What’s Going On In Spider-Man? When will you stop covering Spider-Man? December 2020 – March 2021


I figure to stop covering Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man the end of August. The current, Ant-Man, story, has ended. Peter Parker and Scott Lang (Ant-Man) take the subway home from Egghead’s mansion because they forgot they rented a car to drive there. Then we learn Mary Jane’s Broadway play is closed for a few more weeks. The theater’s getting more repairs. But there’s publicity for her film Marvella 2: The Quest For Peace to do. They go driving off to Los Angeles and along the way meet Rocket Raccoon and Ronan T Avenger. In its original run this story ran from the 20th of November, 2016, through the 30th of April, 2017. I make that out as 24 weeks, which is one week out of phase with my 12-week comic-strip cycle.

The end of that story is when I first started covering story strips regularly here. So that’s when I’ll bow out. That unless they rerun stories I haven’t covered, or they put the strip into new production. I don’t expect either case to happen, but this is a strange world we’re in. Still, any news about the Spider-Man strip should be posted here. And I have six months to figure out what to do with my content hole here. I’ll take suggestions.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

27 December 2020 – 21 March 2021.

The Daily Bugle has a new publisher since the death of J Jonah Jameson’s cousin Ruth. It’s Ruth’s widower, Elihas Starr, who’s known to Ant-Man as the villain Egghead. Starr demands Peter Parker get photos of Ant-Man. Why? Peter Parker doesn’t know. He guesses Ant-Man might know what Egghead’s up to. He doesn’t know the current Ant-Man, though. He only knows Dr Henry Pym, the original Ant-Man. So he takes the subway way out to the end of the world to the scientist’s lab.

The lab is deserted, and trashed. Spider-Man breaks in, and gets punched over and over by an invisible and intangible opponent. It turns out to be Scott Lang, the current Ant-Man. He’s staying small and unshrinking long enough to sucker-punch Peter Parker. Not even out of suspicion for anything. Newspaper Spider-Man has such big punchable-sucker energy nobody can resist.

Spider-Man: 'I didn't turn Hank Pym's lab into a war zone. I just got here.' Ant-Man: 'Me too. When I saw somebody crawling in the window, I figured I'd check him out.' Spider-Man: 'So you didn't turn invisible in between slugging me?' Ant-Man: 'No. I just shrank real small. It's what I do. [ Shrinking out of frame ] Like so!' Spider-Man: 'Stop *doing* that! It freaks me out.'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 5th of January, 2021. Spider-Man’s a couple days out of having to deal with Dr Strange’s nonsense and the Nightmare dimension, and this guy clowning around is freaking him out? I guess when you reach your limit, you crash hard against it.
The punching satisfies the Ritual of Super-Heroes Fighting When They Meet. Ant-Man doesn’t know what Egghead’s deal is either. Given the state of the lab, they guess someone kidnapped Dr Pym. Egghead’s the obvious suspect. So they go to J Jonah Jameson’s penthouse, guessing that he’d know where his cousin Ruth lived, and that’d be the place to hide Pym. Not sure I agree with the logic there — have they considered the Abandoned Warehouse District? — but they have to use what leads they have. Spider-Man stays outside, figuring Ant-Man is the one who could avoid raising Jameson’s ire. It goes well.

[ Spider-Man waits impatiently, on the balcony ] Spider-Man; 'How long can it take Scott Lang to explain the situation to Jameson? All he has to do is find out --- ' Ant-Man, inside: '--- where Elihas Starr lived when he was married to your cousin Ruth!' Jameson: 'Why do you need to know?' Ant-Man; 'Hank Pym --- my predecessor as Ant-Man --- has vanished, and we think Starr's behind it.' Jameson: 'We think? Who's 'we'?' Ant-Man, shrinking: 'Uh --- I don't --- I meant --- my ants and me!' [ Getting on a winged ant to fly away ] 'Mr Jameson, I'd like you to meet Huey, Dewey, and Louie!' Jameson, grabbing his shotgun: 'ANTS - in my bedroom? GET OUT OF HERE --- and take those SIX-LEGGED PESTS with you!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 24th of January, 2021. There’s a recurring bit this story where characters bring guns against insects, or insect-size humans. This seems like the worst way to try killing a bug to me but maybe there’s aspects of ant-killing I don’t understand.
Still, they get an address, and plant the idea that Jameson might come into the story later and save our heroes from an impossible fix. You know, in case that comes about. They rent a car, drive out to the estate, break in, and set off an alarm that sprays them with shrink gas. It’s not one that Ant-Man can reverse, either. The modified shrink gas also shrinks Ant-Man’s strength from that of a Man to that of an Ant. Egghead vacuums them up, which is the kind of thing that keeps miniaturizing superheroes from achieving dignity. The shrunken heroes pass out in the vacuum because it’s a modified vacuum cleaner, okay? And wake to find themselves encased in plastic blocks. And Dr Pym tied up and bound to a chair right next to them.

