Comics were, along with Dr. Seuss books and traffic signs, some of the first things I learned to read. They weren't quite the inaccessible niche market then that they are now; the transition to the direct market had already begun by 1979, but you could still wander down to the corner drug store or newsstand and find an assortment of comics in all their continuity-bound, Bronze Age finery. Or, if you were a little kid and you didn't know the Kree and the Cotati from a hole in the ground (and really, who among us does?), you could still get into the game every other month with the latest issue of Spidey Super Stories.
Spidey Super Stories was a comic produced for young readers, featuring simple language and simpler tales that introduced kids to Spider-Man and a host of Marvel Universe guest stars. It was the gateway drug to Marvel Zombiedom, in other words, and I suppose in my case it worked.
Today I was following some links back from the comments to one of Pete's Power Records spoofs, and I found a fan archive and cover gallery that spanned the entire run of Spidey Super Stories. Initially, I was awash in a pleasant if ultimately shallow and ephemeral nostalgia.
Then I saw this:
He's fighting Thanos! In a book meant for eight-year-olds! (You can tell this because Morgan Freeman is on the cover assuring us "This comic book is easy to read!") For those of you who don't understand why this battle is so shocking, let me fill you in on how that story conference must, invariably, have gone...
The scene: Marvel Comics, circa 1979. Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and veteran writer Jim Salicrup sit down to discuss upcoming plots…
SHOOTER: So, Jim, who’s Spider-Man going to fight in the next issue of Spidey Super Stories?
SALICRUP: I was thinking… Thanos.
SALICRUP: Thanos, Lord of Evil! Thanos, matricide of Titan! Thanos! Who would court Death herself with the slaughter of a billion billion worlds as his dowry! Thanos! Who would bed his love on the bones of half the cosmos, the screams of the dying lending bittersweet harmony to his furious copulation! Thanos! THANOS!
SHOOTER: …Okay, what about the back-up story?
And to make matters worse, who’s going to help Spidey fend off this interstellar genocide? Who alone will stand beside him as he tries to prevent the cosmic tyrant from laying hands on the Cosmic Cube, which will make him like unto a god?
The Cat! A former romance-comic headliner who put on a costume she found lying around a dusty old warehouse because it beat settling down in the 'burbs and popping Percosets while waiting for hubby to come home. (And who, apparently, thinks there's something about a yellow-and-aquamarine body stocking that just screams "feline.") Trust me - I am, thanks to my glorious wife, the proud co-owner of two cats and I can safely say that nothing about them is remotely superheroic, unless your definition of "super powers" extends to an unerring ability to pee everywhere but the litterbox. Oh, and by the way, in the official Marvel continuity this heroine's name was Hellcat, but I suppose the editors didn't want to pollute the little tykes with references Satan and Russ Meyer films. If you're keeping score, that's Hell: not okay, Space Fascist Who Wants to Destroy Half the Universe So He Can Enjoy One Final Rut with the Grim Spectre of Death: just fine.
So now I'm pretty convinced that the master chroniclers of my youth, the people who shepherded me into the wonderful world of literacy, were, in fact, insane.
On the other hand, I kind of like this cover - in fact, I think I remember owning the issue:
Remind me again which one's Mysterio and which one's the disco ball? I don't remember a lot about this comic, but rediscovering that I owned it clearly explains a hell of a lot about my adult life.