As one of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes, Spider-Man has been called on to save the world countless times. While most of those adventures have taken place on comics pages or TV screens, he’s even been called to help out in the real world on a few occasions. Since his 1962 debut, Spider-Man has starred in a number of public service announcements. These PSAs are usually funded by government agencies, non-profit organizations or public outreach programs and are meant to raise awareness about issues, encourage good habits or generally promote well-meaning causes.
With the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming just days away, CBR is taking a look back at some of the craziest PSAs starring the friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. For this list, we’ll be looking at some of the funniest, bizarre and most remarkable Spider-Man PSAs from comics and TV. Since he’s such an iconic, approachable character, Spider-Man has appeared in more PSAs than we could catalog here in this hardly comprehensive list. Even though they’re similar in tone, we won’t be including promotional comics that were created to promote private businesses. It should also be noted that this is in no way a value judgment on any of the causes being promoted in these stories.
15. SPIDER-MAN ROCKS THE VOTE
As part of a national voter registration campaign, Spider-Man tried to register new voters in 1992. The short PSA was produced by the Video Software Dealers Association, a home entertainment trade group, and urged viewers to get forms to register to vote at “participating local video stores.”
While the campaign’s other PSAs ran in front of feature films and starred figures like Martin Sheen and Orville Redenbacher, Spider-Man’s PSA ran on VHS tapes of Marvel cartoons like Pryde of the X-Men. Since most of the tapes’ viewers would’ve been under voting age, it’s unclear who the target audience was. With jarring stabs of synthesizer music, this live-action ad strikes a bizarre, almost menacing tone. As he poses in the shadows, this Spider-Man joylessly describes the importance of voting in local elections. It also shows Spider-Man signing legal forms with the name “Spider-Man,” which is probably ill-advised, if not totally illegal.
14. SPIDER-MAN VISITS THE DENTIST
In 2005, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four teamed up to promote oral hygiene with Heroes vs. Plaque: When Plaque Attacks, Howard Mackie and Ron Lim. In this fairly standard American Dental Association PSA, Spider-Man and the rest of the Fantastic Four teach the Thing basic facts about dental care.
Although he shares the spotlight with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man visits his dentist for a check-up in full costume, with his mask raised to his nose for the actual dental examination. Spider-Man and the Thing’s dentist visits are cut short by the tooth decay-themed villain Professor Plaque. The villain kidnaps their dentist and retreats to his unusual hideout, an oddly detailed, anatomically correct mouth-shaped structure at an abandoned fairground. After being bludgeoned with a comically oversized toothbrush, Plaque and the story’s heroes offer yet another reminder about the importance of flossing and brushing twice a day.
13. CHAOS IN CALGARY
In the 1990s, several Canadian government programs and Petro-Canada co-produced a series of PSAs focused on teaching safety. While these were given away in Canada in 1992, most specials were also sold in the United States in 1993. Like the other PSAs, Spider-Man: Chaos in Calgary finds Peter Parker on special assignment in Canada for The Daily Bugle.
In Scott Lobdell and Jim Craig’s tale, Parker finds himself at the Calgary Stampede where the Rangers, a minor Texan superhero team, are performing. During a bike safety demonstration by the Right-Riders, a group of children, the Frightful Four appear to kidnap a scientist in attendance. While Spider-Man hurls rodeo-themed puns at the Man-Bull, Joline, the scientist’s daughter, turns into a wheelchair-based superhero Turbine to save the day. Although her father says that “we haven’t seen the last” of Turbine at the end of her debut, this remains Turbine’s only appearance.
12. SPIDER-MAN’S EXTRAORDINARY LEAGUE
After decades of academic campaigning, comics like Watchmen have risen from the gutters of the literary world to become a accepted parts of the literary canon. That wasn’t the case in 1990, when U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush and Marvel teamed up to promote literacy in The Amazing Spider-Man: Adventures in Reading.
After an introductory letter from Bush, Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove’s story follows an illiterate villain called the Troglodyte. Using a teleporter, he chases Spider-Man and a group of children through the worlds of classic books like Word of the Worlds and The Jungle Book. After that enjoyable tale, the comic has information about the library system and reading recommendations. In its final pages, this comic, which is presumably for young readers, inexplicably suggests adult novels like Anne Rice’s Interview With a Vampire and Stephen King’s The Shining, Carrie and Cujo alongside Judy Blume.
11. RIOT AT ROBOTWORLD
While Ultron only made his cinematic debut in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, he commanded thinly-veiled versions of film’s most famous robots in 1991. Co-produced by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Amazing Spider-Man: Riot at Robotworld pits the Avengers villain against Spider-Man in a technological theme park.
