Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 28 Feb 1977 - 8 May 1977

Background

Stan and Johnny chose to lead the Spider-Man newspaper strip off with Dr. Doom as their villain. And then let Doom get away, which may have confused the casual newspaper reader. For their second storyline, Stan and Johnny introduce a legitimate Spider-Man villain, Dr. Octopus. (That's two Doctors to start off the series.) Will this story have a more standard ending than the Doom story? And will it have a less disappointing wrap-up than the first story? Let's find out.

Story 'Arms and the Madman'

  Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 28 Feb 1977 - 8 May 1977
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita, Sr.

As Dr. Doom, leaves the country, Dr. Octopus rings the bell at May Parker's apartment. On February 27, the names on the door were Mrs. M. Parker and Mrs. A. Watson. On February 28, Anna Watson's name disappears from the door. And, guess what? Anna Watson does not appear in this story.

Now, after seeing Ock's shadow for two days, we finally get to see him in the flesh. (March 1). Finding no one home, Ock leaves a note on the door for May. He uses his tentacles to hold the notebook he has pulled from his pocket and to write the note. (Wouldn't you think it would be easier to write a note with your actual hand?) As he leaves, he uses his tentacles to stick the note on the door, put a cigarette out in a hallway ashtray and hold yet another cigarette that he is smoking. He says aloud to no one that "Mrs. May Parker has a leading role in the master plan of Dr. Octopus."

Meanwhile, Spidey arrives home. He comments that "This superhero bit calls for more wardrobe changes than Rachel Welch. (Not sure why Rachel Welch has any more wardrobe changes than any other actress. Is this a commentary on being a sex symbol?) As Peter is changing, MJ arrives for their date to the museum. He has left the door unlocked (which is odd because he came in through the window) and he has to hurry to change before MJ walks in. (She thinks he is adjusting his "britches.") And back at May's apartment, Ock has shown up again already. (Didn't he leave a note?) This time (March 6), May is at home. She welcomes "Dr. Octavius" warmly. He tells her that he is there because "Spider-Man is once again at large." (I realize that this is the beginning of the strip-verse but hasn't Spidey been "at large" all along?) May flashes back to the time that Ock "flew to [her] side" and fought Spidey "so bravely." So, even though this is the first time for Ock in the strip, it turns out that he and Spidey fought before in the strip-verse in Aunt May's presence.

Ock then tells May his origin. It only takes three days to tell it (March 8-10) in a much abridged form. He has an accident in his lab which fuses the tentacles to his body. He freaks out because he's "become a freak - a monstrous human octopus" and is "not fit to be with human beings." But then he quickly decides that he is "the most powerful being on Earth" and smashes through the wall of the hospital to become Dr. Octopus. Now he tells May that "luckily the madness left me." May buys it. But then, Peter and MJ stop by on their way to the museum. (MJ seems to forget where they're going. "Let's you'n me ease on over to PJ's," she says.) They let themselves in and, when Peter sees that May is visiting with Dr. Octopus, he is ready to go into action. He sweats excessively from his forehead and then, with no explanation, goes into another room to change into Spider-Man. He is fully in his costume (March 16) when it hits him that he can't go into a room as Peter and come out as Spider-Man. So, he changes back into his Peter duds, again with no explanation as to what he's doing in that other room. When he comes out, his mask is hanging out of his pocket and May sees it, but thinks it's only a hanky. "Good thing she's nearsighted!" thinks Peter. Ock puts his (real) arm around Peter and tells him they should be the best of friends. "Might as well get used to me, Peter," he says, "I intend to see a lot of your charming Aunt May!" Peter clenches his fist helplessly.

On March 20, we learn that MJ was serious about going "to the pub" and that the date to the museum is not a date at all. She has gotten a job as a museum guide covering the "new Chinese treasures exhibit." Peter walks her there and leaves her so he can track Ock as Spidey. (Also on March 20, Aunt May calls Ock "Dear Octavius," as if "Octavius" is his first name.)

