I loved Sesame Street, didn’t you? Loved all the puppets and animation and lessons about life. But you know what I loved more? You know what was always more up my “street” when I was a kid spending half of my growing years on the streets of Manhattan?
The Electric Company!
Unlike Sesame Street, it was predominately populated by real people. Adults who acted out skits and used bold language and geared their entire show around not just life lessons, but the value of reading and words and examples of how to use them as tools for becoming adults ourselves. It was gruff sometimes and had a bit of a bite amid all of the bright colors and laughter. It was a little more back alley New York than Sesame Street to me. And it had two things that “The Street” didn’t have:
Morgan Freeman and the Amazing Spider-Man.
Yes, that Morgan Freeman. Yes, a live-action Spidey. Actors have to start somewhere and this was Mr. Freeman’s first stop on his epic rise. He was unbelievably cool and smooth and reminded me of the black and Hispanic adults I spent hot summers with in my friend’s apartments in Queens.
Electric Company had Afros and fringes and skits that were messy and improvisational. It was like Saturday Night Live for kids.
The Spidey of Electric Companyland had thought bubbles and crazy sound effects and basic animation of webs flying out of his hands. He was more of a dancer than a hero with the strength and agility of a spider. He could be overcome by villains like “The Wall”, “The Spoiler” and “The Sack”.
He flew out of art panel grids the TV Producers threw together to fit our small screens. He achieved the goal of exuding the comedic prowess of Spider-Man without actually being able to speak (other than the odd word balloon that popped out of his mask every now and again). Characters talked to him like he was mute, fishing for what he wanted like he was Lassie.
I’d heard from friends at camp that there was a comic book version of the Spidey represented on the show and I went hunting the first chance I could.
When I finally found what I was looking for, I didn’t end up with Lee and Ditko. I didn’t find Romita or Buscema (although they did the odd covers). I ended up reading the timeless stories written and drawn by those legendary creators Jean Thomas, Winslow Mortimer, Thaddeus Mumford, Kolfax Mingo and Bobo De’Lair. All creating the comic zaniness endorsed and promoted by Morgan Freeman’s “Easy Reader” character:
This kid-focused title ran from 1974-1982 (one hell of a long run!) and, to my mind, resembled the Justice League Unlimited comics from the past few years. It was a forum for Marvel to introduce characters that kids might not normally know of in their limited Marvel comic reading.
Characters like Nova and Kid Colt (boys want to be Cowboys!), White Tiger and that ultimate anarchist, Hawkeye!
That’s one way to take down a rocket ship!
They also introduced us to Thundra, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, Tigra, Storm, Moondragon (“She’s bald and she’s beautiful!”), Shanna the Jungle Queen and “The Cat” (Can’t use the word “Hell” in a kids book, can ya?).
These ladies were all obvious attempts to introduce female characters for the young female readers, but only produced supremely grateful grins from us “sprouting” young boys.
There were also an alarming amount of appearances by the Inhumans. I think this had to do with two things. One was that it afforded them an opportunity to give us some time with Lockjaw, one of the few Super-Pets of the Marvel Universe. And the other was that we had just been introduced to the film that would change everything for Science-Fiction in the comics, movies, books and television from the 70s to present day. I’m talking of course of Star Wars.
I know this because of two particular issues:
Issue #31 entitled “Star Jaws!” (co-starring the aforementioned Moondragon), in which she and Spidey go into space to fight Doctor Doom in order to save the planet. Did I mention this was in outer space?
And my all-time favorite, issue #39 entitled “The Cat and the Cosmic Cube!” in which Spidey and The Cat battle Thanos. Yup, Thanos.
In his “Thanos Copter”, which has his name emblazoned on the copter’s tail.
He beats up a little boy…
and comes after our heroes.
Cheese and crackers!
Then, after he’s defeated by the dynamic duo, he gets handcuffed and put in a police car so he can get taken downtown and booked.
So we had a super-cool mash-up of Spider-Man, the superhero who couldn’t be more grounded to the city sidewalks, with outer-space invasions in Central Park!!
Not only that, it had “Scooby Doo” guest appearances by the cast of the Electric Company. Real people. People that didn’t leap from the page to the screen, but did the exact opposite. Running around Marvel’s Big Apple, always reminding us that reading is cool and that Spider-Man was, well, real.