Peter, Mary Jane, Harry, and Flash hanging out without Gwen around just feels… wrong. But, as noted above, Gwen had been dead in the comics for about four years at this point, and while the strip is set in an alternate continuity, it does take its starting cues from the then-current status quo. The comics, however, had made some headway on replacing Gwen in Peter’s circle of friends/romantic interests with Liz Allen and Betty Brant. But here, there's no other female friend present -- and as a result, the group just feels unbalanced without Gwen.

Our next arc, titled “Captured by the Kingpin” in that old BEST OF SPIDER-MAN collection I’ve mentioned a few times, has the longest build-up of all the arcs thus far, as we spend several weeks worth of strips with Spider-Man getting lured into the Kingpin’s clutches, followed by the Kingpin asking the wall-crawler to join him, followed by Spidey anguishing over whether or not to do it. Finally, when he realizes he needs money for Aunt May’s medical issues, our hero takes the plunge and joins the Kingpin, which leads into the arc’s actual plot – and it’s a really fun idea – the Kingpin runs for mayor of New York City!

It’s established here that as with Doc Ock, Spidey and the Kingpin have a past together and this is only the latest encounter in their ongoing feud. We also get more hints that Spider-Man is the only superhero in this version of New York – the Kingpin’s plan to catch him involves faking a near-death experience for a civilian, and we're told repeatedly that Spider-Man is the only person who could ever save him (he’s hanging from a rooftop).

There’s also a sub-plot in this storyline about Mary Jane traveling to Miami for a modeling gig. She invites Peter, but when Flash decides to crash the trip, Peter angrily backs out. Unfortunately, at this point Lee and Romita seem to have devolved the Flash/Peter dynamic back to its earliest incarnation, when Flash was a simple bully who existed sorely to torment Peter. By this point in the comics -- and indeed, many years earlier in stories by Lee and Romita themselves! -- Flash and Peter had buried the hatchet and, while they occasionally ribbed each other, it was evident that they had become genuine friends. However, here Flash is extremely antagonistic and Peter nearly hauls off and slugs him, bringing to mind their much earlier interactions before they called a truce.

(For the record, as the prior paragraph suggests, I much prefer Peter and Flash as friends!)

In the interest of space, I’ll just say that the Kingpin announces his candidacy but eventually drops out of the race when his wife, Vanessa, is hit by a shot he intended for Spider-Man. The storyline ends with our web-slinger cursing his lot in life. You have to love (?) how Spider-Man – especially Stan Lee’s Spider-Man – can find a way to make pretty much any tragedy revolve around him somehow. A woman was just shot and, we're told, may be paralyzed for life, but ol' Pete's takeaway is to mope about what a curse his spider-powers are for him.

This arc is a nice spotlight for Jonah Jameson, who casts aside his one-track, blustery hatred of Spider-Man to focus instead on toppling the Kingpin’s campaign. And speaking of – there’s something absurdly hilarious about the fact that the character is simply called “Kingpin” through the entire arc. Reporters address him as Kingpin. His campaign posters say “Vote for the Kingpin.” To be fair, I’m not sure whether the character had a real name at this point or not, but even if he didn’t, it’s still surreal.

We also get a lot of Joe Robertson in this one, as he aids Jameson in his crusade against the Kingpin. Robbie is one of my favorite members of Spider-Man’s supporting cast, and Lee and Romita take advantage of his appearance here to visit an idea they’d tossed out occasionally during their AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run several years earlier: the possibility that Robbie may know – or at least suspect – that Peter is Spider-Man.

The Spider-Man strip got off to a clumsy start, and while the stories remain a little simplistic in comparison with the comics on which they’re based, it’s hard to argue that they aren’t at least getting better. And next time, we’ll see Lee and Romita give us their daily syndicated take on Spider-Man’s origin, so that should be fun. 


  1. Man, that first strip-three panels of Peter seething about crime in New York (which makes sense given his origin story) and being all broody and angry, and the fourth with the Lizard knockoff doing his internal villain monologue-is one of the most unintentionally funny things I've ever seen. It's like "never mind THAT, look at this reptile guy!" Just kills me.

    Mind, I grew up reading this strip, and back then I was more likely to have gone "oh, it's a villain!" than die laughing.

    1. Yeah, it is a little funny when you put it that way. I suspect at this point in the strip, Lee and Romita wanted to make sure there was something "exciting" for all readers in every installment. As the strip goes along and they become more confident in their style, that sort of thing occurs less.

    2. Yeah, I do recall as time went on the strip got a little less obvious about things like that, but man, that one just kills me.

  2. In my first year of readership they published the Kingpin story as a black&white add-on in an issue of our Spider-book. For the longest time I thought Kingpin's wife was bedridden in SPECTACULAR 96 (published in one of my first Spider-books) precisely as the consequence of her having got shot here.

    It was such a perfect fit.

    1. That's cool. Stuff like that used to happen to me sometimes too, reading an event in one comic, seeing something that looked like it could be the consequence in another, and assuming they went together. It's fun how your min works when you're a kid and don't know about issue numbers or when things were published relative to each other.