Spidey webs his clothes to a ledge then goes searching for Ock. He doesn't find him. When he returns, his webbing has evaporated and his clothes have fallen into an alley where some garbagemen pick them up. Spidey realizes his ID is in his clothes' pocket. The garbageman puts the clothes in his truck to try them on later. When the two garbagemen have their backs turned, Spidey snags the clothes and exits, leaving the garbagemen wondering what became of them. Giving up his search, Spidey starts to change into his Peter duds up on a roof when he spies Ock walking along with Aunt May (March 25). They pass a mugging in progress. Spidey wants to ignore the mugging to tail Ock but he can't. "I can't turn my back on anyone in a jam!" he thinks, "The one time I did - it cost Uncle Ben his life!" (There's been no official strip-verse origin yet but the whole Uncle Ben thing has shown up on the top tier of some Sunday strips.) Spidey tags Ock with a spider-tracer, then breaks up the mugging. Ock and May continue on to their destination...the museum to look at the priceless Chinese idol in the exhibit. (MJ informs us on April 1 that it is the "Dragon idol of Kiangkow" and that "wars have been fought to possess it.")

Spidey follows his tracer to the museum. He hangs out on the ceiling watching MJ give her spiel as May and Ock look on. Using one of his tentacles, Ock hits just the right nerve in May's neck to knock her out (April 3). While everyone crowds around May, Ock sneaks two tentacles out the back of his cloak and steals the Dragon Idol. He apparently tucks it into his arm beneath his cloak but there's no telltale bulge there. If there was, he would be caught immediately. This is a pretty lame plan but it seems to work. It helps that the guards spot Spider-Man on the ceiling, assume he stole the idol even though there is clearly nothing in his hands, and start shooting at him. Either the museum guards have guns or there's an inordinate amount of cops hanging around in the museum. Spidey makes a break for it, smashing through a window., followed by a hail of bullets. As May recovers, Ock convinces her that she saw Spidey steal the idol. (Except this leads nowhere. May is never asked what she saw.) Outside, the cops have already cordoned off the street and are still shooting at the web-slinger. He easily evades them as one cop finally bothers to ask, "I don't get it! If he snatched the idol, where is it? He sure wasn't carrying it!"(April 8). Too bad the cop in the museum isn't as sharp. When he tells Ock that no one can leave, Ock says, "this lovely lady had fainted! I'm escorting her home!" and the cop replies, "Well, guess it's okay!" (Don't any of these cops recognize Ock? Isn't he the most logical suspect?)

Ock puts May in a cab and sends her home. He thinks he's gotten away scot free but Spidey confronts him. (Apparently, the cops have given up already. They are nowhere around.) Ock responds by tearing a fire escape off a building and dropping it on Spidey. He flees, waving the idol around and yelling, "The prize is mine!" (Where are those cops when you need them?)

Slowly, Spidey rises up and gets out from under the fire escape in a sequence (April 12-13) that riffs off of the escape sequence in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #33, February 1966. He follows Ock into Central Park (which means that the museum in question is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, even though it isn't named in the story). Ock topples a statue so that a young couple will be squashed unless Spidey holds the statue up and rescues them. (Another riff off ASM #33.) The woman faints and the man yells "Don't let go!" prompting Spidey to think "I'm stuck here with a whiner and an ackin' back." It's nice to know that Spidey thinks a guy yelling "Don't let go" is whining. Also that Spidey misspells "achin'" in his thoughts.

The couple get out from under as does Spidey. Ock is long gone. Spidey isn't worried since he still has the spider-tracer on Ock's cloak. But then he sees Ock's cloak. It has been torn off during the fight along with the spider-tracer.

Mayor Abe Beame makes another strip-verse appearance (he was first seen on January 11, panel #3) as two representatives from China demand the return of the Dragon Idol, otherwise "it could mean World War III!" (April 20). Spidey gets up to high ground and spots Ock crossing the Queensboro Bridge even as Joe Robertson tells J. Jonah Jameson that "Red China's mobilizing" which seems to be a bit much just because of an idol. (Also they got to Mayor Beame's office mighty fast. Ock has only made it as far as the Queensboro Bridge.) When Robbie tells Jonah that Spidey couldn't have stolen the idol because he didn't have it on him, JJJ channels the spirit of our current times by replying, "Don't confuse me with facts!"

