Guess who turns 50 this month? Sabrina The Teenage Witch!
More on that later. Actually, Spider-Man also turns 50 this month, and other than what you're reading right now (and a promise from Marvel to "end" Amazing Spider-Man at #700 in his honor), there hasn't been much media attention on the subject. I remember when Batman turned 50 and you could not escape the announcement that Batman had turned 50. Are they finally getting tired of reporting on meaningless comic book events? (Hopefully.)
Maybe they just don't want to talk about it because celebrating the anniversary would mean having to mention all the incredibly stupid things that have happened in the character's history. No reporter would be able to keep a straight face narrating the details of the Clone Saga, Sins Past, or something I don't even have to type here because you're already thinking of it.
How about we talk about....the comic strip instead, huh? Stan Lee, 1/2 of Spider-Man's creator, hasn't been directly involved in the "Spider-Man" comic book storyline since the 70's; instead he migrated to papers and told his own version there. There are no shameless stunts, hologram covers, freaky buglike MacFarlane people, or anything of the like in the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip. He's even still married, which is the best part.
However, there is a lot of camp. And I mean a LOT of camp.
You might be thinking Stan the Man has gone crazy with senility. You'd be wrong; he was always this crazy.
Given how Paper Version of Peter doesn't even try to keep his identity a secret, I have no idea how it isn't out yet. Magic?
|The biggest reason to read the Spider-Man strip is, like I said earlier, the fact that Parker's 1987 marriage to his true love, Mary Jane, has remained unretconned. Forget Dagwood and Blondie -- THIS is the reigning couple of the funnies. And they are adorable. Unfortunately there was a brief period of time where they flirted with changing that.|
When a public figure makes a public mistake,
they're faced with two options. The first choice they have is to
backtrack, admit they made a human error in judgment, and reverse
the course of action. Or they can adopt the Kinja Strategy*,
which is to just keep doing what everybody hates and ignore the
criticism from the very people they serve and are expected to
please, until those people finally give up and get used to it.
Once that happens, they can claim they were right all along
because nobody is complaining NOW.
*The Kinja Strategy derives its name from Gawker Media, which one morning replaced the simple comments sections of every site they owned with a confusing, convoluted multi-layered system called "Kinja." It has now been over five months and I have never heard a kind word about Kinja -- words that continue to be ignored by the staff.
The typical Spider-Man comic strip storyline takes six months to complete. After a sequence involving the supervillain Electro and his son (??) Peter fell asleep on May's couch and woke up back where he started, with his gorgeous, shampoo-missing wife. Everyone was relieved they had actually listened to the fans for once, but after this ran, someone who had ghostwritten the strip in the past spoke up and said Lee had planned to make the sequence a dream all along.
But here's the thing. I don't believe him.
For one fact, the Spider-Man strip reads very obviously like it is being written one week at a time. Quite often a villain will express one desire, then turn around the next week and claim he actually wanted something else, causing the previous week's worth of strips to make no sense in continuity.
And the strip bore the same tell-tale signs right before it switched back. They were clearly setting the foundation for a new storyline before Parker suddenly woke up from it the next week, and I would have shown you what I'm talking about instead of this blurry JPEG, but three days before this article was to go live, King Features cut off every single method to peek into their strip archives without paying a subscription fee. Fortunately I had already gathered most of what I needed, but there were still a couple of holes I can't fill now. No one is going to PAY to read their ant-sized, lousy comics.
|Anyway, on to my second point: not
only is this strip ad-libbed, but it's catering to a
different kind of market. Established, half-century-old
comics are definitely a Kinja market. A comic book can
ignore all the fans it wants, because it's the nature of
their business that a major superhero title will always
sell at least to the built-in audience of
collectors, who have always bought every issue and
wouldn't stop for the apocalypse. Marvel will make back
their money plus profit no matter what. They can
repeatedly publish embarrassingly awful ideas and they
can take all the nasty mail you can dish out; they don't
A comic strip, however, is a different beast. Syndicates are deathly afraid of just ONE angry letter being sent to a newspaper about one of their strips. Newspapers are notoriously timid about that sort of thing; they can and will cancel a strip if it receives a total of 3 complaints. And we know the erasure of the marriage angered a lot of people -- much more than 3.
It would not take long for word of their displeasure to get to Stan.
