Spidey teams up with Sub-mariner, investigates video games that turns Aunt May evil, and then gets involved overly complicate spy scheme.
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Spiderman will see you in the funny pages. Join us as we take a look at The Amazing Spider-Man: Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection 1983-1984 straight ahead.
Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.
While other superheroes have been around longer, Spidey has had the longest career in newspaper strips. Spider-Man [Superman] appeared on the funny pages from 1938 to 1966. Spider-Man started being published in newspapers in 1977 and continues to appear to this day for forty-one years and counting. The newspaper strip is a nice read currently if you’re a fan of Spider-Man but hate the whole ‘one more day, sell marriage to the devil’ storyline, as that never happened in the newspaper strip; although Stan Lee who was writing that and still has some creative input on it, decided to just without any deal with the devil just go ahead and revert Peter to being in college and not married; and essentially he got a lot of letters from fans saying they didn’t like that, so he just reversed it back and the whole thing of the months of strips in which he was back in college was just a dream. If only the main Marvel Comics leadership were so responsive… At any right though we’re taking a look at strips from 1983 to ’84 which were before the marriage, which would actually occur in both the comic strip and the comic books simultaneously. [That] lays ahead.
This book has two years of strips and you’ll notice compared to our previous look in an American Comics Library release, The Star Trek Book, there are a lot less stories in here. In fact, this book covers two years and we only really deal with four and a half stories.
The first one finds Peter being sent out along with a reporter by Jamieson to investigate some strange goings on at the Bermuda Triangle. It also turns out that Jamison sent along a oceanographer. Peter’s shock turns out to be a woman. Peter says, “You’re Sam Taylor, our oceanographer?” And she replies, “The ‘Sam’ is for Samantha, and it’s Dr. Taylor to you.” “But you’re a young, beautiful girl!” And she says, “And you’re a male chauvinist cretin!” Peter says, “Did I say something wrong?” The reporter says, “Does Reagan like jelly beans?” The answer is ‘yes’ for those of you not around in 1980s, and Peter tries to apologize in a later script and he says, “Look, I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot. If I said anything to upset you…”, and she says, “Woah, don’t flatter yourself. You’re not important enough to upset me. Males like you are a dime a dozen.”
So, of course, after that opinion clearly, unambiguously stated, Peter gets the message and he spends the rest of this entire strip pining after Samantha. However, this is all interrupted when they are captured by Namor who happens to be in the middle of an Atlantean civil war. This is a very interesting story in that it becomes much more a Namor story than it does a Spider-Man story. But I love Namor and it’s great to see him given this exposure in the newspaper strip, and as Peter does get the help – though he doesn’t change into Spider-Man for the effort, so he’s got to be discreet about it, particularly since there’re people on board who could notice his secret identity. But I like this one pretty well.
The next one it finds Mary Jane having returned to New York about the same time Peter gets back from his trip, and she has a new career selling computers because that was the big new thing back in the 1980s. And of course since it’s the ’80s and since there are computers and there are computer games there is an effort to go ahead and hijack the video games and use video games to turn people EVIL, and so many members of Spider-Man supporting cast get caught up in the web of crime that is afflicting the youth of the 1980’s including Aunt May who is caught trying to steal coins from the arcade change machine. And when she’s caught and thrown out she says, “Serves me right for trying a penny ante scam instead of going for the big bucks!” And Peter asked her, “I don’t get it. What turned you on to video games?” And she says, “Every time I’d babysit the kids asked me to play. Now I’m hooked”.
“But you never stole in your life, why start now?”
“Because I felt like it, and don’t preach to me!”
This story definitely gives some perspective – it is a true 1980s ‘Computers, video games will turn us all evil’, and I won’t say that there’s not some need for caution, but this is one of those charmingly 1980s stories that are fun to read in their own right.
Next up is a story which doesn’t sound like there’s a whole lot to it. Essentially a racketeer is going on trial and he’s upset at J. Jonah Jamison who got him locked away, so he hires an out-of-town assassin to kill Jamison. That sounds like a pretty simple plot but it really gets extenuated because the assassin drives recklessly and hits Peter on his bike, and Peter hasn’t had time to get a helmet so he gets amnesia. And because both he and the driver end up in the crash he ends up getting the assassin’s wallet, and he ends up thinking that he may be an assassin, a killer – and the thought haunts him as he wanders the city having no idea who he really is. He ends up running into Mary Jane who doesn’t do a whole lot to allay his fears that he is an assassin. He says to Mary Jane, “Answer me! Do you know how I make my money?” And she puts her hand on his cheek and says, “Sure my little sharpshooter. You just aim and click” which confirms Peter’s fear that he is actually a murderous assassin and he also decides that Mary Jane is a pretty evil person for thinking that this is all funny and fun, and her being fine with him being an assassin. He does eventually regain his memory and he goes after the mob boss, and you would think this storyline is headed for a conclusion.
But no. When he gets the mob boss arrested he finds himself captured by his moll Dolly who has designs on taking over the mob while the boss is in jail – which leads to some tension as he and Dolly are attracted to one another even while he detest her criminal schemes. And what makes this story so enjoyable is that it does go on for eight months’ worth of strips, but there are so many twists in there. It’s, I think, what an adventure story should be when you’re looking at the comic strips where you’ve got a story that is very intricate and is making changes, but you don’t really start fresh with a new scenario for months and months on end. And this is a really good example of how to do that.
