The Wall-Crawler vs. Drugs, Liquor and Ice Hockey – The Amazing Spider-Man: Skating on Thin Ice!
Here we have our umpteenth Spider-Man PSA comic. As Marvel’s kid-friendly standard-bearer, the wall-crawler has drawn the lion’s share of the duties when it comes to educating America’s youth on the assorted issues of the day. Sometimes these comics can be goofy: witness Spider-Man elucidating the horrors unleashed by reading, or promoting safe sex by violating an alien’s mouth with his goo. And sometimes they could be searing, as was the time our arachnid hero recounted his own history as a victim of child abuse.
Drugs are a frequent topic of these comics, and they are in this one. But with a little twist: Spider-Man is heading to Winnipeg, ladies and gentlemen! Get your parkas ready, eh!
This is actually the first in a four-issue mini-series originally published in Canada in 1992 as one-shot giveaways, then reprinted in the United States the next year — hence the Canuck influence. (No King of the Royal Mounted sightings, sadly.) All four comics had assorted PSA themes, and then-Spider-Man impresario and noted Canadian Todd McFarlane was kind enough to grace the first issue with a cover, filled with his usual assemblage of round, flat faces. The presence of the Edmonton Oilers jersey wasn’t merely a nod to McFarlane’s love of hockey, either, or of the northern setting. Pucks and sticks are central to this Don’t Do Drugs narrative.
The villain of the tale (written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Alex Saviuk and Christopher Ivy) is Electro, most recently brought to life in the-more-dreadful-the-more-you-think-about-it The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The issue begins in media res, with Spider-Man and his foe battling in that usual setting of over-the-top showdowns, a warehouse filled with lots of crates ready to topple. Electro wins this round and makes his getaway, but Spider-Man stumbles onto a clue that may help him figure out whatever Marvel’s Reddy Kilowatt is up to:
So the pucks are lighter, and Electro is the one shipping them, but Spider-Man doesn’t think to, oh, I don’t know, crack one open. The World’s Greatest Detective would be ashamed.
He decides to get to the bottom of Electro’s shenanigans by traveling to Canada on J. Jonah Jameson’s dime, after convincing that ever-skeptical editor-in-chief that there’s a story to be had beyond the 49th parallel. The story? A science fair that’s actually in Fredericton (the next stop in this Canadian saga). But in perhaps his greatest triumph Peter Parker manages to persuade Jameson to fund the diversion to Winnipeg so that he can profile one of the contestants. (The Daily Bugle must be desperate for stories, no?) So off Peter goes, his Spider-Man togs stashed in his carry-on luggage.
The contestant, Beth, happens to play on a youth hockey team, which is as surprising for a Canadian kid as it is for a seal to swim. One of the kids on the team, Alan, is quite good, but as Peter is watching the team practice the coach tells our intrepid reporter that he’s been off his game lately. Peter is quite taken with the whole group, and decides to change into his hero guise to give them the thrill of a lifetime, i.e. meeting the great champion from south of the border. It’s just as he’s about to spring this surprise that he discovers not only why Alan’s puck skills have been slipping, but why those pucks back stateside were so light:
Gah! Booze! And now maybe pills!
When the group breaks apart for the evening, Spider-man follows Alan and then scoops him up to give him a little pep talk about the evils of drugs. Not only that, he also pulls a Ghost of Christmas Present act, as he takes Alan around town and shows him the seedy routine of the young pill-pusher:
All roads lead back to Electro, who (along with a mystery man who’s the thread running through this series) has added drug-smuggler to his list of evil doings. Once again there’s a confrontation at a warehouse, but this time Spider-Man has the hockey-addled kids to back him up. And back him up they do, with slapshot comeuppance all around:
Sports! Science! Victory!
And that’s pretty much the end. Electro is hauled away by the police, Alan learns how to just say no, the hockey team is better than ever, and Peter/Spider-Man is off to Fredericton for the science fair. The mystery man at one point tried to abduct Beth, so Peter is going to shadow her until he gets to the bottom of this new mystery. On to the next issue!
This comic is at least a little less heavy-handed than others of its ilk, which all too often sink under the leaden weight of their own do-goodery. The Canadian twist adds an odd element, which is the case any time Spider-Man steps out of his usual Manhattan confines. And Electro being done in by a hockey puck is welcome no matter the setting. What more can you say?
We’ll probably get around to looking at the rest of the comics in this partially educational series — perhaps the best thing to ever come from NAFTA.