Sylvan Learning Systems: Amazing Spider-Man Battles Ignorance

 Posted: 2007
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)


Marvel teamed up with Sylvan Learning Systems, a private tutoring organization for grades K-12, to produce this 1992 Spidey comic. The cover title is "The Amazing Spider-Man battles Ignorance" but what he's mainly doing is touting education the Sylvan Learning way.

Story 'Drawing a Blank!'

The issue begins with a personal letter from "Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider- Man" to you, encouraging you to learn, learn learn. Spidey tells us that he never would have become Spider-Man if he hadn't been a bookworm who wanted to go to a science exhibit. And he never would have created his web-shooters and spider-tracers without scientific knowledge. Then he informs you that his "greatest goal in life isn't beating up Doctor Doom or Venom" but "to be a great scientist." He ends by telling you that you could "grow up to be a famous author or artist, the doctor who cures cancer, or perhaps a teacher yourself" but to do that you need an education. Sounds reasonable so far.

Now for the story. Spider-Man is battling the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android atop the Thinker's airship over Manhattan. During the fight, the Thinker brags about his intellect and generally tries to make Spidey feel like a stupe. He has calculated Spidey's every move and manages to snag him with some tentacles that project from the ship. Spidey slaps a tracer on the ship before the Thinker nails him with his "newest weapon of mass destruction," his memory ray, which "makes your mind a total blank" and "wipes out all knowledge." As the Thinker raves about using it on the entire world, the Android drops the zapped Spidey off the ship. The web-slinger ends up landing on some boxes in an alley where three kids find him: Marcus, Shanna, and Cody. They help the web-spinner to his feet and take him to Paige, their tutor at the Sylvan Learning Center.

When Spidey wakes up, he admits that he doesn't remember anything. Lucky for him he's at a Learning Center. The three kids talk up the place, bragging on how "there's always a teacher for every three kids" and how they "have these computers to work on" and how "when we finish a tough lesson we get these tokens we can cash in at the Sylvan Store for all kinds of cool stuff, even the latest music tapes or toys."

Shanna gets the brilliant idea that the Sylvan methods can "help Spider-Man relearn his super-powers." After the webhead agrees, Paige gives him the introductory test, then starts working on phonics and multiplication. Marcus pitches in by bringing in his complete set of Spider-Man comics. He hands Spidey his copy of Amazing Spider-Man #3. (It's from 1963! Where did this kid get a copy? At the Sylvan Store?) This shows Spidey how he defeated Doc Ock. Shanna uses a computer to show him that his web-shooters "fire in a parabolic arc." When Spidey mentions a tingling in his head, Cody knows all about it. "That's your spider-sense," he says, "It warns you of danger!"

When Marcus runs in with a copy of the Daily Bugle mentioning Spidey's battle with the Thinker, everyone deduces that that's how he lost his memory. Marcus suggests finding the Thinker, then "stomp his face." Somehow, he thinks this will get Spidey's memory back. When the web-slinger wonders how to find the Thinker, Shanna gets online to the newswire services. Marcus has a copy of Fantastic Four #15 with the FF's first battle with the Thinker. (That's from 1963, too! Where is this kid getting these comics?) He figures it will tell Spidey how to beat him.

The kids coach him before he heads out. Marcus correctly assumes that Spidey left a spider-tracer on the Thinker. Shanna makes sure his web-shooters are filled. Then Spidey heads out, finding the Thinker only 13.4 seconds before he uses his memory ray on the city. Wishing he could remember "all those funny lines I used in the comics," Spidey bursts into the Thinker's airship, deactivates the Android as he learned from FF #15 (which so frazzles the Thinker that he says of his Android, "You've reactivated him!") and then webs up the Thinker who can't believe he's been beaten. "How could you return to defeat me? I had everything planned! Unless you had outside help!" Yep. That's what he had, all right. "I never could've beaten him without help from the Sylvan Learning Center," Spidey thinks.

Spidey finds the memory ray and tries to figure out how to reverse its effects. The Thinker brays at him, "You're stupid! You can't understand anything! Stupid people can't learn and never will!" But Spidey knows otherwise. "Paige and the kids taught me that I can learn anything if I have the right motivation," he says, then he pays attention to his spider-sense as he adjusts the memory ray's controls. As soon as it stops tingling, he knows the ray is safe. He uses it on himself and it restores his memory.

Later, Spidey returns to Sylvan to thank Paige and the kids. He reveals that "I've been a teacher and a student for years" (which the kids should know since they own all of his comic books), adding that Paige is "one of the best teachers I've ever had." He tells the kids to "stick with Sylvan and you're gonna do great," then he gives all the tokens he earned to Cody who tells the others, "Let's split them up! I want to buy some Spider-Man comics!"

General Comments

I have no idea who writer George Caragonne is but he has put together an entertaining little piece of comic book propaganda. Alan Kupperberg's artwork is not flashy but does the job. It's all very cleverly conceived with the elitist Mad Thinker used not only as a device to deprive Spidey of his knowledge but to spew all sorts of negative comments about how stupid people can't learn, allowing Spidey to prove he's learned otherwise. The kids are devices, of course, but develop some individuality through dialogue above and beyond their obvious physical differences (Marcus is black and rides a skateboard; Shanna is white, blonde, and wears glasses; Cody is white, blonde, and wears shades). Using old Marvel Comics to train Spidey is cute and provides the opportunity for Spidey to tell the Thinker that he knew how to defeat the Android because he read it "in a comic book." In other words, comics are educational too! There's also a crossword puzzle and word search. The crossword is basic but fun. The word search has a clever twist. One word is included twice but it doesn't tell you which one. Then once you get them all, you have to take the remaining letters and unscramble them to come up with the name of "one of Spider-Man's deadliest foes.

Spoiler Warning!!!

(It's the Scorpion.)

The only thing that bothers me is what I mentioned at the start. The comic appears to be about getting an education but it's really about getting an education from Sylvan. Spidey doesn't think, "I never could've beaten him without help from my education." He thinks, "I never could've beaten him without help from the Sylvan Learning Center." Which is fine, I guess. I don't really know anything about the Sylvan Learning Center, although I did find this blog that says Sylvan pays their teachers practically nothing. I mean, they're not taking kids in out of the goodness of their hearts. You have to pay them something, I assume. And the public schools would probably do better if they had the money to give out tokens so kids could snap up comics and video games and music.

Overall Rating

As these sponsored comics go, though, this one's pretty good. I'm giving it three and a half webs.

 Posted: 2007
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)