I’ve been giving daily recaps in reviews of the Spider-Man newspaper strip since August 24, 2015 but the series has been around since January 3, 1977 (thus its designation as Earth-77013…1977-01-03… though I prefer to call it the Strip-Verse). I figured it was time to go to the beginning and review the series back when it was absolutely written by Stan Lee and had the vibrant, gripping artwork of John Romita, Sr.; artwork that makes you feel like you’re reading some lost episodes of the 1960s comic book.
Well, not really, because, as a daily strip, it parses out its story in such a way as to keep the reader interested on a daily basis. It doesn’t really worry about making things too complex since the daily reader is probably not going to remember all the details and won’t notice any discrepancies. Now that we can read the stories in one sitting, the flaws become apparent and the plot flimsiness shows through but that doesn’t take away from whatever impact it originally had in daily doses.
The Strip-Verse is more than the differences forced upon it by the medium. Stan took advantage of the framework to re-tell stories from the comic and to redo the continuity. In this opening story, nothing jumps out at the comic book reader more than the choice of Dr. Doom as the villain. In a world that, apparently, has no Fantastic Four, Doom not only becomes a Spidey villain but he will appear often enough to argue that he is THE Spidey villain in the first years of the series.
If you sneak a peek down at the “In Detail…” section, you will note that I am not going through the strip panel by panel as I do in the current stories. That practice came about because I am looking at the strips day by day as they come out. (Or trying to!) Here, with all the strips in front of me, I am free to dispense with that and give an overview. Hallelujah.
And now, let’s enter the Strip-Verse for the first time and see what happens when Dr. Doom comes to speak at the United Nations.
Who appears in the first panel of the very first Spidey newspaper strip? Not Spidey. Instead it is an unnamed Madison Avenue newsstand vendor who watches as a web shoots down and snags a copy of the Daily Bugle. Dr. Doom is on the front page. A web dangles down with a quarter attached to it to pay for the paper. (A full size newspaper for a quarter! Those were the days!) The vendor looks up to see Spider-Man who has just bought a paper in his own inimitable style. (Jan 3, 77)
Spidey reads his paper and sees that “Dr. Doom is coming…to address the U.N.!” He crumples the paper in his hand and declares, “We’ve got to be nuts to invite the world’s worst terrorist… even if he is King of Latveria!” (Jan 4) It turns out that J. Jonah Jameson “used the power of his Daily Bugle to persuade the U.N. to send for Dr. Doom.” To Spidey this “is like inviting the Mafia to preach to Baretta!” (Jan 5) (Baretta was the name of a TV cop show…and the TV cop… that ran from 1975 to 1978 and starred the later infamous Robert Blake [1933- ]. What I mostly remember of this show is that Baretta spent a lot of time with a cockatoo on his shoulder.) Spidey thinks that JJJ has invited Doom because “He thinks Doom can do what JJ’s own newspaper can’t do – namely stomp out Spider-Man.” He web-swings over to the Daily Bugle where he scares Betty Brant. (Jan 6). Betty goes to inform Joe “Robbie” Robertson that Spidey is waiting in Jameson’s office while Jonah arrives at the Bugle in a taxi. “Wow! A whole 10 cent tip!” says the cabbie, “Now I can buy my own fleet!” “A dime? Blast it, I thought it was a nickel I gave ‘im! And he took it!” says JJJ, “That’s what’s wrong with this country! Everyone rips you off!” (Jan 7) This is Stan at the top of his game with classic Jameson dialogue. On his way up to his office, Jonah tells the doorman, “We haven’t had a nice day since Herbert Hoover!” (Jan 8) (Hoover [1874-1964] was US President from 1929 to 1933.)
And so we arrive at the first Sunday strip of the series with some great banter between Spidey and Jameson. When Jonah says, “We need people like Doom who won’t let Commie pinkos push ‘em around,” Spidey replies, “Yeah, we need ‘em like Kojak needs hair spray. (Kojak was the name of a TV cop show…and the TV cop… that ran from 1973 to 1978 and starred Telly Savalas [1922-1994]. Kojak was a tough cop who sucked on lollipops and was, for the purposes of Spidey’s comment here completely bald). Jonah counters with “Doom wiped out crime in Latveria, didn’t he?” Spidey follows with, “Sure! He called his enemies criminals and had ‘em all shot!” “Go on! Be a nit-picker!” says Jonah, “Just wait! Doom’ll clip your wings for good, you high-flying creep!” JJJ leans way out his window, yelling at the departing Spidey. “That’s it! Lean out a little further, Chuckles, so today won’t be a total loss!” says Spidey (Jan 9). Great stuff!