Third, and most importantly, Stan Lee loves adoration. He lives for it. Hate author Peter Bagge once hypothesized about Stan and he may have hit some truth:
After Stan Lee dies, news of a terrible new movie starring one of his characters is going to come out, and people will say "Stan would never have approved of this! He's spinning in his grave!" No, he will not be. Whatever it is, no matter WHAT it is, I guarantee you, Stan Lee would love it. He has never heard an idea he didn't greet enthusiastically. Not only has every good Marvel movie had its script personally approved by Stan, every bad movie was approved as well. The most important thing to the guy is that he gets to make another cameo, and have everybody ooh and ahh over his presence at the movie's premiere.
Stan wrote a foreword to the first Brand New Day trade where he jabbered excitedly about how messing up decades of continuity and one of the most cherished relationships in comics history was a GREAT IDEA, mostly because he'd been in the same room with Joe Quesada a lot by this point, and had absorbed much of his misguided enthusiasm. It had clouded his thinking and he figured every single person in America was just like Joe, so he announced the same changeover in his own strip, with pride.
Then the hammer came down and all the nasty mail Stan had been shielded from at Marvel came straight at him, unedited. "Ha ha, did I say that? No, it was a dream! I was gonna make it a dream all along! Ha ha, really! Fooled you, right??"
"Planned" my foot. (Actually, the original internet post from the ghostwriter was dated January 5, 2009, so....looks like it was. That just makes strips like the above even more confusing.)
I'm gonna be honest. There are only two reasons you should follow this strip, and I already laid them out: if you like Pem-J or if you like camp. You need something to hold onto when navigating through it, because it can often be frustrating and painful. There's a recent sequence of strips I'm thinking of when I say this....
So our story begins. Peter Parker wakes up, finds he's overslept (though it isn't specified what he needed to wake up for) and suddenly, there is MJ sporting the most bizarre hairdo 1985 had to offer. Then things get weird.
By the way, it actually wasn't until 2003 that Mary Jane started working the kind of jobs we typically expect Mary Jane to have (acting, or modeling). Before then, for decades, she was a saleswoman at a computer store. I'm not kidding.
She says the reason she made her hair look stupid was because she had a dream where she was She-Ra, so she just had to run out at the crack of dawn and somehow instruct her hairstylist to recreate her dream-hair exactly. Then we cut over to reveal a sinister looking guy with a gigantic-horned helmet is watching them and cackling, "PHASE ONE HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED!!"
When I first saw this I thought I was in for the best strip sequence ever, camp-wise. Didn't turn out that way, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Of course, people who know comics recognized Parker's "goddess" comment as ironic, as it was intended to be, because that is Loki, brother and archenemy of Marvel superhero Thor! What kind of plan could Loki have that requires Spider-Man's wife to look stupid? As Phase One, no less?
It turns out, at least in this strip, that when MJ wears her hair frizzy she becomes the spitting image of Lady Sif, Thor's girlfriend. Loki uses this illusion to trick Thor into believing Sif has amnesia and thinks she's a New York actress. If Thor leaves Asgard, he will never be allowed to come back according to their laws -- but he'd do anything for Sif, and plays right into Loki's hands.
Thor exits, and without his watchful guard, Asgard is Loki's for the conquering!
Yeah, he'll never stand out dressed like that.
Here's where I began to see real potential for a good story. Spider-Man usually has to face enemies grounded in science -- loopy out-there fiction-science, but realistic to a degree. Thor is way way out of the man's league and if he's come to take Mary Jane, Spidey is in for the fight of his life! This should be one intense battle!
Or maybe they'll stand around and talk to each other; that could happen too.
Stranger still, they already know who he is. Parker remarks that he's familiar with Thor because he's a member of the Avengers. .....Uhhh, how can this be? Didn't we just establish that Thor could never leave Asgard? If he just did that for the first time, he couldn't be an Avenger yet, could he? How did Stan miss a plot hole of this size?
It's not much of a fight -- Thor simply swats Petey away like a bug and hammer-flies off with his wife. To stop a being of such power, he'll need more than just a spider-sense and stick-to-wallitiveness. He's gonna need the OTHER AVENGERS!
Aha! NOW I see what Stan's doing! This fight will be much more epic and exciting, as Iron Man, the Hulk, maybe Black Widow, AND Spider-Man unite to take down Thor!
