Monday, June 22, 2020


MARCH 22ND, 1982 - JUNE 12TH, 1982
JUNE 13TH, 1982 - SEPTEMBER 19TH, 1982
SEPTEMBER 20TH, 1982 - DECEMBER 26TH, 1982
By Stan Lee & Fred Kida

Following an okay, but somewhat silly Doctor Doom plot, the Spider-Man strip returns to the sort of story it does best with this next arc. Back in New York following his excursion to Laveria, Peter finds that Spider-Man is still a celebrity —- and that a fashion company is cashing in on his likeness by manufacturing “Spidey Jeans”!

The jeans are a smashing success. Everyone is wearing them (even Harry Osborn in a one-panel cameo). Naturally, poor Spidey wants his cut of the profits. He goes to Howard Huffman, the civil rights lawyer who defended him during the “humanoid” arc (and who Peter Parker consulted for advice during the assassin storyline). Huffman takes Spidey’s case and begins building a suit against the owners of Spidey Jeans, Melissa and Phillip Trent. (Melissa is, in keeping with the strip’s long tradition, a total fox, while Phillip is a distinguished gentleman confined to a wheelchair.)

But since the Wall-Crawler has never copyrighted his name or likeness, he’s in the public domain and his case has no legs. Determined to profit somehow off Spidey Jeans, however, he agrees to ride shotgun with the company’s delivery trucks, which have recently been hijacked a few times.

Enter “protection” racketeer Rick Granitt, who also attempts to sell his services to the Trents. Spidey and the Trents naturally assume that Granitt is behind the hijackings and the subsequent arson at the company’s office —- but the eventual reveal turns out to be a genuine surprise, or at least to not be the obvious choice, so I won’t spoil it here.

As goofy as this plot would be in a Spider-Man comic, it feels totally natural and appropriate for the comic strip. And thanks to Stan giving us more than one suspect for a change, the mystery actually is one. Weird as it sounds, this may be my favorite storyline so far since I returned to these strips a few weeks ago. BUT — even this one pales in comparison to our next arc, which is a true masterpiece.

In my last go-round with the Spidey strip, I frequently mentioned a battered, dog-eared book I had as a child called THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN. It featured several storylines from the strips’s first eight or so years (it was published in 1986). Nearly all of its contents came from the Lee/Romita period, but it also featured this arc, which it titled “The Girl With the Golden Touch”. (It contained one other latter-day storyline, which we’ll get to in a few weeks, but presented only the Sundays in a special color section.)

For some reason, this was hands-down my favorite arc in the book. I guess it just hit all the right Spidey buttons for me as a seven/eight-year-old. It’s a fun mistaken identity story, which begins with Spider-Man’s encounter with a billionaire heiress named Muffy Ainsworth. Muffy takes an immediate liking to the Wall-Crawler and decides she wants to date him. She approaches Jonah Jameson and asks him to learn Spidey’s true identity. But Jameson himself becomes smitten with Muffy and asks her out. She says she’ll go on a date with him if he can accomplish her task.

This leads to Jonah’s plot to make Muffy think Peter is Spider-Man — but when a Daily Bugle security guard finds a Spidey costume in Jonah’s office closet, he claims a reward Muffy had offered. Thus Muffy, believing Jonah is the web-slinger, goes out with Jonah. But a group of criminals, having overheard the guard blabbing at a bar, make plans to capture “Spidey” while he’s out with Muffy. Peter sees the abduction, and some sleuthing plus a couple Spider-Tracers eventually lead him to the crooks' meat-packing plant hideout.

Spidey saves Jonah and Muffy from death in the freezer, and while Muffy, who was unconscious during the rescue, still thinks Jonah is Spider-Man, she also finds that she’s gotten over him. This allows her longtime lawyer, Arthur, to declare his love for her, and the couple lives happily ever after.

Honestly, this one still hits all the right buttons today. It’s got the right ratio of Peter-to-Spidey, it’s well plotted, and Stan’s script has Jameson in perfect form throughout. I admit that my opinion may be colored by those hazy childhood memories, but even taking that into account, I still think it’s one of the more enjoyable newspaper strip outings. If I cast hyperbole aside, it’s not truly the best of the best -- but it’s definitely a very good, lighthearted outing.

There’s a weird continuity glitch which shows up a couple times in these arcs, however. Stan (or perhaps Fred Kida) seems to occasionally forget where Peter lives! Most of the time he’s clearly in his own apartment, but there’s one scene where he has to sneak into his room to avoid disturbing Aunt May, and another where May calls to him from another room as he exits the shower to tell him he has a phone call. I guess it’s possible she’s just visiting in both those cases, but there’s no dialogue or narration saying so, and the scenes both really do read like Peter is living under May’s roof. It’s bizarre, but not exactly surprising knowing Stan’s memory.

We’re going to look at a third arc this week, because it’s fairly breezy and straightforward. In this one, one of the loves of Peter Parker’s life, Tana — daughter of the terrorist from the “Time of the Terrorist” storyline by Lee and Romita years earlier — returns to Peter’s life. She has with her a top-secret formula for a cheap oil substitute, and needs to get it to a contact in California before the terrorists on her tail grab it. Naturally, Peter comes to his one-time lover’s aid and they begin a cross-country trek.

But all is not what it seems! After eluding the villains at every turn, the duo finally reaches Los Angeles, where it turns out Tana is actually the terrorist, following in her father’s footsteps, and the men after her were FBI agents. Spider-Man thwarts Tana’s effort to deliver some Pentagon documents to a foreign spy, but Tana escapes.

The story itself feels like sort of a chase movie, something reminiscent of the final act of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. It’s no great shakes, and it stretches pretty thin the idea that Peter can hide his secret identity from Tana, but I love the outcome: Spider-Man now has himself a potential recurring femme fatale villainess, in the vein of other classic comic strip characters. Whether Tana ever returns in this capacity, I don’t know — but I love the idea of it, at least.

One final notable item from this arc: at one point, Peter thinks that it’s been “years” since he last saw Tana, which would have been true per the passage of time in the real world. This isn’t the first time in the run that Stan has implied real-time continuity, and its not really that big of a deal, yet. Peter’s clearly still in his twenties at this point, six years into the strip, so he isn’t aging out of action anytime soon. But — he’s also still a college student! A grad student, yes, and perhaps taking his time to finish his studies since he rarely has much money to his name and seemingly never attends classes.

But even if Peter’s educational status can still be explained... how are Flash and Harry still in college too? As recently as the “Spidey Brigade” arc, both were enrolled at good ol’ ESU. And neither really seems like the grad school type. Even if this version of Flash spent some time in the army, like his comic book counterpart, before returning to school, he probably should be done by now. Any military service would predate the strip entirely, as he’s been hanging around off-and-on since the second storyline back in 1977!

(We see Mary Jane hanging around the school as well sometimes, but she clearly takes tons of time off to pursue her show biz career -- so if she’s taking years to finish school, that at least makes sense.)

Obviously Stan wasn’t putting that much thought into this, but any reference to the passage of real time in a serialized comic book or strip like this is going to raise an eyebrow or two when there are such glaring issues to account for. And unfortunately for all of us, I'm one of the people who perks up at the mention of any passage of time in my comics!

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