In Dwayne McDuffie and Alex Saviuk’s well-crafted story, Ultron takes control of the park and sends several killer robots after Spider-Man and another group of kids. In addition to fighting a generic T. Rex robot, Spider-Man battles thinly-veiled versions of RoboCop and the Terminator. The title also features robots modeled after Battlestar Galactica‘s Cylons and Lost In Space‘s Robot B-9. Finally, the kids are able to shut Ultron down by essentially flipping his off switch through radio waves in one of the villain’s most embarrassing defeats.
10. CONSTRUCTION CHAOS
In another story funded by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Spider-Man battles the dangerous threat posed by gravel. In Amazing Spider-Man: Managing Materials, Spider-Man takes on Dr. Octopus, who’s operating a shady construction company to make some quick cash.
In another story by Dwayne McDuffie and Alex Saviuk, Spider-Man catches a group of kids trespassing on a construction site. Despite his regular habits of swinging around similar locations, he scolds the young aspiring engineers before noticing that the building’s framework seemed weak. After consulting with Nate Briggs, an old engineering friend, he learns that the building’s foundation contained too much gravel. While investigating the site, Briggs and the kids are kidnapped by Doctor Octopus, whose previously unseen contracting business was cutting corners on the building’s construction. Just before Doc Ock drowned the kids in a cement truck, Spider-Man dispatches his old foe as his building crumbles.
9. FIELD OF SCREAMS
In another Canadian-produced PSA, Spider-Man teamed up with the Montreal Expos team to battle the Green Goblin. In 1993’s Amazing Spider-Man: Dead Ball, Peter Parker, Mary Jane Parker and Normie Osborn, Harry Osborn’s son, travel to Montreal to take in a Major League Baseball game with cameos from ballplayers Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Delino Deshields and Larry Walker.
In Madeleine Blaustein and Jim Craig’s brilliantly-titled story, “Field of Screams,” the Green Goblin attacks the game while the young Right-Riders are giving another bike safety demonstration. After pelting the Goblin with balls, some of the Expos hit the villain’s pumpkin bombs like baseballs. After Spider-Man shows up, the Goblin accidentally crashes into the side of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium with a cartoonish “SPLAT.” Unlike the rest of the Canadian specials, this PSA from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police was never reprinted in the U.S.
8. THE MYTH MONSTER
Like many of these PSAs, 1991’s Amazing Spider-Man Battles the Myth Monster featured a strange new, singularly-focused villain in his first and only appearance. This Danny Fingeroth and Jose Delbo story centers around the Myth Monster, a medieval shape-shifting creature obsessed with lying. When a group of teenagers discover the ancient amulet holding the creature, they unwittingly release him back into the world.
Over the course of this Epilepsy Foundation of America and National Association of School Nurses co-production, the monster impersonates the school’s track coach to spread misinformation about diabetes, epilepsy and asthma. While Spider-Man battles the beast, the school nurse hatches a plot to defeat the monster, thanks to a “scroll that’s been handed down for generations in my family.” After leading the teens to an abandoned museum, Spider-Man, the nurse and the teens make the monster disappear by ignoring him.
7. SPIDER-MAN: FASTLANE
While the other comics on this list were released on individual issues, the four-part anti-drug PSA “Fastlane” ran throughout Marvel titles like Uncanny X-Men and Captain America in 1999. With backing from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the anti-marijuana PSA appeared across Marvel titles and children’s magazines, which gave it a combined total print run in the millions.
In Glenn Herdling and Gregg Schigiel’s infamous story, Spider-Man battles Mysterio and teaches the chronically distracted Sam Exmore, a previously unseen Daily Bugle intern, about the negative influence of Zane Whelan, a celebrity with a highly cultivated image. Beyond a simple anti-drug message, the comic’s musings on media literacy update the standard PSA formula. Thanks to the comics’ high production values, it seamlessly blended in with some of the comics it was printed in, which led to more than a few confused readers.
6. HARRY OSBORN’S OVERDOSE
In a more serious way, the shocking overdose of Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn was a bold moment in comics history. When comic books became a national concern in the 1950s, the comic industry created the Comics Code Authority to ensure the wholesomeness of any given title. Among other restrictions, drugs couldn’t be shown at all, even in a negative light.
At the request of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Stan Lee, Gil Kane and Marvel publisher Martin Goodman eschewed the Comics Code with Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. In that 1971 story, Harry Osborn overdoses on hallucinogenic pills. This was a bold statement with an established character that helped reset the lines of what could happen in superhero comics. In addition to a fairly standard fight with Green Goblin, Spider-Man saves a hallucinating drug-user who jumped off a building and fights Harry’s dealers in this landmark tale.
