Every weekend this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new instalment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham # 17
Writer: Mike Carlin
Artists: Joe Albelo and Pierre Fournier
Every collector of comic books has got a litany of “miscellaneous” titles. These are the books that have been traded for, bought by accident or by impulse, given as gifts, found by happenstance or mysteriously arrived. Often, they are first issues of a series where the collecting was unobtrusively dropped. These are the comics that share the dubious trait of not having a divider within the long box that carries the title of the series. Instead, they are all lumped together under a banner that, of course, reads: miscellaneous.
The miscellaneous section of every comic book collection does have one important common element that sets it far apart from the rest of their brethren: miscellany often equals surprise.
You won’t get that with any Batman or Superman or Spiderman collection. I know exactly what I’ve got in those alphabetized and numeric rows of comics. But with my miscellaneous collection, I’m constantly astonished by what I find in there.
Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham # 17 is the only issue of the cartoon-esque series that I have. And it’s the last issue that was published. I don’t know if that fact has anything to do with why the comic is in my collection – for the life of me, I can’t recall what it’s doing in there. Still, there it is and surprised I am, at having found it.
Spider-Ham was published bi-monthly during the mid 1980’s by Star Comics, an imprint of Marvel Comics. Originally created in the pages of humour comic, Marvel Tails # 1 by stalwart writer Tom DeFalco, it was a parody of the established Marvel Comics universe, poking fun of the real Spider-Man, Peter Parker. Secondary characters and other heroes and villains that appeared in the comic book’s pages did the same. The fact that it lasted nearly three years is astonishing – not because it was a poorly written or drawn series but because those sorts of tongue-in-cheek, little kid’s “fun” comics, didn’t necessarily have a long shelf life.
You can get some pretty surreal stories in comics like Spider-Ham.
In a cross between regular superhero comics, Mad Magazine, Hanna Barbara and Disney cartoons as well as an after-school special, Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham # 17 weaves a pun-filled, crazy tale of three hugely fat tabby cats terrorizing the city of New York because people constantly make fun of their weight and voracious eating habits. (I can think of a few friends who have cats that are similar in size and appetite.) In a peculiar opening joke, one of the fat cats tries to commit suicide by jumping off of the Brooklyn Bridge. He ends up draining the Hudson and having a temper tantrum on the now dry river bed floor exclaiming: “Wahhhhh! I’m too fat to even kill myself! Drat!”
Yes. The scene sets the tone. The comic really is that weird.
Peter Porker’s three buddies, all of whom work for the Daily Beagle newspaper, are all out to get the lead story on the city’s newest “villains”. Upton, is a jive-talking, dance-loving, sunglass-wearing black cat who ends his sentences with words like “zipperhead” and “Snap!” Bunsen is a geeky, thickly bespecled, loner rabbit, always out to get the scoop on a story. Jeremiah is a movie-loving, uh, pig. Or dog. Or something. He looks a little like Goofy – and I’m not entirely sure what Goofy is.
Mike Carlin, (who went on to big the editor of all the Superman titles at DC Comics in the 1990’s), the writer of the series, loves to address the abdication of responsibility – a direct play on the real Spider-Man where the mantra “with great power comes great responsibility” takes centre stage. On the flip-side, Spider-Ham dismisses his rumbling spider-sense in favour of his rumbling stomach on more than one occasion. “Ah, what the heck,” he says, “I am a pig, ain’t I?” And when sitting at Chow Hound Charlie’s diner, he’ll eat everything, despite his slowly tightening spider-suit!
It’s easy to see that Carlin had a fun time writing the story, just like Albelo had a fun time drawing it. The panels are pretty dense with word balloons but the issue moves quickly to it’s final page – a pace that these types of comics require. No one wants to get bogged down in story when reading comedy. All readers want to see in this comic is Spider-Ham duke it out with his arch nemesis, Ductor Boom, an iron-masked duck that stands in for the real Doctor Doom in this series.
Interestingly, upon reading this book, I find myself wanting to go back and search for the animal likenesses of all the other Marvel Comics heroes and villains that stepped through the pages of the Spider-Ham series. Somewhere in issues 1 – 16, you can find: Captain Americat, The King-Pig, Goose Rider, Deerdevil, Doctor Octopussy Cat and Raven the Hunter. They join the ongoing cast of Mary Jane Waterbuffalo, Batty Brant and J. Jonah Jackal.
Oh boy! I’d love to see what shenanigans Goose Rider gets up to.
Although I’m a little hesitant, thinking that it might not be all it’s “quacked” up to be, the silly side of humour quickly comes to the fore while reading Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham. I don’t know how long interest in this type of comedy would last. I can say that, over 17 pages of quickly-read story and art, the laughs and snickers don’t wane.
Perhaps that’s the main reason why the series lasted as long as it did. With an issue coming out every other month, readers were never, uh, pigs at the trough.
Sorry. But it had to be done. And to it’s strength, Spider-Ham does it a lot.