Spider-Man is the kind of character which can be used to craft stories of a variety of tones. While his stories are generally light-hearted, they can also be tragic, (see ‘The Night Gwen Stacey Died’) or dark, (like ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt‘). Although, the one I’m going to discuss today is neither of these. Instead, it’s just downright silly and as a result the funniest Spider-Man stories ever.
I know humour is objective, so what I’m saying is a big call, but I believe that ‘The Commuter Cometh‘ as told in 1985’s Amazing Spider-Man #267 is the funniest Spidey story ever. Read on to find out why this tale by writer Peter David and artist Bob McLeod about Spider-Man out in the suburbs, and out of his element, is so funny.
The comic opens with Spider-Man not having a great day. Head in his hands, he’s contemplating on all of his recent problems and worrying about the cold he’s coming down with. Luckily, old mate Johnny Storm, aka Fantastic Four’s The Human Torch, is here to try and cheer him up. Johnny isn’t all that much help – more of a pest – by asking questions that don’t help his mood. Although, they do make future lunch plans and the two go their separate ways with Spidey about to call it a day when he sees a crime taking place in a nearby high-rise.
The crime in question is a burglary of a fashion designer’s office safe. Spider-Man springs into action, but the quick thinking criminal is able to escape when he fools the wall-crawling hero by taking a mannequin hostage. With a clean getaway, the crim heads down to the subway where he jumps the turnstiles and on the next train. Our hero attempts the same thing but is stopped by transit officers when he is caught fare evading.
The problem is that these officers don’t recognise him. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue – Spider-Man is on the front page of the Daily Bugle most days. But with his black costume – something he wore for a time in the 80’s. He can try and convince them all he wants, they just assume he’s some weirdo. Due to this, Spider-Man contemplates starting an ad campaign to get people up to speed.
(something about body language – maybe)
Luckily, for Spider-Man the criminal is not gone forever. Just before our hero was stopped at the station he was able to put one of his patented spidey-tracers on the crim. He’ll pick up the scent tomorrow, but tonight it’s time for some rest.
The next two pages are this great bit of juxtaposition. On one side we see Peter Parker’s life, which is unglamorous with TV dinners in his underwear. On the other side, is our criminal’s situation which is far better than Peter’s. He’s happily married, with a big house in the suburbs and living a white collar life. You’d think that the hero would be living the high-life, with petty criminals slumming it, but nope. Spidey will be tracking down someone who stole money who probably doesn’t even need it.
With a brighter outlook on the day and feeling far more sprightly, Spider-Man swings into action in the search for the man who stole the money. Using his cleverly named spidey-tracer-tracer, he pinpoints the location to out into the suburbs, which he conveniently gets there by hitching the ride on top of an outbound train. (That’s right, Spider-Man fare evades again!)
Deep into the suburbs, this is where Spider-Man starts to notice he might be out of his element. If you think about it, Spidey is very reliant on buildings to swing on, but if there are no buildings he’s stuck on the ground. This is perfectly encapsulated with a single panel, in which he shoots a web for it to simply arc in the air and go nowhere, accompanied by a fantastic “THWIZZZZZZ” sound effect that follows the line of the web.
So maybe climbing trees will help? Not when they snap and cause the attention of the Neighbourhood Watch! Maybe J. Jonah Jameson is right, Spider-Man is a menace! After a frisk down by the Neighbourhood Watch representative and his handsy wife, Spidey escapes by webbing them to their car. Spider-Man hasn’t got time for that, he’s got a crook to catch!
Because Spider-Man is covered head to toe, it can be difficult to show his emotions. Bob McLeod does a fantastic job at showing Spider-Man’s confusion and frustration in this scene through his body language and the use of movement lines. These additional line work great not only to show movement but exaggerated movement which plays on the comedy element of the story and give it an almost slapstick vibe. Examples of this is when McLeod renders our hero shaking his head frantically in confusion when he’s stopped by Neighbourhood Watch or when Spidey is tapping his fingers in frustration when he is being frisked.
So how is Spider-Man going to find this criminal? Why not take the bus? While he was able to hitch a ride on the train, he’s not so lucky on the bus. The grumpy driver stops the bus and forces Spidey to pay the fare. But since Spider-Man doesn’t carry cash, there’s no ride for him. We see this great panel of a glum-looking Spider-Man watching the bus drive off without him, smoke billowing out behind it.
So on foot, he goes as he follows his spidey-tracer-tracer. As you can probably assume, wondering the streets is garnering plenty of stares from the locals. If you saw someone dressed head-to-toe in superhero costume wandering the streets you’d stare too. Eventually, Spidey catches a break when garbage men, who are also big fans, offer him a ride. Along the way one of them tries to set our hero up on a date with his sister.
After all that trouble, our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man is at the location. But just as he arrives, our white collar crook drives off with the money and attempts to run him over. The result is a car chase which sees Spidey in a cab with police in hot pursuit and results in a comical pile-up with a bunch of the locals we’ve encountered throughout the story, including the cab, the police car, the bus that Spidey attempted to take, the couple from Neighbourhood Watch and our criminal. It’s a great way to call back to previous events and gags in the story and tie everything in a nice bow.
So after all that trouble Spider-Man finally gets his man. But after all that trouble I’m sure he would’ve preferred to be fighting Doctor Octopus or Electro instead. I don’t think he’ll be visiting the suburbs again and time soon!
Spider-Man has always been known as a wise-cracking hero, but this story takes the humour to a whole new level. From McLeod’s well-crafted slapstick comedy to a script that plays off it by taking Spidey out of his element, The Commuter Cometh is jam pack full of gags. For every joke I have told you about, there’s probably another two that I haven’t mentioned. It’s the kind of story which will have you laughing out loud and well deserved the mantle of the funniest Spider-Man comic ever.
The Commuter Cometh is collected in Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Ghosts of the Past and can be found at any good comic book store or online. At those same places you can find this story in its original floppy form. You can also read this issue digitally on Comixology, Marvel Digital Comics or Marvel Unlimited.