5. SKATING ON THIN ICE
In 1990, the launch of Todd McFarlane’s blockbuster Spider-Man series cemented him as one of Spider-Man’s definitive artists and comics biggest stars. That same year, McFarlane also helped kick off Spider-Man’s Canadian PSAs with a new cover for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Alliance for a Drug Free Canada’s Amazing Spider-Man: Skating on Thin Ice.
In this Dwayne McDuffie and Alex Saviuk story, Spider-Man discovers that Electro has been smuggling drugs into Canada by hiding them in shipments of hockey pucks. After convincing J. Jonah Jameson to send him to Winnipeg on assignment, Peter Parker meets legendary Canadian hockey star Herb Carnegie and a group of children he was coaching. After he teaches the kids about the dangers of drugs and underage drinking, the young hockey players help Spider-Man defeat Electro by launching a puck directly into his face.
4. SPIDER-MAN’S SCIENCE FAIR
The Amazing Spider-Man: Double Trouble, Spider-Man’s second Canadian PSA, picks up right where the previous one left off. In another anti-drug tale from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Alliance for a Drug Free Canada, Peter Parker travels to Frederickton, Newfoundland, where he’s inexplicably covering the International Junior Science Fair for The Daily Bugle.
In Dwayne McDuffie and Herb Trimpe’s tale, the Chameleon impersonates several people in an attempt to steal one girl’s notes for her science project, which are worth thousands of dollars. After Spider-Man befriends more children being chaperoned by Herb Carnegie, he tangles with his foe and delivers another anti-drug lecture. In a bizarre finale, Spider-Man battles the Chameleon at the science fair, where the Chameleon has somehow turned children’s science projects into death traps. While Spider-Man ultimately beats his foe, he accidentally destroys every project in the science fair in the process.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Spider-Man befriended most of the Marvel Universe in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. In 1981’s Spider-Man, Storm and Power Man, Luke Cage and Ororo Munroe teamed up with the wall-crawler again for an anti-smoking PSA from the American Cancer Society.
Although no creators are credited, the story opens with Cage coaching a youth track team in his full superhero costume. After one of his star runners starts acting strange, Cage, Spider-Man and Storm start spying on the teen, who’s fallen into the treacherous world of smoking and “hanging out.” After a lesson about the harmful effects of smoking, the tobacco-themed villain Smokescreen knocks out the weather-controlling mutant. From his criminal headquarters an arcade’s basement, Smokescreen reveals his improbable, convoluted plan to take over the mob by taking bets on fixed high school track meets. After a quick fight, the heroes easily defeat Smokescreen and his goons.
2. SMOKESCREEN 1998
In 1998, Spider-Man’s next encounter with Smokescreen took place in one of the most bizarre Marvel Comics ever published. In another American Cancer Society PSA, Spider-Man, Storm and Luke Cage used the same script, dialogue and panel layouts as the comic described in the previous entry.
While the writer is still unaccredited, David Tata, Norman Lee and Chris Dickey give the aforementioned tale a more contemporary art style. Given the X-Men’s 1990s stature, Storm receives second-billing in this version, and the heroes are all drawn in their late-1990s costumes. Smokescreen also receives a stylistic update, trading in his garish sleeveless uniform for a full, sleek bodysuit. Despite the book’s more modern look, the comic’s dated slang and melodramatic dialogue make this a deeply incongruent title. Thankfully, the comic’s closing pages feature updated facts and figures on the harmful effects of smoking.
1. SPIDER-MAN GOES BANANAS
In a pair of animated PSAs from 1980, Peter Parker made the worst decision of his life. In the healthy eating campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Spider-Man gave up $400 million, twice, for a piece of fruit.
After capturing a rampaging T. Rex, the mayor of an unidentified city gives Spider-Man a medal in the first PSA. When he starts to give the hero a $400 million cash reward for defeating the creature, Spider-Man refuses and plainly states, “Frankly, I’d rather have a banana.” In the other PSA, Spider-Man captures a giant fly that’s destroying the city. Once again, he forgoes the mayor’s cash offer of $400 million, which is the total domestic gross of the first Spider-Man movie, for a single orange. In a Homer Simpson-esque error, Spider-Man doesn’t realize that $400 million can buy plenty of bananas, oranges and even a few apples.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest on Spider-Man and his amazing friends. Let us know what your favorite crazy Spider-Man PSA is in the comments below!
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