Super-heroes are the ultimate athletes. Stronger, faster, more agile than normal human beings, they would make perfect shortstops, goalies, shooting guards, or wide receivers. Yet, sports and super-hero comics don't normally meet. Yes, there are some notable exceptions (the Thing's stint in wrestling comes to mind), but, for the most part, comic book heroes either originally began as taunted and abused bookworms (like Peter Parker) or pretend to be that (like Clark Kent).
The reason for this probably has to do with comics being fantasy while athletics are part of real life. Why bother providing escapes for the youngsters who are already popular and applauded in life? Better to spur on the down-trodden and the ridiculed and show them that they can be heroes too. (And the accomplished athletes can dream along, as well.)
In the case of early Spider-Man comics, it is Peter, the soft-spoken science student who is, as Spidey, the true athlete. Flash Thompson, the football playing jock is revealed to be a know-nothing blowhard. Yet, Flash is the one who receives all the accolades. Society embraces him as a hero. Sports, in comics, often becomes a false yardstick of true accomplishment, of true heroism in people's lives.
Still, in spite of the apparent anitpathy, sports has provided the backdrop for super-heroes stories off and on over the years. And, in the spirit of the season (American Football season, that is), Looking Back spotlights the only two football related Spider-Man stories I can think of. (If anyone can think of any others, pass the word along... and, actually, someone did, after this was printed the first time, mentioning the Amazing Spider-Man #252 as example number three.)
The first took place only three issues after the conclusion of the first clone storyline, early into Len Wein's intriguing two and a half year stint on Amazing. Art was by the always reliable Ross Andru.
(And, by the way, here is the official "Looking Back" point of view on the whole clone situation and how it affects the retelling of past issues. The "real" Spidey is whichever Spidey was considered real at the time the story was told. In other words, stories like the ones discussed this time were all about the "real" Spidey even when Ben was considered "real" for the past year. And now that Peter is back, if a "Looking Back" is ultimately written about, oh, say, Sensational Spider-Man #0, then that story is about the "real" Spidey, too. After all, we don't want to tell Dan Jurgens he worked on nothing but a fake, do we? All of which is a long-winded way of saying that all Spidey stories are lefit and all the Spideys with them. Just because the writers changed their minds a time or two doesn't make the stories less valid.)
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #130|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Annual (UK) 1977|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #7|
The first of our two football tales begins with Spidey on patrol one late, deserted, New York night, bored out of his mind, until a passing taxi sets off his spider-sense. He notices that the cabbie is flashing an SOS in Morse code using the "off-duty" light on the roof. He further notices that two men are sitting in the back seat and that one of them has a gun. Quickly, he springs into action, bouncing around like a pinball and forcing the cab to swerve to avoid him. Finally, with "a touch of Spidey-English", the Web-Spinner sets the taxi into a skid. It crashes into a nearby hydrant which sets off a water spout. Spidey rips the doors off and clobbers the two hoods, but the cabbie wants his car fixed. A judicious use of spider-strength welds the doors back on but they tumble off again when Spider-Man closes the trunk. Leaving the driver stranded, he decides to get out while the getting's good. (And he has a good laugh about it, too. Seems a bit nasty for Pete, doesn't it? Are we SURE this isn't the clone here? Now, put down those sharp implements, people, I'm just kidding.)
The next day, Peter runs into Flash, Harry, and Mary Jane at Empire State University. MJ is mad at him for ditching her at a party and Pete gets her alone so they can talk. But the talk becomes an argument and Peter starts to stalk off when MJ angrily tells him she's decided he's not worth fighting for. (And if you're wondering who she might be fighting with for Peter's attentions, remember that this was around the time of the Gwen Stacy clone when it appeared that Gwen herself had mysteriously re-appeared.) Peter barks out, "Maybe we should just forget the whole thing!" as he leaves but MJ calls him back, tells him he is worth fighting for and offers him a lick of her ice cream.
The two of them take a walk. (Pete's scintillating conversation opener is, "D'ya think the rain'll get the rhubarb wet?") They bump into Ned Leeds, whom they refer to as the "groom-to-be" (his wedding to Betty Brant is still three issues away). Ned tells them he is on campus to interview Bradley "Boom Boom" Bolton, former ESU football star, now a "bigshot computer wizard". Peter and Mary Jane tag along to ESU's football stadium. As MJ sits in the stands, the three men meet at the fifty yard line. Pete tells Dr. Bolton that he enjoyed his treatise on "Intermolecular Computer Synapses" but Bolton is preoccupied by memories. He tells Parker and Leeds about the last time he was on this football field. "If it wasn't for a certain Saturday afternoon in this stadium, I might never have gone into computers at all."
