Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 4 October 1977 - 30 October 1977

Background

It’s a bit like publishing Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962 after publishing Amazing Spider-Man #4, September 1963 but I like it. Start with Dr. Doom, give us Doc Ock, invent a brand new villain with the Rattler, spend the whole summer with the Kingpin, then hit us with Spidey’s origin. Nine months after the start of the strip-verse, Stan and Johnny spend less than a month in the telling. How does the story compare to the original?

Story 'The Origin of Spider-Man'

This is how the Kingpin story ended:

As the sun comes up the next morning, Spidey sits, perched on a gargoyle, still thinking about the Kingpin. “His savage lust for power brought nothing but inevitable tragedy!” he says, “Still, am I any better? Why do I keep doing what I do? Am I really trying to help others or am I caught in my own unending power trip? The Amazing Spider-Man! Why couldn’t I see it would bring only trouble and torment? And yet would I have done anything different? I wonder…”

That serves as a springboard to the origin, which starts with Peter and Betty Brant as she ushers him into J. Jonah Jameson’s office. Peter has photos to sell but Jonah isn’t interested. “Miss Brant!” he says after brushing Peter off, “Don’t waste my time with every punk kid who thinks he’s a photographer!” (October 4) So, in this version, Peter wants to sell photos to the Bugle before he even becomes Spider-Man and JJJ and Betty are there from the start even though Jonah doesn’t appear in the comic until ASM #1, March 1963 and Betty until ASM #4.

The next day (October 5), Peter heads to school where he and his lab partner Dave have a very dangerous experiment going using radioactive isotopes. They are safe behind what Stan calls “a radioactive shield” in a caption but what Peter more correctly calls “a lead shield.” (Since I sure hope the shield isn’t radioactive.) However, neither Dave nor Peter see a spider “bathed in radiation.” The two men prepare to leave but Peter has forgotten hid book and guess who is perched on the cover?

Of course, the spider bites Peter and then, apparently, dies. (October 6). Peter notices that the spider is glowing and he supposes that “it might have been contaminated by the radioactive isotope” but then he decides, “Well, nothing I can do about it now!” You can go to the hospital right away, Pete! Especially after you feel “strange” and “woozy.” But instead, he figures, “I must be working too hard, or something!”

Now, in the original, the car that narrowly misses Peter is driven by a pretty callous guy. “That was one egghead who won’t daydream any more when he crosses a street!” His passenger isn’t any better. “You can say that again!” he says. Here, the driver is much more responsible, if not more polite. As Peter crosses in front of him, he yells, “That idiot – crossing in front of me! Can’t stop in time!” He blows his horn, jolting Peter out of his fog. The result in both versions is the same. Peter leaps off the street and onto a building where he sticks to the wall.

Realizing “the bite affected me,” Peter hurries home and heads for his room where he tests his powers and learns that he can stick to a wall, spin, leap, lift his bed with one hand, and sense that Aunt May is coming in to give him some hot cocoa. (October 9).

“I can’t let these newfound powers go to waste,” Peter says. He decides to “cash in” so he can “pay Aunt May and Uncle Ben back for all they’ve done for me.” So, if you’ve been reading this strip since January but have otherwise never encountered Spider-Man, it’s time to say, “Uncle Who now?” That may be a bit of a tip-off.

Wearing a “simple scarf-mask,” Peter goes to “a fund-raising carnival on the Lower East Side” where $100 is offered to anyone who can stay in the ring for three minutes with wrester Crusher Clark. (Why is “Crusher Hogan” now “Crusher Clark?” Maybe Stan forgot what Hogan’s last name was.) As Clark zeroes in on him, Peter thinks, “Spider speed, do your stuff.” So, he’s already named it. Then he carries Crusher up the pole as he does in AF #15 so that Crusher quickly gives up. (October 12).

As in AF #15, the man who is later named Maxie Shiffman approaches Peter to sign him up. In AF #15, Maxie says “I’m a TV producer” and Peter signs. Here, the man is Crusher’s agent and tries to sign Peter up as another wrestler. Peter turns him down. (October 13).

Back at home (October 14), Peter creates his web-shooters and costume. He then books himself on “The Evening Show” but we’re not shown how he does that. At school, he encounters Flash Thompson with a young woman who looks more like she’d be Gwen Stacy than Liz Allan and a young African-American man who doesn’t have an AF or ASM counterpart. Flash asks Peter to pitch in some money so the gang can charter a bus to go see the show. Peter turns him down and Flash says, “Man! Parker’s not only the dullest cat in school, he’s also the cheapest!” So, Flash is still a thorn in Peter’s side but not to the extent that he was in the early comic books.

