Monday, July 27, 2020


MARCH 18TH, 1985 - DECEMBER 21ST, 1985
By Stan Lee w/Floro Dery & Friends

Spider-Man leaps from his seven-month-long Dar Harat adventure into an unprecedented nine-month long soap opera storyline as we begin this week's installment. Peter returns from Dar Harat's island to find that the bills have piled up while he was away, and he has no cash with which to pay them. This brings to mind an odd question about the timeline, as the Dar Harat story, while running for seven months in real time, felt like it only lasted a few days in the strip's continuity. And certainly, Spidey was only out of the country on Dar Harat's island for no more than a day or two! But hey, maybe the bills were accumulating prior to Dar Harat (Spidey did spend some time suffering from amnesia and then working for the mob, after all).

Anyway, in order to earn some quick cash, Peter decides to leverage his "friendship" with Spider-Man by offering Robbie Robertson an exclusive, in-depth interview with the web-slinger to tell his life's story. In a nice (and rare) touch if inter-storyline continuity, Robbie reminds Peter that the Daily Bugle got burned once with their interview series on the Spider-Man imposter, but he's willing to give it another go. However, Jameson refuses to let Peter write the story himself (which seems reasonable to me since he's a photographer, not a writer), and assigns one J.S. Saxon, the Bugle's top feature writer, to the story.

It turns out "J.S." is actually Jenny Sue Saxon, a beautiful woman with whom Peter is instantly smitten. But Jenny has a daughter, Jody, who is terrified at the mere mention of Spider-Man. When Peter describes Jody's behavior to Aunt May, May says that the girl is exhibiting all the signs of a molested child.

Yes, this is a "very special episode" of the Spider-Man newspaper strip. I had long been aware of the (in)famous SPIDER-MAN/POWER PACK one-shot, published around this time in the eighties, which saw Spidey and the Power kids confronting the evils of child predators, in which Peter revealed that he himself had been molested at a young age by an older boy named Skip. But I had no idea that the story was a cross-continuity affair, with the newspaper strip doing its own version! And I must say, at least on this side of it, Stan Lee does a pretty good job. It's as melodramatic as any of his other storylines, but he treats the subject matter with the respect and gravity that it's due.

However he also keeps things light in other ways. This storyline marks a first for the newspaper strip. Rather than being one single narrative all the way through, it has an A-plot (the Spider-Man interview), a B-plot (the child abuse), and even a brief C-plot (Peter's apartment is robbed). The story feels more natural this way, somehow, and more like a traditional comic book. It's an approach I hope to see Stan continue, though we'll only have one more year's worth of strip to cover after this storyline.

Now, before we begin our rundown of the storyline, I'll mention one last item of note: beginning with this arc, Stan has elected to have Spider-Man narrate the strip himself, first-person past tense style. So it basically reads like the wall-crawler recounting an adventure he's already had to those of us in the audience. On one hand, I like the conceit in general -- but on the other, this leads to way more narration than Stan has ever used in the strip before, and as a result a lot more of the artwork is covered up. So it's sort of a mixed bag in terms of results. I don't know how long Stan sticks with this formula, but it lasts at least until the end of 1986, where IDW's most recent book concludes.

And now, the plot: Peter meets with Jenny and promises to deliver Spider-Man. But when he gets home, his apartment has been ransacked and burglarized, and his costume stolen. His backup costume is at the cleaners, so he has no way to meet Jenny as the web-slinger. Thus, Peter rents an oversized Spider-Man costume and wears that. Jenny is not impressed. Spidey ducks out on her in a hurry to respond to a "cry for help" (which he pretends to hear), then changes to Peter and drops in on Jenny and Jody. He goes with them to Jody's daycare, where Peter, remembering Aunt May's words, is instantly suspicious of the daycare's owner, "Uncle" Ralph.

Later, when Peter returns his rented costume, he finds his actual Spider-Man outfit for sale at the shop. The shopkeeper tells him it was sold by a member of a local gang. Peter buys the costume back and goes to confront the gang and get the rest of his stuff back. Once his mission is accomplished and the bad guys are arrested, he returns to his more pressing issues: Jody's fear of Spider-Man and the interview. Spidey finally meets Jenny for real, and they talk for hours. But afterward, when Jenny goes to pick up Jody at daycare, Uncle Ralph's daughter, Daphne, and her boyfriend, Bill, are present -- and Bill suggests that perhaps Jody is terrified of Spider-Man because the wall-crawler is the one who molested her.

This leads to Jenny writing a hit piece on Spider-Man, smearing his name in the pages of the Bugle. When Spider-Man quickly becomes New York's number one pariah, Peter hangs up the costume to conduct his investigation. But first, in a scene which has become somewhat notorious over the years, he confides in Jenny and Jody that he, himself was molested as a young man by an older boy named Skip. Now, I have to say -- I'm not sure why this bit has gained the reputation it has. I mean, yes -- Stan handles it all fairly broadly, and of course he doesn't get into any specifics since this is a syndicated newspaper strip with a family audience... but nonetheless, like I said above, he treats the material respectfully. I'll admit that I find the idea of Peter Parker being the victim of child abuse a bit odd on it's face, but that's only because I can't relate to it. I would imagine that kids (and adults) who have gone through these sorts of horrors might appreciate having a big, mainstream super hero as a poster child for their problem.

