As Mary Jane spins out three anecdotes and two improvised gags on a chat show a mysterious eggplant wearing sunglasses starts hitting studio security with a stick. It’s the Mole Man, familiar to Amazing Spider-Man as the ruler of the subterranean world of … Subterranea. They were caught by surprise when someone asked the name of their land. Mole Man is also, per a story from a couple years back, a would-be suitor to Aunt May. See what I mean about continuity?
Aunt May had rejected his proposal, since as fun a date as he was they lived in separate worlds and barely knew one another and I think he met Aunt May when he was busy kidnapping her. I forget. Anyway, the separate-worlds thing might no longer be an issue because he’s been deposed. Tyrannus the Conquerer, fresh from thinking of the first name he could for who he was and what he would do, has taken over. And now Tyrannus is coming for the surface world.
Before anyone can ask serious questions (“Wait, to Tyrannus was the Western Roman Emperor Augustulus, deposed in 476 AD, and kept alive by the Fountain of Youth that’s in Subterranea? Is this a thing in the real comics or … the heck?”) a giant rampaging armadillo-beast breaks through the Los Angeles streets and starts rampaging, giantly. Also Mole Man says the beast’s named Lenny. Mole Man can’t bear to hurt Lenny, but Spider-Man shames him into doing something, since giant rampaging armadillo beasts seem like they’re too hard a problem for Spidey to handle. Mole Man knows how to handle Lenny: chop off some of his scale, then toss the scales down the pit he’d just dug, and Lenny follows. This works because … I’m not sure, exactly. Giant rampaging armadillo monsters can’t resist following their own scent, I guess is what they say.
Mole Man recognizes that Lenny was sent to bring him back to Tyrannus. And while Lenny failed, Tyrannus will send more, possibly harder-to-foil monsters. He resolves to surrender himself to spare the surface world, which underscores how complete a heel-face turn he’s done in the face of Aunt May’s affections. And nothing is going to talk him out of this except if Aunt May asks him to stay and what do you know happens but? She accepts his hastily renewed marriage proposal. The gang retreats to discuss options and how Mole Man can afford to support Aunt May in the style to which she’s become accustomed and maybe next week they’ll talk about stopping Tyrannus or something.
Next week: Jack Binder and Carole Binder’s Alley Oop and the aftermath of the pantsless alien’s mind-control gun. And one final note for this week: if you like more talk about comic strips but would like them to be more about word problems, please consider my mathematics blog, which reviewed the past week’s syndicated comic strips with mathematics themes on Sunday. It also does this most Sundays and sometimes the odd extra day of the week, such as “Thworbsday”.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
And now the index jumped up thirty points to what’s got to be an all-time high as traders realized they’re not Belgian and don’t have to eat crickets if they don’t want to. This is just proving my point, guys, and I don’t see why you think this is anything else.
Rocket warns that Ronan The Accuser is looking around for The Sentry, an 80,000-year-old alien-built contraption that looks faintly like a robotic Moe Howard. Ronan figures he can use this to unleash all sorts of accusations on the whole galaxy. Peter, Mary Jane, and Rocket deduce The Sentry must be somewhere in Petrogylph National Monument, as the road sign for it is clear and fills up nearly half a panel. Ronan The Accuser follows similar clues and he and Spidey punch each other until The Sentry wakes up. It goes off to blow up Albuquerque. Rocket remembers that Ronan (“please, my dad is Mister The Accuser”) is extremely vulnerable to Earth air. So he and Spidey try to knock his helmet off, which goes great.
Luckily Newspaper Spider-Man is extraordinarily good at taking blunt force traumas. He uses this to do a “why are you hitting yourself?”, using Ronan T A’s own large hammer to smack his helmet off. Spider-Man tries to put the unconscious Ronan’s helmet back on, on the grounds that he can’t just suffocate the guy even if he is trying to blow up the world or galaxy or whatnot. And I admire this idealistic bit from Peter Parker, who’s not going to be more cruel than he must be, however much trouble it makes. The resolve to be kind even when it’s hard, or worse, inconvenient is something we should take from superheroes. Anyway, Spidey accepts Rocket’s promise that Ronan isn’t dead, he’s just sleeping, and they go off to fight The Sentry.
Rocket and Spider-Man leave Mary Jane to watch Ronan just in case he wakes long enough to gasp out something plot-relevant. And hey! So she flags down a truck and buys it and a bunch of day laborers to bring Ronan to the big Albuquerque fight, because she always travels with that kind of cash. Using the unconscious Ronan — whom The Sentry can’t harm — as body shield Spider-Man teases The Sentry mercilessly. Meanwhile Rocket climbs inside and punches stuff until it breaks.
