Monday, June 29, 2020


DECEMBER 27TH, 1982 - APRIL 16TH, 1983
APRIL 17th, 1983 - JULY 31ST, 1983
By Stan Lee & Fred Kida w/Floro Dery

Spider-Man's first storyline of 1982 marks something of a milestone for the strip, as it acknowledges for the first time that there are other super-characters out in the world besides Spider-Man and some of his enemies (save perhaps the Hulk, who has been mentioned in passing once or twice, but it's hard to tell in context whether that's as an existing creature or a fictional character). This arc sees Peter dispatched aboard a sketchy ship called the Missing Link with a Daily Bugle reporter named Harry McNeil and a beautiful oceanographer named Sam Taylor to investigate the disappearances of several ships in the Bermuda Triangle -- but there, they run into Namor the Sub-Mariner, and help him to battle his enemy, the renegade Atlantean, Krang.

Suprisingly, Peter never once changes into Spider-Man during the duration of this three-and-a-half month-long storyline. He never has much of an opportunity, for one thing -- he and Sam go down in a bathysphere together, which leads to an attack by Krang, then Namor shows up and they bring him back to the surface after Krang beats him. Namor then captains the boat to a nearby island, where the group is cornered in a cave and then fights Krang until he is defeated. There are a few moments where Peter is separated from the group, but he never changes for fear of blowing his secret identity -- which eventually results in him using his spider-powers and web-shooters during the final fight to aid Namor, without his costume. Though Harry is unconscious during this battle, Sam sees -- and after she and Peter are returned to New York by Namor, she tells Peter that she knows his secret and needs to get away for a while to clear her head.

Even though Sam spends much of the arc crushing on Namor, she and Peter appear quite close by its conclusion. Hopefully we haven't seen the last of her, because she's a charaacter who I really like, and different from the normal sorts Stan pairs Peter with in these strips. She's a bit more assertive and independent than Spidey's usual damsels in distress and/or connivers (notwithstanding the fact that she swoons over Namor from the moment she meets him).

This is a surprisingly violent arc, compared with most of the newspaper storylines. The last time I remember seeing a character die on-panel in one of these storylines was the original Loomis Cult arc by Lee and Romita. Yet here, two sailors are killed immediately when Krang swamps their dinghy with a tidal wave, and later, the Missing Link's captain is shot dead by Krang (he was kind of a jerk, though). I read someplace that Fred Kida eventually quit the strip over its violence, so I'm curious to see if this is a precursor to where things are headed.

And then there's Namor: nowadays, it's hard to remember a time when there weren't other super heroes guest-starring in Spider-Man's strip. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but I would guess that it was in the nineties with the "Mutant Agenda" storyline that this trend began. That arc featured the X-Men, and gradually over time, Marvel heroes began to pop up with more and more frequency, up to the point that, for the final few years before its cancellation in 2019, the strip seemed to feature a guest-star in every single arc, determined by who had a new movie in theaters or a new show streaming at the time.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan. Oh, sure -- a one-off appearance by a somwhat obscure character like Namor is fine here and there -- and I do like the direction his presence takes this arc, turning Peter into a bit of an Indiana Jones type -- and I don't mind other heroes existing in this continuity. But teaming this Spider-Man up with them too often does something to the strip. I can't quite explain it, but it just doesn't feel right. It seems to go against the strip's extremely "street level"/"primetime" feel that I've discussed (probably ad nauseum at this point) before.

The next arc returns us to relatively more grounded territory, and sees Peter don his costume once more. Unfortunately, it’s far from the strip’s finest effort. In this one, Mary Jane returns to New York, her play’s run canceled. To make some money, she’s taken a job selling computers at a store owned by the dashing Howard Compton. Meanwhile, upstanding New Yorkers have started committing random petty crimes — Robbie Robertson’s son, Randy, steals a camera. Aunt May steals some mail. And Robbie himself, along with Mary Jane, becomes aggressively irritable.

Spider-Man eventually deduces that the cause is hypnosis via videogames, and suspects Compton. But his judgment is clouded by his jealousy of the computer magnate’s flirtation with MJ, and fails to realize until it’s nearly too late that one of Compton’s employees is behind the stunt. Spider-Man gets the bad guy to confess in front of the police and press before he falls to his death.

This is, frankly, among the dregs of this strip’s output. It’s really bad. The soap opera is practically nonexistent — and that’s not necessarily a problem on its own; past arcs have gone straight action as well on occasion. But the problem here is that the main plot is so bad, and there’s so little action to speak of, that nothing in the story feels worth the effort of reading. I really have nothing more I want to say about it, other than that I can only hope the next storyline is better. The strip needs a massive rebound now in the worst way.

One final note: Floro Dery comes aboard as artist on the Sunday strips partway through the Namor storyline. I'm not sure if Fred Kida just couldn't keep up the deadlines or what, but this marks the second time in the strip's run that we've seen a different artist handling Sundays -- initially it was Larry Lieber when Kida first came aboard. But unlike that temporary arrangement, Dery's seems to be permanent, as he will stick around for years, outlasting Kida's run on the dailies.

To me, the name "Floro Dery" has historically meant only one thing: he was the character designer for the original TRANSFORMERS cartoon series, adapting the various toys into easy-to-draw model sheets (and even designing a few characters, such as Hot Rod, Arcee, Galvatron, etc. totally from scratch, with Hasbro then turning his models into toys). I'm interested to see him tackle something other than giant robots in these strips. Thus far, he's following in the footsteps of Lieber and Kida, doing his best impression of John Romita's style -- but I've seen some of Dery's later work on the strip, and he will evolve over time into a much looser, almost "animated" style (which doesn't seem surprising, per what I just mentioned).

1 comment:

  1. Bringing Namor in almost feels like Stan threw a dart at a board full of characters and went with whoever he hit. Just seems utterly arbitrary to me.

    And I'd forgotten that even back then, adults thought video games turn everyone into criminals!