Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 30 October 1977 - 28 December 1977

Background

Remember back on July 12, 1977 when MJ told Peter that the pix he took of her “got me a modeling job in Miami?” Then, on July 18, Flash said he was joining MJ on the trip. On August 11, MJ hung out with Aunt May before her flight to Miami. On August 26, she called May from the airport and told her Peter hadn’t shown up to see her off and it’s only five minutes until takeoff. (Then get on the plane, MJ!) But, on September 3, she and Flash were still in the airport with MJ figuring that Peter forgot all about her. On September 21, MJ was finally in Miami at her modeling gig, still thinking about Peter. Then came the wrap-up to the Kingpin story and the telling of Spidey’s origin. So, do you think Stan and Johnny forgot about MJ and Flash down in Florida? Not on your life.

Story 'Kraven the Hunter'

In Forest Hills, Aunt May is out shopping when she starts to faint. Down “on a romantic beach in sunny Miami,” MJ and Flash hang out in their skimpy bathing suits. They decide to take in the show at Animal Land. And who is the star attraction there? Kraven the Hunter.

As Peter sells photos of J. Jonah Jameson being rescued by Spider-Man (in the Kingpin story) to J. Jonah Jameson, MJ and Flash watch Kraven outswing “a full grown gorilla,” handle a “deadly black panther like it’s a kitten (November 2) and dead lift a charging rhino (November 4) at Animal Land. Back in New York, Peter plans to use the money from the photos to join MJ in Miami but he finds Aunt May pale and feverish at her home. She tells him she fainted in the street but the doctor brought her home. Peter gives May the money he earned so she can “go to that quiet little spa in the mountains.” At the Daily Bugle, Robbie Robertson wants to send Peter to Miami to take photos of Kraven before “he hits New York next week” but JJJ has a better idea. He wants to hire Kraven “to finish off Spider-Man.” This so angers Robbie that he quits on the spot (November 7). Jonah is plenty mad at “that mule-headed ingrate” for walking out but it doesn’t stop him from calling Kraven and offering $100,000 to him to capture Spider-Man. “It would be my greatest triumph,” thinks Kraven and immediately accepts.

At the Robertson home, Robbie tells his wife Martha and his son Randy that he has quit his job. (This is the first time Martha and Randy show up in the strip-verse.) With the TV broadcasting Kraven’s arrival in New York, Robbie can’t stomach it any longer. He would like to warn Spider-Man about it but doesn’t know how. He decides to call Peter Parker because he’s “always felt there’s some connection” between Peter and Spidey but he calls just as Peter is heading out the window as Spidey. By the time Peter gets back to the phone, Robbie has hung up. These are the days before caller ID and before cell phones so Stan and Johnny can use a gimmick like this to build up tension. I once heard a talk by mystery writer Elmore Leonard in which he said that he was only going to write books that took place in the 70s and 80s because recent technology had destroyed so many good plot gimmicks.

Peter returns to his web-swinging but it isn’t long before his spider-sense starts buzzing. That’s because Kraven has tracked him down already and is observing him to learn his strengths and weaknesses. Spidey can’t find any reason for his spider-sense to tingle so he worries that he can’t trust it anymore. He stops at a newsstand and buys a copy of the Bugle. (I love panel #2 of November 18th: Two bystanders say, “Look who’s at the newsstand” and “Someone call the police.” A third guy says, “Why? He paid for the paper.” Is that Stan saying that? It looks a bit like Stan. And is that John Buscema walking by in the background?)

When Spidey sees the headline (“Kraven the Hunter to Stalk Spider-Man”), he gets furious. He smashes a street sign (Now, should we call the police?) and swings over to the Daily Bugle. An Arizona (I think) newspaper cancelled the strip somewhere along the line here, only to get so much angry mail that they brought it back. When they did, they published a redone version of this strip from November 19 in which Spidey rants about the rag that cancelled him and heads to their offices rather than the Daily Bugle. I remember seeing this but I can’t remember where and I can’t find it online. Does anyone else remember this? Can you help?