Also, yes, Spider-Man did pretty near nothing to drive the story. Rocket did most of the heavy lifting and Mary Jane overcame plot-related sexism to do something too. Peter Parker was mostly there to, I dunno, get hit with stuff. This is healthy.
Peter and Mary Jane Parker were in Arizona to start with as they were taking a driving trip to Los Angeles. I don’t have any guesses who’s going to be the Hollywood antagonist. And I hope it’s not long before they bring Rocket around for another session.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index continued its downward slide as investor confidence was shaken by the realization that after so much hype about the testing of the state’s tornado warning system nobody actually heard any sirens. That’s even more suspicious than the earlier things we were suspecting.
Sunday has always been a problem for story comics. Sunday newspapers reliably sell more copies, and to a slightly different audience, than the Monday-to-Saturday papers. So how to tell a story when part of the audience gets one strip a week, another part misses one strip a week, and another part gets all seven strips a week? All the soap opera strips make Sundays a recapping of the previous week’s activities. It’s death to pacing; not much can happen on the weekdays so that it can all happen again on Sunday. Gil Thorp doesn’t run Sundays at all. Mark Trail runs a story-unrelated, informational, piece on Sundays. The other adventure strips … have other approaches. Here’s one.
The Amazing Spider-Man
I came to know The Amazing Spider-Man like many in my age cohort did, through the kids’ educational show The Electric Company. In segments on this Spidey battled delightfully absurd villains while staying mute. The show was about teaching reading skills; Spidey’s dialogue was sentences written in word balloons superimposed on the action. In keeping with the show’s tone the villains would be things like an ambulatory chunk of the Shea Stadium wall. Who beat Spidey, soundly. I’ve liked comic books, but somehow never got the bug to collect any normal books like Spider-Man or Superman or anything like that. (But I was the guy to collect the Marvel New Universe line, which, trust me, is a very funny sad thing of me to do.) So that formed my main impression of Spider-Man: a genial sort of superhero who nevertheless can’t outwit a wall.
(Yes yes yes the Wall was a little more complicated than a piece of baseball park wall just do we really need to argue this one? I put up a link to a YouTube copy of the sketch that I’m sure is perfectly legitimate.)
The newspaper Amazing Spider-Man comic strip started the 3rd of January, 1977. It’s credited to Stan Lee for the writing, with the daily strips pencilled by Larry Lieber and inked by Alex Saviuk. The Sunday strips are pencilled by Alex Saviuk and inked by Joe Sinnott, a division of labor that I trust makes sense to someone. The strip is its own little side continuity. It’s separate from, but influenced by, the mainstream Marvel universe. The result is some strange stuff because, even over the course of four decades, they haven’t had a lot of time to have stuff happen. Last year saw Spider-Man meeting Doctor Strange and the current Ant-Man for the first time. I don’t regularly follow Marvel Comics. But I imagine in them Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and Ant-Man spend so much time hanging out with each other they’re a bit sick of the company.
Story strips have a challenge in that the first panel has to give some hint where the story is. Amazing Spider-Man handles that like you’d expect. A lot of captions, which fits the 60s-comics origins of the character, and characters explaining the situation to each other. The problem of Sunday strips? Amazing Spider-Man just lets Sundays happen. The story progresses on Sunday at about the same speed it does the rest of the week. Monday strips often include a little more narrative incluing than, oh, Thursday’s would. But the comic trusts that if you miss the Sunday, fine, you can catch up. Or if you only see the Sundays, you can work out what probably went on during the week.
However much that is. A superhero-action comic has some advantages over, say, a soap opera strip. The soap has to clue in who’s who and why they’re tense about each other. A superhero comic can get away with tagging who’s the villain and letting characters punch each other. Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t do quite as much punching as you’d think. Well, all-action is boring too.
And a lot of what’s appealing about Spider-Man as a character is not the action. It’s that life keeps piddling on him. There’s something wonderful and noble in Peter Parker’s insistence on carrying on trying to save a city that doesn’t like him. So every story invites putting him through petty indignities of life. Another lot of what’s appealing about Spider-Man is that he’s not fully sure he wants to do this. He’d like to just skip it all, if he could. Or at least take a break. Who wouldn’t?
Thing is, the newspaper strip overdoes these. Maybe it’s hard to balance the comedy and self-doubts with the action. Maybe the strip has given in, at least partly, to its ironic or snarky readership. The occasional time I read a Marvel Universe comic book with Spider-Man he’s a bit of a sad sack, but not so much more than anyone with an exciting but underpaying job is. In the newspaper comic … well, it’s funny to have Spidey call up the Fantastic Four or the Avengers or Iron-Man for help on a problem that really does rate their assistance only to be told, ah, no, sorry, we’re helping someone move that day. It’s a good joke that he happened to pick the day that Iron-Man has to be out of the country. But there’s also something pathetic about it, especially when that isn’t the first time other superheroes ditch him on suspiciously vague pretexts.
