“Spider-man, Spider-man, does whatever a spider can, spins a web, any size, catches thieves, just like flies, look out, there goes a spider man…”
My spider sense used to tingle like mad, each week for Spider-man comic weekly – a fabulous and grainy comic book which wowed a new British audience with the action packed black and white reprints of the American originals. Farewell Dennis the menace, Bash street kids, Billy Whizz and Korky the cat. Hello exotic, sky high buildings, American college life, radioactive spiders and Peter Parker sewing his socks and studying, hard by day, whilst hanging out late at night wearing a mask and his underwear on the outside of his trousers. Wow, those Americans! How could I resist all of that from the age of power cuts, mutton chop whiskers and Sherbert dip dabs? Of course there were always plenty of mindless fights, lunatic villains and cars that flew through the air and windows as frequently as my dandruff did - with or without the miracle cure of Head and shoulders.
At the same time of reading these colossal slices of Americana I tuned into the B-movie support storyline with the Norse thunder god, Thor. Rainbow bridges, evil half brothers (I had one a bit like that, didn’t we all?) neat chest plates and a hammer that never got lost. These were the stories that travelled with me alongside Topsy and Tim, Mrs Pepperpot, Stig of the dump and The little wooden horse. None of those had a secret identity to hide though, did they? Well, maybe I did have shameful amounts of acne as bad as Ben Grimm like The Thing from Fantastic Four. None of those could effortlessly beat up the school bully or somehow date that impossibly cute blonde. No, my dreams were smaller, maybe get a job, or appear on Jim’ll Fix it or break a record, eating a hundred boiled eggs in a minute with Roy Castle and a camera crew.
A little later in life I used to deliver my favourite comic books together with newspapers on an early morning paper round. The Sun, Mirror, News of the world and sometimes The Times and Observer on a Sunday. My paper bag used to bulge with all kinds of weekly magazines too. Look and Learn was filled with illustrated diagrams, The unexplained was full of very grainy photos of flying saucers, Loch Ness monster sightings and possibly another Yeti. There were also newspapers for budgerigar fanciers and it was always a very crumpled and rain soaked edition of the weekly part work series The joy of sex that eventually got delivered towards the end of my paper round. That nice, awkward, Peter Parker would never do that kind of thing together with Gwen Stacy, would he?
These days of course as a kidult the grainy, four colour, blotchy comic book style heroes are reheated and served up in glorious HD and 3D movies. But give me the early pulp pictures of Spider-man by Jack Kirby, John Romita and Stan Lee. Not so much for the fist fights but the human dilemmas and tender moments of humanity they skilfully weave into their stories without (and because of) the impossible costume dramas. Recently I heard a writer for Doctor Who explain how he tries to quickly get past the blow ‘em up Dalek shoot out scenes and onto the everyday, human tussles, joys and moments of difficulty we all face. And that’s what the early Spider-man comics did, with small town gangsters and mafia men.
Of course that eloquent, comic shape shifter - also from my home town - Alan Moore, points out all of the very real shortcomings of vigilante’s in underpants, but Spider-man remains one of my fifty fabulous things. Why? Because for five whole pence, once a week in the wet, cold, shoe town that I was raised, Peter Parker and his doddering old Aunt May inhabited another exotic , unknown, world, in the same way that Anthony Buckeridge’s schoolboy characters, Jennings and Derbyshire, went to that unknown world of boarding school.
However, unlike some of my other fifty fabulous things, when and if I try to read the latest Spider-man comic book, here and now, it is not such a seamless, silky slide and joy from here to there in the way that riding a bike or splashing into a swimming pool always is. The pages may be more glossy, the print certainly shines and the lines are smooth and something like a manga comic or a Sunday supplement advert for a car. I really have to make a bigger effort to reach out and back towards Spider-man’s outstretched hand and what exactly is that in his palm and all around him as he swings towards me? Dust and tatty cob-webs.
“Is he strong? Listen bud, he's got radioactive blood, take a look, over head, hey there, there goes a Spider-man…!”