May 18, 2015

The Saga of the Spider-Mobile

The Saga of the Spider-Mobile
Ben Smith

Gerry Conway is one of the greatest and most influential writers in the long and storied history of Spider-Man. He had a hand in creating some major characters in the world of Spider-Man, to include the Jackal, Tarantula, and the Punisher. Along with that, he wrote The Night Gwen Stacy Died, my all-time favorite comic book story, and one of the most important stories in the history of the medium. Yet, all of that pales in comparison to his greatest creation, the spectacular Spider-Mobile.
"This was a notion that Stan had. Stan was put in an odd position because he moved up from being an editor/writer to being the publisher of Marvel Comics in 1970-71, and as a result of that, his priorities towards how to find revenues for the company changed," Conway said. "He was approached by, I think it was Hasbro, or it might have been Tonka Toys or something, who said, 'Listen, we found that what really works for toy characters, in addition to the figures, is if they had a lot of cool stuff with them. Could you maybe give each of your characters a cool car?' And so Stan said, 'Sure!' He didn't have to do it. He told me, 'You know, Spider-Man needs to have a car.' And I'm like, 'You do realize that Spider-Man swings on a web between buildings and the car would really slow him down doing that?' and he said, 'I don't' care what you do with it, just do it.' So we played it for laughs and we sank it in, I think, the same issue." (SDCC: Spotlight on Gerry Conway. Travis Fischer, Contributing Writer.)

The toy company was most likely Mego, who were the main producer of superhero toys at the time, and did release a Spider-Man-themed car, though it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the Spider-Mobile. It may not have been his idea, it may not have even been a good idea, but sometimes you can spin gold from the most unlikely of inspirations.

Amazing Spider-Man #126
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inker: Jim Mooney; Editor: Roy Thomas

After evading the dangerous kicks of the mighty Kangaroo, Spider-Man is web-swinging across the city when he is waved down by a couple of guys that look suspiciously like Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. “Stan and Roy” are advertisers working on behalf of Corona motors, and they want to hire him to build a Spider-Mobile using a new non-polluting Corona engine, so that they can advertise it.

Spider-Man turns them down, saying that “the idea of a Spider-Mobile is first-class dumb.”

Quick tangent: Mary Jane and Flash want to do some coke and try and get Peter to join them. (Just say no to peer pressure, friends.)

Peter returns to the apartment he shares with the (slowly going insane) Harry Osborn, and discovers the rent hasn’t been paid in a couple months. Needing some quick cash, he swings over to the offices of Stan and Roy and accepts their offer, as long as they pay him a thousand dollar cash advance.

But, the catch is that he has to build the car himself. (Is this how car companies work? They hire people that don’t build cars to build cars for them? Between this and that episode of The Simpsons where Homer designs a car, I have no reason to believe that is not the way the motor vehicle industry operates.) Spider-Man then drops in on his only friend that isn’t Harry Osborn, Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, to see if he’ll partner up with him to build the car.

Apparently he accepts, because they’re working on some designs when Spider-Man has to leave to beat on the Kangaroo some more.

I’m fully in support of superheroes hanging out more. Who else is Spider-Man going to kick back and have a Coke with, Flash Thompson? That hop-head hepcat Harry Osborn? No, I don’t think so.

Amazing Spider-Man #127
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Roy Thomas

In-between some titanic tussles with the villainous Vulture, Spider-Man takes some time out to work on the car with Johnny.

Johnny and Spidey building a car together is pretty much the greatest thing that could happen to me in life. It’s basically the complete opposite of my worst nightmare, the Jackal, who is a creepy old man in a green mask, feeling up the Gwen Stacy he made in his lab. He’s the fictional equivalent of my 8th grade gym teacher, who was a tad too insistent that we all take showers after class, and pulled up a chair to make sure it got done. The Spider-Mobile has pulled open some disturbing old wounds today.

Amazing Spider-Man #130
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Roy Thomas

Spider-Man swings through Johnny’s open window (the Baxter Building's defenses had the day off that day) to see if the Spider-Mobile has been finished yet. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it has.

Equipped with a spider-signal, web shooters, and an ejector seat, Spider-Man and Johnny take the Spider-Mobile out for a test drive.

The only problem, being a lifelong New Yorker, Peter has never learned to drive a car.

Before long, this being Marvel New York, they happen upon four garishly dressed criminals.

Before he can finish webbing them all up with his fancy new car, Hammerhead comes barreling in, going head to hood with the brand new vehicle.

After a quick skirmish, Spider-Man returns to the car, webs up a couple of police officers interfering, and speeds off in his Spider-Mobile.

Peter parks it in an alley, and then activates its special cloaking device, making it appear to be a regular-looking car.

The only way you could possibly follow up co-creating one of the most popular characters in all of Marvel comics, the Punisher, is to immediately introduce a motor vehicle for a character that spends all his time swinging around the city on weblines. Next up, the Tarantula, who is like a villainous Speedy Gonzalez, only more racist.

Amazing Spider-Man #141
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Roy Thomas

After a period of neglect, Spider-Man takes the Spider-Mobile out for another spin, drawing the attention of some police cars.

Trying to evade the police, he makes a turn into what he believes to be an alleyway shrouded in fog, but is in actuality a pier.

Spider-Man is able to bail out just in time before the Spider-Mobile goes crashing into the Hudson River, sinking to the bottom.

I’m going to assume that Conway felt his obligation had been justly fulfilled.

Amazing Spider-Man #142
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Len Wein

Spider-Man swims down into the Hudson River to locate the sunken Spider-Mobile.

He finds it, but it’s too heavy for him to lift out on his own.