It’s understandable that Peter Parker, freelance news photographer, would feel insecure about his job especially when Mary Jane Parker is a successful Broadway and minor movie actor. But with two or three panels a day to spend on character he can’t get into much depth. He comes across as whiny instead.
It’s reasonable that Peter Parker would get tired of what is, objectively, a pastime that’s physically and mentally brutal. Or that would be if the strip didn’t pull out a figure named Clown-9 who wants to be the … most hilarious … clown … that ever broke into a … Broadway show? It was a little weird. I liked that one more than many commenters I noticed did. But when I do read superhero comics, I like them broad and goofy in that Silver Age style. But how much emotional recuperation do you need from a guy whose menace is a more-powerful-than-usual water pistol, a duck-headed car, and a loud siren attached to his nose? You come out looking dopey.
Also, Spider-Man gets hit on the head. A lot. There’ve been multiple storylines in which he gets clonked by a brick. If it’s not a misplaced love of Krazy Kat then maybe it’s a riff on the attacking wall of Shea Stadium. It’s easier to understand Spidey’s tendency to nod off if you remember how many blunt head traumas he endures.
It’s all strangely loveable and ridiculous. Some of the characters are new. Some are minor villains of the real Marvel Universe. Some are curiously-poorly-synchronized references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; last year they did a Doctor Strange storyline months ahead of that movie’s release. And an Ant Man storyline just after we all kind of forgot about his movie.
And that gets me to the current storyline. Remember Guardians of the Galaxy? Really wildly popular movie about three years ago? That’s finally drifted over to the comic strip, with Ronan the Accuser landing in the middle of Arizona Or Some Other Desert State just as Peter Parker and Mary Jane happen to be driving through. Fine enough. Ronan went harassing the patrons of a diner and tossed Peter Parker out the window. Just after that another spaceship, bearing Rocket Raccoon, landed.
I was delighted by that. A lot of the fun in the Spider-Man comic strip is people ragging on Spidey. And Rocket is just the kind of person to deliver no end of cracks about him. I wasn’t disappointed. They met in the traditional way of superheroes meeting one another for the first time, by fighting until they remembered they have no idea why they do that. Then they engaged in the tradition of teaming up to try finding the villain, who’s gone a couple weeks without appearing and might have escaped the comic altogether. We’ll see.
Overall, the strip is a bit goofy. I like goofy, especially in superhero stories. The newspaper Spider-Man has a couple motifs which are perhaps overdone: Peter Parker’s whininess, his strong desire to just go back to bed, everyone in the world insulting him every chance they get. The number of storylines in which Spider-Man’s participation isn’t really needed as the guest villain and guest hero keep everything under control. The oddly excessive white space between panels of the Sunday strips. I don’t care. The stories generally move at a fair pace. The villains are colorful or at least ridiculous. The heroics come around eventually. There’s a lot of silly little business along the way. I have fun reading it. I am so looking forward to when they get an appearance from Squirrel Girl.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index starts the week up six sharp points owing to how surprisingly good the one-year-old Big Wheel cheese from the farmer’s market on the west side of town is. “Seriously,” one of the traders said under conditions of anonymity, “if we could eat nothing but this cheese we’d have lived our lives correctly”. It was Lisa.
For reasons that make sense to someone I got a copy of Friday’s USA Today, the front-page Snapshot of which asked, “Will Fifth `Spider’ Be A Superhero?” Its observation was:
No “Spider-Man” movie is among the 18 films that have grossed over $1 billion globally.
I find myself strangely affected by USA Today‘s decision to be disappointed in the Spider-Man movie theme franchise. Without really trying I could probably list five movies which haven’t made a billion dollars in worldwide box office , so why pick on these particularly?
Or if they’re just looking for things to be disappointed by in the Spider-Man movies, why not, say, be disappointed they haven’t done a movie where Spidey battles the Headmen, a group of loser-ish superheroes led by a mad scientist who was planning to mad science the world with gorillas, only the gorillas mad scientisted him and now he’s got the body of a gorilla and the head of a mad scientist, and his sidekick is a junior mad scientist from the comic strip Herman, and I swear this isn’t my stupid dream?
I should probably explain that I mostly know Spider-Man through his newspaper comic strip appearances, and that his newspaper comic strip is still a thing that exists, even though Spider-Man in it is regularly foiled by inanimate objects, including bricks and alarm clocks, and I’m not sure he’s saved a day in the past eighteen months without another, better, hero doing the actual work.
