Monday, October 16, 2017


DECEMBER 18th, 1977 – FEBRUARY 11th, 1978
FEBRUARY 12th, 1978 – APRIL 9th, 1978
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Per an ad reprinted in the IDW AMAZING SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIPS Volume 1 collection, Spider-Man’s next storyline is titled “The Time of the Terrorist” and it features a bit of a departure in style, ultimately heralding something of a new direction (at least temporarily), for the ongoing serial. We begin with a brief Christmas interlude as Peter does some shopping and reflects on his supporting cast, then wonders why Mary Jane hasn’t called since her return from Miami. This is followed by MJ announcing to Peter that she’s taken a new job as an assistant to Kraven, and will be leaving immediately to tour with him!

As noted last time, the comic strip’s version of Kraven is less a super-villain and more a showman who happens to enjoy hunting Spider-Men on the side, so while Peter is troubled by MJ’s choice, there’s not much he can do about it. Thus, Lee and Romita write Mary Jane – who had already been a minor player for the past few storylines – completely out of the ongoing strip for the foreseeable future.

This allows them to change up their formula, and the strip’s concept along with it. Suddenly that MARY WORTH/soap opera style that Lee had wanted from the start begins to take shape. While there are some costumed Spider-action scenes to be found throughout this arc, it focuses primarily on Peter Parker and his love life. It also takes place over a longer period of time than most of the other arcs to date, which typically seemed to cover only a day or a few days at most.

Also for more or less the first time, Lee and Romita remind us that Peter is still a college student at Empire State University, as we find him studying in the library when he notices a beautiful girl named Tana. With Mary Jane gone from his life, Peter quickly falls head over heels for her and she reciprocates to the point that, in short – possibly too short – order, he considers proposing to her.

But of course there’s a wrench in this blissful affair, as Tana’s father turns out to be a notorious terrorist who’s been bombing landmarks around New York City to bring attention to the plight of his Middle Eastearn country, Boravia. Spider-Man eventually thwarts the terrorist, but the villain loses his life to one of his own bombs when the web-slinger is forced to choose between saving him or his daughter, who had shown up at the site of his latest attack in an attempt to talk him out of it. The arc ends with Tana mourning her father, hateful of Spider-Man, causing Peter to realize they can never be together so long as he wears the costume of the man she so despises.

The arc also introduces another of Peter’s fellow students, Carole, who, as I understand it, will become a fairly major supporting cast member in short order before vanishing off the face of the strip forever when Mary Jane eventually returns.

Overall, beginning here, the strip has finally clicked into place. The soap opera style fits Spider-Man as a character so much better than the nonstop action of the earlier arcs. And with MJ out of the picture, Lee and Romita are now able to toss a parade of lovely women into Peter’s life, which fits great with Romita’s past as a romance strip artist. Indeed, I seem to recall reading years ago on Jim Shooter’s now-defunct blog that Stan wanted sexy ladies front and center all over the place in the Spidey strip, and that becomes especially evident now, as Romita begins to populate panels with hot chicks in crowd shots everywhere. (According to Shooter, Stan had to twist Romita’s arm to get more cleavage into the strip on a regular basis, which strikes me as really funny for some reason.)

Don't get me wrong; I like what I see -- but there's no reason
at all for this young lady to be so prominent in these panels!
Peter is also offered a teaching job at ESU during “The Time of the Terrorist” and briefly considers it as a way to afford an engagement ring for Tana – but after their breakup, he regretfully declines the offer in favor of a potentially larger paycheck by starring as the stunt double in a new Hollywood production about himself. This of course leads into our next arc, where Peter uses his double identity to trick Jonah Jameson into buying him a plane ticket to California in order to snap some pics of Spider-Man trying out for his own movie.

The wall-crawler wins the job in short order and we find that the Lee/Romita version of 1978 Hollywood is even more progressive than the real thing, with the blockbuster motion picture being directed by – you guessed it – an attractive lady named Ellen Day. And when Spider-Man heads to Hollywood, that can only mean he’ll lock horns with ex-special effects guru Mysterio as well. (Seriously – this was the exact setup for an episode of SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS.)

But here, while drawn under his distinctive dome to look like he always has, Mysterio’s real name is Hadley Harper rather than the more familiar Quentin Beck, and he’s Ellen’s ex-husband. I’m honestly not certain whether Mysterio had a real name yet in the comics at this point, as with the Kingpin before him a few arcs back, but it seems like that’s probably the case, with Lee opting to give him a name that ultimately wouldn’t stick in real continuity.

The storyline is a step backwards after the excellent “Time of the Terrorist”, as we slip once more into a simplistic plot about Harper horning in as the movie’s villain, but attempting to actually kill Spider-Man while the cameras are rolling to impress Ellen. Oh, and there’s a sub-plot about the producer’s son, Tommy, who worships Spider-Man, and who Spidey is forced to disappoint in the arc’s closing installments in order to make him realize there are more important things in the world besides Spider-Man.

It’s not necessarily the plot that bugs me, silly though it is, as much as the logistics. This is apparently a major Hollywood production, but they hadn’t cast their stunt Spidey until basically the day before filming was due to start. And the movie has a script; we see it many times, but somehow Mysterio is able to just waltz in and become the picture’s villain. Is the idea that the villain was always Mysterio, and Harper merely “cast” himself in that part? If so, it’s not explained at all.

This is stuff you’d expect from a Saturday morning cartoon (again, this was the exact plot of a SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS episode minus the inclusion of the Hulk in a guest appearance), but for whatever reason, I expect better from a syndicated comic strip. This sort of stuff wouldn’t have flown in a Marvel comic of the day, I can tell you that.


  1. Lee will repeat this 'Potential-girlfriend-blames-Spider-Man-for-her-sanitized-image-scumbag-relative's-death' in the newspaper. It appears after Captain Stacy's death, said relative goes the other end of morality, getting worse and worse, making the sister/daughter/character looking dumber in putting the blame on Spidey.

    1. Wait, I may have misread this... are you saying Captain Stacy appears in the newspaper strip at some point??

  2. Misread. I was just nodding to the 'Love interest blames Spidey for relative's death' trope, which began in the comic with Betty Brant's brother, then Captain Stacy (the height of morality). Then we get Lee using this twice in the comic strip with said relative going down the ladder.

    1. Oh, gotcha! Now that you mention it, that does seem to be a standard Stan trope. I haven't read the Ditko run in such a long time that I forgot about Betty's brother!