After a brief appearance by Abe Beame, real-life mayor of New York from 1974 to 1978 (Jan 11), the scene shifts to Forest Hills where the Strip-Verse introduces us to Aunt May and Anna Watson (Jan 12). Mary Jane joins them (Jan 13) and everyone seems to be in a tizzy over Spidey being spotted in Midtown, as if this doesn’t happen almost every day. Although maybe it doesn’t in the Strip-Verse. In fact, Walter Cronkite talks about it on the TV news mentioning, “New York’s undermanned police force has two major problems to cope with this week.” One being the “sudden appearance of the mysterious Spider-Man” and the other being “the first visit to the UN of the equally mysterious Dr. Doom, King of Latveria.” (Jan 14). “What will happen if these two living legends meet?” Walter asks. I guess we’re going to find out.
After some further banter between Spidey and JJJ (which I’m only mentioning because I’m including all current event references) Doom arrives at JFK Airport. (Oh wait! What was the current event reference? JJJ says to Spidey, “Dr. Doom will finish you off” and Spidey replies, “Yeah! When Arafat gets barmitzvahed!” Yasser Arafat [1929-2004] was the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and unlikely to be barmitzvahed.) After the banter, Spidey heads to an alley to change back to his civvies and we get our first look at Peter Parker (Jan 16). Spotting Peter, JJJ (who is rushing to a taxi) tells him to come along to the airport to take pictures of Doom. Peter is skeptical about JJJ’s belief that Doom “can show the US how to stamp out terrorism!” (“That’s like Bonnie and Clyde teaching crime prevention,” he thinks. You all know who Bonnie and Clyde were, right?) When Doom arrives in the terminal, Peter tries to take his picture. But Doom declares “The royal visage of Dr. Doom shall never serve to titillate the masses!” and fires a bolt from his armored fingers that knocks Peter down (Jan 20). Convinced by this attack that Doom “is a menace,” Peter sneaks off to become Spider-Man. He intends to secretly tail Doom but a crate falls off a truck, threatening to land on some reporters and Spidey yells out a warning. Doom atomizes the crate with a finger blast (which probably didn’t thrill whoever owned the crate) and lays the blame for the accident on Spider-Man. The web-slinger leaves, with the crowd thinking Spidey is an assassin, “How can I warn the UN now?” (Jan 23).
So, now the cops are after Spidey. He tries to get to the UN anyway. There, the “Anti-Terrorism Conference” awaits Doom. Indira Gandhi [1917-1984], Anwar Sadat [1918-1981] (both later assassinated), Henry Kissinger [1923- ], Idi Amin [1925-2003], the aforementioned Yasser Arafat, and some guy in a dashiki are there (Jan 26). Does anybody know who the guy in the dashiki is supposed to be? It’s the guy in the dashiki who voices his concern about Doom (Jan 27). No one else speaks up.
So, Doom addresses the conference while the police keep Spidey away (Jan 30). Doom’s speech is short and sweet. “The answer to terrorism is naked force! Only the strong can conquer crime! Only raw power can crush the lawless! The power is mine! The skill is mine! The resolve is mine! What Dr. Doom has done for Latveria must be done for all the world! Give me complete control of world security and I offer you an end to unbridled terrorism! Violence is rampant throughout the globe! You have no other choice! Let a vote be taken now!” Sounds like a public figure who likes to Tweet, doesn’t it?
While a police helicopter chases Spidey away (Jan 31), JJJ holds court in the UN. Television journalist Barbara Walters is there (Feb 1) and she reports that “Despite the fact that the nation’s press is overwhelmingly opposed to Dr. Doom and all he stands for, the Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson continues to support the mysterious monarch for reasons best known to himself!” This, also, feels very contemporary. Spidey, meanwhile, heads home (Feb. 2 ) where he concocts a secret formula that he puts into his web-shooters with an oil can (Feb 4). Now, Spidey also slept for a little while (Feb 3-4), only getting up when his alarm goes off. But it seems as if no time has passed. When he returns to the UN, the helicopter is still waiting for him and Doom is still demanding a vote from the Conference. Arafat tells him, “Your terms are impossible!” and Sadat says, “We can’t abolish terrorism by surrendering to greater terror!” Furious, Doom uses a power bolt to seal the door but then Spidey comes crashing in through the window (Feb 6). There is no explanation as to how Spidey knew which window to crash through.
