Ah! Thanksgiving! At this time of year when our thoughts go to traditions like being with family, over eating, starting the Christmas shopping season, blowing up Diet Coke bottles with Mentos (maybe only my weird family tradition?), and, of course, watching large inflatable versions of Spider-Man float through New York City. What better way to celebrate this season than with a look at the Lizard who is (literally, actually) hell bent on destroying his wife and kid (again) while New York City suffers an alarming influx of demons and an occasional flying shark.
That’s right, friends. We are jumping back to 1989, the year I graduated high school. Gas was under a dollar a gallon, a single man was able to stop a tank in Tiananmen Square (at least for a moment), and Todd McFarlane is hitting it big as the artist of Amazing Spider-Man. The big Marvel comic event is the X-Men crossover The Inferno, although the big comic industry event would have to be the Batman movie (thankfully good enough to offset the Ghostbusters II fiasco that also came out that year). So dust off those Bangles CDs and let’s get ready to take apart Amazing Spider-Man #313.
“But wait!” you may be asking. “What does a comic with a publishing month of March have to do with Thanksgiving?” Savvy question, my friend. Keep reading and see if it makes sense or if I’ve completely gone off the deep end.
Issue 313 opens with a panel that surely inspired Sharknado:
Why are there sharks flying through tunnels in New York? Well, it is the ‘80s, but to be more specific, we are in the middle of a famous Marvel cross-over event – the Inferno (a Dr. Strange story disguised as an X-Men story). Now most of the time, when there is a bloated crossover, it takes the character out of their story and puts them in ridiculous situations that they do not belong in in an effort to get more people to buy the other event tie-ins. This tie-in is not quite like that. One of the things that made this bearable is that Spider-Man really has little to do with the main storyline. Instead, the powers that be sat down and said, “Alright, we are doing this big to-do with demons in New York City. Now, we don’t need Spider-Man, Daredevil, Moon Knight, etc. coming to the party, but if New York is overrun with demons in the X-Men book, what would these guys being doing while this is happening? That’s what we get in these other titles. Heroes fighting demons and often with no clue as to why this is happening. Makes sense and gives us a sense of communal universe. Plus this is a time when the big cross-over event had not been so overdone that people would stop collecting comics until the event is over (but it will be there soon).
I don’t remember the Inferno arc much (probably because it did not inspire me to read the main title), except that it did impact the Spider-verse by transforming Jason Macendale from Hobgoblin wanna-be into Demogoblin. Jason Macendale had such a loser reputation as Jack o’Lantern that he decided to change his detiny by donning the Hobgoblin costume (nobody was using it at the time). It didn’t matter. He was a loser as the Hobgoblin as well. This prompted him to ask one of the major demons in Inferno for powers in exchange for his soul. Demogoblin featured in such, shall we say, memorable story arcs as Maximum Carnage and the Doppleganger. I can’t even type that last line with a straight face.
However, the focus on this issue isn’t the demons. It’s the Lizard. The last time we saw the Lizard was in PPTSSM #127 where he is in control of his transformations and uses his powers to actually save his wife and son. Comics Chronology suggests that this issue was an attempt to launch the Lizard into his own series. I have to admit, it certainly does feel like this, but if this were the case, it all over now. Doc Connors is in a bad way and we can only assume that it is related to the Inferno that is raging around them. Any attempt to keep him as the guy in charge of the monster within is gone as he only steps in to save his wife (who recently left him – not when he tried to kill her, not when he tried to kill their son, not when he tried to transform them both into reptiles, but WHILE HE WAS MIA DURING SECRET WARS – that’s just cold) and son from a demon so that he can kill them himself.
As far as Lizard stories go, this is O.K. I’m not the best judge of Lizard stories since I really never liked them (except for maybe the Lizard and Stegron team-up). I like Curt Connors as a side character much more. And since the Lizard has nothing to do with the Thanksgiving part, we’ll leave it there and move on to these panels:
Now, if giving the first and last names of the boys in the first panel seems a bit odd, that is because there is a backstory. This issue’s publishing month is March, which makes sense. Why? Because it would put it as hitting the stands around the beginning of December, so people reading the comic as it came out would be deep in the holiday spirit. Why would a comic with the date of March come out in December? Well, the date on the cover of a comic book is either two or three months ahead of time. During the time this comic came out, it was three months. There are two reasons for this. One, the date serves as an expiration date of sorts. When a newsstand or store sees that the date become the present, they pull it. The other reason is a bit of trickery. If person who is not a regular comic book buyer walks into a store in February and decides to pick up comic and sees it is dated December, it will look like old stuff and might not pick it up. But if it is labeled March, then it looks new and more worthy of being purchased. Marvel no longer uses cover dates, well, at least not on the cover. They put it on the inside.
Anyway, 1987 was the first time Spider-Man had been in the Macy’s parade and it almost wasn’t. In April of 1987, Jim Shooter got fired from Marvel. In May of 1987, he was called back in to be a consultant. To be fair, it was more like to be their pit bull. Shooter was told that the balloon artist was a bit difficult to deal with because he had a big ego. And who is better than Shooter for dealing with artists with big egos?
