With Fast-Food Comes Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
They say that you are what you eat. However, in the world of fast food giveaways and tchotchkes, it would perhaps be more precise to say, "You are where you eat," and let me tell you, Marvel Comics' Amazing Spider-Man has eaten nearly everywhere. After 40-something years, half-a dozen TV shows (both live-action and animated), numerous video and computer games, and a pair of blockbuster movies (not to mention several metric tons of toys, games, books, and - oh yeah - comics), everyone knows the origins and back story of your friendly neighborhood red-and-blue arachnid.
One of the earliest appearances of Spidey occurred at the fast-food mart, 7-Eleven in 1977. There, Spidey appeared on a pair of Slurpee cups (Slurpees are a frozen fruit drink concoction). These cups came in both plastic and glass (though the glass sets had fewer cups, were smaller in size, and limited in distribution). A second glass featuring Spider-Man and other Marvel characters was issued in 1981-2. His next appearance in a food establishment was at the home of the square hamburger in 1989. White Castle issued a set of four beach buckets and pails. The four-bucket set featured Spider-Man, She-Hulk, Captain America, and the Silver Surfer, each emblazoned on the side of the bucket. Around this time, during the mid-to-late '80s, the Hot Dog vendor Orange Julius issued a Marvel-produced custom comic staring Spider-Man.
In 1994 several Marvel characters, including Spidey, appeared in a series of comic books, again produced by Marvel, and this time distributed through Pizza Hut. These "pro-social" comics touted the virtues of good clean living and diversity. Spidey (along with Firestar, & the Human Torch) lead the charge against Substance Abuse. Each character set also appeared on a plastic cup that came with the kid's meal.
Other heroes who starred in these books included Iron Man, Captain America, Daredevil, Wasp, Falcon, Jubilee, Prof. X, Black Panther, the Thing, and others. All in all, these comics tended to be more interesting than the standard-issue (newsstand) stuff that was being issued at the time, as the writers of this series were seriously attempting to inject some semblance of a strong social conscience into the stories.
In 1990, Hardee's issued a set of four Marvel character toys that included Spider-Man, Captain America, The Hulk, and Thor. Each of the characters was melded to a vehicle, with their individual logos emblazoned on the vehicle. Then in '95, May Parker's favorite nephew appeared in not one, but two sets from no less than McDonald's: in the first set, Spidey went solo and it tied into his then-playing Fox-TV animated series. This set of eight toys had four figures, four vehicles, as well as an under-three toy. The figures were Spidey; Peter Parker (whose head would change to a half Peter/half Spidey "Spider-Sense" head when you rotated his right arm); a Doc Ock figure (a villain); and - for the girls - Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Peter's Supermodel wife, who came with a pair of snap-on outfits.
As an aside, whoever designed Mary Jane apparently either didn't realize that she was a world-class model, was color blind, fashion-impaired, or all three. This MJ figure came dressed in a yellow top, blue jeans, red cowgirl boots, and a purple coat that fell to her knees. Accompanying her was a red V-necked mini-dress (with white dickey), and black purse slung crossways over her shoulder; as well as a green top and black skirt, with a purple bag and shopping bag ensemble. The two alternate outfits could be snapped onto her frame, making her easily the worst dressed fashion victim on the fast-food set.
The four vehicles consisted of characters that were "welded" to their respective vehicles (completely ignoring the fact that none of them ever got near vehicles like these in either the TV show or in the comics). The villains Hobgoblin, Scorpion, Venom, along with hero Spider-Man appeared in this group. The Under Three toy was a Spidey figure that looked essentially like the standard Spider-Man figure (with the coloring slightly different, but that could have been due to the dye lot rather than an intentional marking).
The second Marvel-related toy set that Micky D's delivered that year dug deeper into Fox's animated TV heroes, which included The Hulk, The Human Torch, Invisible Woman, and Storm (an X-Man). The rest of the set were vehicles that included The Thing, Spidey, Wolverine, and Jubilee (another X-Man). The Under Three toy was Spider-Man hunched over and grabbing his knees looking very much like a wobbly-ball.
Later on in '96, Subway came out with its own set of five Spider-toys. These included two vehicles (a Spider-car and a Spider-plane); a Spidey-squirter (a Spider fist that could shoot water); a Spidey "flip face" badge (a clip-on plastic badge with Spidey printed on it, the head of which would flip between Spidey and Peter); and a Spidey web thrower (another Spidey fist from which would extend a paper "web" when flicked forward).
In '97 KFC delivered a set of Marvel toys that included a pair of Spider-Man items; these two items (part of an eight-item set), were a Spidey symbol belt clip, and a Spider-Man "wall walker". The wall walker has a gooey substance attached to his hands and feet and would - when thrown against a smooth wall - "walk" his way down to the floor. Each of the eight toys was packed with a 12-page mini-comic that gave one- and two-page origins of the various characters represented in the set. The comic also contained a $10.00-off coupon for a Brighter Child Interactive CD-ROM (Amazing Math, featuring the Marvel characters); as well as two pages of puzzles, and descriptions of the six toys in the series.