Tiny Spider-Man, encased in a box: 'Okay, so you were after Hank Pym's Ant-Man formula. But why'd you scheme to get control of the Daily Bugle?' Egghead: 'I'll need to launder all the money I'll be paid for that formula ... and who would suspect that a newspaper was being utilized for that purpose? .... Too bad Jonah Jameson's COUSIN RUTH had to get in the way!' Tiny Spider-Man and Tiny Ant-Man, similarly encased, exclaim shock and surprise.
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 16th of February, 2021. Egghead’s plan could only be detected if there were something weird about newspapers earning large sums of money. … In hindsight maybe he should have tried hiding the money by getting one of those suspicious used-car lots that are never open and where all the cars are labelled NOT FOR SALE but they change over every three weeks anyway.

So now it’s time for Egghead to explain his deal. he figured to steal and sell Pym’s shrinking formula. He wanted the newspaper as a way of laundering the sale money from this. He’d have been fine just romancing Ruth Jameson if he could have controlled the paper through her. But she wasn’t having any of that, so he married and killed her instead. And since Egghead was going to be busy with this, he assigned Peter Parker to photograph Ant-Man and so keep Ant-Man preoccupied.

Spidey breaks loose, and Egghead tries to shoot the shrunken heroes. This doesn’t work. Egghead instead sprays Pym with the new shrink gas, reducing him even beyond the Ant-Man norm; Our Heroes leap into the gas cloud to join them. They have to fend off a spider, which they do by using a Spider-Man and also a convenient wasp.

Miniature Spider-Man lunging at a relatively giant-sized (normal) spider: 'I'm the only one of us three who can handle that arachnid --- because I've got the proportionate strength of a spider' Miniature Hank Pym: 'Yes, but so does it! And it's way bigger than you, so it's got a lot more OF it!' Spider-Man, already captured: 'Yeah --- guess I should've figured that out --- for myself!'
Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man rerun for the 2nd of March, 2021. Spider-Man isn’t very good at being tiny.

They also have to fend off Egghead’s modified bug-bomb. Thing is Pym never goes anywhere without enlarging gas. Even when he’s kidnapped by supervillains and tied up and sedated. Lucky, huh? And then J Jonah Jameson arrives and whacks Egghead in the egg with a lamp. Egghead recovers enough to repeat his boast that he killed Ruth Jameson. So now there’s four witnesses to Egghead boasting that he killed his wife. And there’s the camera Spider-Man planted in the corner when none of the readers were there. Its photos may well show Egghead trying to shoot, spray, and set on the shrunken Pym, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man. That should be good for prison, right?

The camera, by the way, we saw Spider-man planting outside the estate. Ant-Man commented on this as how Peter Parker got such great action shots of Spider-Man. On the 21st of March Spidey explained to Ant-Man that he brought the camera inside while Egghead was unconscious. This in the hopes of getting incriminating pictures. Also, Jameson would like to know why Spider-Man’s taking pictures of Spider-Man. There’ll be some quick rationalizations and that trip back home.

Next Week!

There’s a murder mystery with a room full of scientists, and a weird effect keeping technology from working right! Yes, it’s time travel, shenanigans, and time-travel shenanigans. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop comes back to my attention. See you then, then.

The Sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies


Just that string of words — “sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies” — looks weird to me. This is because I know from time immemorial that the sixth Talkartoon was Dizzy Dishes, the famous introduction of Betty Boop. I think the problem is Marriage Wows, which I had to skip a couple weeks ago because I don’t know any way to see it. Wikipedia mentions that as a cartoon that turns out not to be lost. I suppose the books I read as a young cartoon enthusiast were unaware of Marriage Wows, so didn’t count it in their list of cartoons.