Of course, the story has a bit of a derailment in the Mary Jane and Peter relationship. She actually sees Peter driving around Dolly who has a hold on Peter because she knows his secret identity, and Mary Jane reaches some conclusions that they have a thing for each other. Peter tells Mary Jane that it’s not what it looks like even though we do have a couple of strips where Peter and Dolly kiss. So, it actually kind of is what it looks like. But with Dolly’s death Peter waits awhile and then proposes to Mary Jane who declines to go and take a job in London, which is actually a similar reason for why when Stacy left Peter to go to London as their relationship was escalating and heading in a serious direction. So, sending her to London is kind of the default Stan Lee solution where a girlfriend relationship with Spider-Man is getting a little bit too serious.
The next story finds Jamison offering a fifty thousand dollars reward for information leading to the secret identity of Spider-Man, and an impostor comes forward to claim the prize; and Jamison, being the shrewd nose-to-the-grindstone businessman he is, will not hand over the fifty thousand dollars until the guy comes in through the window without actually having to demonstrate any other Spider-power. Plus Jamieson systematically dismisses Robbie’s objections to why this guy doesn’t seem like he’s Spiderman. That guy is a down-on-his-luck, blue collar person who just wants to get some money to take care of his kid. Unfortunately, he failed to think of the idea that Spider-Man has some enemies out there who would like to kill him, including an ex-con with a metal arm whose sister Peter meets and of course falls in love with, because that’s what happens in this newspaper strip – and she is worried that her brother is going to get himself killed going after Spider-Man. So Spidey has got to do what he can to keep his impostor safe and also to keep this criminal safe.
This isn’t a bad story – it also does highlight a fact that Aunt May is lonely and highlighting the fact that many elderly people get lonely. The solution to this is odd because Peter has her watch the impostor’s son and this makes her feel more needed and useful – though in the previous video game strip she referenced that she was already being hired by people to babysit, so that’s a bit of a plot hole.
The issue of terrorism was making the news in the 1980s and the final story actually centers around that. There is a fictional terrorist group called Dar Herat that has a plan to take over the world: 1. Capture Spider-Man; 2. Get Spider-Man to tell how he became Spider-Man; 3. Create your own army of Super Spider-Men to take over the world! It’s a plan but before this can happen Spidey is kidnapped by government agents who are determined to play a game of Keep Away with the terrorist. One of them is a super-spy named Smitty and the other is a very serious, no-nonsense agent named Alana who, again, without a regular girlfriend, Peter is hopelessly smitten over, but yet dialog like this while Alana is trying to explain to Peter why he is wanted by the world’s most deadly terrorist organization. Peter says, “Could you come closer, Alana. I think I’m hard of hearing”, and she says, “Be serious! Their leader, Dr. Mondo, has ordered you captured at any costs.” “I’m…I am serious,” Spidey says; “You’re not married are you?” And she says, “No, because most men I meet are as obnoxious as you!” And again she makes clear that she doesn’t appreciate him as a man and is really put off by his constant refusal to stay on task when talking about the fate of all mankind.
He does get the idea that the way he’s speaking to her as Spider-Man has really put her off of him, and so he decides to go undercover as Peter Parker to interview her to get an exclusive story for The Bugle, and approaches her with the same flirty line of dialogue that she rejected as Spider-Man, expecting without the cool costume to get a better result. I actually got to the point reading this that I found myself talking back out loud to the book, “She is not interested in you!” I also think Stan Lee is trying to play this for as much humor as he can, particularly when you are in a newspaper strip that is known for the Sunday funnies. But at times it’s just in this particular context doesn’t work well, and some of the jokes don’t age particularly well such as when she says, “Our research revealed that Dr. Mondo isn’t satisfied with terrorism alone”, and Spidey said, “Maybe if they added a weekly bingo game”…
OK. So, enough about that part of the story save that we have four months of this story and it has a lot of scenes of them meeting in rooms, of them anticipating that the terrorists are going to do something, and the terrorists meeting in other rooms planning to do something. So, I think this could have used a bit more pace to it because it does feel padded out, even by the standards of this strip. It also raises some question whether Smitty is actually working with the terrorists and wouldn’t, and I don’t know if the suspicion is ever given correct given sufficient grounding in this. I will say that this actually ends up unresolved because this goes from the first of January of 1983 to the end of December of 1984 and stops there; and the solution is sometime in 1985 so we don’t know how Smitty gets out of this or whether Smitty is a traitor.
In addition to the comic itself one other neat feature of this is that it does include an introduction which provides some insight into how the comics are produced, and there is a limit to how much a story can actually move when telling a comic strip story that is a seven-day a week story because some people will only read the Sunday strip – either because their paper only carries the Sunday strip or because the person only gets the newspaper on Sundays. So, you can’t have a ton of movement in plot where people who just read one Sunday at a time get lost, and you probably also have some newspaper syndicates that only carry it Monday through Friday, so your Sunday strip cannot move things massively forward, and often the Monday strip will recap at least the ending of the Sunday strip. So, it’s important, those are sort of the limitations when you’re reading this sort of newspaper strip and you’ve kind of have to be OK with that to actually enjoy it. If the format really bugs you then you’re not going to get a whole lot out of it.
Despite the problems I will give this collection a rating of Classy. I really like the Namor story and I like the eight month story involving the racketeer who wanted to kill Jamison; plus I thought the whole video game story had a lot of 1980s charm to it even if it was a bit silly. I didn’t like the last strip as well and I don’t particularly care for the approach to Peter’s love life that Lee was taking in the strip at this point. But I still found myself enjoying this quite a bit, so I’ll give it a rating of Classy and I really look forward to the next volume from 1985 and ’86. Alright. That’s all for now. If you have a comment email it to me: firstname.lastname@example.org; check out the website at classycomicsguy.com, and follow us on Twitter @classycomicsguy. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.