Comics : Whitman Big Little Book 5779: Spider-Man Zaps Mr. Zodiac
This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club
This review was first published on: 2003.
Remember "big little books"? They're about 4" wide, 5" tall, and just under an inch fat. The Spider-Man book packs about 250 pages, of which every second page is a B/W line drawing, and the text is fairly large... 12 point or more, I think. I'm sure I had a couple as a kid, and I remember them being really neat at the time... they felt like big books, but they were actually nice and easy to read.
Well, that was 1976. Let's move on nearly 30 years, and see if this squat little epic still packs the same punch as the long-distant day when Mr. George S. Elrick first produced this one and only Spider-Man "Big Little Book", BLB #5779... for only 49c!
Whitman Big Little Book 5779: Spider-Man Zaps Mr. Zodiac
Year 1976 : SM Title
Like all Spidey tales that don't want to get involved in continuity, this one features Peter Parker, The Daily Bugle, JJJ, Betty Brant, and (later) Aunt May.
Like all shallow one-sided tales, Peter is a wimp, Spidey cracks jokes, JJJ is angry, Betty is cute, and Aunt May gets sick. So much for the characterisations, let's get to the villain. Mr. Zodiac.
In fact, Mr. Zodiac really _is_ this story. Let's get through the gory details in a big rush, since we can wrap up half of this review all in one go. According to chapter 2, where all is prematurely revealed (no suspense in this story, sorry) Mr. Zodiac was formerly a boy astrologer in the Persian Gulf region of the Middle East, 4000 years ago. He had an interest in the sun, and so climbed a volcano, which erupted, shooting lava, which ionized the surrounding air, which baked the outer layer of his brain, and permanently altered his body chemistry.
But wait, that's not all. He fell in a cave, which was plugged by lava. Then, to add insult to injury, he survived by continuous cellular division and re-multiplication, which involved changing forms to the 12 signs of the zodiac.
Hence, when the cave unplugged itself, last week, he was released into the world, driven half mad, seeking revenge on society, and to change his shape at will to the twelve signs of the zodiac, and also to a spandex clad super-villain, and also to that of a girl named Jane Virgo, capable of speaking perfect American, which was handy since he/she came to Manhattan.
Then, at night, Mr. Zodiac, a.k.a. Jane Virgo, a.k.a. Astro (not sure why) would rampage the streets of Manhattan, bit by bit. Also, if Mr. Z doesn't change form at least twice a day, he will dissolve into dust. Not sure how he knows that, since it hasn't happened yet.
So, where does Spidey fit in? Well, Mr. Z, as Jane Virgo, has come to work to pay the bills, writing horoscopes at the Bugle. Since she has the power to wreck giant buildings and then escape faster than the police can catch her, I don't know why she doesn't just turn into a goat and eat peoples underwear off their washing-lines. But then she wouldn't meet Peter, I guess.
Sneaky Jane pretends to like Peter, although she really hates all mankind, for obvious reasons. No, I don't know why either. But she does. Also, when she learns that Peter is a photographer, she "pumps" him for info about Spidey.
Now, just about this time, Spidey starts heading out in the evenings to try and find Astro. I shall mention just once that many of the aspects of Spidey as described in this story are just plain WRONG. From the "electrodes in his palm" that release the webbing, to him "gliding the air currents", our erstwhile narrator George clearly doesn't have a clue about Spidey, and he couldn't be arsed finding out, so he just made up the details based on some cartoon he saw once - ten years earlier, I'm guessing.
As for Peter, in this story he drives a beaten-up model-T Ford of a car, although in the comic world we know he never sat a driving test. Oh well, I guess he has an artistic licence to drive.
Over their regular lunches, Jane quickly figures out that Peter is Spidey, and uses the info that she tricks out of him to avoid Spidey. But each night, Spidey's "radar-sense" allows him to detect her activity on the other side of town (yeah, I know, that's not how it works). But each time, the various zodiac forms manage to escape.
Finally, Peter figures out that Jane is Mr. Zodiac, and tracks her down to her ranch house, which is right next door to where Aunt May is baby-sitting a young kid! Oh No! Aunt May forgot her medicine! Now she's sick! Oh No! The kid got kidnapped! Aunt May has her medicine, now she's better! Better go rescue that kid, Spidey!
Now follows a 48-hour chase. Yes, 48-hours. That's what it says. Ever few hours, Jane just manages to escape for 10 minutes, and changes form, and then Spidey just catches up, and they carry on. But maybe Spidey can persuade the kidnapped kid to recite his times-tables while Mr. Zodiac/Jane/Astro is trying to change form, distracting her, and causing her to turn to dust!
This story sets a new high-water mark in lameness. Redeeming features are there none, except for the extra-ordinary kitschy collectability of this classic, yet oh-so-undeserving travesty of fiction.
Buy this book for how cool it looks on your shelves. Literary value, zero and falling.