Ah, Spider-Man. Quite probably my favorite fictional character of all time.
The first comics exhibition that I ever curated was a 40-year Spider-Man retrospective.
My favorite cartoon as a kid was Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, which I watched religiously.
I stood outside the now-defunct Galaxy Theatre in San Francisco for three hours in cold, foggy weather to see a sneak preview of the Spider-Man movie a day before its nationwide premiere.
And one of my career highlights so far is co-scripting an actual Marvel Comic featuring (a one panel cameo appearance by) Spider-Man:
(co-written by Shaenon Garrity and illustrated by Roger Langridge and Al Gordon)
Over the course of the past 25 years or so, I've read over one thousand Spider-Man comics. I've seen Spider-Man team up with John Belushi and the original Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players. I've seen Spider-Man potty-train The Beyonder, Marvel Comics' 1980s equivalent of God (crossed with Journey frontman Steve Perry). I've seen Doctor Octopus fall madly in love with Spider-Man's Aunt May. I've even seen Spider-Man locked in mortal combat with a villain that used to be Spidey's own pants, and seen that character become one of the most popular comic book villains of all time.
But a couple of weeks ago, while visiting Kayo Books, one of the coolest used bookstores in the country, I discovered the strangest Spider-Man comic I've ever read. Period.
The comic's on the small side, about 5" x 6", and the cover doesn't indicate anything too far out of the ordinary. I'd planned to get the comic anyway, though, since the story's illustrated by the classic 1970s Spider-Man art team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. I was too young to read their comics the first time around, but thanks to a reprint series called Marvel Tales, I was able to read a whole mess of their comics as a 12-year old in the late 1980s, and I've been a fan ever since (and I bought the whole run of their original 1970s comics as a late teenager, thanks to my college's proximity to a great shop called Bargain Comics, which managed to get a pretty good chunk of my disposable income during those years, one 99-cent back issue at a time).
Like I said, nothing out of the ordinary, right? From the cover, I figured that the odds were pretty good that the helicopter was named "Prodigy," and that he and Spider-Man would both agree that you should buy lots of Prodigy merchandise at your local toystore.
Then comes the inside cover:
Yes, it's a very special Marvel Team-Up, with Spider-Man and Planned Parenthood. Christmas came early this year.
Read on for this entire 16-page lost masterwork:
The whole thing starts out like any other 1970s Spider-Man comic, and I could probably name a half-dozen Spider-Man comics that start out like this one off the top of my head. Conversely, I probably can't find South America on a world map. Make of that what you will.
You gotta love those timeless references, don't you? Henry Gross is still making records, though, so Marvel must have been onto something.
Still a pretty standard evil plan at this point, including a convenient explanation of The Prodigy's powers tucked into that third panel.
And the evil plan is revealed!!! If you saw that one coming, award yourself a tin-plated Marvel No-Prize, post-haste!
And we're back to your regularly-scheduled Spider-Man comic again. But these next few pages are pure gold:
My favorite part of that page has to be the footnote from Stan Lee himself, pointing you to the straight dope about contraception. Stan "The Man" has been one of my personal heroes for over 25 years now, and he STILL manages to surprise me.
Man, I love this page. Spider-Man's onto your baby-making conspiracy, Prodigy!
Spider-Man's getting ready to give kids the real truth about birth control and chew bubble gum. And he's all out of bubble gum.
One of the great innovations about this comic is that Spidey's gargoyle disguise didn't work. Not even close. he even gets called "Nutsy" for his troubles. That's classic Spider-Man material.
And that, kids, is how Spider-Man single-handedly stopped the sexual revolution.
Read on for "What The Facts Are..."
"...And Where To Get Them"
Until that visit to Kayo Books, I never thought I'd see that classic Spider-Man spotlight symbol on the same page with the words "menstruation," "homosexuality," "masturbation" and "venereal disease."
And thus ends The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Prodigy! I'm just glad to know that after all these years of reading comics, there are still hidden treasures like this just waiting to be rediscovered. Maybe that anti-abortion Hulk comic isn't just another urban legend...