It was the last game of the year. ESU was playing Metro U. (a storied rivalry if ever I've heard of one) for the league championship. The score was tied with two minutes to go. ESU was starting from their own one yard line when Bolton took the snap and started his run. "A hundred yards away, my goal beckoned to me with open arms." He avoided all tackles as "the opposition rained around me like machine-gun fire". Still, "on the fifty-yard line, they hit me....hard! My insides felt like they were afire... but still I kept on going." Finally, Metro U. nails Boom Boom. "I cradled that pigskin like a baby", he says, "They finally had to pry it from my fingers", but he is stopped one foot shy of the goal line. "We fumbled on the next play", Bolton says, "and Metro took possession....When I failed to score, I shattered the spirit of the entire team". Metro drove all the way back down the field to win the ballgame.
After this experience, Bolton gave up football, met his wife-to-be, Ellen, at Stark Industries, and soon became father to a daughter, Mindy. He wraps up his reminiscence just as a young man comes up to tell him a fellow at the clubhouse gave him a note to pass along to the Doctor. Bolton reads the note, then excuses himself quickly. He tells Ned and Pete he will see them again at the Alumni Dance in the evening.
But at a nearby park, Bolton meets with a man who is feeding pigeons. The man introduces himself as Paine. He tells Bolton that, yes, he has kidnapped Mindy and will return her only when Bolton gives him the "final component" (isn't it always the "final" one?) of the "Worldwide Habitual Offenders" computer he has co-invented. (And if you don't think Len was planning ahead, check out how the W.H.O computer comes into play two issues after this one.) Just to underline that Bolton should not call the police, Paine captures a pigeon in his bare hand and smothers it. Bolton gets the point.
Later, at the ESU homecoming dance, Mary Jane is shaking her booty in a low-cut red mini-MINI-skirt (rrrrraaaaaoooowwwww!!!). She is in the midst of a dance with Ned Leeds when Peter cuts in....to talk to Ned! "I hope the two of you will be very happy together" is MJ's frosty retort and, just like that, Pete's in the doghouse again.
The two Daily Bugle employees discuss Dr. Bolton who is in attendance with his wife. It is clear that the couple is worried and nervous. Peter keeps an eye on Bolton even as he tries to make up with MJ by asking her to dance. MJ agrees, saying, "After all, Tiger...this is our song." And Pete's unspoken reaction? "Kung-Fu Fighting is our song?
Bolton tells his wife he must meet Paine at the stadium and he leaves the party. Peter notices but can't figure out how to shake himself free from Mary Jane...until he notices Harry Osborn sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the next dance. Peter wishes mightily for Harry to cut in and his wish is answered by his old roommate. Mary Jane is furious once again, but it can't be helped. Peter leaves her with Harry and follows Bolton down into the gymnasium locker room. There he notices Bolton removing a satchel from a locker but in the time it takes Parker to change into his Spidey duds, he loses track of the doctor once again.
As Spidey inexplicably explores the other side of campus (couldn't his spider-sense have given him a better idea of where to look? How about his common-sense?), Bolton meets Paine and his thugs at the stadium. He walks out to the fifty yard line where one of Paine's goons checks the satchel. ("Yeh, dis looks like da gizmo, all right, chief", the goon says.)
Bolton steps all the way back to the one yard line, relieved that the switch is being made, willing to give up his final component for his daughter Mindy, telling himself he is not a hero and that he blew his chance to ever be a hero all those years ago when he came up a yard short. But Paine announces that he will keep Mindy after all, as future insurance and Bolton cracks, vowing to kill his tormentor. Paine responds by telling his four goons to "waste him".
Bolton begins his run down the field. "Machine gun fire rains around him as once the opposition had." He evades the bullets and keeps going. "On the fifty-yard line, they hit him...hard! His insides feel like they are afire...but still he keeps on going." Somehow, badly wounded as he is, Bolton reaches Paine and, snatching his daughter away, "He cradles little Mindy like a baby." He succumbs to the bullets but doesn't let go of her. "They will have to pry her from his fingers." Which is when Spidey shows.
He takes out the thugs with ease. Paine pulls a gun but Spidey yanks it away. The villain goes spineless and pleads, "P-please...don't hurt me... don't hit me." At first Spider-Man decides that Paine is not worth the bother, but, once the truth of the carnage sinks in, he changes his mind. With a cry of "The hell you're not!", Spidey clobbers him. He rushes to Bolton. Mindy is safe but Boom Boom is dying. "So far to run...", gasps the ex-football hero, "...this time...did I make it?" He dies, with his body well over the goalline into the endzone. "Yeah, Doc," Spidey replies, "you made it...the whole hundred yards. Touchdown."
Dry your eyes everybody. Let's go to the letters page. Actually there were no letters in this issue's letters page. There was instead a text feature by Roger Slifer trying to explain all the inconsistencies and lapses of the first clone storyline. He did the best he could (even making things up on the spot to cover answers never shown in the stories) but surrenders big-time at the end. "Nuff said," Roger concludes, "Please?"
That ends Football Story #1. For the second story, just head on over to our review of Web of Spider-Man #34.