Flash is at the show as Spider-Man performs. Now it looks like he’s with Liz Allan and, maybe, Seymour O’Reilly. As Spidey performs, a burglar robs the office safe and runs for it. After the show, Spidey is given a check. “Your act gave the Evening Show its highest Neilson rating of the year,” the guy who gives him the check tells him. (October 17) As Spidey leaves, the burglar runs past him. The security guard (later named Baxter Bigelow in the comics) yells, You – in the costume! Stop that guy!” but Spidey ignores him and the burglar escapes. “All you hadda do was grab him,” says the guard. “That’s show biz,” Spidey says.

The next day (October 19), Spidey tries to cash his check; something he doesn’t do in the comics until ASM #1 but he gets the same result. The check is made out to Spider-Man and his costume is not identification enough so the teller refuses to cash it. At home, a bitter Peter fantasizes about just stealing the money from the bank (in a panel that is reminiscent of the opening to ASM #42, November 1966) but Aunt May and Uncle Ben come in and present him with “that microscope you’ve always wanted.” Peter wants to tell them about Spider-Man but knows they’d never understand.

Now, the problem with putting the “check cashing” scene where Stan does here is that there’s no reason why Spidey would “try for another TV show” unless he arranged to be paid in cash or some such thing. But, off he goes, telling Ben and May that he’s going to the movies. And, of course, while he’s gone, the burglar breaks in (October 22).

In the original, Peter is performing as Spidey. No word here as to exactly what he was doing but he returns to find out that Uncle Ben is dead. In this version, Aunt May is being cared for by Anna Watson. The police tell him that the burglar is “holed up in the old Acme Warehouse.” (The policeman who informs him in the comic is later named Bernard O’Brien.) The rest plays out pretty much as it does in AF #15. The burglar figures he can “slip past” the cops “in the dark.” He gets even nastier than the AF version, saying, “I’da got away clean if not for the old lady screamin’! I should’a finished her off, too!” Spidey comes down the wall, plugs the burglar’s gun with web fluid and knocks him out. (October 26) Then he takes a good look at the killer (October 27) and realizes “it’s the burglar I allowed to escape that day at the studio!” Spidey lowers the burglar down to the police with his webbing but he knows that “I shirked my responsibility and, because of that, Uncle Ben is dead.”

And we return to the place where we started. Spidey, perched on a gargoyle, thinking about the Kingpin and his origin. And if you’re looking for the famous tagline, he supplies it himself. “Each time I acted selfishly or forget my obligations, someone seems to suffer for it! It started with the death of Uncle Ben because I wouldn’t get involved in capturing a gunman! And now, because of my greed, I almost helped a criminal become the next mayor! His wife was felled by the shot he meant for me! Why, why has it taken me so long to realize – with great power must also come great responsibility! I just pray that I haven’t learned it too late!”

General Comments

Here are this story's "First appearances in the Strip-Verse"

  1. Dave, Peter’s lab partner, October 5, first and last appearance, the one strip career.
  2. The Radioactive Spider, also October 5.
  3. Uncle Ben Parker, October 10.
  4. Crusher Clark, October 11.
  5. Crusher’s Agent (who may be Maxie Shiffman), October 13.
  6. Young woman with glasses who may be Gwen Stacy and an African-American student, October 15.
  7. The Evening Show audience members who may be Liz Allan and Seymour O’Reilly, October 16.
  8. The Burglar, October 16 (arm only) and October 17 (from the knees up).
  9. Security Guard (who may be Baxter Bigelow), October 16.
  10. Peter’s microscope, October 21.
  11. Policeman (who may be Bernard O’Brien) who tells Peter is Uncle is dead, October 23.
  12. Acme Warehouse, October 24.

Overall Rating

Here is what I like about this version.

  1. Peter is not presented as the nerd that everyone hates. Dave, his lab partner, seems to like him. Flash may call him the “dullest cat in school” but he invites him along to the Evening Show. Peter doesn’t even wear glasses!
  2. The driver that almost hits Peter tries to avoid him and honks his horn.
  3. Peter doesn’t sign with Crusher’s agent.
  4. Spidey tries to cash his check.
  5. Anna Watson is around to comfort May.
  6. It fits very nicely after the Kingpin story so that Peter can compare his selfishness in agreeing to join the Kingpin with his origin and remind himself about the “great power” bit.
  7. It only takes up 3 weeks’ worth of strips.
  8. It’s great to see John Romita illustrating the origin.

On the other hand, I’m not hot on Peter trying to sell photos to the Bugle before he ever gets his powers, or performing a dangerous radioactive experiment in a student project or the way the “check cashing” scene messes up Pete’s motivation for going out on the night of Ben’s murder. And, really, for fans like us, the origin is now so darn familiar that I don’t need to see another version of it. But, I don’t think that’s necessarily true for the newspaper reader of 1977. For all we know, they were crying out for the origin, wondering who this Spider-Guy was, and Stan was making them wait. I sort of like that about it, too.

So, a lot more to like than dislike. I’m giving it four webs.

Footnote

Next: Another classic Spidey villain enters the strip-verse. Kraven the Hunter!