The First Spider-Man Parody

The Marvel revolution of the early Silver Age took those toiling in the field entirely by surprise. That’s entirely due to the fact that, prior to 1961, Martin Goodman’s publishing enterprise, whether it was known as Timely or Atlas or Marvel had been producers of enormous amounts of shlock. Goodman’s professed publishing strategy was to find out what genre or series was seeing good newsstand sales, then to quickly churn out a bevy of knock-off titles, crowd the stands with them thus insuring some degree of sell-through, and then cancel them all once the public zeitgeist had moved onto some other fad. Rince and repeat. The idea that a Goodman-published comic book would be a leader in the field and influential was as unlikely as landing a man on the moon. For years, many of those on the payroll of DC/National simply could not fathom the appeal of the Marvel titles, occasionally chalking it up to “bad art.”

That said, not everybody working at DC was quite so clueless. One of those who recognized what Marvel was doing and wanted to try to emulate that success at DC was writer Arnold Drake. Drake was a bit of an iconoclast at DC, and much more plugged into the counterculture than many of his contemporaries. So he was able to approach the Marvel material on its own terms, and to work out what was making it connect with the readership. Drake cornered executives and wrote memos advocating for producing some material that had a greater emotional depth to it. But DC’s Publisher Irwin Donenfeld pointed to their firm’s massive sales figures, especially as compared to Marvel’s. Yes, the newcomer was getting good press, and yes their efficiency percentages were very strong, but DC was still making money hand over fist. No need to rock the boat.

Eventually, though, Drake got an opportunity to test out some of his theories. Editor Murray Boltinoff was looking for a new series to anchor his flagging anthology series MY GREATEST ADVENTURE. Drake’s answer, aided and abetted along the way by Bob Haney, was the Doom Patrol, whose existence as misunderstood freaks who were outcasts because of their strange powers and tragic backstories echoed elements of the Marvel approach. The Doom Patrol was successful, swiftly taking over MY GREATEST ADVENTURE, which transformed into DOOM PATROL shortly after their debut. But this was a bit of an outlier. While assorted series would touch on aspects of the Marvel approach going forward, most DC editors remained blithely, deliberately oblivious to what was going on over at Marvel.

But that didn’t prevent DC’s editors from feeling a bit jealous of Marvel’s good press both in the mainstream and in fan circles. Accordingly, dismissive references to Marvel’s characters began to crop in in assorted titled. (We talked about a couple of them here):

But the first of these came in the pages of THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #84, in which the title character adopted the crime-fighting alias of the Fearless Tarantula.

That said, the degree of parody in this story really just comes down to the character’s name and costume design, which has clearly been influenced by the Amazing Spider-Man. I’m particularly fond of the four fake “underarm arms” that the Tarantula sports in emulation of Spidey’s underarm webbing. The character himself, though, is the brainchild of a cartoonist neighbor of Jerry’s, who had previously been drawing Jerry’s favorite comic strip, “Flame” Farrell. (“Flame” Farrell and his nemesis the aquatic Neptua were a reference to the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner of Timely’s Golden Age–it’s difficult to say how deeply Drake had immersed himself in the Marvel material by this point.)

Because this is a dopey Jerry Lewis comic book, Jerry has another neighbor who is a dentist with aspirations of becoming a super-villain, Dr. Cy Klopps. In his quest, he invents a hypno-beam that zaps the idea of the Fearless tarantula from the cartoonist’s mind into Jerrys–compelling him to dress up as the fictitious hero and fight crime.

Also, because this is Jerry Lewis, the Fearless Tarantula is French, permitting Lewis to put on an atrocious comic French accent in the role.

Artist Bob Oskner did his usual superlative job on the artwork, combining cute girls with comedic pratfalls and zany nonsense. Oksner was an artist adept at handling just about anything, but his ability to nail down caricatures made him invaluable for licensed series such as this JERRY LEWIS assignment.

The remainder of the story involves Jerry in his new nocturnal identity having a series of run-ins with Dr. Cy Klopps, who is ultimately able to work out the secret of his true identity and remove the hypnotic spell that makes Jerry think he’s an actual crime-fighter. Oddly enough, Dr. Klopps disappears from the end of the story and is presumably still at large by the end of it–something that it’s surprising that the Comics Code allowed. Jerry, though, is returned to normal. As a parody, it really isn’t all that exact at all–the connection is all in the visuals and the name. There really isn’t much of anything of Peter Parker to be found here–as though, like the rest of DC, Drake in this story was considering only the outside of the Marvel package, rather than the engine that made it go under the hood. By way of reference, this issue was released contemporaneously with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #17, which is a comic book we looked at here:

3 thoughts on “The First Spider-Man Parody

  1. Oksner really could do fabulous women without crossing over into a gratuitous cheesecake, a skill I wish more artists had.

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  2. Sometimes it’s not clear if it’s a good idea to try to replicate what a successful competitor is doing. That they can do it, doesn’t mean you can do it. We’ve seen many later 1960’s attempts to imitate Marvel, which didn’t work well at all. Moreover, Stan Lee was a master at marketing, and it’s not evident that DC had anyone who could have reached the same audience. Note Kirby’s time at DC, while artistically important, didn’t result in any comparable commercial success.

    Eventually markets change, a previous minor competitor might become the leader, and it’s easy to believe in hindsight that the former leader should have anticipated the shift. But doing that badly might just result in producing a poor version of the competitor’s product, diverting resources from a good version of one’s own product. I suppose this is what business schools sell to worried executives.

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