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Dumbed down? Accessible for kids? Both? You be the judge. – Spidey Super Stories #24

March 31, 2011

I guess The Electric Company was still around when I was a kid, at least in reruns. It was part of the gradations of children’s educational programming, with EC taking the torch after the simpler (but much more indelible) Sesame Street. The only thing I can recall about it is being very disappointed by the silent Spider-Man as he was portrayed on the show. Even my young eyes saw he was a skinny dude in ill-fitting pajamas, acting more like a mime than a heroic web-slinger. It would be a long while before the Sam Raimi version would wipe that live-action image out of my brain.

Here’s the bit that introduced Spider-Man to the Electric Company world — it’s a hell of an added bonus that Morgan Freeman, as the Easy Reader, was the one making the introduction:

When Mason Reese is being name-dropped, you are in a dark time in our nation’s history. Pilgrims in an unholy land, as it were.

I never knew that there was a tie-in comic to go with the Spider-Man/Electric Company fusion until relatively recently. It’s an interesting series. Most were blessed with Romita covers, and the stories inside were simplified and made kid-friendly. Most older comics — including those back in ’70s — seem relatively kid-friendly, so I’m not sure of the wisdom of making the reading chores simpler. It’s not as if you’ll see words like “quotidian” or “perspicacity” rear their ugly heads in the normal ones. There’s something to be said for helping kids develop their reading skills, but there’s also something to be said for having a higher bar for them to reach for. If there’s one thing I think I know, it’s not to talk down to kids. They can see through that nonsense pretty quick. Talk to them like contemporaries, minus the innuendo and cussing, of course. It seems to work pretty well.

Then again, I have neither children nor a teaching degree. Perhaps I should just shut my mouth. Or still my fingers (and don’t hold your breath waiting for The Blog into Mystery Guide to Parenting). I will say that I think as a kid (even a little one) I would have read these Spidey books and tossed them aside. “Where’s the real Spider-Man?” I would have asked.

That’s the point I’m driving at — if you simplify things too much, kids get a bit squirmy, like their cheeks are being pinched by some ugly, ancient aunt. I’m not sure that these comics truly cross that line, but let’s take a look at what’s inside this one. You can judge for yourself.

Ralph Macchio and Kolfax Mingo wrote this issue, while Winslow Mortimer and Mike Esposito took on the art chores. In the first story (“Trapped by the Collector”), poor Spidey is out slinging around when he’s dragged into the Baxter Building by an irate Thundra. She’s been assigned the task of guarding some machines for the Fantastic Four, but they’ve gone missing — seeing Spider-Man going past the window, she assumed he’d taken them.


They wrestle around, perhaps fulfilling some “small masked man, large woman” fetish, and Spider-Man shoots her in the eyes with his goo —  rereading that, maybe they need to rethink the whole Rated G business, though it really isn’t as bad as it sounds:

It’s revealed that the machines were teleported away by the Collector, and he soon tries to add Spidey and Thundra to his holdings. Not so fast, bub — and let’s sprinkle in some weak dialogue while the comeuppance is ladled out:

I’m getting a real “See Spot run” vibe here. You?

The Collector’s means of escape was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in recent weeks:

Apparently the Elders of the Universe had a clown college.

The story wouldn’t be complete without one final groaner:

The next story (“Humbugged!”) involves a villain whose main power is — wait for it — humming. Since this one was kind of done on the TV show, in the interests of brevity (and perhaps my sainity), I’ll just give you one panel and an embed:

The last ditty (“Time Trapped” and “King Kang”) is a bit more fun. It has Lockjaw. It has Kang. And they go together like Tango and Cash, baby. If you’ve ever wanted to see Marvel’s big tuning-forked not-a-giant-bulldog-even-though-he-looks-like-one bite the Conqueror on the ass, this, my friend, is your lucky day.

Peter’s heading to meet Mary Jane to go to a costume party (he’s pretty lazy in his costume selection — one hint: he’s wearing it) when Lockjaw appears and Shanghais him:

They travel to a future where humanity has been enslaved by Kang and forced to wear Spider-Man costumes. I shit you not, folks. I’ll leave it to Kang to explain this mishegoss:

This shall not stand. Remember that ass stuff I promised? Here it is!:

And now for the denouement:

Mary Jane hasn’t worn the Spider-Man costume many times over the years, but I find it very becoming on her when she does.

While I’m still ambivalent on whether or not these things have educational value (and the jarring use…of ellipsis is pointless and…drives me nuts), it’s hard to knock some of the silly, childish humor. I begrudgingly cede the fun of that stuff. These Spidey comics also have a degree of collectible appeal. They’re not often seen and when they’re spotted they’re not usually in great shape, so when they do turn up I always give them a good hard look. The little kids they were aimed at, being kids, apparently didn’t take the best care of them, hence their frequently dilapidated condition. Or maybe they kids just thought the things were supid baby crap and junked them. Who knows?

In one final aside, I was scanning the skeletal entry for this issue in the Grand Comics Database website and noticed that there was some question as to whether Jack Kirby might have pencilled this particular cover. The John Romita influence is quite obvious, but I think I might see some Kirby in the Collector’s head, not to mention Thundra’s pose. Maybe not.

Anyway, it’s some food for thought. Which can’t really be said (fairly or not) for the contents of this comic.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2011 10:18 pm

    I don’t know how I would have felt reading these as a kid, but I sure do like them now (primarily for the Win Mortimer art)! I can see them as having being good introductions to sequential art for kids who weren’t used to how things like word bubbles and action words worked, more so than ease of vocabulary, etc.

    • March 31, 2011 10:19 pm

      *haven been*

      • March 31, 2011 10:21 pm

        haha, that makes no sense either. Well, apparently I need to read more spidey-stories!!! 🙂 It has been a long day!

      • April 3, 2011 12:57 pm

        Ha. This thing needs an edit function for posters, not just for me. But don’t worry, I get your point.

        You may be on the money with these really just being more a simplified primer on how comics work. Still, I seem to recall picking up regular comics at an early age and not being befuddled by word balloons, and I assure you, I ain’t no Einstein. So I’m still a bit skeptical of their necessity, though not their amusement capacity.

        They couldn’t pick a more kid-friendly ambassador to youngsters than Lockjaw, though. I think we can all agree on that.

  2. Edo Bosnar permalink
    April 1, 2011 4:51 am

    Jacque, speaking as someone who read these as a kid while they were coming out, I have to say that by the ripe old age of about 7 I “grew out” of them – I could tell they had nothing to do with the “real” Spidey titles on the spinner racks, and that they were made for “little kids.”
    I definitely agree with you that they’re really fun to read now; I think Spidey Super Stories is a series that sort of serves as Marvel’s version of those many silly DC silver age stories.

    • April 3, 2011 12:59 pm

      The Silver Age angle is certainly apt. The entire “Spider-Slaves of the Future” bit is positively dripping with a Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen vibe.

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