But in general, I think this sort of thing is for people more educated than me to debate -- so we'll just move along with our story. Things finally come to a boil when Peter realizes that the molester is someone at Jody's daycare. He stakes the place out, and eventually Jody is taken from the school by Bill. (Oddly, he apparently just grabs her and leaves, and no one realizes she's gone. Uncle Ralph may not be the bad guy here, but he runs a pretty sloppy shop!) Peter changes to Spider-Man and follows, after first alerting Jonah and the police to what's going on. When the web-slinger confronts Bill in his apartment, Bill pulls a gun on him. But the cops, having overheard his confession, bust in and arrest him. Jody is saved, and Spider-Man's name is cleared.

With all his problems resolved, Peter believes this means the start of a real relationship between him and Jenny, as they've grown quite close over these recent weeks. But despite her feelings for Peter, Jenny decides that she needs to leave New York for Jody's sake. So Peter finds himself single once more, but it doesn't look like it's going to last long. As the arc comes to an end, we cut to Mary Jane in London, receiving a new mystery assignment from her boss, Mister Compton.

I must make note of the artwork in these strips. It really started back during the Dar Harat storyline (or maybe even a bit before), but lately Peter Parker looks older. He's not the fresh-faced grad student we saw during the runs of John Romita, Larry Lieber, and Fred Kida (though he is, per dialogue, still a grad student as of this arc). I suspect this is due to Floro Dery being the only artistic constant on the strip for some time now. He still draws all the Sundays, and it's pretty clear he's been pinch-hitting now and then on the dailies as well, in addition to whatever other artists have been helping out since Kida departed. So since Dery is now the strip's "main" artist, everyone is following his lead, and we wind up with a more square-jawed, mature looking Peter than before.

Funnily -- but not surprisingly -- to me, he looks a lot like Dery's character design for the adult Spike Witwicky in the third season of the TRANSFORMERS cartoon series. Check it out for yourself -- Dery's 1985 Peter on the left, and his Spike (probably designed in 1985 as well) on the right:

(I think it could also be very easily argued that Dery's Peter owes a lot to Nicholas Hammond, the actor who portrayed the character in the short-lived 1970s SPIDER-MAN TV series, as well -- and I definitely do think I see bits of Hammond in that illustration on the left.)

I actually don't have a problem with this. The strip is a different animal from the comic book series, where I tend to feel that aging of characters should be kept to a minimum. Here, for whatever reason, I have less issue with it -- especially knowing that Stan is building up to (spoiler) a marriage between Peter and Mary Jane in 1987. It makes a lot more sense to me if they get married in their later twenties than at twenty-three or twenty-four or whatever. And, as I discussed a couple posts back, Stan has been maturing them quite a bit in terms of their feelings toward one another, so the idea that they're growing up makes sense in that regard. Plus, Stan has, on a number of occasions, made reference to the passage of "real time" in the strip.

Now, I doubt that the Peter of 1985 is actually eight years older than he was when the strip started -- there's certainly some degree of time compression going on here -- but I wouldn't be surprised if around half that period has passed in his life -- i.e., if he was, say, twenty-two when the strip started, he could be twenty-six now, which seems a reasonable age for his impending nuptuals -- a milestone we'll see inching closer in next week's sorylines.


  1. I remember having the one-shot, as well as a fold-up newsprint version of said issue. A 1985 MARVEL AGE issue commented on Lee putting the story to the newspaper version.
    From what I gathered, an original plan was to have Uncle Ben be the culprit (!?!). Good thing that was shot down.
    The storyline sounds like something JM DeMatties would have used in the "Child Within" storyline, although he was adamant about the 'Peter feels guilty over his parents' death' characterization from his discarded 'Batman child abuse' story.

    1. Now that you mention it, I feel like I read someplace that Uncle Ben was to be the molester as well. I don't remember when or where I saw that, but I agree -- bullet dodged there.

      I've read a ton of J.M. DeMatteis' Spider-Man, but somehow I've never actually read "The Child Within". I really need to rectify that someday.

      Wasn't "Kraven's Last Hunt" also reworked by DeMatteis from a Batman idea? That's weird.

  2. Shows you how much first person narration was spreading through comics in the 80s if Stan Lee was doing it in the comic strip.

    And I hope someone pointed out to whatever idiot suggested Uncle Ben as a molester that it would completely destroy Peter's motivation to be a hero and ruin the single best mission statement for a superhero. "With great power comes great responsibility" coming from a child molester would be HORRIBLE.