Before you begin, check out our rave - The Saga of the Lost Spidey Super Stories for the background that leads up to this review.
Before we get started with the terrible, terrible stories, one last historical note. As many long-time Spider-Man fans may remember, The Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine lasted for 2 issues back in 1968. For the "Next Issue" blurb in issue 2, it promised Spidey would solve "The Mystery of the TV Terror" in issue 3, scheduled for publication in March, 1969. But the title was canceled and this story was never published. Or was it...?
Exactly five years later, the Electric Company Magazine published this story, "TV Terror", starring Spider-Man. Is this the long promised "Mystery of the TV Terror", finally seeing the light of day? The original story was supposed to be 64 pages in length. This story is only four pages long. This story stars the Mad Scientist, who is an Electric Company villain. The Electric Company went on the air in 1972, so there is no way the original 1969 story could have meant to star him. No credits are given for this story. My best guess is that it was written by Len Wein and pencilled by Jim Mooney. Len Wein wasn't working at Marvel in 1969 when the original Spec S-M Mags were published.
But... Jim Mooney did work on inking the original two issues of Spec S-M Mag, and presumably had started work on the third one when it was cancelled. On the last page teaser in Spec S-M Mag 2, Spidey is shown being menaced by TV cameras, microphones, and a dark looming shape. In this EC story, Spidey is menaced by and fights TV cameras and their microphones...
Did someone get a hold of Stan Lee's outline for Spec S-M Mag 3, condense it way down, and insert the Mad Scientist instead of whatever kind of mad scientist-type Stan Lee originally had in mind? Or did the one-page teaser image of Spider-Man being menaced by TV cameras stick in the writer's head from when he had read Spec S-M Mag 2, and he wrote a story based on just that image? Did Jim Mooney decide he would finish (in some form) the story he had worked on so long ago, and suggested it to the writer? Is it a complete coincidence that this story is called "TV Terror"? I don't know what the truth is (if anyone else does, let me know), but this is probably as close as we'll ever get to seeing "The Mystery of the TV Terror" in print, so enjoy!
Ah, the return of Mad Scientist. He's the kind of villain that makes those burglar guys from the Home Alone movies look like a pair of Enrico Fermis. His haircut makes Don King look like a male model in a French shampoo ad. And he has a moustache that I swear to God is just an albino bat hibernating on his face. And don't even get me started on his evil plots, the kind that makes George W. Bush's economic recovery package look sensible.
(Sorry about the George W. Bush crack, it's that pervasive liberal bias in Comic Book Journalism sneaking in - damn my left wing values! If only some Republican would review Batman with the slant that he's really fighting against the common people on the behalf of his own monstrous corporation, maybe we would all be even. And then we could just elect hyper-intelligent chimpanzees with no party affiliations to run our government. Oh, what a glorious world it would be...)
Mr. Caption: Deep in his laboratory, the Mad Scientist plots an EVIL plot.
Mad Scientist: Nobody understands my true genius! But I'll show them!
If you ever find yourself saying things like "Nobody understands my true genius!" to an empty room, it may be time to check yourself into the Gerald Ford Super-Villain Rehab Clinic. Especially if you follow that up by saying something like "But I'll show them!" It can only means two things: 1) You are not, and never were, a true genius, and 2) You will not show 'them' anything, but you are just about to receive the beating of your life compliments of your arch-nemesis super-hero, or if he is unavailable, me.
Mad Scientist: These Camera Robots will control all of TV... and I'll control them!
So we see into his Mad Scientist lab, he's built these 10 Camerabots. They look like TV cameras, except they have beady glowing red eyes above their nose, which is the camera itself. They have a little wheel tripod like a good office swivel chair, and are distinctly NOT attached to any cords or plugs (this becomes important later). They have two antennas that are always shooting little sparks, and two microphones on extendable cords that serve as arms. Not only are they completely not frightening as robots, quite frankly, they don't even rate 'scary' compared to other TV cameras. I've seen camcorders (and home movies, for that matter) ten times more terrifying than this. But with a villain this lame, we're just lucky he didn't build killer grapefruit. ("AH! They're squirting me right in the eye! Oh, the mild discomfort!")
Mad Scientist: I'll be the star of every show! Heh! Heh! Eat your heart out, Cher!
Yeah, as if the cold, black, shriveled thing in Cher's chest could ever again be called a 'human heart'. I'm positive she had no heart left before she wrote that 'BELIEVE LIFE AFTER LOVE' song. The one that echoed through the fillings of our nation's unfortunate orthodontic patients for approximately two years. Only the maliciously cruel would have subjected us to that. She's like a modern day sex-Grinch, heart coal-black and six sizes too small.
And how could the Mad Scientist ever replace Cher in the dreams and even waking fantasies of our nation's sailors? Is he planning on putting on the fishnet and a G-string and launching a televised all-ogling Navy tour like she did? What would the American Navy do without Cher? Hmmm... maybe Barbara Streisand would be available. She's one of the few others besides Cher who could keep both the gay and straight sailors happy.
