No New Ideas

No doubt by now, everyone has heard the news. The Jackal, the masked man that has once again been cloning Spidey's friends and foes in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, wasn't Miles Warren at all, but Ben Reilly. The Spider-Man clone that "died" in 1996 is alive again and slightly unstable after multiple deaths and resurrections. Ben will soon resume his nom de guerre of the Scarlet Spider, the alias he used after his return to New York over two decades ago. Depending on the reader, this is either very good or very unwelcome news, as the Clone Saga is still one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories of the character's fifty five year history. However, retreading familiar plot points is a far from new phenomenon.

Last year, I picked up a book collecting Spider-Man newspaper strips from 1977 to 1979. I recently came across a familiar plot line, which is similar to one used by a DC character many years later. The first part of the story was published on September 11, 1978, and has a tired Peter going for a walk one night as a pair of crooks are holding up a liquor store. Peter goes into action as Spider-Man and leaves his civilian clothes webbed to a nearby wall. The ruckus of the fight drew the attention of a woman in a nearby apartment, who found the webbed clothing and Peter's wallet in his pants. Later, she called to blackmail Peter with her newfound information. The woman, Vera Arlen, worked as a model and immediately quit her modeling job after learning Spidey's secret, thinking he would be her slave. Her boss begged her to stay and she demanded he make her his top model again. He refused and she claimed that he stole what was rightfully her and she would never forgive him.

Arlen had been a model for Beauty Glo makeup, but was replaced by a new woman when sales dropped. In a rage, Arlen ran out of her boss's office and into the makeup lab, where she ran into a table of chemicals that burned her face. Months later, she found Peter's clothing and wallet. She used the info to force Spider-Man to target her former employer, Raymond Dexter. As Dexter was at dinner with the new model, Spidey webbed his car and pulled it uphill toward a cliff. The sight of the car mysteriously moving uphill on its own frightened the pair and Spider-Man left it dangling on the cliff's edge.

Arlen's next order was for Spider-Man to leave a threatening note inside Dexter's home. He spooked both Dexter and his new girlfriend by getting past his doberman and disappearing without a trace. His final task was to steal the new skin cream that Dexter was introducing on his yacht. After smoking out the ship by covering the smoke stack with webbing, Spidey retrieved the formula for his unknown blackmailer. He left it for her to find, but he also left a spider tracer inside the lid of the jar. He followed her back to her apartment and when she spotted him, Arlen rushed at him with a knife. Spidey dodged her and she crashed through her window and fell to the pavement. (Spider-Man was unable to save her as he was out of web fluid.) As a crowd gathered around her body, someone recognized her as a former model that had suffered a facial scar. Someone commented that she always kept her hair over half of her face, to cover the chemical mark. Upon pulling her hair back, they found that the scar was tiny and she was still beautiful. From a distance, Spider-Man said that her "flaw" was all in her mind.

An oddly similar story was told by The New Batman Adventures cartoon team. On April 8, 1998, an episode titled "Mean Seasons" aired and followed the crimes of Calendar Girl. She and her shirtless goons started by kidnapping a fashion designer at a fashion show. Her next target was an executive at a Gotham Motors car show. Batman and Batgirl looked for a connection between the kidnappings, and found they had both employed a model named Paige Monroe. The two went to talk to her former agent, who told them that her offers for work dried up once she turned thirty. He had tried to get her work in a TV sitcom, but the studio wanted to cater to a younger audience. Batman asked what happened to her and the agent sarcastically answered that a plastic surgeon had "nipped when he should have tucked."

At her hideout, Calendar Girl sat in her private room without wearing her white mask. One of her goons walked in and she threw an explosive Easter egg at him, fearing he had seen her face. She immediately decided it was time to kidnap the third and final of her former employers, the network executive that cancelled her TV show. Later, Batgirl found that Monroe still owned an abandoned night club called Faces. The duo found Calendar Girl and her hostages there and she was soon captured. After she was unmasked by the police, Monroe panicked and began crying hysterically. Batgirl said she was beautiful and Batman said that all she can see are the flaws.

To keep myself from being sued for libel, I'm not saying that the creators of The New Batman Adventures plagiarized a comic strip from twenty years earlier. They may well have had similar ideas, gone about in different ways. The Batman cartoon did have an underlying theme of age discrimination and sexism. The Spider-Man newspaper strip wasnt as sympathetic to Arlen as "Mean Seasons" was to Paige Monroe. I think that this just makes each story a product of their times. However, it is a pretty strange coincidence that two superhero stories focus on ex-fashion models that want revenge on their former bosses after losing their jobs. Add to it their shame over their facial scars despite their attractiveness and we have some carbon copy villains.