I’m also going to assume that Len Wein, who took over as editor for this issue, felt that the fans wanted… nay, needed an explanation for why Corona Motors would just let this blatant breach of contract slide.

Amazing Spider-Man #157
Writer/Editor: Len Wein; Illustrator: Ross Andru; Delineator: Mike Esposito; Pedestrian: Marv Wolfman

Spider-Man makes a return visit into the Hudson to look for the Spider-Mobile, after Corona Motors ran a personal column in the Daily Bugle threatening to sue him unless he delivered the car. (I don’t know how one would sue Spider-Man, or why Spider-Man would care, but okay.)

This time, he’s only able to locate one of the side-view mirrors, the rest of the car is suspiciously missing.

Does Spider-Man have his own separate credit rating? Will Corona Motors suing him go on his permanent record? These are the more important questions that need answers.

Amazing Spider-Man #159
Writer/Editor: Len Wein; Illustrator: Ross Andru; Embellisher: Mike Esposito; Cook & Bottle-Washer: Marv Wolfman

Two unknown individuals work on the Spider-Mobile, and succeed in restoring it to its former glory.

Amazing Spider-Man #160
Writer/Editor: Len Wein; Illustrator: Ross Andru; Embellisher: Mike Esposito; Head Mechanic: Irv Forbush

The Spider-Mobile makes its startling return, only this time, with a vengeance.

The driverless car attacks Spider-Man, sending him leaping into the air to avoid it.

A mysterious gas has apparently robbed Spider-Man of his powers, so he finds a pipe to vault himself over a wall to escape the carnage.

Landing on a nearby police car, they all see the Spider-Mobile peeking around a corner up ahead, but it vanishes in a puff of smoke.

Later, Spider-Man once again is enveloped by the mysterious power-sapping mist, and spots menacing headlights cutting through the fog just in time to dodge the Spider-Mobile’s attack.

Spider-Man leaps up the rooftops, thinking he’ll be safe, but is shocked to see the Spider-Mobile driving up the wall after him.

He bounds across the rooftops, but no matter what, the Spider-Mobile follows. Eventually it snags him with some webbing and wraps him up for transport back to its new master.

After a unique trip across the top of the city, Spider-Man comes face to face with the Spider-Mobile’s controller, the terrible Tinkerer. (Making his first appearance since all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #2, which ended with him being revealed as an alien. Not one of the more revered stories in the oeuvre of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.)

After the obligatory monologue, Spider-Man breaks free, and takes the Tinkerer, his goon, and the Spider-Mobile head-on.

The Tinkerer was using the mist to clog Spider-Man’s pores and web-shooters, nullifying his powers. Unfortunately for the Tinkerer, bad driving takes both him and the mobile out of the fight.

Spider-Man makes quick work of the Tinkerer’s hired goon, and then delivers what’s left of the Spider-Mobile to Stan and Roy at the offices of Carter and Lombardo. (Seems like that web would dissolve and send the car smashing to the street below long before they could find a way to reel it in. Resulting in more personal injury lawsuits to go on Spider-Man’s credit rating.)

I’m amused that Wein felt strongly enough about the Spider-Mobile contract that he wrote his own resolution for it. This was seemingly the end of the saga of the Spider-Mobile, but brilliant ideas have a way of cropping back up in comic books, and the splendid Spider-Mobile would be no different.

One such place was in the massive Amazing Spider-Man #600. In a back-up story by Zeb Wells and Derec Donovan, Peter Parker is surprised to find the Spider-Mobile on display at the Smithsonian National Design Museum.

In Amazing Spider-Man #655 by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin, Martin sneaks the Spider-Mobile into one of the many stunning splashes in this instant classic.

Another back-up story in Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Vol. 3), features Joe Caramagna and Chris Eliopouos having Spider-Man give the reader a tutorial on all his equipment, including a cameo by the spectacular Spider-Mobile.

In the multiverse-spanning event Spider-Verse, one of the alternate universes apparently contained a sentient Spider-Mobile, as first rendered by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Cam Smith in Amazing Spider-Man #12 (and #13). (Dan Slott said on the Word Balloon podcast that this car's secret identity was meant to be "Peter Parked Car." -Cranky Editor Man)

Then by Olivier Coipel in the closing chapter (Amazing Spider-Man #14).

In Superior Spider-Man #30 by Slott, Christos Gage, and Camuncoli, the Spider-Mobile gets not one, but two pictures in the “web of remembrance.”

The Spider-Mobile played a key part in Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s immensely popular Old Man Logan storyline beginning in Wolverine #66 (Vol. 2), serving as Wolverine and Hawkeye’s transportation throughout the story.

Last but certainly not least, Dan Slott (there’s that name again) and Ty Templeton delivered one of the funniest comics of all time, in the third issue of the Spider-Man/Human Torch mini-series. The series was a hilarious look back at past moments in the history of the Spider-Man and Human Torch relationship.

Part three would revisit the pair after they finished building the Spider-Mobile, with Johnny a little bit more on edge over Spider-Man’s driving than he was in the original comics.

After driving up and down and all around the city, they used the car to apprehend the Red Ghost and his Super Apes.

Much fun and many laughs were had by all.

That does it for my overly long and completely unnecessary look at the history of the Spider-Mobile. If you’re like me and you enjoy mirth and merriment, I highly recommend you track some or all of these comics down for yourself, and then purchase them using your delivery system of choice (be it comic, trade, or digital).

Next time, more comics!

Enjoy these wonderful stories featuring the Spider-Mobile:


Unknown said...

That was a fun read!

Doc Thompson said...

The Spider Mobile was ok,but it has problems being a toy the in

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