Written by Joel T. Lewis
Thank Marvel for cover art. Considering Spidey has a pretty extensive back catalog, I have never felt bad picking up an issue or two in the middle of a series as it would take me years to catch up on everything the web-crawler has been up to. This frees me from my completist impulse to read every panel of a given character and makes the Spider-Man comics section a great hunting ground for cover-based collecting. Issue 185 is a sinfully wacky comic book featuring not one but two Alice in Wonderland themed villains, a fluffy bunny getaway car, and an awkward family dinner with Spider-Man. Not to mention the two men in Frog costumes on the cover! Before I even start in on the storyline of this issue I have to praise this issue’s cover for just dripping confidence. It reads: 'Yeah, it’s Spidey. With giant frogs. You gota problem with that? (And they’re not the strangest thing in this issue!) Editor-in-Chief’s Warning: This story is Funny. On Purpose. Beware.' Eat your heart out Deadpool!
Spidey reunites with Eugene Patilio AKA the Fabulous Frog-Man, a hapless youth aspiring to be a superhero. Eugene doesn’t quite have the balance or agility necessary to be a successful crime fighter and Spidey, coming off of a 6-issue Green Goblin story arc, lays into him a little bit about the seriousness of becoming a superhero. Meanwhile, the White Rabbit, a scantily clad femme fatale with razor tipped carrot darts and a mad tea party themed lair, recruits the dimwitted Hubert Carpenter AKA the Walrus to help her exact her revenge on Frog-Man. Feeling guilty for being so harsh with him, Spidey decides to take Eugene up on his invitation to have dinner with his family. Now, don’t mistake my meaning, Spider-Man goes to an awkward family dinner. Not Peter Parker. Guess who’s coming to dinner? Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Eugene’s a sweet kid and his father Vincent (formally the villain Leap Frog) is kind and plays the friendly host well enough, but it's just so funny to see Spider-Man in such a domestic setting, having the same silly small talk conversation that you’d have with an aunt you haven’t seen in a while.
'So--how’re things going with you, Spidey? How’s work...how’s the family...nice weather we’re having, huh?' This awkward interaction is probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever read in a comic book mainly because of its silliness, but also because it highlights how difficult it must be for Peter Parker to interact with people. When the majority of your life is taken up by colossal threats to your family and your way of life, talking about the weather and your day job can seem even more trivial than normal. As Spidey plays the dinner guest he demonstrates that Spider-Man must tread lightly in casual conversation the way Peter Parker does. Showing how difficult the double-life of a superhero can be in this unique context is fascinating because it makes you think about how easy it would be to slip and reveal your secret identity in a domestic setting while presenting yourself as Spider-Man. Even the process of eating dinner becomes difficult as Spidey lifts up the bottom of his mask to have more of Aunt Marie’s pasta.
This issue is very aware of how silly comics can be, and offers a subtle commentary on what comic fans take for granted and how far they will suspend their disbelief. When Parker mentions how silly a Frog-themed superhero is by calling Eugene’s costume dumb, Mary Jane replies, 'You think those blue and red longjohns of yours are so fashionable?' The point she’s making is that a Frog-Man is no more ridiculous than a Spider-Man and we just take Spidey’s existence for granted because we’ve grown to love the character over the years. Author J.M. DeMatteis makes a similar comment on how villains make their plans when the Walrus questions White Rabbit’s scheme for drawing out Frog-Man. White Rabbit says, 'We are doing what all super-villains do when they want the attention of their arch-enemies: Creating general Mayhem and Havoc.' Confused, the Walrus replies, 'Wouldn’t it be better if we just robbed a bank and went to Acapulco?' White Rabbit sighs and says, 'You are never going to get anywhere in life thinking like that.' While the Walrus is portrayed as pretty dimwitted in this issue, his point is valid: if super-villains didn’t get hung up on revenge schemes and ploys to draw out their enemies, they would probably be more successful. But that doesn’t jive with what we’ve come to expect from comic book villains and we take schemes like White Rabbit’s seriously, though it doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Frog-Men, light-hearted commentary on the comic-book genre, and a superhero at dinner all make Spectacular Spider-Man 185 much more than 'Another Fine Mess' in my book. It can be easy to lose yourself in the stakes and seriousness of comics, so I love little issues like this one that add a bit of levity and silliness to the reading list. It’s nice when creators remind you that you’re reading about a kid with Spider Powers and that it should be fun. Until next time, Geek On!