Comics : Spider-Man vs. The Prodigy

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: A Word From Our Sponsor

This review was first published on: 1998.

Background...

One of Peter Parker's new looks in the recent Identity Crisis was Prodigy. But does anyone remember when Spider-Man fought Prodigy? It isn't all that likely that you would. It was not part of the Spider-Man continuity. Instead, it was in the pages of a sixteen page 5 x 6 1/2 inch mini-comic sponsored by Planned Parenthood. Written by Anne Robinson (about whom I know nothing... does anyone have any information on Anne?) with artwork by the late Ross Andru (the regular ASM penciller at the time), inked by Mike Esposito, this obscure little ditty came out in 1976. In honor of the new use of the name, here is Spider-Man vs. the Prodigy.

In Detail...

Spider-Man vs. The Prodigy
Year 1976 : SM Title
Summary: Planned Parenthood Promo
Writer:  Ann Robinson
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Mike Esposito
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We open with Spider-Man climbing the Pan Am building on a hot summer night. "Nothing like a little height to give a person a fresh perspective", he says as he reaches the top. Sitting cross-legged on the roof, he revels in the fact that he can get as far off the ground as he likes. "Dr. J. eat your heart out." But this particular soliloquy is interrupted by the arrival of a very large helicopter on the Pan Am building's rooftop pad.

A group of teenagers lines up to board the copter. "They hardly look like they have the bread to travel first class", Spidey thinks. And besides, "They should be home listening to their new Henry Gross albums!" A curious Spidey decides to investigate.

Now, if the above quotes are making you wonder if Anne was trying too hard with her "hip" writing style, get a load of the following caption. "Let us whisk you away on the wings of Marvel (faster than any mere helicoper can travel, we might add) and drop you down at the very spot toward which this kid-copter is headed... a secluded 200 acre estate somewhere in the mountains".

At the estate, a couple of guards in charge of exposition tell us that a mysterious boss has brainwashed thousands of kids to carry out his plans. "It's that voice of his. When he gets that special vibration in his voice, it's like the kids are drawn to him by the very power of his words."

Inside, the boss, a green-skinned, balding alien from the planet "Intellectia" (I kid you not), prepares to put on a full-head mask that makes him look like a crew-cutted teenager with a very high forehead (Shades of This Island Earth!), even though masquerading as an earthling nauseates him. He plans to discard the disguise soon. In a matter of hours, he hopes to be on TV, using his "magnetic monotone" to hypnotize everybody. (A footnote explains that, "The Prodigy's voice took on its special magnetic powers when the rocket ship coming from his native planet Intellectia, in the Andromeda Galaxy, passed through the earth's ionosphere. Because of weak deflector shields, his vocal chords were exposed to intense heat and radiation. On earth, his voice draws people to him like a vacuum cleaner." Not that we needed to know that.)

Now dressed in green bell-bottoms with a green vest and extremely high platform shoes, the alien walks through his mansion, heading to the helipad. On the way, he chuckles over the way he has been able to brainwash teenage kids into believing that "you can't get pregnant before you're fifteen or the first time you have sex or if you only do it once in a while". He wants more kids to be born so he can snatch them. After all, "they're needed for child labor on Intellectia". (Maybe it'd be easier if he just snatch the teens, eh?)

Back at the Pan Am building, the helicopter takes off and Spidey decides to hitch a ride. At the mansion, he leaps down into a clump of trees and eavesdrops at a window. Inside, the alien known in the captions as the Prodigy is standing before a classroom full of teens. He tells them all to have sex. "How else can you prove you're a man? How else are you going to get a man?" Spidey can't believe the "jive stuff" he is hearing. "Nothing's wrong with being in love or having babies but there's gotta be responsibility.", he thinks. "Imagine a baby in my life right now. It's all I can handle to scrape up enough bread to buy my daily twinkies." (That's probably what the writers thought, too, when they snatched baby May away from the Parkers.)

A couple of the kids ask questions about contraception but the Prodigy scoffs at them. "Why bother with a lot of hassle?", he says. "Pregnancy's good for you... helps your hormones, even clears up acne." Spidey can hardly stand it. "There's gotta be some way these kids can get the right info.", he says. (And there is! It's right at the back of the book!) Inside, the Prodigy continues. "In just an hour," he says, "I'm going on nationwide television to tell young people about the glorious, carefree life they're welcome to share in my utopian retreats all over the country." "Galloping Guacamole!", Spidey says (oh yes, he does), "I've got to do something fast!" But in the meantime, he has been spotted. Guards carrying machine guns try to surround him.

Pete's spider-sense tips him off. He swings up to the roof where he pretends he's just one of the gargoyles while a rooftop guard walks his rounds. The guard is not fooled but it doesn't matter. Spidey takes him out quickly, then webs three more approaching guards into one big web ball.

While Spidey has been dancing with the guards, the Prodigy has moved to his "small private TV studio" where the big broadcast is about to begin. But even as the director is counting down to airtime, our hero breaks through a window and knocks over Prodigy's lectern. The alien tries to brain Spidey with his microphone but the wall-crawler evades it, saying "It's high time someone put a stop to your irresponsible influence, Prodigy." (Of course, no one but the captions has referred to the villain as the Prodigy. Maybe Spidey is psychic.) "Keep the cameras rolling", Spider-Man says. Our sixth-sensed webhead has "a hunch" that the Prodigy is not what he seems. Calling for a close-up, Spidey grabs his opponent by the shirt in one hand and removes the mask with the other hand.

Prodigy makes one more attempt to use his "magnetic" voice to hypnotize but Spidey isn't worried. "Thanks to the miracle of modern communication, the cameras are still rolling and kids everywhere can see where you're really at!" The desperate Prodigy picks up a nearby cue-card and tries to clobber the web-slinger, but Spidey responds by shooting webbing right into the Prodigy's mouth, effectively neutralizing his vocal cords. As the Prodigy writhes on the ground, gagging (hope he didn't suffocate), Spidey looks at the camera and proclaims "so ends the pernicious power of the Prodigy", while thinking, "Hmmm. I looked pretty good in front of those cameras. Maybe I'll get a part in a series."

OK, so it wasn't the greatest Spidey story in the world, but, let's face it, the intent wasn't to add to the web-spinner continuity. The last two pages give information about pregnancy, thoughts, homosexuality, venereal diseases, feelings, and careers and also tell how to contact a Planned Parenthood Center for more assistance. Here's hoping this little comic did some good.