The battle begins. (Pierre Trudeau [1919-2000], Prime Minister of Canada seems to have joined the group.) Doom catches Spidey “head on” with a power blast (Feb 8) which knocks Spidey unconscious for a “split-second.” Long enough for him to deliriously recall the origin of Dr. Doom. (Feb 8-10). I don’t know about you but that’s what I always think about when I’m unconscious. There is no mention of Reed Richards in the origin, which seems to emphasize the impression that this world has no Fantastic Four. Instead, young Doom is a loner who merges “his parents’ legacy of witchcraft and the occult with his own all-consuming passion for science.” He tries to contact the netherworld, his machine blows up scarring his face, he is kicked out of school, he goes to “a secret order of Tibetan monks” who fashion an iron mask for him. Done. Simple. He’s Dr. Doom.
Spidey clears his head but gets pinned down behind a chair as Doom fires death blasts at him. He manages to cover Doom’s eyes with webbing (Feb 13). Doom tries to pry the webbing off and he heats up his armor to melt it off. (“Within seconds, when my heating coils reach full intensity, your accursed webbing will be just a smoldering cinder,” he says on Feb 15 but I can’t see how he wouldn’t burn himself to a cinder in the process.) But just then (on Feb 16), Spider-Man passes out.
Spidey comes to on Feb 18 but Doom has already pulled the webbing off his eyes. Now, though, it is still attached to his hands, Spidey quickly attacks and Doom retaliates by firing his blasts from both hands. But the blasts backfire on him. Why? Because the blasts activated Spidey’s “specially treated web-fluid” (that he mixed it up on Feb 3). “By making contact with both your hands, you caused it to short your own circuitry,” Spidey explains (Feb 20).
Deprived of his blasters, Doom resorts to hand-to-hand. Spidey punches Doom in the face and injures his hand on the metal mask (Feb 23). Instead, he leapfrogs over Doom, grabs him by his cape and flings him into the wall. “Spider-Man bested the Latverian!” says Trudeau. “Then our plight is no longer helpless!” exclaims Sadat. Hearing this, Doom realizes that the room is against him and gives up the fight (Feb 26). (But didn’t he already realize the room was against him? Isn’t that why he sealed the door on Feb 6?) “I offered to crush terrorism – to bring peace to the world! Yet, you fought me!” says Doom. “Your kind of peace is tyranny!” replies Spidey, “You’d kill the patient to cure the disease!” “He is a menace! What do we do with him?” asks Trudeau. “Nothing! Dr. Doom is ruler of a sovereign nation! We have no authority!” replies Indira. Spidey web-swings away while Doom stalks past J. Jonah Jameson. “Let the world wallow in lawlessness!” he says, “It is the price you pay for tolerating a Spider-Man among you!” (Feb 27)
Doom heads back to the airport. Spidey watches him go. “He abandoned his plan of fighting terrorism with greater terrorism!” says Spidey, “I had to stop him before he became a cult figure, leading us back to the Dark Ages!” That’s great Spidey but where you last year when we needed you?
Meanwhile, some very familiar-looking metal tentacles ring the doorbell at May Parker’s home (Feb 27-28).
First appearances in the Strip-Verse.
The choice of Dr. Doom as the first Strip-Verse villain is an odd but inspired one. It lets Stan pit the web-slinger against one of the most formidable Marvel villains right from the start. And since Doom is protected by diplomatic immunity, it puts Spidey at odds with the authorities, with all the authorities. There is some classic Stan dialogue here, especially from JJJ (and the cabbie!) and Stan’s pop culture references are fun. The Romita artwork is so familiar and adept, it makes you feel like you’re reading a comic from the time of “Spider-Man No More.” And Johnny renders the guest stars, everyone from Abe Beame to Barbara Walters to Anwar Sadat, so expertly that they are instantly recognizable.
I’m a little disappointed in the swift wrap-up of the tale. It goes on for weeks with the lead-up only to have Doom quit in a couple of panels after hearing the room rooting against him, which they were already doing before the fight. But I’m not disappointed that Doom is allowed to depart. When fighting someone like Doom, just thwarting his plan is success enough. And it leaves him available for another time.
I’m subtracting a half-web for the quick wrap-up but, otherwise, a great start to a new Spidey universe. Four and a half webs.