And frankly, why the heck does Mad Scientist think Cher stars on every TV show in the mid-70s anyway? I wasn't really alive then, but I'm pretty sure she didn't. I don't remember All in Cher's Family, or Battle for Cher's Planet, or In the Heat of the Night - with Cher! Unless it's all a grand conspiracy, and the entire U.S. population secretly agreed to never again mention 1976 - the Year We Let Cher Run Our Television.
Mr. Caption: Meanwhile, all over the country, kids are watching their favorite shows.
We flash to a nice suburban home, where a blond 13 year old girl, her older brother, and their friend Token Black Kid(tm) are watching Star Trek on TV. It's fine and good to have white kids and black kids hanging out - but do you have to show the black kid coming over to the white kid's house to watch TV? What, is he too poor to afford a television? Is THAT the message you're trying to send black kids here? "Hey - better get some white friends fast - look at all the neat stuff in their house!" I've seen Kraft Macaroni and Cheese commercials that did a better job of promoting racial equality.
Girl: I love Star Trek!
And because of it, you have a long life of being asked out by the slightly smelly guy at the back of the classroom ahead of you. Good luck!
Token Black Kid: What's on next?
Older Brother: The Electric Company! Oh, boy! *shakes fist in air*
So for some reason the brother decides to shake his fist with impotent rage like Scooby-Doo had just unmasked him. "Oh, you *shakes fist*, you kids, I'll get you next time!" - that sorta thing. Maybe he's the Token Handicapped Kid(tm), and he has some kind of muscle twitching problem. Or maybe he has some kind of emotional problem where being excited makes him really angry or something. I don't know. All I know is that this is definitely the kid who gets picked last for kickball during recess.
Suddenly, the TV fades to static and the Mad Scientist's face appears.
Mad Scientist on Mr. TV: I interrupt your favorite show to bring you... the Mad Scientist 24-hour television!
Oh, that's right... this is his plan. His Camerabots are going to broadcast his every action 24 hours a day across every TV channel. Twenty years before MTV had the Real World, reality television was born in the mind of the one of the most genetically un-hip people to ever crawl from the primeval ooze. I'm sure if the MTV zombies of the current generation knew this, our society wouldn't have devolved to the point where we have reality television on the networks 7 nights a week. (Tonight - Watch five people who just met try to live together in a house suspended from the Golden Gate Bridge by bungee cords with only gnats and wood shavings to eat! It's time for "Bungee Starvation Gross-Out House!")
Like all of his other plans, maybe Mad Scientist should have put some more thought into this. Does he really want his schedule of bowel movements broadcast for everyone to see? Does he want everyone to stare at his old man pot belly as he lounges around without a shirt in his recliner drinking beer and watching "the game"? Oh wait, except there'd be no "game" on TV to watch, unless you count guessing what size dog he could fit in his enormous old man gut. Las Vegas would have betting pools on how often he drools on his pillow at night and how many times he picks his nose each day. He would get thousands of angry letters from pseudo-intellectual viewers correcting the grammar of EVERY SINGLE STATEMENT HE EVER MAKES. It'd be just like the Truman Show, except instead of everyone loving him, everyone would hate his filthy guts and make fun of every little thing he did. Great plan!
I can think of about twenty better uses for Television-controlling Camera Robots. He could send one to follow around every senator, get pictures of them snorting coke with their favorite hookers, and threaten to broadcast it on EVERY channel simultaneously. Now THAT would be some kick-ass blackmail. You could be in virtual control of the government inside a week. And anytime you needed some money, just go record some embarrassing stuff some rich person did, show them the tape, and hey, more money! You could be a master blackmailer like some kind of modern-day J. Edgar Hoover, only you don't HAVE to wear women's underwear. Though it's probably already too late for that.
Or heck, just send your camerabots after Jennifer Aniston or something and sell the video clip on the internet for tens of thousands of dollars. Or keep it for yourself. Though I think Mad Scientist is probably more the type to be turned on by Janet Reno and the big words she used to use.
Anyway, the kids see the Mad Scientist on their TV.
Girl: Oh, no!
Token: I don't want to watch that junk!
Neither does the older brother, but he's too lazy to do anything about it himself.
Older Brother: *pointing at Token* Change the channel! Token: *dutifully changing the channel* *Click!* He's on every station!
So let me get this straight - the white kids invite Token over to their house, and then make him change the channel and stuff for them when they're too lazy to move their pudgy, suburban asses off the floor. Argh. So he's not really their 'friend', he's more like 'their primitive remote control'. One "Massa" or any crap like that and I'm outta here.
So we flash to Spidey, who was sitting around watching TV in his full Spider-Man outfit, in the middle of New York City in the summer, in the years before air conditioning became commonplace. I think we should see a few Spider-Sweat stains as he slowly peels himself out of his chair to change the channel, but I digress. Spidey also finds that every channel is now broadcasting an extreme close-up of one of Mad Scientist's nostrils, which I'm sure has the nation on the edge of their seat trying to count his old man nose hairs.
