Spider-Man and Planned Parenthood team to educate no one – The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Prodigy!
A great many people have had a crack at today’s comic, but it’s time this site took a swipe at this well-intentioned 1970s PSA pinata. Just looking at the cover you wouldn’t even know that this is one of the more blatant usages of Marvel’s frontman to educate the youth of America, but it is. You see, this is a cooperative effort between Marvel and Planned Parenthood. Think that teens are in dire need of dialogue on venereal disease and pregnancy? Then the web-slinger is here to save the day. But will it be a frank and effective sex primer for pubescent America, with a backwards-chair-sitting Spider-Man rapping about all the cons and downers of reckless sex? Or will it descend into awkwardness, with Spider-Man showing boys how to properly unfurl and apply a condom? Or will it just plain fail miserably?
One would be forgiven mistaking this thin digest-sized booklet for a run of the mill giveaway, since the cover (with a World Trade Center cameo) has nothing to indicate its sex-ed bona fides. (Indeed, the “Prodigy” almost makes you think it has something to do with the mid-1990s online tech boom.) That changes when you open said cover, and find a classic image of the crouching, stalking Spider-Man heralding such wares as Love and Sex in Plain Language:
As for our story, crafted by Ann Robinson, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, it centers around the corrupting influence of the Prodigy, an alien from the plant Intellectia (really), whose power is his charisma, which can convince people to do his bidding. Like, say, impressionable teenagers. Here’s our first peek at him, in both his natural and disguised states — he looks a bit like an Amalgam combination of the Leader and Hector Hammond (I love to no end that he has a “Galactic Glory” note stuck to his mirror to help fire him up, like Rocky’s picture of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV):
His grand master plan is to convince Earth’s young people that having babies while still in their teenage years is the tops, which will provide a glut of children that can then be carted off to Intellectia and used as slave labor:
Our hero gets wind of this when he sees a helicopter load of a teens taking off in the city and follows it to a secluded estate. There he eavesdrops on the Prodigy’s pro-pregnancy lecture (complete with “all that jazz” slang!):
Spider-Man likes Twinkies? Maybe he’s just buys them for the Joe Rudi baseball cards.
There’s also a little Q and A, in which the gathered teens speak approvingly of the clunky sex ed films they’re shown in schools, something no teen has ever done in recorded history — and the Prodigy counters with how pregnancy is good for the hormones and clears up acne. You learn something every day:
All this verbal tomfoolery just doesn’t make Spider-Man toss off Marcus Welby, M.D. references — it just plain pisses him off:
The Prodigy plans to broadcast his message to the masses via television, which is what finally makes our hero spring into action. What does he do to stop him? Why, he unmasks him and violates the Prodigy orally with his personal fluid, that’s what:
This is an interesting choice, to say the least. Especially since Spider-Man has webbed up J. Jonah Jameson’s mouth roughly 9,000 times over the years, and never once invaded the inside. (At least I don’t recall him ever doing it.) Did this climax (…) seep in unconsciously? Was anyone aware of the narrative context? Let’s just be thankful that this wasn’t the Raimiverse Spider-Man, with his organic web-shooters, as then we’d have a whole other level of gross tacked on.
The comic closes with more Spider-Man iconography amidst the inside scoop:
And there you have it.
What are we to make of this? It would seem that it falls far short of the gold standard of the Spider-Man PSA field, the sexual abuse comic that revealed Spider-Man’s own tragic childhood betrayal. Yes, it’s good that Marvel and Planned Parenthood made an effort to educate kids about the myriad dangers and problems associated with getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant too young. But it’s a somewhat useless effort, undermined by its own clunkiness. Instead of any sort of frank dialogue about sex, the story is dopey in a cloying, juvenile manner, and dispels myths that no one believes — unless maybe kids were a thousand times dumber in the 1970s. It’s the equivalent of trying to win an argument by destroying straw men. Again, this isn’t to dismiss out of hand the effort made, as just listing some outlets where more info can be obtained has its value. But you get the impression that the story within presented a grand total of zero teenage pregnancies, which is kind of the point of having an actual comic story — otherwise you could just have a brochure with Spider-Man’s image slapped on in a few places and call it a day. One detects the heavy bureaucratic hand of Planned Parenthood in the storytelling, that’s for certain.
And the big takeaway? If all else fails, you can always just shoot your fluid into another person’s mouth, which solves all of life’s problems. Knowledge for life, for both young and old.