Now some of you may wonder what happened to the fifth Talkartoon, Fire Bugs. Nothing in particular. I just somehow missed it when I started preparing this, and now it’s too close to deadline for me to have a bunch of other thoughts about a whole other cartoon. I’ll try to loop back and get it next week. I’m sorry for the confusion.

So here’s the sixth Talkartoon. As ever, it’s credited to director Dave Fleischer. Two of the animators get credit, though: William Bowsky and Ted Sears. They didn’t do it all themselves; Wikipedia credits Grim Natwick with animation too. From the 18th of July, 1930, here it is:

Some cartoons keep surprising. I had this one pegged after the first scenes: it’d be a couple flies taunting the guy they’re skiing down, until eventually the spider pokes in, scares everyone, and after a frantic music nuber gets tied up by the blandly pleasant male lead fly. It’s an unexciting story structure but it’s a good, functional one.

I was a little surprised the spider poked in right away to interrupt a fly picnic. Didn’t throw my expectations too badly, though. We’d need to meet the blandly pleasant male lead and the female who’d get abducted by the villain, after all. But the female fly squirts the spider into embarrassed submission, and the spider trots back home, defeated. And turns out to have a wife and to be hungry. That’s a sympathizing touch. It’s easy to hiss at the villain who’s just out to cause harm. When they’re shown to just want to eat? That’s harder. That he’s got a family — in something I didn’t see coming, including kids to feed — makes the narrative stranger. The spider ends up the protagonist, possibly by default as none of the flies seem to be in successive scenes. (Perhaps this reflects different animators taking over the successive scenes.)

But the flies do get some nice odd scenes. A picnic is normal enough for anthropomorphic insects. The fly in a plane is weirder. I imagine it reflects how plane-mad the public was in the early 30s. Maybe it’s whimsy. Maybe it’s thoughtful: the scene is basically that of a guy cruising in his car and picking up a woman. But would a female fly even in principle be impressed by a car? A plane makes sense for that role.

The plotting’s a bit curious. It’s partly spot jokes about flies and a spider, fine enough. And it’s partly about, clearly enough: spider needs to feed himself and his family, but he can’t catch anything. Then about 3:54 in all that’s put on pause so the spider and fly can perform “Some Of These Days”, Shelton Brooks’s toe-tapping hit from 1910. (It had, Wikipedia tells me, got rerecorded by Sophie Tucker in 1926. Sold a million albums that way. Then it got into 1928’s Lights of New York, another candidate for the title of “first talking motion picture”. The cartoon came out in that while the song was inescapable.) But that turns the last scene from hunter-and-prey into an odd infidelity-romance bit. That’s an interesting surprise to me too. It’s a shame that got resolved with the spider’s wife coming out in battleaxe mode. But it does add a nice sad touch to the final chorus of “No flies!”

This isn’t a cartoon with big laughs, at least not for me. There’s a few nice small laughs, like the spider reading the Fly Paper. But overall it’s a curious short that’s not quite plot-driven, but feels like it has more story than just a couple jokes about flies doing things.

Does the title make sense? Absolutely. It’s a little punny, but not absurdly so, and it’s definitely a fly-driven cartoon. Does its ending make sense? Here, too, yes: there’s good reason to end the cartoon at this point rather than another. There aren’t any really good weird body-horror-ish jokes, things where people come flying apart or something crazy like that. The spider’s teeth hopping while he dance and I guess that’s about it.

I don’t know whether to read the sleeping man at the start of the cartoon as a black figure, or just a guy with a heavy beard.

Next Tuesday! I ought to do Fire Bugs. Maybe I’ll do Dizzy Dishes. Maybe I’ll get hopelessly confused again and go review the fifth episode of the Disney’s Hercules Saturday Morning Cartoon for some reason. I don’t know. I’m just doing the best I can.

Generally Updating Stuff


So. After an incident in which the spider crawled onto my love’s keys and we brought it, by way of a newspaper, over to the bushes, we haven’t seen webs across the door. However this morning there was a flyer stuffed in the door crack. The flyer invites us to Bible study. I trust it’s in earnest because the dates for the class are crossed out and different ones written in pen. I have no specific reason to think this the work of the same spider, but I also have no grounds to rule it out either.

The History of Socks has updated its essay, so that its alarming paragraph implying socks are not simple things is four paragraphs down. It now opens with the invitation to:

Consider the sock. Some overlook this mundane undergarment, but don’t let its unassuming nature fool you — the history of hosiery is anything but humble.

