Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Age-Appropriate Adventures

Spidey Super Stories #2 (Marvel, November 1974, 35 cents)
"In the Hands of the Hunter" Writer: Jean Thomas; Artists: Winslow Mortimer, Don Heck, and Mike Esposito; Editor: Roy Thomas; Art Director: John Romita. (13 pages)

Presented by Marvel Comics and The Electric Company, a production of the Children's Television Workshop, this ad-free (!!!) comic book aimed at readers age 6-10 was based on the recurring live-action skit featured on the TV show. It ran 57 issues between 1974 and 1982, living beyond the skit on TV—which ended in 1976-1977.

Written by Jean Thomas, who also wrote Night Nurse, the comic book was thoroughly vetted by the CTW to be sure it was true to the TV show, was age appropriate in terms of content and reading level, and featured female characters. In early issues, a story adapted one of the TV segments, and in many issues, Spider-Man was paired with a well-known Marvel hero or villain to introduce that character to younger readers and viewers. (Similar to the Marvel Heroes and Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man magazines published by Redan today.)

In this issue, Spidey and Jennifer of the Jungle encounter Kraven the Hunter after a film shoot. Kraven takes the web slinger prisoner, and Jennifer—with her friend Paul the Gorilla—go to rescue him. The writing is very simple, and the artwork larger-paneled (most pages with fewer than six panels)—but not quite coloring-book basic.

In the five-page "very short comic book ... as seen on The Electric Company" story "Spidey Vs. Mr. Measles," Spider-Man "meets the meanest menace of all," a man plans to throw spots at people so they get the measles. "Then everybody will have to stay in bed... in the dark, where they can't read!"

"The Long Arms of the Law-Breaker" (12 pages) pits Spidey against Doctor Octopus. The issue also features several one-page items: "The Secrets of Spider-Man's Costume," "Let's Pay a Visit to Peter Parker's Place," "Let's See Some More of Peter Parker's Place," and "Reader Vs. Speeder," which features Electric Company character Easy Reader.

Spidey Super Stories #3 (Marvel, December 1974, 35 cents)
"The Big-Top Bust" Writer: Jean Thomas, Artists: Winslow Mortimer and Mike Esposito, Art Director: John Romita, Editor: Roy Thomas. (13 pages)

The lead story features the Circus of Crime, one of my favorite groups of villains, which includes the Ringmaster, the Great Gambinos, the Crafty Clown, the Human Cannonball, and Princess Python.

The five-page TV tie-in story "The Evil Dr. Fly" features a silly take on the Fly villain that appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #193 (and others). In 12 pages, "Mysterio... Master of Masks and Mystery" belittles Mysterio, relegating him to frightening random passers by in an abandoned house. And several one pagers fill out the issue: "Secrets of Spider-Man's Camera," two installments of "How to Be A Super-Hero" featuring J. Arthur Crank, and "Peter Parker's Problem."

This issue included several wonderful moments, including pp. 1, 6, and 9 of "The Big-Top Bust;" p. 1 of "The Evil Dr. Fly;" and the overall old dark house moodiness of the Mysterio story.

Spidey Super Stories #16 (Marvel, April 1976, 35 cents)
Writer: Jim Salicrup; Artists: Win Mortimer, Mike Esposito, and Tony Mortellaro; Editor: A.J. Hays; Art Director: John Romita.

"Spider-Man Meets Kid Colt", a 12 pager, features Kid Colt, Lockjaw, and the Director. Lockjaw takes Spider-Man back in time so the Director can get some realistic footage for her cowboy movie. "Spidey Meets the Yeti" features a Pat Thackray script based on an Electric Company teleplay by Tom Whedon. "Hmmm. Ice cream, an iced drink, and cake icing! They all remind Yeti of his ice home!" And "Into the Jaws!" pairs Spider-Man with Namor—accounting for the awesome movie poster-like cover.

The issue also includes the one-page "Lockjaw," "All About Namor," and a "Namor King of the Sea" pin up.

Spidey Super Stories #25 (Marvel, August 1977, 35 cents)
Writers: Nick Cuti, Jim Salicrup, and Bill Mantlo; Artists: Winslow Mortimer and Mike Esposito; Editor: A.J. Hays; Marvel Consultant: Dave Kraft; Art Director: John Romita.

"Spider-Man and Web-Man" (13 pages) puts Spidey up against a twin enemy created by Dr. Doom. "He will have all of Spidey's powers... but none of Spidey's goodness." Or, "He's as strong as I am... but his jokes are worse!" In the six-page "A Star Is Bored," again featuring the Director, Spider-Man tries his luck as a boxer (shades of his origin story!). "Pest from the Planet Poppup!" is a 12-page piece featuring the Impossible Man. And the one pagers include "Make Room for Dr. Doom!", "More About Impy," and "Wit of the Web-Slinger" by reader Julie Mishkin.

Spidey Super Stories #37 (Marvel, November 1978, 35 cents)
Writers: Nicola Cuti, Linda Lee Karas, and Michael Siporin; Pencilers: Winslow Mortimer and Don Perlin; Inker: Mike Esposito; Editors: A.J. Hays and Deborah November; Marvel Consultant: Jim Shooter; Art Director: Marie Severin.

By this point, the TV series and recurring Spider-Man skits were over—except perhaps in reruns—and the comic book continued. With the change in creative team, the writing continued to be age appropriate and easy reading, but the artwork was no longer adjacent to that of coloring books—and much more in line with general comic book art.

In "The Slum Lord," Spidey and the White Tiger team up with a private eye to expose a slum lord who uses shoddy construction materials in impoverished neighborhoods. On five of the 13 pages, there is a Spanish-English translation caption: "El Hombre Arana! I don't have time." Fargo North, Decoder, teams up with Spidey in the six-page "Pumping Vitamins" to defeat an unnamed jester-like villain and his muscular puppet robots. "There's something funny here! This muscle feels like mashed potatoes!" And the 12-page "The Sands of Crime" stars Sandman on the beach and in a sandbox. "I don't like pickles on my weenies!"

One pagers include "The White Tiger," "The Secrets of Spider-Man!", and "Wit of the Web-Slinger," which features a reader-contributed gag by John Davis from Decatur, Alabama.

Spidey Super Stories #46 (Marvel, May 1980, 50 cents)
Writers: Jim Salicrup and Sharon Webber, Penciller: Winslow Mortimer, Inker: Ricardo Villamonte, Letterer: Ray Holloway, Editors: Deborah November and Anita Malnig, Marvel Consultant: Jim Salicrup, Art Director: Bob Budiansky.

In "Mary Jane Makes a Movie!" (13 pages), the comic returns to Mysterio in an old dark house, and Mary Jane wins a dance contest to star in a monster movie filmed at the Halloween Disco House. "These movie men... are really robbers!" The Mad Scientist stars in "The Gas Problem," which tells the tale of the Inventor stealing the Scientist's secret papers, and Spidey retrieving them after defeating Harvey, a robot. And "Winter Games 1980" features the Thinker, who intends to disrupt the winter games with his robots.

The issue also includes one pagers such as "Meet Mysterio!""History of Spider-Man, Part Two" (part one was not in this issue), and "The Wit of the Web-Slinger," which features a joke sent in by Sara Johnson.

This series is a strange, simple, and silly read for older readers, but was perhaps just right for readers in the target age range. I think the TV-comic book intertextualism was unprecedented at the time—and has perhaps not been repeated since. The series is also notable for its educational approach, as well as its entry-level comic book marketing and literacy gateway.

Availability: While the comic book hasn't been collected, the TV show is available on DVD in two volumes.

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