After 43 years, now it can be told! Witness the truth about the FIRST Spider-Woman! Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Spidey Super Stories #11 awaits!
Writer: Jean Thomas
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Irving Watanabe
Editor: A.J. Hays
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 35 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14.00
Previously in Spidey Super Stories: Following up on the success of ‘Sesame Street’, the Children’s Television Workshop expanded in 1971 to give us ‘The Electric Company’, an educational program aimed at slightly older, elementary school aged children. Among the wonderful things that program gave us was the first live-action adaptation of a Marvel Comics property (unless one counts the Captain America serial of 1944, which changed milquetoast-turned-super-soldier Steve Rogers into District Attorney Grant Gardner, who operates more like Batman than the Sentinel of Liberty.) That was “Spidey Super Stories”, featuring the Web-Slinger in action against any number of nefarious foes, all the while teaching lessons in grammar, spelling and other age-appropriate lessons. Marvel even created a comic-book adaptation of those adventures, likewise aimed at readability and educational moments for kid readers. Now, sing it with me forty-somethings, while the kids nod along condescendingly!
Spider-Man, where are you coming from?
Spider-Man, nobody knows who you AAAAAARRRREEEE!
The lead story in Spidey Super Stories #11 opens with The Vulture, robbing a jewelry store just outside the Electric Company theatre. While the assembled Company (including Val, a librarian who has appeared in previous issues of Super Stories) looks on, Spider-Man makes short work of Vultch, and returns the stolen goods. Then, he sets off to tan on a rooftop in New York City. It’s a necessary silly plot moment to set up the next part of our tale, Faithful Spoilerites, so we can just roll with that particular nonsensical punch. Besides, the smooth art of comics veteran Win Mortimer is lovely enough that we can be distracted. As the Webbed Wonder dozes off, his fast-paced lifestyle gets the better of him, and Peter sleeps past the one-hour dissolution limit of his ingenious webbing.
Cue Val, longing for a little superhero-style excitement in her life…
I have to say, even with the intention choice of simple phrasing, Spidey Super Stories #11 still makes for an interesting read, and from a historical perspective it’s fascinating. Jessica Drew, Marvel’s official “first” Spider-Woman wouldn’t arrive for another couple of years, and her ABC cartoon (featuring ‘Knot’s Landing’ actress Joan Van Ark in the title role) didn’t pop up until 1979. And since ‘Electric Company’ intentionally featured a diverse cast of characters, Val is the first Spider-Family member of color, something that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in modern Spidey stories. Most interestingly, Valerie has one important thing in common with Peter Parker…
She’s kind of ingenious about things, using household items to simulate the powers of a spider! And let’s be honest, friends: Rubber cement and dart suction cups isn’t all that much more ridiculous than the bite of a radioactive spider in terms of scientific realism. Clever Val even figures out Peter’s web-shooters, practicing a bit to get the hang of them before taking to the streets… errr, walls of New York. As for Spidey, he awakens with a sunburn and heads back to his apartment to pick up his backup costume. Swinging out again, Spider-Man suddenly meets Spider-Woman!
Unfortunately for the Web-Slinger, his concern about cautioning Valerie allows The Vulture to get the drop on him, and worse still, his sunburn is tender enough to give the villain the advantage in their conflict! And lemme tell ya, them bony old man fists HURT. Ol’ Man Toomes (that’s Vulture’s real name, by the double-u) trusses up our hero, just in time for Spider-Woman to earn her rookie hero stripes with a perfectly-timed save…
And now I’m mad, because that final panel features squinting Spider-Mask, years earlier than I ever remember seeing it and forcing me to revise my complaints about that being a 1990s comic book thing. This issue also features a story of the entire Electric Company uniting to stop the Show-Stopper (including Rita Moreno as Rita the Director and Easy Reader, played on film by a young Morgan Freeman) and a battle with Doctor Octopus that renders his usual jumpsuit costume as a green turtleneck and what appear to be Sears Toughskin slacks. So, that’s fun…
All in all, Spidey Super Stories #11 is a comic book I wish I had purchased when I was younger (Full Disclosure: At the time when I was buying all my back issues from a used bookstore in Salina, Kansas, there was a pretty impressive, if not complete run of Spidey Super Stories which I eschewed as “kid’s stuff”, forcing me to pay premium prices when I assembled my collection a couple of years ago) featuring clear, well-rendered art, a couple of fun, inventive stories and a clear focus on children that today’s comic publishers mighty learn something from, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. If nothing else, Spider Super Stories stands alongside the Superfriends as emblematic of how obviously and completely modern comic stories and publishers failed on matters of character diversity…
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