The angry web-slinger breaks down two doors at the Bugle offices; the last being the door to JJJ’s office. But he has walked into a trap. Kraven is there with Jonah and he declares that “the hunt begins right now!”

Kraven punches Spidey with a blow “which can fell a charging rhino.” Spidey counters by smashing a hole in the wall to get out to the wider spaces of the newsroom. But Kraven has planned for this and, when he gets the wall-crawler in the right position, he presses a button on his belt that drops a net from the ceiling (November 25), capturing Spider-Man. As Spidey struggles, Kraven pulls out a knife (that looks like a large canine tooth) which is dipped in a potion. Spidey’s speed allows him to avoid a direct blow but Kraven still grazes him. The potion starts to take effect. Fearing what would happen to Aunt May if she learned he was Spider-Man, our hero works up enough strength to break out of the net. Woozy from the potion, his left arm hanging uselessly where Kraven stabbed him, Spidey makes a break for it. Kraven is amazed. “No one…nothing ever shattered my steel-stranded net!” he says. Jameson tells him to “stop making speeches” and chase after Spidey so Kraven lifts Jonah up in the air and tells him, “He’ll be captured. Kraven never fails!” He adds, “My potion has weakened him! All I need do is follow his spoor…and he’ll be mine!” (Ew! What kind of spoor is Spidey giving off?)

Spidey heads downstairs toward the press room. He feels like the potion is wearing off but his arm is still useless so he gives himself a web-sling. He then covers a doorway with webbing to slow Kraven down but Kraven slashes the web open (which I’m not sure he should be able to do) with that big canine tooth knife. People flee the building. Joe Robertson is returning for some reason and he runs into Betty Brant whom he calls “Ms. Leeds,” but when we saw her in the first strip story, JJJ called her “Miss Brant.” (January 9). Has she married Ned Leeds in the meantime?

Back in the press room, Kraven can’t find Spidey, even though he brags, “To Kraven the Hunter, the spoor of a human is clear as a road map!” (Again…ew.) Thinking, “Can’t let him corner me with my arm out of action,” Spidey kicks and destroys a fuse box, which knocks out the lights but not, apparently, the “high speed presses.” Because, while Kraven brags that “my catlike vision will adjust to the dark within seconds,” Spidey swings down and kicks Kraven right in the snoot. But he “kicked him too hard” and Kraven falls toward those “high speed presses.” (December 4)

Not wanting to be a murderer, Spidey shoots his webbing and catches Kraven “with inches to spare.” As soon as Spidey lifts Kraven back up to a catwalk, the Hunter breaks free of the web (again, I’m not sure he should be able to do that). “I cannot bear the thought that you almost defeated me!” says Kraven (there’s no “almost” about it). “Now, more than ever, the conquest must be mine.” So, the two fight, not at all affected by the darkness. JJJ enters, hoping to see the wall-crawler’s end. But he can’t see them very well in the shadows so he flips the switch that turns the lights back on. (Except that Spidey destroyed the fuse box on December 4th so JJJ shouldn’t be able to flip a switch on December 8th.)

With the potion making him groggy, Spidey starts to wear down. But, when he hears Jonah crowing (“You’ve got ‘im, Kraven! He’s beaten!”) he gets new resolve. Still, it’s not good enough. As Spidey puts it on December 10th, “My left arm’s helpless…I’m all out of web-fluid…and groggy from Kraven’s potion!” Still, JJJ “can’t take a chance on the web-head getting lucky.” He pushes a button that controls a big hook hanging from the ceiling. (Do press rooms have big hooks hanging from the ceiling?) The button moves the hook along on a track so that it smacks into Spidey, knocking him off the catwalk. With his left arm useless, Spidey reaches out with his right hand and tries to stick to the wall. It’s “not enough pressure” but it does slow his fall so that he is only stunned when he hits the floor. “Struck from behind…one arm useless…he still saved himself,” marvels Kraven.

