SPIDER-MAN WEEK: Now it can be told! I used to step out on Batman with this web-crawler I knew …
I was a DC kid through and through, but from a very early age I had an affinity for Spider-Man. There was something really compelling about him and his unique set of powers. Plus, he had that great costume!
Here then, are a few of my favorite Spider-Man things from when I was but a wee lad:
The Spider-Man cartoons used to run on Channel 5 in the NYC market. Unlike Batman over on Channel 11, though, it seemed like there would be gaps when Spidey was off the air. I’d find myself combing the TV Guide listings to see if the show was back and sometimes I’d find it on some UHF station.
There I’d sit, trying to get that station to come in, looking intently through the static snow, adjusting the horizontal and vertical to try to get a good enough glimpse of Spidey swinging from building to building in all that stock footage. It was always futile and such a tease.
Sometimes when it came back to Channel 5, it would be at the wrong time, like 2:30 p.m., which was just too early to catch after school. It would drive me bananas to know it was on but I just couldn’t watch it. I remember even drawing out a couple of sick days so I could watch it a couple more times.
But when it was on, it was great. The zippy music, the trippy artwork, the web-slinging sound effects, the physics defying swinging across the city, the Lizard Man, Electro, the Fakir, “the hills walk again!” Other than Richard Nixon, J. Jonah Jameson was the first irredeemable authority figure I ever encountered.
Electro’s the man this week, so …
For a guy who I haven’t seen in decades, Phillip Tagliaferri had a pretty big impact on Li’l Dan’s childhood. Phillip introduced me to Megos, but he also played for my sister and me this bit of awesomeness:
A Rockomic! With, dare I say, a spectacular cover by Jazzy John Romita!
This was an LP that was essentially a radio play with four pop songs — three of which were ridiculously catchy early ’70s bubble-gum tunes (which makes sense given that the maestro was Ron Dante of “The Archies” fame, working under the name “The Webspinners”) and one that was an insufferable ballad in which Peter feels sorry for himself. At least he stayed in character.
The whole thing opened to show a comic-strip spread that you could follow as you listened. The audio featured Marvel in-jokes — Dr. Strange says Nuff Said, for example — and one of the songs weirdly referr to Spider-Man as a sex machine.
But it’s a surprisingly effective story even to adult ears and as a kid, it was the first real example of how being a hero came with the burdens of guilt and anxiety, something the cartoons generally glossed over.
Some like-minded fan put this video together. Enjoy!
As I mentioned, Phillip introduced me to Megos — Batman and Robin, specifically. Well, it was only a matter of time before I discovered others. One of those was Spider-Man, which to this day remains one of the best-looking action figures of its kind.
In my Mego universe, Spidey was as lonely as he was in comics — mainly because he had no villains or supporting characters until later. (And I never did get the Lizard or Green Goblin, mainly because I didn’t know about them until much later.) Sure, I had Captain America, but he was a hero in his own right.
And teaming him up with Batman or any of the other DC figures just seemed wrong. So Spidey would swing from imaginary web to imaginary web. I would pose him this way and that. Even without friends or enemies, he still looked good.
Without a fully realized Mego world, I was left to expand on Spidey’s adventures with my Spider-Man playcase, from Ideal.
This was a deceptively imaginative playset, straddling the old world of paper dolls and the world to come of smaller-scale action figure lines, featuring broader casts including secret identities, extended rogues galleries and supporting characters. Plus, the vinyl set itself folded out to provide three separate places to stage the action: Peter’s apartment, the Bugle offices and Peter’s lab.
Snap open the case, and out spilled small cardboard cut-outs of Spidey, Peter, the Green Goblin, Doc Ock but also Mary Jane, J. Jonah Jameson, the Beetle, Mysterio … even Ned Leeds! Each was printed with a front and back, as if they’d jumped right off the page, each with its own plastic stand.
This was how I really learned about Spidey’s world, because oddly and strangely, I didn’t read his comics.
I remember my first, #119, which I think I somehow got at the Collingwood Auction in NJ. For a long time after, I thought the Hulk was a villain.
But I didn’t really get a bunch of them until a little while later, when I was around 7 or 8. My friend Paul Kessin lived in a small town called Highland Park that had the first comic book store I ever went to. I even remember the Spider-Man/Namor neon black light poster on the wall. It’s where I saw Steranko’s History of Comics for the first time, as well as Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson’s “All in Color For a Dime.”
Maybe I was going through a phase, maybe I just thought I had all I needed at the time. I’m not sure. I just remember that instead of really loading up on Batman comics, I found myself, over at least a couple of visits, buying a bunch of Spider-Mans.
Little did I know that these books were at a crucial point in Spidey’s history: Harry goes bananas and becomes the second Green Goblin, the Punisher first appears, Peter continues to grieve for Gwen. Plus we got some really cool villains like Mysterio, who has ever since been one of my favorites. I mean, good lord, that outfit!
This was my Spider-Island for a time. And suddenly that was it. I stopped. No idea why. Metaphorically speaking, I left New York and went back to Gotham.
Leaving Spidey alone again — with the millions of other fans who knew better than I did.