Monday, July 6, 2020


AUGUST 1ST, 1983 - MARCH 21ST, 1984
By Stan Lee & Fred Kida w/Floro Dery

At the end of the previous storyline, Mary Jane tried to give Spider-Man a kiss for saving her life, but he bolted, worried she would realize he was actually Peter Parker. Knowing Stan Lee, I doubt he remembered that he had already trod this ground before, a year or so earlier, and that MJ did briefly wonder after a kiss with the Web-Slinger if he might be her boyfriend. But in any case, it does make for a nice callback. But the problem for Peter is, he's tired of hiding his secret from everyone, which means -- yes, it's time for another installment of the classic "Peter wrestles with the burden of his secret identity" story. (In fact, we were probably overdue for one at this point.)

This leads us into the next storyline, and it's a doozy, running seven months long! It begins with Peter deciding that rather than giving up his identity or going bad or whatever else, he's simply going to announce to the world that he's Spider-Man, so he won't have to keep juggling his personal life and his costumed one. But first, he wants to propose to MJ. Indeed, his main reason for planning this revelation seems to be so he can be with her and not have his secret between them, but at no point does he consider that maybe he could just tell her and no one else!

But Peter gets cold feet the first time he intends to reveal himself and propose. This delay allows time for an assassin called the Eliminator to arrive in town, on a mission to kill Jonah Jameson at the request of crime boss "Big John" Braxton. Meanwhile, Peter buys a motorcyle with which he intends to impress MJ. Then, on a rainy night, Peter and the Eliminator are involved in a crash. Peter is stricken with amnesia, finds the Eliminator's wallet and staggers away, now believing that he is the Eliminator. He finds his way to Braxton, where he learns his "profession" and his mission to kill Jameson. Eventually he winds up in his apartment, where he argues with Mary Jane, and then heads to the Daily Bugle to fulfill his contract.

Meanwhile, the real Eliminator has escaped the hospital and intends to finish the mission as well. He and Peter cross paths at the Bugle, and the Eliminator leaves Jameson to pursue the boy who stole his wallet instead. In a subway tunnel, the Eliminator is killed by an oncoming train,and Peter's memory is somehow jarred back into place.

But the storyline isn't over yet! We'll resume our summary after this message...

I'm not sure why this Braxton character is in the story. I mean, I understand his narrative purpose, but why him? The strip hasn't used the Kingpin in a few years now (since before John Romita left), and I'm hard-pressed to find any reason he couldn't have been used in this capacity instead of Braxton, with a little creativity. Indeed, it's mentioned at one time that Braxton controls most of the organized crime in New York, which is a role typically held by the Kingpin. However, this brings up an interesting thought: since John Romita left the strip, Spider-Man's classic rogues have all but vanished. We've had one Doc Ock story and one Doctor Doom story, and that's it (and Doom isn't even a Spider-Man enemy) -- but during the Romita era, we saw, in addition to Ock and Doom (twice), Kraven (twice), the Kingpin (three or four times), and Mysterio.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I've noted several times that I like the "street level" version of the strip -- but Kingpin fits perfectly into that mold (and so did Mysterio and Kraven, in the sorts of stories the strip told using them). Much as I like Spider-Man up against random mobsters, protection rackets, assassins, and so forth, I've never felt the strip should be completely without his rogues. I just think they're best used sparingly in this format. But there's an exception to that belief, and it's the Kingpin. Since he fits so perfectly into the strip's mold, I see no reason why he shouldn't be used often.

Anyway -- our story continues with Spider-Man off to confront Braxton. He gets the mobster arrested, but Braxton's moll, Dolly, decides to take over the operation -- with Spider-Man's help. Since the chivalrous Spidey can't bring himself to clobber a helpless woman (classic Stan), he allows Dolly to force him to unmask and kidnaps him at gunpoint But in an entertaining twist, since Dolly had previously seen Peter Parker when he thought he was the Eliminator, Dolly now believes Spider-Man is an assassin! She blackmails him into joining her, and Mary Jane happens to catch sight of the two of them out and about. Since she hasn't heard from Peter in several days due to the whole amnesia thing, MJ automatically assumes Peter is cheating on her. When Peter later tries to win her back, she gives him the cold shoulder.

Dolly calls a meeting to consolidate her power over Braxton's men, but Braxton breaks out of prison at the same time and tracks her down. When Braxton finds them in each other's arms, as Dolly reveals she's secretly fallen for Spidey, the mobster shoots at the Web-Slinger -- but Dolly takes the bullets and dies. Spider-Man chases Braxton down, intent on revenge, but finally relents and turns him over to the police.

(Like I said above, I feel like this could have been done with the Kingpin, but it would've required some major retooling to work.)

This is an exceptionally long storyline -- seven months, as noted above -- but it never feels played out or monotonous. I said last week that after the dopey computer crime plot, the strip needed something good to right itself. Well, this is that something. The amnesia bit is somewhat trite -- Stan did it himself with John Romita in the 60s when Spidey lost his memory and joined Doc Ock's gang -- but the mistaken identity element makes it way more fun and interesting than it should be. And all the stuff with Dolly is great, too. Spider-Man has been outsmarted by more than one femme fatale in the strip's recent run, but rather than seeing it as repetition, I view more as a character fault -- our Web-Slinger is simply a sucker for a pretty face!

Weirdly, this arc sort of shares a premise with an unpublished Spider-Man graphic novel that Bob Layton wrote in the 80s. It was to feature the Wall-Crawler getting shot and nursed back to health by a mobster's wife, with whom he would have an affair! Obviously there's not a huge similarity between the two, but I felt it worth mentioning. Layton wrote his story in the mid-eighties, so maybe he had read this comic strip arc and was at least partially inspired by it? (Read more about the Layton book at Comic Book Legends Revealed.)

So once again the Spider-Man strip has pulled an exceptional run from the jaws of mediocrity. As always, I only hope it can sustain the quality. We'll find out next week!


  1. This is the one Spidey comic strip I remember from my childhood. Dolly & Braxton were really memorable characters. I wonder if any newspaper strip elements were ever introduced into the comics.

    1. By the way, I came across this page because I just watched a Dolly Parton video (Islands in the Stream duet w/Kenny Rogers) where she wore a similar dress with the slit like Spidey's Dolly, and I realized what this Dolly may have been based on.