Spidey is helpless to fight off Kraven but Kraven is not interested in his foe. He calls Jameson a “bantam-brained blithering baboon,” lifts him up in the air and declares that “your interference robbed me of my triumph!” He puts JJJ down and declares, “Kraven will not steal a victory.” (He’s one of those guys who refer to themselves in the third person.) “The hunt is ended! There will be another day!” And he leaves. (December 12)

As Jonah tries to get Kraven to stay, Spidey gets up. Afraid of being alone with him, JJJ tells the wall-crawler, “D-did you see that? I saved you! I-I sent him packing!” Spidey isn’t interested in JJJ’s lies. He just wants to “Split! Before I remember what I owe you!” And he wall-crawls away.

Back in his wrecked office, Jonah laments that it was “all for nothing. Spider-Man got away! Kraven is gone! And I lost the best city editor I ever had!” “Too bad you never told him that!” says a voice from off-panel. It’s Robbie. “Does that mean…you’ve come to your senses?” asks Jonah. “Maybe I’ve lost my senses,” says Robbie, “but someone’s gotta ride herd on you!” Jameson tells him he’s rehired. “You old phony,” says Robbie, “you couldn’t get a replacement!” “Who tried?” says Jonah, “You grow on a guy…like a wart!”

Back home, Spidey’s arm is recovering but he’s beat. He also needs to make some money to buy gifts for the holidays. Just then, Robbie calls and tells him he is due a Christmas bonus. Spidey leaps out the window, heading for the Bugle, with Joe still on the phone. “I’ll be there before he hangs up!” he says.

With his bonus in hand, Peter goes to Macy’s to shop. But it is mobbed with a crowd around the sales counter. (“Those females should be linebackers!” he says but there are also men in the crowd. Let’s not get sexist, Peter!) So, he decides to cheat by switching to his costume and web-slinging over. The clerk looks up and says, “It’s Spiiiiider-Man!” “Not bad, lady!” he replies. You could be another Ed McMahon!” (Ed McMahon, 1923-2009, was the announcer for the Tonight Show and sidekick to Johnny Carson. His catchphrase introducing Carson to the audience was Heeerrrreeee’s Johnny!.) Spidey buys a leather handbag for Aunt May. The clerk looks around and says, “I don’t believe this! Where’s Allen Funt?” (Allen Funt, 1914-1999, was the host of “Candid Camera,” a hidden-camera TV show that was the precursor of such shows as “Totally Hidden Video,” “Punk’d,” and “Impractical Jokers.”)

After buying the handbag ahead of the crowd, Spidey writes “Merry Xmas” on the ceiling with his webs. Instead of resenting that he butted into line, “the crowd loves it!” The Macy’s execs take advantage by putting up a sign that says, “Don’t miss our Spider-Man Specials!” “Oh well,” says Spidey, “That’s what makes America great!”

Back home, Peter goes through the gifts he bought. Aside from the leather handbag for May, he has gotten JJJ a box of cigars (“If only they sold the exploding kind!”), a book for Robbie, and a scarf for MJ, which he worries “isn’t exactly a ‘drop dead’ knockout.” He notes that he hasn’t seen her since she got back from Florida. Neither have we, but that changes the next day (December 21) when MJ learns from someone we only see in bits and pieces (but it’s Kraven) that she got the job. “But you’ll have to start immediately! Remember, it means travel, long hours, being away for weeks at a time,” says the mysterious employer (who is Kraven). MJ says, “there’s one boy I’ll miss! But hey! It’s show biz at last!”

