Spider-Man, Green Goblin, toothpaste and the standard by which all other giveaways are judged – Exclusive Collector’s Edition: Spider-Man
I don’t think anyone would make the claim that this Aim Toothpaste giveaway is an exemplar of storytelling excellence. It’s free, after all, and the underlying (very underlying, as we’ll see) message of good dental hygiene can’t compare to something like the Spider-Man/Power Pack molestation book, which was a comic book Afterschool Special on pathos steroids. It’s nowhere near as silly as any number of other Spider-Man freebies, whether they involve Santa-Kingpin, the Dallas Cowboys, or the horrors of reading. But the star-wattage of its villain (the A1 member of the Spider-Man rogues gallery) and the goofy subject matter (dentistry, folks, dentistry) render it some sort of measuring stick. It’s not awesome. It’s not atrocious. It’s a bit overlong. But it sticks in your head.
In full disclosure, I have to note that I had this comic as a kid. Since Aim never once made an appearance in our household (it’s the RC Cola of flouridated products), I have to think that it was given to me by my dentist from the time I had to teeth to the end of my college years. Which makes it just about the only good thing — since I never had a cavity — that he ever did for me. (A few words about him: He was an arrogant little guy, a man who never in my last few years of going to him spared an opportunity to call in his assistants to gape at and mock the extensive re-ordering of teeth that my orthodontist had done. Which, make no mistake, was a New Deal public works level affair, with concrete, steel and plenty of space-age polymers involved. He neglected to note that he never once spoke up in the years that my mouth was filled with braces, as I was making hour-long trips — I lived in the sticks — to get them adjusted. No, only after the teeth were PERFECTLY STRAIGHT did he nitpick and Monday morning quarterback. Only then did he question the work of the guy who — and I’m forever indebted to him for this — kept teeth from practically growing out of my damn forehead. What made it worse was he always did his scat and bebop stand-up routine when his hands were in my mouth, with that suction thing slurping away, and I therefore couldn’t call him on it. And then he’d leave before I could fire back. Of course, he couldn’t really tell what I was saying through the noise and obstructions, and thought I was reveling in his tremendous wit while I was really mumbling variations on “Eat me.”
Whew. Been carrying that anger around for a while. Thanks for letting me vent.)
This Marv Wolfman, Alex Saviuk, Mike Esposito affair is a lengthy read. It feels like it covers the same ground four or five times. And that’s because it covers the same ground four or five times. The Green Goblin shows up, Spider-Man confronts him, the Green Goblin makes his getaway. Ibid. Rinse, repeat. The story’s very length, however, is one of the things that sets this book apart. Maybe the quality work wasn’t there, but you have to admire the quantity of effort that went into a toothpaste tie-in. And Peter Parker makes some remarkably questionable decisions concerning the safety of a child in his charge — we’re talking criminal negligence level decisions.
Let’s take a quick look.
The story begins with J. Jonah Jameson loading poor Peter with yet another menial task, this time dragging Jonah’s (rather nice, actually) nephew, Randy, to the dentist:
Peter balks, but Jonah dangles a “fired” in front of him, so off they go.
It turns out the dentist is working on a new dental laser (dentists with easily weaponized technology — is this something we as a society want?):
On cue, the Green Goblin crashes through the window and kidnaps him. That’s when Peter makes the first of his bad decisions, leaving a terrified kid alone to fend for himself:
Granted, Peter has to get on the Goblin’s trail, but maybe he could find a nurse or something?
Spider-Man and the Goblin battle (if you’ve seen one of these, you’ve seen them all), but the Goblin gets away, and Peter doesn’t even get any decent pictures. This failure sends Jonah into a frothing, cigar-chomping rage, and Peter has to go out the next day to look for some shots, once again accompanied by Randy, who wants to be a photographer when he grows up. But when they overhear an alert about another Goblin crime, Peter repeats his disappearing act:
Peter left a child alone on the streets of New York City. Alone. On the streets. In New York. This is not his finest hour.
The Goblin once more escapes (Ibid.), and the next day Peter and Randy go to a dental exhibit, one complete with giant molars:
Randy seems really taken with the whole thing, whereas I think the young me would have stabbed himself in the face within five minutes.
Eventually, Peter has another confrontation with the Goblin (rinse, repeat), and once more fails to bring him down. But hey, he does get to reenact one of his more iconic moments, from The Amazing Spider-Man #33:
The two old foes have a final battle at the dental exhibit (naturally), where the Goblin is going to use a laser drill built by the kidnapped dentist to drill through the giant molars, which are storing silver and gold for low-income fillings (don’t ask). The final blow involves Spider-Man blasting the Goblin into a giant set of teeth. Of course it does:
The day is saved. And hey, Randy’s life and emotional well-being was only endangered a couple of times. Winners all around!
The story ends with Randy finally getting that belated check-up, which turns out to be a real bad one:
The book wraps with the de rigueur page of dental health tips. Nothing really new here, what with the usual smiling young faces and the brushing and flossing that normal children do so begrudgingly:
Please note the panel that encourages you to eat fruit and other healthy snacks, instead of sugar bomb confections, including a cake dripping with a glaze of frosting (somewhere Michael Bloomberg is nodding in nannyish approval). Pretty standard, right? Well, the only reason I point it out is that you close the comic and look at the back cover and you’re met with THIS:
Yes, Spider-Man has a nice, sugary cake waiting for you. Yes, Spider-Man. Spider-Man will come to YOUR party with a cake. MESSAGE. UNDERMINED.
Also, he’ll probably ditch pretty quick.
As stated above, this is a meaty book (36 pages), and lot of that meat is devoted to Groundhog Day reprises of Spider-Man getting bested by pumpkin bombs again and again. This is by no means a great read, and that Peter Parker would so willingly leave a young kid to his own devices in the middle of the Big Apple is something that sucks you right out of the story. It’s just so out of character. (Maybe it’s in character, but that’s not the Parker I know.) I’m not sure what Wolfman was thinking with that.
Still, everything that goes into it — the thickness, the villain, the hero, the teeth — sets it apart from the crowd, for better or worse. It’s the center of the giveaway universe, and whether books are — indeed — better or worse, there’s at least one person that always compares them to this one.