The audio adventures of Spider-Man are not part of From the Beginning's bailiwick. (Comics with audio, however, are... about which more next time.) Still, there are some items that cry out for inclusion and this is one of them. It's from 1966 so I'm a bit late with it. (And it's not alone. About which, as I said, more next time.) So go drag your old record players out of the closet, set the speed to 45 rpm and listen to Spidey's hopelessly ridiculous battle with the Fickle Fly.
First, though, take a look at the record cover because it's one of the coolest things about the whole package. It features an illustration of Spider-Man running shown only from the waist up. If it's from the waist up, then how do I know he's running? Well, his hands are gripped into fists and his arms are in a swinging motion, one forward, one behind, that seems to denote running. The bottom of the cover is a straight edge where he is cut off at the waist but the rest is cut out in the shape of his figure, so that his arms and head protrude out from what would be a regular square. A circle with text covers Spidey's right armpit. The text reads, in its entirety, "© 1966 Marvel Comics Group. Song & Story. Spiderman. Spidey and the Fickle Fly. The Amazing Spider-Man Record. 45 RPM. All Rights Reserved." In the upper right hand corner is the record's number, C 24, and the price, 49 cents. All the way down in the lower left in tiny print, it reads, "A Product of S.P.C. Newark, N.J., U.S.A." That's it. "So, what's on the back cover?" you ask. The same illustration as the front cover (but to conform with the cut-out, Spidey is now facing the other way) and nothing else. No text. No nothing.
Then, what's on the record itself? Side One (or "C 24 A") tells us that the record title is "Spider-Man" (with the hyphen properly place) but that the first cut is called "Spiderman." It is followed by "Spider and the Fickle Fly (Part 1)", not "Spidey and the Fickle Fly" as written on the cover. We get the Marvel copyright again and the "45 RPM" designation, plus a bit of text reading, "A product of Synthetic Plastics Co. Newark, N.J. U.S.A." So now we know what the S.P.C. stands for. The other side of the record (all you twenty-first century babies know that records have two playable sides, right?) ..."C 24 B"... has all the same info except the cut on this side is "Spider and the Fickle Fly (Part II)." That's all the info you're going to get. Actually, that's all the info you need. Let's set that record spinning!
It starts with a song called (you've probably guessed by now) "Spiderman." This is not the tune from the 1967 cartoon series. This is a sublime little ditty that starts with a wail of:
Then a Big Bopper sound-alike starts singing a jaunty tune that goes:
He's got webs on his fingers and webs on his toes
And knows how to use 'em, look there he goes!
Walkin' on walls and ceilings with ease
Swingin' through the air like a flying trapeze
And just like a spider a-catchin' a fly
He can spin a web to catch a bad guy
Now just in case lyrics like "a-catchin'" aren't bad enough, here comes the chorus with a little Up With People flavor to it.
Spider-Man! Yeah, Spider-Man! The World's Most Amazing Spider-Man!
Calling all crooks he'll catch you yet and wrap you up in that silky net.
The all-time champ of the spider-set.
Then back to the Big Bopper guy who really and truly says...
He then continues:
Half spider, half man, hard man to beat
Got more gimmicks than a centipede got feet.
He got spider-sense and a spider-beam
And spider-fluid, man, what I mean
Is, anything that a spider can do
He can do better, I'm a-tellin' you.
(Repeat chorus. Including "Hidey, Spidey!")
It ain't over yet:
And he packs a punch that'll pulverize
Any bunch of, uh, ordinary guys.
But here's the switch, he pretends to be
Plain Peter Parker, the boy you see
Over there in class at the Empire State
Where no one dreams he's really the great...
And...repeat chorus. Only instead of "Hidey, Spidey!" repeat "Spider-maaaaaaaannn!" and fade while repeating.
Now, that seems like enough for any record but that was only the appetizer, the opening theme music as it were. Now the story of the Fickle Fly begins.
We're in a class at Empire State University. The Prof is talking about a creature of the order araneida and the class arachnida. He calls upon a sleeping Peter Parker (we hear his snoring) to "give us the name by which this species is more commonly known." After Peter wakes up ("I'll be glad to put in a requisition for a bed so that you may sleep more comfortably in class," says the Prof, prompting some rather uninspired-sounding laughter from the other students), the Prof turns to Miss Bellows for the answer. She squeamishly responds with "spiders." The Prof then asks Peter to tell the class "the number of sub-classifications in the order araneida." Pete, in that smarmy thought balloon voice-over he seems to have in all audio and video representations of Spider-Man (which is enough to make you want to join Flash Thompson in punching him), scoffs at the thought that the Prof would ask him about spiders since he is secretly Spider-Man. But because he doesn't want anyone to suspect he is Spider-Man, he pretends he doesn't know the answer and replies, "Well, sir, I think there are, uh... is it, uh, five? Six? Ten, sir?" "Your knowledge of the subject seems to be, shall we say, slightly limited," sneers the Prof as the bell rings to end the class. The class breaks up with about two or three muttering voices.
There are so many things wrong with this little scene but let's just hit the highlights. First, why would anyone assume that Spider-Man has special knowledge of spiders just because he is Spider-Man? Does being Spider-Man give Peter the knowledge of the sub-classifications of araneida? Even if this is true, why does he have to hide this knowledge when the class is obviously studying the subject? If Peter answers correctly is everyone going to assume that he's Spider-Man or that he read the homework assignment? Well, enough of that.
As the class files out, one obnoxious student declares "Parker the boy wonder sure is slipping these days, eh?" "Why don't you take up knitting?" says another comedian. "Or cooking!" adds the first teen. "Leave him alone!" moans a female student as Peter mutters to himself that he has to get down to the Bugle to see if there's any information on "that character who's been bugging me all week... the Fly." (Fly? Bugging? Get it?) "One more night like last night," he says, "and they can reserve a bed for me in the old age home." Exactly what happened between the Spider and the Fly "last night" to prompt that remark is not for us to know.