When he got to the balloon studio, he found what “appeared to be Spider-Baby in the midst of a strenuous bowel movement.” When he pointed that out, the artist was furious and started to tell Shooter why it needed to be that way in several technical terms. Shooter felt like the guy just didn’t want to have to do the extra work needed to make the balloon work. After arguing about the look of the balloon and whether or not it would fly the way Shooter wanted it to look, the artist gave in. Who can resist the will of Shooter? In order to compromise, Shooter told the guy not to worry about the webbing art on the balloon. Shooter thinks that it was John Romita Jr that came in and drew the webs. So, thanks to Shooter, Marvel got their money’s worth on the balloon (anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000). That balloon lasted until 1998. A new balloon was built in 2009.
At one point these balloons used to be released at the end of the parade, but as they got bigger and more expensive, that became a part of the past. It takes about 90 handlers to control a Spidey size balloon. If you live in the area and cannot attend the parade, you can go watch them fill up the balloons the night before. You can find the information for that here. While writing this, the list of balloons to appear in the 2015 parade has been updated and sadly there no Spidey to be seen. You can keep a check on it by clicking here and seeing all the balloons and floats as well as play games and such.
In 2013, the balloon got its right arm caught on a tree and torn, but because Spidey’s a badass in any form, the balloon managed to finish the route anyway, just a bit more deflated at the end. Speaking of badassery and balloons, let’s get back to the panel with the two boys and the demon possessed balloon:
Back to the original question – why are these panels in a Spidey vs. Lizard comic (Michelinie wasn’t known for sub-plotting) and why are the kids given first and last names? Well, as a promotional piece, Macy’s held a Marvel trivia contest. I’ve tried in vain to find the questions used on the quiz. The winner of that contest won a spot in a Spider-Man comic book. That winner was Jason Clemons and he was able to include one of his friends, Troy Tyro, in the prize. Not only did they get featured in a comic, but Jason also got a stack of this issue (144 of them to be exact) to remember it by. Jason said that later, in the height of the ‘90s collectables, that issue was worth $30 due to McFarlane’s art (it certainly wasn’t due to the Inferno tie-in). He said that he was “able to walk into comic conventions like a pimp with stacks of SM 313’s.”
Nice Ghostbusters allusion, Michelinie.
Eat your heart out Linda Blair!
Not being a New Yorker, I didn’t think twice about the “needle” used to pop the balloon, but I saw several comments around the web that complained about how the spire is actually big enough to have a staircase in it and could not have been used as shown. I guess we can say that the chaos caused by the demon infestation excuses any reality inconsistencies.
This joke about the eyes will be understandable by those of you who were reading comics during the McFarlane era. McFarlane draws the eyes big. I mean BIG. There was much controversy in the limited Internet at the time over whether or not it was the right way to draw them. Of all the site that mention the controversy, perhaps the most unusual is Heroes in my Closet, a blog written by the guy hired by Marvel to play Spider-Man in real life events. He mentions about how when McFarlane first started everyone would come up to him and ask him why his eyes were so small. He would make a joke about that guy drawing him all wrong in the comics, but the questions kept coming at every appearance. Finally they gave him a new costume to reflect the bigger eyes since everyone started to ape McFarlane’s style. In fact, this became the norm for a couple of decades until recently the eyes started getting smaller. Read this guy’s post (after this one, of course) to get a completely different perspective on the issue and what it is like to be Spider-Man and his dealing with a real life Edna Mode.
He brings up the point that Ditko’s eyes were fairly big and that it was John Romita that made them small. So he felt that since Ditko’s eyes were bigger than Romita’s and that McFarlane’s style was basically “Ditko on acid,” that the bigger eyes are justified.
So I leave you with this super important question: which is the better way to draw the eyes? Small like Romita or big like McFarlane? And, of course, what Spidey-related thanks to you have this holiday?
Adams, Cecil. “Why Are Magazines Dated Ahead of the Time They Actually Appear?” The Straight Dope. N.p., 22 June 1990. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
“Amazing Spider-Man #313.” Comics Chronology. Super Mega Monkey, N.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
“Cover Date.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia, 23 July 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
Cross, Heather. “Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation.” About Travel. About, 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
“Demogoblin.” Marvel Universe Wiki. Marvel, 2015. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
“The Line Up.” Macy’s. Macy’s, N.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
“Macy Parade’s 2015 Line Up.” Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Wikia. Wikia, N.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
“Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #127.” Comics Chronology. Super Mega Monkey, N.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
Shooter, Jim. “Designing the Spider-Man Balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” Jim Shooter. Blogger, 13 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
“Spider-man [sic].” Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Wiki. Wikia, N.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
Vroom! “My, What Big Eyes You Have.” Heroes in my Closet. Blogger, 24 Apr. 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
“The Year 1989.” The People History. N.p., 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.