Monday, July 20, 2020

SPIDER-MAN NEWSPAPER STRIP PART 19

AUGUST 12TH, 1984 - MARCH 17TH, 1985
By Stan Lee w/Floro Dery & Friends

Spider-Man's 1984 continues with another epic-length storyline -- the start of his second seven-monther in a year! This time, rather than gangsters, the villains are terrorists: a group from the Middle East called Dar Harat, led by the sinister Doctor Mondo. The U.S. government gets wind that Dar Harat is out to kidnap Spider-Man, and a government think tank called the Cerebrum Institute realizes that Mondo plans to duplicate the Web-Slinger's powers for his own agents. In order to warn Spidey, Cerebrum's top thinker, Alana Lamond, enlists the Department of Analysis and Remedial Expedients, a clandestine agency (a.k.a. DARE or "The Department", to lure him out of hiding.

The Department sends its top operative, Simon "Smitty" Smith, to help Alana. Smitty lures Spider-Man into rescuing him from a staged accident, then he and Alana explain the situation to the web-slinger. Spidey and Smitty devise a plan to let Dar Harat capture him so that they can bust the organization up from inside. But when Alana returns to Washington to report to her superiors, Peter Parker follows. He's smitten with her, and wants to meet her without his mask -- so he propses a story about the Cerebrum Institute to Jonah Jameson, and uses that as his cover to meet Alana. Alana, however, is just as uninterested in Peter as she is in Spider-Man.


(This may have something to do with the fact that both in and out of costume, Peter hits on the woman relentlessly. Like, I know I've applauded the outgoing nature of comic strip Peter before, and noted several times how comfortable he is around women, but his behavior here is beyond the pale. He obnoxiously badgers Alana nonstop with comments about her looks. It's way beyond anything similar I've ever seen Stan do, and I'm not sure what was going through his head at this point!)

So eventually Spider-Man is captured by Dar Harat and taken to their secret island headquarters. Smitty follows, but so does Alana, who worries that Smitty is a double-agent for Dar Harat. But Alana is captured by Doctor Mondo upon her arrival. Meanwhile, Spidey escapes Dar Harat's scientists, while Smitty reaches the island (undercover in a Dar Harat beret which, combined with his mustache, makes him look like the spitting image of G.I. Joe's Stalker). Spider-Man and Smitty bump into each other in the jungle, and return to the Dar Harat base with Spidey as Smitty's "prisoner".


In the meantime, Alana has learned Dar Harat's plan (which suddenly has nothing to do with copying Spider-Man's powers; perhaps this is plan "B" after their lead scientist was accidentally killed by a stray bullet during the wall-crawler's escape) -- they intend to assassinate the Soviet Premier with a United States helicopter, thus sparking World War III. Spider-Man and Smitty team up to save the day, and when Smitty is proved not to be a double-agent, the real mole is unmasked as someone unexpected (some might say too unexpected; as in, it's kind of a cheat).

Spidey changes back into Peter Parker for the finale, pretending he's arrived with the U.S. Navy, and immediately begins hitting on Alana again during the cruise home. But randomly, she says that she's interested in Spider-Man, not Peter. So after returning to New York, Spidey goes to pay a call on Alana, but finds that she's already checked out of her hotel. This little bit comes totally out of the blue; Alana couldn't stand Spider-Man's overt lust through the entire storyline, so it's bizarre that she would suddenly be into him -- and it sends a really creepy message, that if you keep pestering a girl long enough with nonstop pick-up lines, she'll eventually decide she likes it. Mind you, I like Alana as a character; I'm just not sold on some of Stan's choices for her.


I like Smitty too, but he had to grow on me. Initially, Stan introduced him as an exceptionally erudite and well-spoken character, which is, as the kids say today, perhaps a bit problematic. He comes across as an attempt to subvert audience expectations -- "You thought he'd be a jive-talkin' brotha from the streets, like every other black man in comics, but it turns out he's actually smart!" is probably not a great way to go with a character. And considering that Stan has already written a smart, well-educated black man quite often in the strip -- Robbie Robertson -- and never never presented him as anything other than what he is, it seems weird to make Smitty such a bizarre stereotype. But fortunately, Stan lays off that angle considerably as the storyline moves along, and Smitty becomes, like Robbie, nothing more than what he is: a highly competent and effective field agent who happens to be black, rather than "Surprise, it's a smart black guy!"


I do question why Smitty works for this group called DARE, though. They're a top-secret spy organization, running around the world stopping terrorists. Doesn't the Marvel Universe already have one of those? I know this strip has long been divorced from the "real" Marvel U., but within just a few more years, it would start to feature guest-stars aplenty. It seems odd that Simon Smith wasn't an agent of SHIELD, instead of this newly-created agency. (And SHIELD is a way cooler name -- with a cooler acronym -- than DARE).

Thus ends Spider-Man's dalliance with the world of high espionage. While I didn't necessarily dislike this storyline, I can't say I'm enamored with it either. Some inconsistent characterization and weirdly fumbled plot points, drawn out over a massive seven-month runtime, cost it several demerits. I do like Alana and (the fully evolved version of) Smitty, however. But nonetheless, it'll be nice to see Spider-Man return to New York, as we dive fully back into the soap opera side of the strip next week.

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