Monday, June 1, 2020


JANUARY 12TH, 1981 - MARCH 14TH, 1981
MARCH 15TH, 1981 - MAY 25TH, 1981
By Stan Lee & Larry Lieber

Our return to the Spider-Man newspaper strip coincides with the return of Doctor Octopus as well. Ock was last seen in early 1977 (the strip's second storyline, in fact), which means it's four years at this point since we last saw him! Contrast that with the Kingpin, who made multiple appearances over the previous few years, and Kraven and Doctor Doom, who each popped up twice, and it seems odd. Doc Ock was, at this time, generally accepted as Spider-Man's "main" villain, so the fact that he was used so sparingly is a bit of a surprise.

Strangely, this strip seems to be ignoring that previous appearance. Here, Ock is released from prison on parole and decides that, even though he has "a fortune" socked away, he should lay low and live as a common man -- so he goes in search of a room for rent. Meanwhile, Aunt May has been recently robbed and has decided she shouldn't live alone, so she's placed an ad for a boarder. Naturally, Ock shows up and there's much discussion about the last time they encountered each other, right?

Nope. Ock does, of course, answer the ad, but it's presented like the first time he and May have met (and the first time he's met Peter, as well). This seems to be a sort of "soft reboot" of the strip's continuity. You may recall that in its earliest story arcs, the strip presented Spider-Man and his villains as if they had some sort of prior history. First Doctor Doom, then Doc Ock, then the Kingpin -- all were shown as having tangled with the web-slinger in the past (or at least having known about him), and in Ock's case, his past as Aunt May's beau was acknowledged as well.

But not long into the strip's run, this approach changed, and all the remaining villains were suddenly meeting Spider-Man for the first time. Now here, it seems to be a "six of one, half a dozen of the other" thing. Ock and Spider-Man have history -- the entire arc is built around Ock looking for revenge on the Wall-Crawler -- but the civilian side of their relationship has been completely reset. (There's also a scene where Ock introduces himself to Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson, but since they already know about him when the arc starts, I don't think this is an error, but rather the first time he meets the two men in person in this continuity.)

So Ock "meets" May and begins romancing her, using her as an alibi while he robs an armored car and frames Spider-Man. Eventually the webbed wonder defeats Ock with some grease and forces a written confession out of him, then gets him to skip town after letting May down easy, and everything gets back to normal. It's a somewhat simplistic story compared with previous arcs, but it's still a lot of fun to read mainly due to Stan's scripting (and Larry Lieber's perfectly complementary artwork). Aunt May is a hoot here, acting like a girl in love, spraying herself with perfume and applying lipstick when she thinks Ock is about to make a move. There's a goofy scene where she offers Peter all sorts of random food she's cooked, nonstop for about a week's worth of strips in a row... it's just really funny.

Indeed, the entire storyline is played mostly for laughs, and the majority of them land. There are some logical lapses and the above-noted continuity questions, but overall this one is a lot of fun. And it ends with a brief weeklong coda in which Spider-Man catches the guy who robbed Aunt May early on, and gets all her stolen things back.

The next arc, meanwhile, is fairly serious and returns comic strip Spider-Man to "street level", which I've mentioned before is something I like a lot from Spider-Man. Since it's been a few years, I'll recap: several of the storylines in these early years of the newspaper strip feel, to me, like plots from primetime TV shows of the 1970s. I love this. I can't really explain why, but I do. It's like the strip is being produced, for the most part, on a TV show's budget, and the majority of the villains have been created to fit into that budget. This jibes perfectly with the Spider-Man I love most; the guy who fights gangsters and lower-powered super-villains.

In this arc, Spidey happens by the lab of a scientist just as his creation, a robot "humanoid" goes berserk and kills him. As the scientist dies, he warns Spider-Man that there are two humanoids at large. Naturally, the Wall-Crawler finds himself wanted for the murder, and is even arrested when the police gets lucky. This leads to the introduction of a goofy civil rights lawyer who forces the court to keep Spider-Man's mask on while he's incarcerated. Eventually the humanoid pays Spider-Man's bail and then tries to kill him, but Spidey defeats the robot instead, eliciting a confession from him in front of witnesses and clearing his name. The second humanoid soon shows itself, but that's a bit of a surprise that I don't want to spoil here -- however, suffice it to say that Spidey defeats that one as well.

This arc also sees Mary Jane's return, after getting angry at Peter and dumping him by the side of the road in the previous Doc Ock storyline. She and Peter are back "on" again, having a couple of dates over the course of this story -- though our outgoing comic strip Parker is also playing the field, as he spends a bit of time wooing the deceased scientist's assistant, Myra, during the course of this arc.

Overall, these first two post-John Romita arcs are fun, if unexceptional. The weird continuity in the Doc Ock story sort of ruins the illusion that this is all one ongoing saga (and is kind of inexcusable since Stan wrote both arcs -- but he is legendary for his faulty memory). And the humanoid story is about on par with some of the lesser arcs from the Romita run. Still, though, even taking all that into account, I derive great pleasure from reading this stuff. This truly is Spidey as I like him, and I look forward to (hopefully) more of the same next week.


  1. "It's the Humanoid! But his features have solidified! He either Lex Luthor or the Kingpin after one hell of a diet!"

    Both characters are who I thought was in the strip until I clicked on it, and I thought for a moment I'd forgotten a Superman crossover in the comic strip!

    1. Wow, now that you mention it, that totally does look like Silver/Bronze Age Luthor! I hadn't noticed, but now it's all I see.

    2. Pleased to be of service, lol.