That’s dramatically better. It’s more inviting. It teases the idea that socks aren’t complicated anymore but it doesn’t threaten. We can get right to arguing about whether socks are an “undergarment” when you can just see them on a normally-dressed person. We can argue about that later, in some other context, and not with me.

I continue to have measurably better dance moves if I sit through the whole thing.

An Open Letter To The Spider Building Its Web Across Our Side Door


Dear Spider,

I apologize for not addressing you by name, but we have yet to be properly introduced. I confess that after all this time passing through your ever-rebuilt web I don’t know how to get a proper introduction. We seem to move in different social circles. Perhaps some of the squirrels should know, but I admit I don’t know most of their real names either. We’ve just assigned them names for our convenience, based on their personalities or the ways they physically resemble Sir Patrick Stewart. In any case I trust that you are a spider and that you will understand my not knowing your name reflects only that I am ignorant, and ignorant of how to correct my ignorance.

I applaud your ambition in building this web across the side door. To snag either me or my love would be a tremendous accomplishment for you, and I understand the reasoning. With either — oh, let’s dream big, and say both — of us, it’s easy to suppose, your food needs would be met for ages. (I wrote “meat” there first, but erased it, because the pun is beneath me. You’ll notice I’m telling you about it, though. What must this say of me?)

This sort of great ambition is behind many of the world’s spider’s greatest accomplishments. It’s the sort of drive that led spiders to launch their first expeditions to the Moon. So it hurts that while I credit you for the bigness of your dream I feel I have to bring up the flaws. Well, remember what happened after the first spiders did land on the Moon. There was that horrified “yeep” and frantic hand-waving, and twitching about by the Moon. This did the spider no good, and it’s part of why the Ranger 3 space probe missed the Moon entirely and crashed into a Wawa co-op parking lot in Millville, New Jersey. There it was taken to be a piece of “Googie” architecture and put on trial for heresy. While it was eventually cleared of monophysitism we can’t say the same about the spider. We have no idea what became of the spider and that’s got to be a warning sign.

I say this without meaning to be cruel, but, your web really is not going to catch either of us. I know you’ve been fed a lot of stories about how spider silk is incredibly strong stuff and they might make space elevators out of it. That’s an incomplete story; it’s strong under tension and as we walk in and out of the house we’re not putting your silk under tension. We’re putting it under … some … other kind of … look, the thing is they can’t make space elevators either, so trying to catch us in the doorway isn’t going to happen. We use the door too much and you can’t put up enough web to catch us in-between uses. All you can do is get web into our mouths and while that’s not stuff we want to be licking — again, no offense, it’s just not our thing — that only slows us down a little bit. It’s not getting us even a tiny bit captured.

I want you to know I’m supporting you in your spider-ness. So here’s something you could easily catch and eat. We’ve been having a problem with bugs getting into our bedroom. We think they’re called shield bugs. They’re big, about the size of a volleyball, slow-moving and pretty stupid by all evidence. They keep bonking into solid objects and operating local governments in Texas. They don’t seem interested enough in people, but we’re getting tired of catching and taking upward of forty of them out of the bedroom every night. Apparently nothing much eats them; why don’t you come upstairs and be the first in the neighborhood? They’re both big and very stupid; you could probably catch some just by announcing loudly that they were caught, and you’d have all the meals you wanted easily. I don’t mean to insult you by suggesting you should eat very stupid things. But I do think a full belly makes it easy to forgive slights. If you did something about the shield bugs you’d be better off, we’d be better off, and we’ll not say anything about the shield bugs.

I would have sent a closed letter but I don’t think this can wait until you’ve sealed the door all the way up. Trusting you will take all this advice in the helpful spirit it is intended, I remain,

That guy who keeps walking through your web like four times a day,

— Joseph

New Things To Argue About


The Internet is a high-capacity conduit for transmitting outrage from person to person. And yet there are things to be outraged about that you never even suspected to exist, which by itself should be annoying you. Thus we’re doing well so far. Here are some controversies you could get worked up about:

Cleaning The Toothbrush Holder.

Background: If you use one of those plastic cases to hold your toothbrush you’ve probably noticed how it’s got a layer of cruddy substance that we’re comfortable telling ourselves is probably a harmless mold lining the insides, all about an inch past where your longest finger can reach. What’s the best way to clean this out?