Spidey: This is the pits! I've got to stop that guy!
So, last panel: Spidey in his apartment. This panel, Spidey crashes through the skylight of the Mad Scientist's secret hidden lab. With only four pages, there just isn't enough time to fool around with crap like "plot" or "cause-effect". Spidey just KNOWS things like where to find secret labs. And plus, we needed to get to the good stuff, because now - it's robot fighting time! Well, at least it's TV camera wrestling time, though that doesn't seem to have the same ring...
Mad Scientist: Welcome, webhead. I've been expecting you. *turns to Camerabots* Get Him, Fellas!
*Camerabots start smashing Spidey with their microphone arms, so his every grunt of pain is magnified like fifty times for the entire country to hear live*
Spidey: It's a trap! There are too many of them! I can't fight them all!
Uh... I guess so. You smashed two Camerabots in the first panel, you only need four more panels and you'll be done, but I guess those little microphone arms are just a terror. And I hate to burst your ego bubble, Spidey, but I don't really think even Mad Scientist would splash his face across the nation's TV screens just so he could "set a trap" for you, and just hope you could magically locate his secret base before the FCC did.
*One Camerabot has now got Spidey in a full nelson with its spindly microphone arms, and another one is smacking him across the face. Like really smacking him. Damn Spidey, maybe these guys are too much for you. I've got some Legos you could try and beat up if you wanted to start smaller...)
Spidey: I need an... idea! Think, Spidey... think!
Spidey: Wait! I've got it!
Spidey: Robots can't work without electricity! So I'll pull their plugs!
OK, you're not going to believe me, but what I describe next is exactly what happens. Spidey grabs a power cord for a spotlight on the ceiling, yanks this cord (unconnected to ANY robot) out of the floor, and ALL THE ROBOTS' HEADS EXPLODE SIMULTANEOUSLY. (Mr. Sound Effect: POW! ZAP! POW!) Never in the entire story did we see any power cords for the robots, and even in this panel, when he's supposed to pull their plug, he pulls a random plug BUT IT MAKES THEIR HEADS BLOW UP ANYWAY. What was this trying to teach kids about electricity? If you unplug the toaster the microwave may explode? If you turn off the bathroom light, Dad's electric razor turns into a cloud of razor-sharp shrapnel? I can see a whole generation of Sesame Street kids who now live in apartments where every single appliance is turned on all the time, in case cutting the power to one would make all the others explode. Either that or they've run away to become Amish.
So after the robot holocaust is over with, Spidey webs up the Mad Scientist right as two NYC policemen rush in.
Mad Scientist: Curses! You're too smart for me!
Truer words were never spoken. Of course, I think some advanced forms of fungus would be too smart for him. Hell, the slime molds would still probably be too smart for him.
Spidey: Why did you do it, Mad?
Mad Scientist: For once, I wanted to be the star!
Spidey: *CLICHED PUN WARNING - DANGER DANGER* Well, that's show biz!
He wanted to be a star? Yeah, if you're into having the public know every tiny obsessive little detail about your life all the time, this is certainly the way to do it. If you want to see Mad Scientist Trading Cards Series IV - Bathroom Activities, this is your golden ticket. Or wait! Instead, you could just audition for Fox's latest reality-based series "Something something Search for a Superstar", sort of the deformed bastard stepchild of your original idea. Then you could be an instant teen idol! Woo!
If you recall, I mentioned the Gerald Ford Super-Villain Rehab Clinic. I think that actually would be a pretty sensible idea. Because you may not know this, but President Gerald Ford was the secret identity of 70s Iron Man villain the Black Lama, in one of the worst Marvel stories in any decade. Seriously. So I think he should open a rehab center to help others in his position. Yeah! He could do one of those commercials where he's like, "I'm not just the company president, I'm not just the former U.S. president, I'm also a client." Have lots of before and after shots - The Rhino destroying a bank vault vs. the Rhino volunteering at the old folks' home, Doc Ock escaping prison vs. Doc Ock making funny animal balloons for children, that sort of thing. Man, maybe I should start a super-villain rehab clinic.
And hey, last month was the Spidey/Star Wars crossover, and this month it's almost a Spider-Man/Star Trek crossover! Well, ok, Mr. Spock's picture appears on the TV for all of one panel, and Spidey isn't even on that page at all, but... if you squint...
And this is not the first time that the writers of Spidey Super Stories have had trouble figuring out appliance/cord technology. Just a few months before this, the Short Circus defeated Dr. Doom by unplugging random United Nations appliances to cut the power to his ruby red Disco Ball of Death. Now Spidey's unplugging random cords and robots start exploding. I would like to think that these stories were not found scrawled in human feces on the wall of an insane asylum in upstate New York, but where the hell else would you find people who wanted to write and had no conception of electricity works?
2.5 webs. So reality TV was originally created to stop Cher from taking control of our television. You heard it here first!