The Spider-Man Newspaper Strip and Aunt May’s Secret Underground Marriage To the Mole Man
Once in a generation, a story comes along that completely redefines a character. It happened with Batman in the ’80s with Frank Miller’s game-changing stories, it happened recently with Grant Morrison and All Star Superman, and now, it’s happening again with Spider-Man.
But despite the good work that Dan Slott has been doing with the new “Big Time” era, it’s not happening in Amazing Spider-Man. In fact, it’s not happening in comic books at all — instead, what has caught my eye as an early candidate for the best Spider-Man story of the year is going on in Stan Lee and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip.
Specifically, a story going on right now where Peter Parker’s beloved Aunt May gets kidnapped by the Mole Man and decides to make it legal by marrying him and becoming the elderly queen of Subterranea, with Spider-Man himself serving as Best Man and Father of the Bride.
It is quite possibly the most insane Spider-Man story of all time.For those of you who haven’t been following the Spider-Man strip in your local paper — or at the very least, gotten commentary on the occasional strip by the Comics Curmudgeon — a little background on the newspaper version of Spider-Man is probably in order. Unlike his comic book counterpart, who is driven to leap into action with webs and wisecracks flying, the syndicated Spider-Man’s greatest accomplishment is being lazy and ineffectual at the same time.
He is maybe the worst super-hero ever, and that “maybe” is only there because the cast members of Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose qualify on the technicality of wearing masks and fighting crime. As a result, most of his “adventures” in the newspaper tend to involve him trying to stop the bad guy, failing, and then getting someone else to do it for him while he stands around spacing out. That is not an exaggeration, and sometimes, it gets downright surreal.
Which brings us back around to the current epic:
And I don’t mean “epic” in the way that it’s thrown around these days in Internet slang to mean “something that puts a Stormtrooper helmet on an unrelated object that did not prevoiusly involve a Stormtrooper helmet,” either. I mean it in its original definition: A story of (in this case alleged) heroism that is really, really, really long.
Seriously, the strip above kicked off the storyline back on October 4, and it is still going four months later. That might not seem a lot when you compare it to comic books, where storylines routinely last between six months and a year, but there are two things to keep in mind here.
One, this strip runs daily, meaning that those four months feel like… well, like four months. Two, the only other comic I read that features ongoing storylines is Funky Winkerbean, which usually has two stories going on concurrently for about a month before it moves on. And really, if Tom Batiuk can cram that much depression into thirty days, there’s no way this thing should still be going on in 2011.
Especially when you consider that the first act of the story is twenty strips detailing Mary Jane’s opening night on Broadway, wherein she chides her costar for his inability to conceive while Lee and Lieber drop hints that the villain in the story will be a renegade Statler and/or Waldorf:
Unfortunately for all of us, this is not the long-awaited Spider-Man/Muppet Show crossover. It is, however, the Mole Man, who has grown weary of his lonely life of living in a cave surrounded by an army of loincloth-sporting servitors, and decided to take a wife. His first choice, as one might expect, is the lovely Mary Jane, but after finding out that she’s already married — the newspaper strip having flirted with the idea of following the Brand New Day continuity before remarrying the Parkers with an “it was all a dream!” ending — he decides to pursue other avenues.
Specifically, he gets into Japanese erotica.
Or at least, he sends a tentacle monster to menace Mary Jane and Aunt May, and just so we’re clear on this, this is the least crazy thing that happens in this story.
Spider-Man shows up to attempt a rescue and, true to form, falls down in the middle of Broadway.
So much for Spider-Agility.
Then again, maybe I’m being a little unfair to Lee and Lieber’s portrayal of the character here. He does, after all, make the effort to follow the Mole Man underground and try to fight him off…
…And then promptly gives up when the Mole Man hits him with a stick.
Again, this happens every time Spider-Man does anything, and as mentioned before, it’s about this time that Spider-Man decides to foist off his heroics on a special guest star. This has been the pattern for as long as I’ve been reading the strip, starting with a guest appearance by Wolverine that, as Josh Fruhlinger pointed out, featured the work of a colorist who was clearly (and, let’s be honest, understandably) mystified by Wolverine’s facial hair.
The last strip involved a team-up with Iron Man against the Puppet Master, and this time around, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing joins in and manages to come off like a massive tool when he says that he doesn’t care one bit about the kidnapping of a young actress and a defenseless old woman. Seriously, he only helps out once Spider-Man tells him that they were kidnapped by one of the Fantastic Four’s bad guys, essentially laying a guilt trip on him for not doing a better job of thrashing the Mole Man the last time they fought.
Anyway, the third act twist arrives with the revelation that while the Mole Man was originally attracted to Mary Jane’s physical hotness, it’s Aunt May’s beautiful soul that has won his heart. Thus, he proposes to Peter’s lovelorn aunt, and she accepts, marking the 23rd time that May Parker has walked down the aisle with someone who lists “world domination” as one of the core values on his eHarmony profile.
As to just why May falls for a guy who has attempted to destroy the surface world on several dozen occasions, the in-story reason is that he’s a misunderstood sensitive type, but I don’t quite buy it. I mean, I ain’t sayin’ she’s a gold digger…
…but she ain’t messing with no broke super-villains.
To be fair to Newspaper Spider-Man — inaction is his reward! — the Thing doesn’t do a whole lot either, aside from the counterintuitive plot service of flying Spider-Man to the Mole Man’s underground empire. In fact, it’s while he’s trying to punch the Mole Man out that Aunt May decides to go ahead and tie the knot, which leads to a series of what I can only refer to as hijinx.
First, Spider-Man asserts that they can’t get married because they don’t have a minister, after which Mole Man produces one with virtually no explanation. Then, the giant monster from the cover of Fantastic Four #1 shows up for absolutely no reason other than to add ten strips to a story that by this point has gotten so boring that Spider-Man himself gets so distracted that he forgets what’s going on, not once…
In the end, everything works out okay — while the story is still going on, it’s winding down — but in what is quite possibly the best example of just how Newspaper Spider-Man works, it’s not because of anything he does. It’s because Aunt May has Spelunker’s Lung, as diagnosed by the minister (?!).
So, to review: Spider-Man does not stop the Mole Man from kidnapping his wife and aunt, does not catch him due to beng foiled by a stick, recruits the Thing who wanted to fight the Mole Man anyway, does not convince Aunt May to not marry the Mole Man, and finally, inexplicably fails to stop the Mole Man from producing a minister a mile beneath the Bermuda Triangle, which was a total gimme. In other words, absolutely everything that happens in this story would’ve happend the exact same way if Spider-Man was not involved at all.
But the important thing here is that the day was saved, and true heroism was on display. So I look forward to seeing the most proactive member of the cast go on to further adventures in the next thrilling installment of The Amazing Spelunker’s Lung!
(Special thanks to Josh Mayfield)