Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man 8 (V): In the Neighbourhood...

In the neighborhood...

"Neighbor" is, of course, a Biblical word (standing for the Greek plēsion) meaning "a member of the community". Loving your neighbor as yourself was said by Jesus to be the whole heart of the Torah. The Old Testament arguably taught that "neighbor" meant only other Jewish people; the New Testament arguably teaches that everyone in the world is everyone else's neighbor.

The word "neighborhood" originally meant simply neighborliness or the state of being neighborly; but by the middle of 19th century it had acquired the present sense of "locality" "home" or "the part of the world where all your friends live".  It wasn't until the late 20th century that the abbreviation 'hood came to mean a specifically black neighborhood – a ghetto.

In 1964 the phrase "your friendly neighborhood" was already a well-worn cliche. Sam’s Market in Glenfield, Los Angeles was advertising itself as "your friendly neighborhood grocer" in 1958; the National Association of Retail Druggists was talking about "your friendly neighborhood drug store" in 1947. The earliest example I could find was a Methodist Church in Wisconsin which claimed to be "your friendly neighborhood church" as far back as 1935. Ed Wood's infamous movie Glen or Glenda refers ironically to "your friendly neighborhood milkman" (he's actually sleeping with the women of the neighborhood while their husbands are at work.)

Back in issue #4, Spider-Man sucked the Sandman into the vacuum cleaner with the words "Here’s the first part of your education courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." I suppose the joke is that Spider-Man is unique; every neighborhood doesn’t have one; and that the Bugle still presents him as anything but friendly. Or perhaps "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" just sound a little like "friendly neighborhood milkman". It's funny: but not very funny. 

On page 2 of the Torch story in issue 8. Spider-Man tries to scare the Human Torch’s guests with a giant bat. (Why a bat, for heaven’s sake? Why not a spider?) The Torch says that it’s made of threads, and Spider-Man replies "Not threads, sonny boy!…Webs! Gen-u-wine Spider-Man webs!…The kind your friendly neighborhood grocer doesn’t sell". "The kind your grocer doesn’t sell" sounds as if it ought to be a well-known advertising slogan, but I can’t track down any example of anyone using it.

Spider-Man’s web is, of course, a secret formula known only to himself. He has spent a lot of photo money developing it in his bedroom.  Obviously, they are completely unique. So it's funny, but not very funny, to claim that you couldn't by similar webs in your local supermarket.

But the joke will run and run. Spider-Man will increasingly use it as a catchphrase. It will be referenced in the lyrics of the Spider-Man TV theme song; and decades later it will be the title of a spin-off comic. And it still won't be very funny.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

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Mike Taylor said...

"Loving your neighbor as yourself was said by Jesus to be the whole heart of the Torah."

Actually, he said it was the second part of the Law. See Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:29-31 and (for a slightly different account) Luke 10:25-28.

-- Your friendly neighbourhood Bible pedant.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Your No Prize is in the post.

Mike Taylor said...

While a No Prize is always welcome, I feel that sea monkeys, X-ray specs, Hostess Twinkies or a body-building course would be more appropriate.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I had Sea Monkeys when I was a kid. They are actually quite fun, once you get the hang of the back that they basically little insects and not little naked underwater people at all. You'd actually have to work quite hard to keep them healthy, making it good practice for serious aquarium keeping.

I had X-Ray Specs (from the joke shop on Blackpool Pier). I was too young to particularly care about naked ladies one way or the other, but the illusion of seeing the lead in a pencil is quite convincing.

Hostess Twinkies I had in a service station in Somewhereville, when Scientist Buddy was driving me to the Grand Canyon. I can see why they had to advertise them so aggressively.

I believe the Charles Atlas course is still available, and actually works. I was more interested in the hypnotism disc, which I suspect didn't.

Mike Taylor said...

I always assumed "sea monkeys" were something like Triops. Our boys had a few of these when they were younger.

But to me, the idea of sea monkeys, X-ray specs, Hostess Twinkies or Charles Atlas body-building courses actually existing feels very beside the point. They were all part of the exoticism of the Marvel milieu, just as must as Stan and Steve and the Bullpen and indeed Spider-Man. (If one of your subsequent posts on Spider-Man majors on these adverts, I for one will not be disappointed.)

Keith Edwin Schooley said...

I always liked the "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" joke. To me, Spider-Man is an inversion of the deadly serious superhero formula--almost a mock-heroic figure--and the joke is a self-deprecating part of that. No one would ever imagine a friendly neighborhood Batman or Superman or Captain America. Spider-Man gave us permission to laugh at--but also to laugh with--our superheroes. We don't have to regard Spider-Man with humorless awe and wonder, because Peter Parker doesn't.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Yes, I think that's probably right. (And the mock heroism is the flip side of the angst and tragedy of the sub-plots)