April 19, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Noteworthy Issues: The Amazing Spider-Man #97 (June, 1971)

The Green Goblin is not the biggest threat in this issue.

It’s that issue.  You know which issue.  That issue.

Issue:  The Amazing Spider-Man #97, June 1971

Writer:  Stan Lee

Artist:  Gil Kane

Undercover Narc:  Jimmy Impossible

The Plot:  While the Green Goblin terrorizes the city, Harry Osborn just says “yes.”

Commentary:  If there is a more infamous issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, I couldn’t tell you what it is.  This is the issue where Harry Osborn takes a bunch of drugs and overdoses or something.  This is the issue that Stan Lee found the Comics Code Authority would not allow out with its stamp of approval because they had very strict guidelines that drugs were never to be used by characters in a comic book, and the Comics Code did not allow leeway for an anti-drug story like Stan wanted to tell, so he released the issue without the stamp.  The Comics Code would be back the very next issue, but for this one and only issue, there’s no stamp until Marvel decided to ditch the Code entirely and set up its own in-house ratings system, and that happened in my lifetime.

This is the issue that maybe cemented Marvel Comics as the place where real world problems were addressed, and did so without a cover people find kinda laughable like when DC did it with the equally infamous Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85, an issue that came out a month later with the Code’s approval.

For those who don’t know, that’s the issue where Green Arrow learns his ward Speedy is a drug addict.

Given the time it takes to write and produce a comic, the DC issue was probably well on its way to completion by the time Marvel’s was hitting shelves, but that cover alone is not only stamped Code approved, but it has far more suggestive stuff on the cover.  Harry, in the pages of Spider-Man, just pops some unidentified pills supplied by a guy who looks like he could be a blonde version of what Stan Lee looked like back in 1971.  That Green Lantern/Green Arrow  cover shows the needle, the drugs, and Speedy holding one arm, so he may have just shot the heroin up just after Hal outed Roy’s activities to Ollie.  And let me tell you, as someone who has read both issues, the DC book might do a better job of it.  Writer Denny O’Neil gets into the idea that the different teen drug addicts do so because they feel an alienation from the rest of the society, where one African American youth even says people look at him and see…OK, they see a really harsh racial slur that, honest to God, appears in the issue, and that probably surprised me more than anything else.  I knew about the drugs.  I didn’t expect the N-word in print.

However, that is part and parcel with how the two books were very different.  Green Lantern/Green Arrow was trying to address the real world problems that was hitting at a time when America’s teens and young adults were starting to get loud about them, and O’Neil and Adams’s work had a more serious tone, one that said there were big problems that a power ring couldn’t handle but that a very left-leaning archer can at least point out.  It was a book more designed to address the turmoil of the era, often by looking at problems that still exist today like racial unrest and environmental issues.  The Amazing Spider-Man, which honestly probably sold better, was more of a light-hearted soap opera where a young hero was as likely to have money and girl problems than he was to have to deal with some dude in green with an animal motif trying to kill him.  That both books tackled drugs at about the same time isn’t surprising, and both did what they set out to do in the style of the book in question.  If anything, Spider-Man‘s handling of the issue is probably what allowed Green Lantern/Green Arrow to get the Code’s stamp a month later.

That said, it’s actually a little surprising how Spider-Man tackles the issue because it opens with Spidey and the Goblin fighting again, this time with Spidey “forgetting” about all the different weapons the Goblin has at his disposal, a really funny thing since I don’t think I’ve seen many of them either.  Spidey nearly dies, or the Goblin thinks he did, allowing Peter to go looking around while hoping the Goblin, not Norman Osborn as far as Peter is concerned, isn’t actively looking for him.  That means run-ins with Harry and MJ, during which Peter actually tells MJ off for being the way she with Harry, and finally how she breaks it off with Harry, leading him to take the drugs.

At least, that may be the reason.  The issue seems to hint this isn’t Harry’s first time.  Harry’s always struck me as a somewhat weak-willed fellow as it is, so maybe he did it because of MJ.  Maybe he’s tired of Peter’s always being out.  Maybe he’s stressed out because he senses something up with his dad.  Maybe he’s just frustrated by those weird stripes in his hair that every artist and more than a few animated series insist on giving him and his father that only Steve Ditko ever really drew right.  The point is, he took some unnamed pills, and his body reacted poorly.  I don’t know how much Stan Lee or artist Gil Kane understood about how drugs work, but they tried, and maybe it even worked.

All I know is, a number of years ago, I was visiting the Smithsonian, probably the Natural History Museum, and they had a special exhibit there on spiders that summer, and that included a lot of stuff on how Spider-Man stacks up to real spiders (Peter’s artificial webs would be a lot thinner if he were more like a real spider), and the exhibit even had a small portion set aside to discuss this very issue and Stan’s decision to skip the Comic Code Authority’s approval for one month, something that forced the Code to loosen its standards up a bit.  Comics are probably, as a result, better for it.

Grade:  A