 Let’s see if I can. Um. Tod Browning’s Freaks, obviously. Tom Schiller’s Nothing Lasts Forever. Robert Altman’s Popeye. Tony Richardson’s The Loved One. James Cameron’s Avatar. Dang, this is hard. Maybe I shouldn’t be mocking the Snapshot editor of USA Today.
Since my last monthly-statistics roundup post was successful, in that it was a thing that existed and didn’t produce any unwanted explosions or anything, let me repeat the thing. This is just for generally tracking the health of this humor initiative and whatnot, and who knows where that’ll end up? Your guess is as good as mine, although this coming month probably isn’t going to see me get to Altoona, which is a shame.
WordPress says the blog got 375 views in July, which is disappointing only because in June it got 441, and July is a longer month given that it has the whole summer’s heat to expand it. There were also only 178 distinct visitors, as opposed to the 227 distinct viewers in June. This does have a positive side, though: it means the average number of pages each reader went to increased from 1.94 to 2.11, although that’s probably not statistically significant and besides I had 2.17 pages per visitor back in May, but you don’t see me telling everyone that. There’s right now 239 people following announcements about this blog, at least, through e-mail, WordPress, or Twitter, that I know of.
My top five most popular pages of the past 30 days were:
About The Spider-Man Comic Strip, which I did expect to be a popular one since it involved (a) the chance to put up a comic strip that (b) was ridiculous on its own, thus needing no work on my part to amuse.
Basic Dishwasher Repair, which has also gotten some curious attempts at linking from what look like big dishwasher-repair fan sites on the web, which can’t possibly exist, except it is the Internet so who am I to say there aren’t vast dishwasher-repair fan communities, other than a sane person?
Some Now-Forgotten HTML Tags, which rests comfortably in that set of nerdly jokes that lets me talk about Usenet, which was really great in its heyday and still has flashes of greatness.
Nothing that was in the top-five last month made it over to this month, a bit surprising, since S J Perelman’s “Captain Future, Block That Kick!” was one of last month’s big winners and I posted that back in March. That one dropped to around number 23 in the rankings.
In July the countries which sent the most visitors to me were the United States again (308), the United Kingdom (11) and Canada (also 11), with last month’s number three, Brazil, falling off the charts altogether. If anyone’s going to be down that way please ask someone what’s wrong. Sending me only a single visitor each were Poland, Lebanon, Turkey, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia, and Sweden, so at least I haven’t lost my Polish or my Swedish viewers.
The Amazing Spider-Man daily newspaper comic strip for today, the 9th of July, is first of all a thing that exists. Second, well, you saw it. It really is just what you saw there. No kidding.
Let me explain how things got to this point and please note that I am not fibbing or exaggerating.
In the strip — drawn by Larry Lieber and Alex Saviuk, and written by Stan Lee and a Markov Chain algorithm — Spidey, in San Francisco (never mind why he was there; it was stupid), needs to get to the war-torn republic of Some Latin America-y Country Where They Just Keep Having Revolutions. He needles his boss, J Jonah Jameson, to wiring him the money for a ticket on the grounds there’s pictures to be taken and Spider-Man’s going to be at the Revolution.
At the check-in line Peter Parker realizes that security might make him open his shirt revealing his Spider-Man costume underneath. Inspired by a bratty kid whining about how they don’t have private jets like the Avengers, he sheds his clothes and duffel bag and goes climbing the walls of the airport insisting he has to get on the plane without proving who he is besides doing the web-crawling thing. And that’s where we get to today’s strip, with President Obama saying it’s OK for Spider-Man to fly out of the country. How Peter Parker is supposed to explain his getting to Latin America-y Country when “he” doesn’t board the plane is left for us to guess.
All this may seem a very stupid way of going about things, but do bear in mind that in the -30- Universe of the Marvel Newspaper Comics, Spider-Man gets hit on the head a lot.
I admit that reading Spider-Man is among my ironic pleasures, and I have some thoughts about why reading something that just drizzles incompetence down on the reader is delightful, that I need to organize into a proper essay. For now I just want you to cackle at this.
The insanely colored United States flag in the third panel, by the way, is because like many newspaper strips this one gets badly colored for online publication by, apparently, people who can only do flood-fills on portions of the original artwork that are white. Since darker colors like red or blue get inked in as black, this means that December is visited with a number of Santas Dressed As Johnny Cash, and that early February sees Hi and Lois making Goth Hearts at one another. It’s not helped that there’s very little evidence that the people doing the colorizing even read the strips as they’re coloring them. There was even a Barney Google a couple months back (which I can’t seem to find right now) in which Snuffy Smith complains that a wanted poster of him is only in black-and-white, not in color, and sure enough, the poster got colored in, badly.
(I haven’t linked to the dailyink.com page with a comments thread about today’s installment and you will thank me for it because Internet Comments Thread With Something Vaguely Political Starting It.)