Spidey reaches the bridge and the fight begins again. As Ock climbs one of the bridge towers, Spidey allows him to knock him away. He hopes Ock will think he has fallen into the water when he actually webs the underside of the bridge and swings around behind Ock (April 24). Turns out the sneak attack doesn't work. Ock spies him immediately. "You were expecting Jimmy Carter?" says Spidey (April 25). (Yes, believe it or not, but Jimmy Carter was indeed the President of the United States when this story saw print.) The fight continues. Ock gets his tentacles wrapped all around Spidey but Spidey breaks free. Angry at Spidey's jokes, Ock throws a bannister at him and says, "Laugh this off, you buffoon!" Spidey replies, "Laugh? Don't flatter yourself! A Mel Brooks you're not!" (April 28).

Finally, Spidey kicks Ock in the jaw and Ock drops the idol. He thrusts his tentacle down through the slatted floor of the platform and snags it but he can't bring it back up through the slats. With one of his arms out of action, Ock is also anchored to the spot and easy prey for Spidey who quickly knocks him out (May 1). Now unconscious, Ock drops the idol. Spidey grabs it with his webbing, just as the police arrive. Spidey leaves the idol and escapes by leaping off the platform and making a web hang glider (May 5). He visits Aunt May where he finds her upset because Anna Watson has been mugged and is in the hospital. May seems to have forgotten all about Doc Ock. (And, yes, the Chinese representatives get the idol back and call off World War III.)

Meanwhile, a strange man in a snake costume, is walking around town wearing a sandwich board for "Reptile World." He stops at Curtis Chemicals and thinks, "My little ruse is working perfectly! And now that I've reached my target, it's time for the world to meet - and to fear - the Rattler!" (May 8). But that's the next storyline.

General Comments

First appearances in the Strip-Verse.

  1. Dr. Octopus (in the flesh): March 1, panel #1.
  2. Dragon Idol of Kiangkow: March 20, panel #6.
  3. Chinese representatives: April 20, panel #2.
  4. Spider-Man's web hang glider: May 5, panel #2.
  5. The Rattler, (leg only): May 6, panel #4 (face): May 7, panel #3

May Parker, Mary Jane Watson, J. Jonah Jameson, Joe “Robbie” Robertson, and Mayor Abe Beame make their second appearances in a strip-verse story. (And Dr. Doom is there for one panel at the beginning as we segue from his story to Ock's story.)

Overall Rating

It's a pretty simple story. Ock asks May to go to the museum with him. He uses her as a distraction so he can steal the Dragon idol. Spidey is suspected of the theft. The Chinese threaten World War III. Spidey fights Ock on the Queensboro Bridge where he defeats him and saves the idol. World War III averted. That's it! But, really, it's a whole lot of fun and I love the way Ock is hamstrung by grabbing the idol through the slats and refusing to drop it. It reminds me of the Catwoman refusing to drop her bag of swag in the Batman '66 TV show and falling to her apparent death. It's also a bit like Bruno dropping the lighter through a grate in Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train." That same feeling of entrapment and desperation.

Now, this story may not have flown in a regular comic but because it is a daily strip, it is filled with all sorts of little climactic moments, many of which turn out to be red herrings. There's the moment where the garbagemen get a hold of Peter's clothes, the mugging, the hail of bullets and condoning off of the street, the toppled fire escape, the toppled Central Park statue, even the threat of World War III. They are all used to create moments of stress and excitement as the story continues from one day to the next. Let's face it, Peter would never decide to change to his Spidey suit in Aunt May's other room in the regular comic. That's there to ramp up the wait for the next day. But, you know, that's okay. That's how a daily adventure strip is supposed to work. And the two months it takes to tell it makes the simplicity of the story less obvious.

So, this is a stellar example of how to use daily diversions and MacGuffins and combine them with a clever ending to create a strong strip-verse story. What I can't excuse is the silliness of Ock's plan and that it actually works. (Isn't there someone assigned to just look at the idol? Or maybe a sensor of some sort that protects it?) His escape is pretty silly, too. I'm giving it four webs.

Footnote

Next: Now that Stan and Johnny have given us Dr. Doom (possibly the most famous Marvel villain at the time) and Dr. Octopus (possibly the most famous Spider-Man villain at the time), it's time for an entirely new villain. Yeah, it's that guy in the snake suit with the Reptile World sandwich board. The Rattler!