MJ may miss that “one boy” but she doesn’t bother to call him. Peter, volatile as ever, kicks one of his chairs into smithereens over MJ’s disinterest. He goes out as Spidey, looking for someone to tangle with, but he ends up sitting on a rooftop, saying, “My girl’s forgotten me! I’m stone broke! And I’m freezin’ my webs off!” He laments that he spent all of his bonus on others when he could use a photo enlarger. But then he witnesses a big man buying a paper at a newsstand. The only problem is that the big man is on the front page of the newspaper. He is a wanted man with a reward on him and the elderly news seller recognizes him. Spidey swings down to help but not before the big man, whose name, we learn, is Rusty Dorgin, has walloped the news seller. Spidey disarms Rusty (who is shooting at the web-slinger) and webs him up. Then (I guess) he calls the police. They arrive on the scene along with an ambulance. There’s a $500 reward on Rusty which belongs to Spidey but the old news seller can’t afford a stay in the hospital. (“No hospital bills to pay! Sick wife…I-I must keep working!”) so Spidey tells the cops that the reward belongs to the old man since “he blew the whistle on that punk.” As he swings away, Spidey says, “I can get an enlarger anytime! But, how often does a fella get a chance to make like Santa Claus!” (December 25, with a note in the final panel: “Happy Holidays to all of you in the real world…from Spidey, Stan, and John!”)

So, Peter has Christmas dinner with Aunt May (“More turkey, Peter dear?”) when MJ stops by. She tells Peter that she has big news. “When I was in Florida, I had this dynamite offer!” she says. (Okay, was MJ still in Florida when she got that offer? Peter told us that she was back in New York.) “Offer?” says a jittery Pete, “You…you mean Flash? He…proposed?” “Bite your tongue, Tiger!” replies MJ, “This is good news!” But it isn’t to Peter. MJ tells him that she will be “touring with Kraven the Hunter!” Peter can’t hide his distress and MJ doesn’t want to deal with it. “Wow, you’re a real turnoff, Mister!” she says, “If that’s all my career means to you…see ya around…maybe!” And she leaves.

General Comments

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

  1. Kraven the Hunter, October 30, panel #7
  2. Martha and Randy Robertson, November 11, panel #1
  3. Kraven’s pet lion, November 13, panel #1
  4. Various anonymous Bugle employees, November 20, panel #2
  5. Betty Brant as “Ms. Leeds,” December 3, panel #2
  6. Rusty Dorgin, December 23, panel #3

Overall Rating

I love the Spidey battles that end either because he comes up with an ingenious solution (such as when he traps the cold-blooded Lizard in a refrigerator car in ASM #45, February 1967) or because some pre-established person, place, or thing steps in (such as when John Jameson uses the nullifier on Doc Ock in ASM #56, January 1968). There have already been several of these moments in the strip-verse: Doc Ock’s greed getting the best of him when he tries to hang onto the dragon idol allowing Spidey to knock him out (May 1); the Kingpin calling a halt to the battle when he accidentally shoots his wife, Vanessa (September 23). Here we have another. It is perfectly in keeping with JJJ’s personality to try to help Kraven defeat Spider-Man and it is perfectly in keeping with Kraven’s personality to feel that this ruins the hunt. So, I like the end of the battle here. But what about the rest of the story?

Well, I like that it takes only two months to tell it, rather than those bloated six or seven month stories we’ll find later in the series. I like that MJ’s trip to Florida, which is set up months ahead of time, leads us to Kraven and to our ending where MJ joins Kraven on his tour. (Something that will also be picked up…more than a year and a half later.) I like that Kraven is still a performer here rather than the less-interesting professional criminal. I like that Kraven really commits no crime (unless Spidey or JJJ or the Bugle employees want to press charges) and just walks away, back to his show business life. I like that Kraven lifts JJJ by his lapels two different times. And I love the John Romita artwork!

It sounds like this adds up to five webs. In spite of the spoor. (Ew.)

Footnote

On December 28th, MJ walks out of Peter’s life and on December 29th two women step in; Carole Jennings and Tana Mendori. I guess that means the tale of “Tana and the Terrorist” is next.