Amazing Spider-Man #96-98
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man #96, Amazing Spider-Man #97, Amazing Spider-Man #98
These are the famous drug issues that caused some controversy when they were published. At the request of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Stan Lee wrote an anti-drug story. I'll repeat that: an anti-drug story. However, at the time, the Comics Code Authority forbid the depiction of drug use so it wouldn't approve the comics. Marvel printed the stories without the CCA stamp, and this led to the CCA making its restrictions a little more sane (but not much, as we'll see when we talk about zuvembies).
The gist of the drug-related plot is that Harry is stressed out over school, his father, and (mainly) the crappy way that Mary Jane treats him...
...and he's been abusing sleeping pills. Later a kid at school hooks him up with LSD.
Similarly, Spider-Man rescues a young black kid who jumps off a building while high on LSD.
Randy Robertson makes the point that drugs are a problem for everyone, including rich white kids. It's not just a ghetto problem.
That's it, really. Nothing controversial there at all, even by the standards of the day, i would think. If anything, it probably felt a bit preachy to the counterculture audience who made up a fair share of Marvel's fanbase.
MJ has a dance gig this issue, and Norman pays for a bunch of the kids to go and see it, since MJ is theoretically dating his son.
Also in these issues, Norman Osborn reverts to his Green Goblin identity and seeks out Peter...
...who has been working part time at Oscorp. It is seeing his sick son that stops him and seemingly snaps him out of insanity.
Peter starts dressing like a druggie these issues himself.
Finally, Gwen recovers from the mourning of her father and returns to the U.S. where she and Peter get back together.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Peter starts these issues flying home from London, so he can't appear in any other books in between this issue and #95.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Marvel Tales #191
Inbound References (2): showAunt May, Aunt Watson, Betty Brant, Green Goblin (Norman Osborn), Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson, Joe 'Robbie' Robertson, Mary Jane Watson, Randy Robertson, Spider-Man
I had these issues back when I was 14 and I had no problem with the drug references in the story. In fact we had watched our share of anti-drug propaganda films and been taught in the 7th grade about the side effects of a lot of drugs. Was enough to scare me from using, at least. So to use me as an example, these were nothing to get worried about as far as drug content.
Posted by: Mike | June 29, 2014 9:07 PM
"[Norman] Osborn and I share a deadly secret together...we're both boning Gwen!"
(Yes, the Most Disgusting Retcon of All Time allegedly takes place right before this. Sorry, I have to vent.)
And speaking of bad retcons, it's one thing if Mary Jane is just acting like a flighty twat who's decided that Peter is a step up from Harry and she's going to snag him now that Gwen's away; it's another if she's "always known" that Peter is Spidey and the only reason she dated Harry was to stay close to Pete.
The issues themselves are cool, if a little over-the-top. But I love Gil Kane, and drug-addled freakouts are right up his nostril, er, alley.
Posted by: Dan Spector | August 1, 2014 5:59 PM
Truly momentous from a comic history standpoint. But a good story on its own, with very good art - especially that panel to end the issue with the return of the full memory of the Green Goblin.
As for the Gwen retcon - well, that's dumber than Alicia being a Skrull. As far as I'm concerned, it never happened.
Posted by: Erik Beck | February 7, 2015 11:30 AM
Fringed suede leather jackets like Peter is wearing were a popular style in 1971, although I've never seen anyone wear a sleeveless one. Still, my point is that one didn't necessarily have to be a druggie to wear one. Teachers, students, and probably well over 50% of younger people of both genders wore the so-called hippie styles. Patched and embroidered bell bottom blue jeans, fringe jackets, field jackets, long hair, granny glasses, and unisex styles were everywhere, especially among the under-30 crowd, but even a lot of the older people were wearing those styles. They weren't hippies, they were just following the trends. I only ever met one hippie in my life, and he was just in from California, where the trend in styles began in the late 60s. Musicians, Hollywood, TV, and clothing manufacturers helped to spread the styles. Then, only quite a bit later in the 70s, did the leisure suits and disco styles take over.
Posted by: Holt | October 14, 2017 8:38 PM
Stan Lee apparently had wanted to do a story like this for a while, per his comments in Marvel Tribune #9(10/68):"What bothers me is that I wanted to very desperately do a story about drugs. We can't even mention drugs and I said to the Code, 'Look, I'm not going to do a story saying the whole world should become drug-oriented, I just want to mention them, base a story on them.' "
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 20, 2018 4:53 PM
Not long after these issues were published, DC ventured into the same area in Green Lantern / Green Arrow, which the Comics Code did approve - was this the result of their relaxing their restrictions ?
Posted by: Mike Teague | January 21, 2018 2:32 AM
The DC story is generally better-remembered and considered more "relevant" because it is comparatively more "realistic" in its treatment of drugs: the drug involved is heroin, not generic "pills," and there are elements like an overdose and withdrawal symptoms, albeit compressed for comic-book purposes. Additionally, Speedy is portrayed unusually sympathetically, and Green Arrow is shown (for once) to be a loutish hypocrite whose neglect of his ward and self-righteous attitude contribute to his sidekick's addiction. Having the hero's failings play out this way was not the norm for the time, especially at squeaky-clean, shiny National Comics.
None of that means anyone has to like the Green Lantern/Green Arrow story better than this one, but it does drive home that Stan's story employs drug abuse as a plot element in a "Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin" story while the O'Neil and Adams story is an attempt to do a story about real-world drug abuse. Stan's desire to "mention" drugs is petty clearly reflected in the execution of his story; O'Neil and Adams's remit, at the request of public health officials, to address the drug problem itself is equally clear int he execution of theirs.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | January 21, 2018 12:05 PM
I would certainly give the Spider-Man story the win. It was far subtler than GL/GA and more effective in a world-building way. Spidey has other things going on in his life. Gwen's gone, Aunt May and Mrs. Watson are going out to see "Hair," MJ's got a new gig and is flirting with Pete, the Green Goblin is back, and suddenly he finds his roommate strung out on drugs.
The problem with GL/GA - which O'Neil and Adams have admitted - is that dealing with social issues and superheroes is kind of ridiculous, so they always need the bad guy to start trying to kill people or something like that so he can be put in jail by the end. I think the Spidey story works very well in terms of describing a problem that can't be solved by putting on tights and punching someone.
Norman and Randy's argument feels really 'forced,' but maybe that's just the 45-year time lapse talking.
Posted by: ChrisW | January 21, 2018 7:57 PM
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