There were no Spider-related toys in 1998, but then in '99 the West Coast chain Carl's Jr. (along with sister company Hardee's), issued a set of four Spider-Man toys. These toys included a Spidey Web Flyer, a Spidey Disc Launcher, a Spidey web spinner, and a Spidey Web Hovercraft. Then in 2001, the sister East-Coast chains of Rally's and Checker's issued a four-issue set of Marvel comic books, one of which starred Spider-Man.
Interestingly enough, as big a star as Spider-Man is, it took the appearance of Spider-Man on the big screen in 2002 to bring him back to solo fast food life; once again at Hardee's and Carl's Jr. These two chains issued a very cool pair of sets of Spider-toys: one was packed in with the kid's meal, while the other was issued simultaneously over-the-counter. The over-the-counter set included a series of three movie-picture cups featuring Spidey and the Green Goblin, as well as a Spider-Man antenna topper. The kid-meal premium set consisted of four toys that included a Spider-Man bendy, a Rockin' Spidey picture frame (one of four lenticular Spidey flip cards set in a plastic web frame on rockers), a Whistling Spidey Spinner, and a Green Goblin with spinning top pumpkin launcher.
A third set of toys followed later on in the year when the movie was issued on Video & DVD. This set (issued in October in time for Halloween) was a pair of buckets intended to be used to collect candy while trick-or-treating. One bucket had a picture of Spidey while the other featured the Green Goblin. While not available to the general public, during the initial Spider-man promotion, employees of Carl's Jr. & Hardee's wore black t-shirts with the Spider-Man movie logo emblazoned on the front and a small Carl's Jr./ Hardee's star logo on the back.
By the time Spider-Man 2 rolled around, it was once again acceptable for fast food establishments (the over-the-top marketing approach of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace crashed and burned so badly that many potential licensees stayed away from potential franchise juggernauts that would just as likely bog them down as boost their bottom line; which is why the fast food toys from Spider-Man went to the West Coast Carl's Jr. & Hardee's rather than a national chain. The phenomenal success of Spider-Man proved that it was the movie, not the marketing that needed to be hot.)
The Burger King set that accompanied Spider-Man 2 included the following eight items: A Web-Gliding Spidey (Spidey figure with plastic wings, suitable for throwing); a Spidey Web Ball (a bean-filled ball with webbing attached); Throw And Stick Spidey (a Velcro glove and ball set); Energy Blast Doc Ock (a claw that launches a flying disc); a Spidey Stopwatch (Spidey's head that pops open to reveal a digital watch); a Spidey Web Fingers (soft web throwing discs); a Spidey Super Squirter (a squirt gun modeled after Spidey's web-shooters that attaches to your wrist); and Spidey Vision Scope (a pair of binoculars with a Spider-figure standing astride the lenses). Each of the toys, when exposed to the sun, would reveal a spider symbol. Patrons could also acquire a free Burger King Spider-Man cardboard crown with their meal.
As can be expected, fast food franchises have outlets around the world, and they distribute toys with their kid meals as well. Given this, it is only natural that our favorite Web Slinger would appear in a number of those as well. The following paragraphs below detail some of those sets about which we know. In 1998 McDonald's in Australia issued a set of four comic books, one of which was entitled Spider-Man Mysteries, and starred - naturally enough - Spidey. Then later on in the year, the chain also issued a set of four Marvel Figurines, again one of which was Spidey. In 1999 KFC in Germany issued an over-the-counter Spider-Man digital watch issue.
For the 2002 release of Spidey's film, McDonald's in Australia released a Spider-Man plastic cup set, three of which had images of Spider-Man and the fourth had an image of the Green Goblin. Also for the film's release in Canada and Thailand (this time both for KFC) a four-item set of Spidey toys included a Spider-Man Wall Clinger; a Green Goblin on his flyer; a Spider-Man Wrist Signal device; and a Green Goblin Wrist Shooter.
In 2004 for Spider-Man 2 KFC in Germany and Australia issued a four-item Spidey set consisting of a Magnetic Spider-Man wall crawler, Doc Ock with a set of spinning claws, a water web squirter (that, like the U.S. model, attaches to your wrist), and Peter Parker's camera (which shows film clips from the movie).
As with the U.S.-based sets, it is a reasonable assumption that we can expect to see more non-U.S. sets of Spidey and the other Marvel characters. However, it is more likely that, as in the U.S., these sets will follow Spidey marketing plans as his image is re-packaged and shipped overseas in support of, say a new movie or TV show, rather than simply on the strength of the comic. Still, with the recent exporting (and re-tooling) of Spider-Man to India (as a native-born character) it might be possible that fast food establishments (if there are any), might seek to tie in to the new comic book series.
Given the overwhelming success of the two films - as well as the positive buzz of the short-lived MTV computer-animated Spider-Man series, the recent release of the original 1960s cartoon on DVD, and even the glowing reviews of the various comic book series it is probably safe to say that we haven't seen the last Spider-Man fast food toy set. Not by a long shot. Still, given all of the positive press Spidey (in particular and comics in general) have received lately, this is one fan-cum-writer who would be more than pleased to see a retro-60s, an Ultimate Spider-Man or even a Spider-Girl set of fast food toys. Ah well, one can dream, can't one?