Since the purpose of this site is to celebrate all things Spider-Man related – past, present, and future – I will be reviewing comics and appearances featuring the most oddball incarnation of Spider-Man in Marvel’s history: Spider-Ham.
In 1984 Marvel Comics created a special line of comics aimed at kids, featuring both original characters and popular licensed character at the time that were usually supported by either a toy line or a cartoon line. In some cases, both. Under the Star Comics imprint, stories featuring He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (which Marvel had snagged from DC), Strawberry Shortcake and Muppet Babies hit stands and managed to find an audience with some older readers due to the quality of the content.
The one title that was special for Spider-Man fans was Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. The first issue came out in 1985 But Peter Porker had actually been introduced to Marvel fans in a one-shot comic in the fall of 1984. It was a good gamble; DC had some early success in the early 80’s with a superpowered animal hero book – Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew.
That comic was Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham #1. It also introduced cartoon animal versions of Captain America (Captain Americat) and the Incredible Hulk (Hulk Bunny). Marvel’s Tom DeFalco was no stranger to Spider-stories. In 1983 he was the Amazing Spider-Man editor during Roger Stern’s excellent run and would even assume the writing chores after Stern’s exit from the book. In the fall of 1983 DeFalco and artist Mark Armstrong unleashed the Spectacular Spider-Ham and what would become known as Earth-8311 upon unsuspecting Marvelites in a story called ‘If He Should Punch Me!’
Peter Porker’s adventures (in this book and in the series that followed) are typical cartoon fare. Lots of sight gags, lots of bad humor and lots of one-liners in a space where the laws of physics are often sketchy. And Peter Porker was not just a porcine copy of Spider-Man. For all the similarities between Earth-616 and Earth-8311 there were also many differences. The debut story is no exception. Here, Peter Porker – like Peter Parker – works as a photographer at J. Jonah Jackal’s newspaper, the Daily Beagle. But he works alongside a reporter named Steve Mouser, which is the secret identity of Captain Americat.
Jonah Jackal sends Steve and Peter to Video City, which is a massive video game arcade where acts of sabotage are being committed by a mysterious masked menace. The suspects are many; Alice Groundy, the leader of a video game protest group, a land developer named Randolph Rodent and Quincy Quakers, who owns the neighboring amusement park are all likely culprits who would like to see the plug pulled on Video City.
While Video City owner Bartholomew Bark gives a tour through his arcade our heroes chance upon the head video game engineer, Dr. Bruce Bunny. As Dr. Bunny works on a video game machine called ‘Gamma Gambit’ the masked villain strikes. He traps Dr. Bunny in the malfunctioning gamma game, which then switches on and turns Dr. Bunny into the green skinned Hulk Bunny. While Captain Americat goes after the masked saboteur, Spider-Ham tries to stay alive while keeping Hulk Bunny chasing after him.
The best moment of the story turns out to be an homage to the classic Stan Lee & Steve Ditko story ‘The Final Chapter’ from Amazing Spider-Man #33. When Hulk Bunny’s rampage traps Spider-Ham under tons of heavy building debris, Spider-Ham must tap his willpower and persevere. Both heroes even refer to their respective aunts to help them rally from certain death. The homage is complete with Spider-Ham yelling “I did it! I’m free!” just as Spider-Man did back in 1966. In fact, a lot of the dialogue matches up – and even the debris looks the same!
Amazing Spider-Man #33
Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham #1
Eventually the culprit is revealed to be the amusement park owner, Quincy Quackers. And Spider-Ham manages to take Hulk Bunny out of the fight by trapping him on a carousel set to its ‘Much Too Fast’ speed setting.
A five-page story at the end from Steve Mellor wraps the issue. The story’s called ‘Goose Rider’ and it introduces the Earth-8311 equivalent of Ghost Rider, who is literally a flaming goose riding a flaming bike. When faced with an assailant (an unknown creature with an axe in its head wielding a chainsaw) Goose Rider honks and calls down “the Demons of Heck,” who drop an anvil on his enemy. While this story has some fun art, it’s much too loose and unfocused compared to Spider-Ham’s debut.
If you want to go back and read Spider-Ham’s stories, do remember that these were aimed at kids. In 1985 I was buying and enjoying the Peter Porker comic though I was in junior high and don’t believe my age group was the target audience. That didn’t stop me from enjoying it though!
A solid first step into Peter Porker’s world and a nice set-up for the main title which would follow under the Star Comics imprint about a year and a half later. While the second story is “loosey goosey” (heh) the main story with Spider-Ham is a lot of fun.