Twenty Weeks In Spring

Man on a Rampage appeared in Spider-Man Comics Weekly #26: Saturday 28th July 1973.

American Comics are published monthly. British Comics are published weekly. So Spider-Man Comics Weekly had burned through the first three years of Amazing Spider-Man in little more than six months. The classic period of my childhood — the era when every Saturday morning brought a new Spider-Man comic and every Spider-Man comic was more breath taking than the one before — turns out to have begun in February ‘73 (with the Menace of Mysterio) and ended in August (with the Final Chapter…)

Twenty weeks. Five months. My ninth spring.

The last week of July was the first week of the summer holidays. The novelty of not being at school had not quite turned into boredom yet. Garry Glitter was top of the charts. Peters and Lee were number 2: David Bowie was number 3. 

(David Bowie is now revered, his death the occasion for national mourning. The name of Garry Glitter is all but unmentionable, and who has even heard of Peters and Lee? Funny how things turn out.) 

I was a musical puritan. Leader of the Gang was not proper music because it didn’t have a tune. I don't know what I thought did have a tune. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree, I suppose.
Grandad brought me my Spider-Man comic each Saturday evening. He also brought sweets in a brown paper bag; not the Texan Bars and Chewitts you could get anywhere, but old-fashioned sweets from shops only grandfathers knew about. That week it was a ring of hard toffee studded with peanuts. You could easily have broken your tooth on it. He smoked cigarettes and talked to Daddy about England and the West Indies at the Oval. Neither of my parents smoked.

After he left we had tea. I had recently formed the conviction that the most sophisticated food imaginable was the cheese and pickle sandwich. After tea we watched TV. Dads' Army and the Saturday Western would have broken the unspoken rule against anything involving guns or war or soldiers but I think I was allowed to stay up and watch Mike Yarwood. I don't think I fully understood who Edward Heath was, but I got that it was funny when he shook his shoulders and guffawed. 
On Sunday morning we went to church. The regular minister – we were Methodists, we called them ministers – was on his summer holiday. One of the lay preachers, a lady with a very posh accent, led the service. Daddy used that as an excuse to tell us what Samuel Johnson said about a dog walking on its back legs. He always, always did. All the Sunday School classes had been rolled together into one big class for the summer holidays. We had to colour in a picture of the soldiers risking their lives because King David wanted a glass of water from his favourite well. This was also one of Miss Bugden's favourite Bible stories so I already knew it. Does it have any particular religious importance? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. I found colouring-in rather beneath me.

We had roast lamb for Sunday dinner. I picked mint leaves from the garden. Whole mint leaves and malt vinegar and brown sugar do not really make a very convincing mint sauce.

So it was not until after two o clock on Sunday afternoon that I began to read Spider-Man Comics Weekly #26.

The one with the cliffhanger. 

The carpet of my bedroom is mustard yellow and rather threadbare; the curtains are grey with a floral pattern. My FOOM poster ("Hang loose, oh faithful ones...") is sellotaped to the bedroom wall, surrounded by pin-up pages sacrificially torn from the comics themselves. There are sheets and blankets and a bedspread on my bed: duvets are still, like garlic and spaghetti, the province of the irredeemably pretentious.

I cannot remember the pattern on my bedspread.

Possibly it had sunflowers?

Imagine forgetting a thing like that.

Lined up on the bed are the stuffed toys: the penguin, the two surviving bears and oh yes god forgive me there was still the gollywog. This was before Action Figures. Before Cyborg and Muton. But red Indians, yes, we still called them Red Indians, were engaged in an epic tribal conflict in one corner of the room.

Marvel had gone mad with generosity and was running a competition for which the prize was one pound a week’s pocket money for a whole year. A Mars Bar cost thruppence. Spider-Man Comics Weekly cost five new pence which as the grown-ups never tired of reminding us, was a whole shilling in old money. One pound a week for a year was on a level with magical lamps and fairy godmothers.

Marvel were still trying to persuade us all to join FOOM. Findus was offering free tickets to see the Sword in the Stone with three magic mousse lids. Chivers Jelly claimed to be giving away real dinosaur fossils in return for a slightly more ambitious eighteen box tops. And always, always, always, there is someone who wants to send us stamps “on approval”.
I would continue to read Spider-Man for decades — to the Todd McFarlane era, at least. There would be other idols. A Planet of the Apes comic arrived on the back of the TV show in 1974: a line by line adaptation of the Charlton Heston movie, so grown up that in the first issue you caught a glimpse of a grown-up man's bum. There was a Silver Surfer Comic in 1975, reprinting the Lee/Buscema episodes, which seem incredibly profound when you are 10 years old. The next year came the first ever British Superhero, imaginatively called Captain Britain. It was printed in colour and written by Chris Claremont and I didn't know any better. And the year after that came The Eternals, which made me consciously aware of Jack Kirby for the first time. (There was also a film.)

I didn’t realize it straight away, of course. But I was no longer a Spider-Man fan; I was simply a comic book fan. After the one with the cliffhanger Spider-Man was never quite as good again.

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  1. Oh this is a lovely video, even if I disagree with its conclusions for obvious reasons.

  2. Very kind of you to say so. I am never quite sure whether these things are going to work, and (to quote a cliche) if I connected with even one person I feel it was worthwhile.

    It is entirely possible that the "Spider-Man was never as good again" part may be qualified slightly over the next few weeks.