The Arguments: One faction claims that the best approach is to set the case into a bowl containing a dilute bleach solution, leave it to soak overnight, and then throw it out. Another maintains that the easiest way to clean it is to set it in the silverware holder through a regular load of the dishwasher, so that the jets of water will cause one or both halves to be popped out of the silverware compartment and get forever lost in the weird, scummy, slightly alarming pool of stuff underneath the spinning plastic blade-y thing. Another faction holds extremely tiny hamsters, but just for the fun of it, because there’s no fitting a hamster in a toothbrush holder.

Vegetarian Spiders.

Background: There’s a species of spider in Costa Rica that, to the surprise of biologists though not the spiders’ chefs, mostly eats plants. All the other 40,000-plus species of spiders are not plant-eaters, so far as they’ve let any nosey humans know. Earlier this week the comic strip Slylock Fox mentioned “spiders do not eat plants”. So: are Slylock Fox cartoonists Bob Weber Senior and Junior ignorant, lazy, or the embodiment of pure evil?

The Arguments: The group most outraged by this incomplete information presents the picture of an impressionable, knowledgeable child, curious about the world, soaking this up as part of a broad understanding of the world; and an embedded seed of faulty information will grow to, say, someday the adult in a hugely public stage, like the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions finals, asked to identify the unusual dietary preferences of the Bagheera kiplingi spider of Costa Rica, and be reduced to a panicky mess by having a cherished belief of a life ripped apart at the moment it costs a million dollars. The contrary faction says you may think worse of them for this but that would be kinda awesome TV.

The Edge Of The Galaxy.

Background: So you know how there’s a galaxy out there? If you don’t, step outside a moment — when it’s safe, don’t go interrupting your business piloting a corporate jet to do this — and look around; the spot where you’re looking is part of a galaxy known as the Milky Way because it is not a carbonated soda. Well, where does it end?

The Arguments: One group will argue that the edge of the galaxy can’t be defined because any objects gravitationally bound to the Milky Way are part of it and therefore objects arbitrarily far away will be part of it. Another group argues that they saw that episode of the Original Star Trek and if there were no edge to the galaxy then the show would never have gone to series because they’d just be going off in a straight line through a lot of emptiness for five years. Another faction has managed to progress the dispute so far that it’s now about whether an unambiguous distinction can be drawn between the Thirty Years War and roofing tile.

Sick Board Games.

Background: Do you remember that childhood board game where you get a cartoony figure with a bunch of organs loosely traced out, and you have to roll a die to mark strikes against one of the organs, and when one of them gets three strikes against it that’s the cause of death of your figure? That’s what we’re talking about.

The Arguments: One group insists this is the sickest game that was ever made in the 1970s or any time before or since. Another group insists this game was never made, it was just a dream, and you’re probably the kind of person laughing at the Jeopardy! contestant with the vegetarian spider. You can probably sympathize with both sides.

Georges Melies: Baron Munchausen’s Dream, and, yes, that includes spiders


To kick off the weekend and give myself time to prepare statistics, let me offer another Georges Méliès short, 1911’s Baron Münchausen’s Dream. This is longer than last week’s entry, and it’s just about as long as his famous A Trip To The Moon, but the short still has much of what makes Méliès films so distinctively him. Most of the story is set up as a dream, which gives Méliès free range to have bizarre stuff just happen. I’m also amused that there’s scenes featuring Münchausen and his reflection in the mirror, which sounds like nothing until you realize that if there were a mirror there then you’d clearly see the camera and stage crew and, for that matter, the street outside the glass-lined studio where they filmed. You’ll figure out the sensible way they did the trick.

Again I apologize for not having a proper archival-quality link, but, if this embed should die please let me know and I’ll try to do something about it.

Also, Just Hush, Benjamin Franklin


Yup, so, I was out cutting wood today. It was wood I was fully authorized to cut. And really, what better way is there of cutting wood than hauling a big metal thing and swinging it down on an unsuspecting spider (sorry about that, spider), until you lose all sensation in your arms?

Obviously, the better approach is to simply grow smaller trees, ones that never get to more than about a foot, maybe a foot and a half, tall, so you can skip the cutting altogether. Better than that, though? Hire an itinerant woolly mammoth to grab the blocks in his trunk and toss them from a great height into Pointy Rock Canyon. Then even if the rocks don’t split the wood up right, you’ll still have lost them in a canyon, thus solving the problem.