Monday, October 23, 2017


APRIL 10th, 1978 – JULY 2nd, 1978
JULY 3rd, 1978 – SEPTEMBER 10th, 1978
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Before we get started this week, let’s have a few observations about comic strip Peter Parker and how he differs from his comic book counterpart.

Back around the point where Mary Jane left the strip and the direction began to shift more onto Peter’s social/love life, John Romita slightly tweaked his iconic character design for our hero. Peter’s hair became a bit shaggier to fit the style of the times, and he began to dress in more contemporary fashions, including trendy open collared shirts. This is no longer the shy bookworm of the Ditko era, or even the reserved, if slightly more outgoing, young man from Romita’s time drawing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. This appears to be a Peter Parker comfortable in his own skin, up on the latest trends, and a bit more dashing than usual.

And along with Romita’s visual redesign, Stan Lee’s scripts reflect a new Peter, as well. He’s still kind of mopey and angst-ridden in private, but he’s also far more outgoing than I can recall seeing him in prior Lee stories. Certainly, to reflect the strip’s interest in bringing a new love interest into practically every story arc, he’s become more comfortable with the ladies. When he met Tana in “Time of the Terrorist”, Peter immediately and without reservation invited her to sit at his table in the library, then told his classmate Carole in no uncertain terms that he wanted to meet the exotic stranger. In the final strip of the Mysterio arc, a Sunday page, Peter boarded his flight back to New York and found himself seated beside a beautiful woman with whom he immediately struck up a conversation by way of a good old-fashioned pick-up line.

This is a Peter Parker I’m not used to seeing, but as an alternate universe exercise, he’s fun to watch. This Peter has allowed Spider-Man’s cockiness to spill over into his personal life, turning him into a trendy, confident ladies’ man. I guess for a character headlining his own soap opera strip, that makes sense. And for however long this Peter lasts, I look forward to following him.

And now, on with the show. Our next arc features Spider-Man’s first rematch with a villain he’s already confronted; in this case it’s the strip’s inaugural antagonist, Doctor Doom. For reasons never quite spelled out at any point (though presumably it’s just revenge for his earlier defeat), Doom has decided he wants to drive Spider-Man insane. To that end, he sends robots to New York, with one disguised as Jonah Jameson committing apparent suicide before Spidey’s eyes and causing our hero some serious confusion when he finds the real Jameson alive and well at the Daily Bugle the very next day.

This of course begs the question of why Doom would use Jameson, of all people, as part of his scheme. How could he know Peter Parker would visit the Bugle the next day and find the publisher there unless he knows the web-slinger’s secret identity? Or is just banking on the fact that Spidey has been known to torment Jameson from time to time?

At any rate, the plan continues with illusory version of Doctor Octopus, Kraven, and Mayor Ed Koch all attempting to kill Spider-Man, and driving him to the office of noted psychiatrist Doctor Janet Wynn. And if you guessed that she’s this arc’s Attractive Lady Guest Star, give yourself a No-Prize, True Believer! It’s hard to tell for certain, but I suspect John Romita may have based Wynn’s appearance on that of Suzanne Somers, who would have been at the height of her THREE’S COMPANY fame when these strips hit the newsstands. At any rate, she sure looks like an intelligent Chrissy Snow (is that an oxymoron?) to me.

There’s also a weird sub-plot about Doom kidnapping one Doctor Karl Lazlo from Vienna and stealing all his psychological knowledge to use for the plot, but it adds nothing to the overall story. We don’t really need to know how Doom learned the best way to drive Spider-Man mad. He’s a genius of power and means; the blanks can be filled in pretty easily. Though we do learn by way of the abduction that Latveria shares a border with Vienna, at least in comic strip continuity.

The story ends with a twist, telegraphed fairly obviously by Lee and Romita but still interesting, that I won’t spoil here.

Other notes of interest: Doom declares Spider-Man his greatest foe, reiterating the idea that there are no other superheroes, or at least no Fantastic Four, in this world — yet soon after, as he does his laundry, Peter wonders if other superheroes need to wash their own costumes!

Also, as he visits the ESU library early in the story, we learn that Peter is a graduate student, rather than an undergrad, in this continuity. Up to this point, the strip had been unclear on that point. Interestingly, Peter graduated from college and moved on to grad studies in the October 1978 issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which – per Mike’s Amazing World of Comics – went on sale in July of ’78, the very month this story arc ended. It’s actually earlier in the arc that Peter identifies himself as a grad student, meaning that Lee and Romita apparently had him in that setup prior to the official comics getting there. (Which isn’t to say AMAZING writer Marv Wolfman didn’t have the graduation plotted out earlier, but it’s interesting nonetheless that the strip beat him to the punch.)

Following his rematch with Doom, Spider-Man moves into a more personal adventure as we see Aunt May accosted by a group of young hoodlums looking for her Social Security check. She suffers a heart attack, sending our hero off into a mission of revenge against the trio known as Whitey, Angel, and Jim Wilson. But there’s a twist! Jim is the nephew of Robbie Robertson, and Robbie winds up involved in the proceedings as well, as a hostage.

This all leads into a high-speed chase across Manhattan as Spider-Man pursues the villains in their indestructible van. In the end, Jim takes a bullet for Robbie, Whitey and Angel go to prison, and Robbie convinces his nephew to turn over a new leaf.

This is, honestly, probably the least of all the storylines so far. There’s no super-villain for Spidey to fight, which is normally fine if the story is engrossing — but the story is padded and boring, with one coincidence too many clogging it up. Spider-Man uses Robbie’s connection with Jim to track down the muggers, but he surely could have found them some other way, keeping the random connection between the Bugle’s city editor and the crooks who just happened to have robbed his aunt out of the picture.

Hopefully Lee and Romita will recover from this fumble next week.

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