The ‘Spider-Man’ Newspaper Strip Is the Craziest Superhero Story Happening Today
I think it’s safe to say that Spider-Man has been through some pretty weird stuff in his time, right? I mean, that’s a fifty-year saga that started with a radioactive spider-bite that gave him limited psychic powers and super-strength that he immediately used to try to find fame as a professional wrestler, and the fine folks over at Marvel Comics have somehow managed to top that for weirdness time and time again. Heck, right now, Spider-Man comics are in the midst of a supervillainous Freaky Friday story that has been running for over a year. That should tell you something.
But for my money, the absolute craziest and most hilarious Spider-Man story in years isn’t the one you’ll find in the comic shops on Wednesday. It’s the one that’s happening right now in The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip, by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Alex Saviuk and Joe Sinnott.
Okay, before we go any further, there’s a little bit of background you need to know, and that is that Newspaper Spider-Man is quite possibly the worst version of the character since that part of the J. Michael Straczynski run where he was running around making out with Gwen Stacy’s ten year-old half-goblin ninja daughter, which is a thing that actually happened. Newspaper Spidey is never quite that offensively terrible, but he also has a pretty dismal track record from when it comes to actual superheroism. He’s generally pretty cowardly, gets conked on the head a lot, and doesn’t actually seem all that concerned about this whole using-great-power-with-great-responsibility thing, instead preferring to just sort of lay around waiting for things to sort themselves out.
That might seem like I’m exaggerating, but Josh Fruhlinger has devoted a pretty considerable amount of time to chronicling Newspaper Spidey’s lackluster performance, and I wanted to share a few of his highlights before we moved on, just so we all know what we’re dealing with.
Here’s Spider-Man, whose “spider-sense” gives him an almost supernatural ability to sense danger, being knocked out by a random thug with a tree branch:
And here he is knocking himself out by bashing his head against a pipe:
Here he is forgetting that airports have security (with bonus Mary Jane telling him he sucks compared to Superman):
And here he is solving a murderous rampage by casually standing around watching Wolverine and Sabretooth beating each other into unconsciousness and claiming the victory for himself:
Stuff like that happens a lot, and I actually have to confess that I kind of love it. Spider-Man the slapstick comedy character who isn’t very good at his job is not a great interpretation of the character, but it’s also one that’s genuinely hilarious, and I’m willing to guess that might be the goal here.
As you might be able to guess from a couple of those highlights, the strip tends to do a lot of stories about Marvel Universe guest stars showing up and solving whatever problem Spider-Man should be fully capable of dealing with on its own. It’s occasionally tied to a movie release — I’m pretty sure that Wolverine/Sabretooth bit hit around the same time as The Wolverine — but it’s always a weird look into a Marvel Universe where Spider-Man is everyone’s inept friend that comes over to help you move and ends up sitting on a box of dishes eating your cereal all day while accidentally spoiling Game of Thrones.
Which brings us to the current storyline, which has been running since last November, when Spider-Man returned from a trip to South America (where he teamed up with/stood around watching the Tarantula), and was promptly roped into J. Jonah Jameson’s latest plot to publicly unmask him. This time, it involved a guest appearance on a morning talk show.
I’ll let that sink in for a second: J. Jonah Jameson challenged Spider-Man to appear as a guest on a morning talk show, and Spider-Man accepted.
Maybe the best part of this sequence is when Jonah challenges Spider-Man to come up with three reasons why he wears a mask, which Spidey promptly fails to do, and then ends the debate by peacing out and leaving. “Running away as soon as things get tough” is to Newspaper Spider-Man what “using webs to swing from buildings” is to the regular version.
Jonah, however, would not be deterred, which is where this story’s team-up aspect comes in. JJJ strikes an agreement with Tony Stark, donating a considerable amount of money to Stark’s favorite charity in exchange for Tony promising that he’ll be in China for the next week or so. So basically, this story really kicks off when Iron Man takes a bribe. While Tony’s off seeing the sights, Jonah gets hold of an old suit of Iron Man armor (the gold one from the early Avengers days, although nobody told the colorist responsible for the daily strips that) and has a scientist rig it up as a remote control robot, and sends it after Spider-Man. You would think that guy would’ve learned his lesson about the whole “creating robots to kill Spider-Man” thing, but alas, Newspaper Jonah is doomed to repeat history.
Believe it or not, the part of the story where Spider-Man is swinging around trying to avoid being unmasked (and possibly murdered) on live television by a remote-controlled suit of Iron Man armor, which is a pretty fantastic premise, is actually really boring. Part of that is down to the format of a three panel strip where the first panel is always devoted to recapping the previous day’s strip and the last panel is always a cliffhanger for the next, but the other part is that it’s a fight where nothing happens that lasted for the entire month of January.
The only real highlights are that Newspaper Spidey complains about never fighting someone who can’t break through his webs, a nice reminder that he is completely inept, and then winning the fight with a double-stomp kick right to the robo-junk:
Then he smashed it into the van that Jonah’s technician was using to control the robot. Please note that Newspaper Spidey did not know that was the van being used by the technician, he just saw a van in the middle of Manhattan and decided it was probably up to no good.
Like I said, it’s not exactly thrilling action, even by the standards of stuff you’re meant to skim over a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee. But after Spider-Man beats the “Iron Manbot,” that’s where things start to get crazy. First, Spider-Man is now onto Jameson’s plan. He knows there’s someone out there trying to unmask him, something that would put his friends and family in danger. He knows he’s up against impossible odds, because Iron Man’s armor, even an obsolete model, is still a technologically advanced juggernaut. But what do heroes do when the people they love are in danger and they’re facing impossible odds? What do they do with their great powers when they’re faced with the burden of responsibility?
Well, if they’re Newspaper Spider-Man, they just sort of run away until the whole thing blows over.
That’s not the crazy part. That’s actually to be expected, all things considered.
The crazy part is that, as seen above, J. Jonah Jameson decides to put on the Iron Man armor himself so that he can personally unmask Spider-Man and conquer his arch-nemesis. That in and of itself is actually something we should’ve expected, it’s the natural progression of this story from the moment a plot point like “J. Jonah Jameson has some Iron Man armor” gets introduced. What makes it amazing is that when he puts on his helmet, his face glows through the metal.
I don’t know if this is being done purely for the benefit of the reader, or if Newspaper Jonah actually gained X-Ray Face Powers in a previous story that I missed, but it is magical. Like, imagine that you’re a reader who’s never actually seen Spider-Man before, or maybe you have but you don’t really know much about his supporting cast. So you get your newspaper, and there on the comics page, right next to the death-march that is Funky Winkerbean, you see The Amazing Spider-Man. So you read it, shrug, and then the next time someone asks you if you know anything about Spider-Man, you answer “Is that the comic strip about Robot Hitler?”
And then it gets better.
Since Spider-Man has pretty much tapped out of this whole superheroing game, Jonah is left to his own devices, flying around Manhattan all by his lonesome in search of crime. And crime, my friends, does he find in last Sunday’s strip.
There is so much I love about this comic strip. It is beautiful and perfect in so many ways, and all of those ways are monumentally dumb. Just the very idea of the National Guard Armory in the middle of Manhattan being a single, clearly labeled door with no guards whatsoever, leading directly to a room full of crates and one gassed up, fully armed Sherman tank. And that’s going to fight Iron Jonah aka Robot Hitler.
It is, and I mean this sincerely, my single favorite thing going on in superhero comics right now.
You can catch up on the last month’s worth of Amazing Spider-Man strips at Comics Kingdom.