The scene immediately shifts to the gruff voice of J. Jonah Jameson asking Peter if he's got pictures of the Fly. He doesn't. No one has gotten a picture of the Fly and the only thing they know is that he can "do anything Spider-Man can do... walk on walls, ceilings, and even fly. And he has an uncanny way of disappearing." "You're telling me," Peter mutters. "What's that?" JJJ asks, which means that Pete isn't just thinking these things but actually muttering them under his breath. Just then, Jonah's phone rings. It is Foswell calling to say the King of Maraquisa has checked into the new Hotel Skyview. He is in the royal suite on the 65th floor and has his crown jewels with him. (God knows why.) Jameson tells Peter to get down there and get photos. "If you don't get these pictures," he says, "don't bother coming in tomorrow or any day after that!" And that's the end of side one.
Side two begins with Peter grousing about how both the Biology Prof and Jameson have dumped on him today. This has apparently worn him out. He decides to take a rest on a park bench. He yawns once and then immediately snores in an overly dramatic sort of way. He sleeps for several hours, until almost midnight. "Good thing that fly woke me up," he says. This reminds him of his nemesis. "Jumpin' catfish!" he shouts as he realizes that the King of Maraquisa's crown jewels are "the perfect bait for a spider to use to catch a fly." Then a little high-pitched voice replies, "or the perfect bait for a fly to catch a spider" and chuckles. Peter briefly wonders who spoke but then brushes it aside and switches to his Spidey suit. ("Nobody around, good!" he says hastily.) From there he goes web-swinging to the Skyview. When he gets there, he discovers that the fly has followed him and further realizes that, "Great sufferin' semolians! It's talking to me! The Fly really is a fly! No wonder I couldn't catch him! I was looking for a man." Now the Fly's voice lowers in pitch and orders Spidey to "look again." Spidey does and now sees a man. In fact, it is his classmate Tom Nelson... "The guy that's been needling me back at school all this time." (It would have been nice if we'd been given Tom Nelson's name back when he was needling Peter on Side One rather than having to get the exposition in the middle of the action.) Spidey doesn't get it so Tom has to lay it out for him. Apparently the same time that a radioactive spider bit Peter, Tom (yes he was, yes he was, take your medicine) was bitten by a radioactive fly! This gave him the "power to change from fly to human form at will." "Unbelievable," says Spidey, speaking for us all. Tom wonders why Spidey finds this unbelievable. "The caterpillar changes into the butterfly," he says, "the ugly duckling becomes the beautiful swan. Why not a fly into a human." (Hmmm. When you put it that way, it's much more believable!) Then he announces that "after eons of time... the tables are about to be turned" and the fly ("of the order of diptera") is going to destroy the spider ("of the order of araneida"). Then the Fly yells out, "take that!" and Spidey replies, "you missed, big mouth" but there is no way to tell what action the Fly took that missed. Did he take a swing at Spidey? Shoot something at him? Who knows? Spidey retaliates. (With his own punch? Again, no way to tell.) The Fly turns back into a fly, however, and evades the attack. Taunting, the Fly tells the web-slinger to "try catching me in one of your highly-touted nets." Spidey tries a small dose of webbing (I guess) but Tom turns man-size again. "Too small," says Spidey of his webbing and tries again. But Tom turns fly-size again. "Too big," says Spidey and follows with my favorite line in the story. "He slipped right through the holes. That foolish fly's more fickle than any flirtin' female in the fifty states. Be a man or be a fly but make up your mind!" The Fly scoffs at him and announces his plan to slip through the suite's window and steal the crown jewels. But now that the Fly is off-guard Spidey sprays him with his spider-fluid. With an aerosol can providing the sound effect, the Fly is caught in the goo. Unable to turn to his fly form, he falls. But "don't worry," says the web-slinger, "old Spidey won't let Fly-boy hurt his tootsie-wootsies." He grabs the Fly in his webbing and, in a quick segue, turns him over to the cops. ("...the once-fickle Fly wrapped, sealed, and delivered. Hope you got a nice comfy jail for him.") He bids farewell to the officer and "you too, Fly-boy." Then he apparently webslings away although I could swear that the wind tunnel effect is the same sound effect they used for flying in the old Superman TV show. (So, did Peter get pictures of the crown jewels before he webbed away? Showing up at the King's suite after midnight? If he didn't, he's fired! Or do the events of Side One have no bearing on the events of Side Two?)
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
There was an Alex Ross interview in Wizard Magazine #42 (February 1995) in which he said, "Peter Parker was such a disappointment to me as a kid. The first time I saw him, I thought there was no way that this square could be Spider-Man! I thought Spider-Man would be cool out of his costume. It took me a while to get adjusted to that." I could never identify with that point of view until I listened to this record. The Peter here is smarmy, snide, and annoying. Unfortunately, Peter often sounds like this in various audio adventures. It's as if they got the same guy to play him over and over. Good thing this isn't how I hear Peter in my head when I read the comics or else I'd be rooting for the villains. JJJ, on the other hand, is great here: surly and brusque. And Tom Nelson's switch from regular to helium-filled voice as he goes from human to fly is a lot of fun too.
The cover is wonderful. The best thing about the whole package. The song and story are about as silly as you can get but, after all, this is for little kids. And they get a biology lesson out of the deal too! If only our hero didn't sound like such a jerk.
For the cool cover and the sheer novelty of it all: Four Webs. But shape up, Pete!
Next: The 1966 audio adventures continue as we take the long road back to ASM. Join me for Golden Records: Amazing Spider-Man #1.