Spidey visits the Avengers and spends a week of continuity time trying to convince them to help, but it turns out they couldn't care less about that guy Thor. Great friends, aren't they?
Now what? Spider-Man then realizes it shouldn't be hard to find Thor before he leaves, as he has to create a lightning storm to travel, being the Lightning God and all. He follows the clouds and catches up, where a repeat of the last meeting happens. We already know he doesn't stand a chance, so it's not much of a confrontation. Spidey punches him in the jaw and hurts his hand, then wimply wails like Jerry Lewis. Then he tries webbing Thor up, but obviously that's not gonna work either. Thor becomes bored at this point (along with everybody else) and takes off, but Spidey catches a ride.
They're now miles above the ground. To fall means certain death, and to keep RISING means certain death. This story is finally picking up! How will they get out of this one?
The next diabolical, evil, sinister phase in Loki's plan is to....save MJ's life. The only way she can cross the border into Asgard without dying is if she's a heavenly being, so Loki actually tuns her INTO SIF for a short while. THAT FIEND!
As for mortal Spider-Man, he survives the trip as well with no explanation given. What if MJ believes she actually IS Sif now? What if Spider-Man has to fight them BOTH at the home of the gods? What a thrilling dilemma that would be!
Oh, that...was fast. ((Price is Right failure trumpets))
No fights, no danger, no nothing....I've counted at least five exciting directions this story could have gone and Stan has passed up every single one of them. When are things going to start moving?
Maybe now. Thor's in a pickle now that Loki's plan has worked. Will he confront Heimdall? Will he be one man against the entire army of Asgard, led by Loki who is now in charge? Will this be an epic battle out of the pages of Tolkien??
...Based on everything else I've read, I wouldn't get my hopes up.
Oh, wait -- this is even better! Spider-Man's going to confront Loki instead! We'll finally get the Man vs. God confrontation I've been craving all sequence!
Loki has put every Asgardian under a sleeping spell. What fun is it ruling a kingdom of comatose bodies? This means Spider-Man has to confront only one person, but as long as it's still an immortal god, I'll take it....
Meanwhile, Thor and Heimdall have entered what you could actually call somewhat of a battle.
Wait....wha.....that's all it takes? THAT'S ALL IT TAKES???
Again, despite being a genius science nerd, Parker tries nothing but brute force against Loki, which gets him nowhere but ensorcelled. Urgh. Bring on Thor then.
By the way, Loki's plan is to keep everybody asleep until they swear allegiance to him. How does that work??
Finally! Kick some butt, you two!
NOO NOOOOO DON'T DO THAT DON'T JUST TRAP HIM YOU IDIOT AAAAARRGGHHH
I swear, this is like Superfriends only much more lame. Campiness I can take; it's the weeks and weeks of failed payoffs that break me. Josh Fruhlinger, writer of the famous comic strip blog The Comics Curmudgeon, knows this pain all too well, yet he keeps complaining that Spider-Man "does nothing but watch TV" when in reality, I haven't seen many TVs in this. You don't need to make stuff up, Josh, the material writes itself.
Anyway....oh, I guess MJ's life is in danger, only I don't believe that.
The real Lady Sif arrives and comes up with a plan to create an ET-Elliot mindlink with MJ that should stabilize her through the trip back to Earth. Again, I guess Spider-Man needs none of that. Yes, he's a superhero, but his powers aren't the kind that help him travel through space.
"Gee, I guess she's dead," said Daria Morgendorffer in an extra-sarcastic tone of voice.
Spideycare gets results!
Lady Sif has fully recovered, which means MJ will make a full recovery as well. Spider-Man does the boogie dance in celebration.
This isn't actually the worst story I've seen come out of this strip -- the one with the clown you saw a piece of earlier was far worse. You'd be better off reading the comic book -- wait, what am I saying? The comic's ruined! Actually, you should turn your attention to the new Spider-Man animated series on Disney......uhhhhhhh, never mind, that's pretty bad too.
Okay, if you ever feel the urge to indulge in Spider-Man-related entertainment, your best bet is either 1) an omnibus of the classic years, 2) the Raimi trilogy (minus the third one), or 3) Greg Weisman's Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, the best TV rendition of the superhero to date.
You may have trouble collecting it all, though. The second season was released three episodes at a time. Darn that Parker luck.
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