"Belushi! No! That samurai's for real!"
It's 1978. Spider-Man still retains some of the cool he had among comic-book readers in the '60s. On NBC, the coolest show ever comes "Live from New York!" every Saturday night.
It was a match made in pop culture heaven. Not even self-promotin' Stan Lee could botch this one by appearing in the story.
Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson arrive at the NBC studios with tickets to the hit show, starring the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players. The pair arrive late, of course, and are forced into poor-quality balcony seats, just in front of realistic versions of The Muppet Show's Waldorf and Statler.
Behind the scenes, difficulties brew. A mysterious angry man pushes his way through the crowd and sets himself up as an usher. Producer Lorne Michaels rushes by the impostor, who speaks the overblown argot typical of Marvel Universe super-villains-- for he is, in reality, the Silver Samurai. The cast experiences difficulties, too. Someone has sent a mysterious ring to John Belushi, and he cannot remove it from his finger. Clearly, he requires help! And, just as clearly, the presence of the over-articulate villain and the troublesome jewelry must be connected.
Stan Lee hosts this week's episode, and we're treated to some really bad in-universe quips. Meanwhile, the Samurai's hired thugs put a gun to Michaels' head and take over the control booth. Of course, Petie's spider-sense sends him spinning. As he scuttles off, a tv camera catches him, and an onscreen caption identifies him as a "Superhero in his spare time!"1
Of course he is. Spider-Man, aided by the SNL cast, engage the villain and his minions in battle, while trying to keep the crowd from realizing they're in danger. A panic, after all, would be dangerous. John Belushi, in his famous Japanese gear, faces the Silver Samurai ("You dare mock the samurai, American?"). Laraine Newman pretends to be Ms. Marvel ("As far as her costume goes, I feel silly") while Garrett Morris disguises himself as Thor ("Ain't Thor s'posed ta be Swedish?"). Both effectively intimidate the toadies who, true to convention, are incompetent twits with a surfeit of muscle and a paucity of brains. Equally predictable: when the fight does spill onto the stage or into the audience, everyone assumes it's all part of the show.
Marvel Team-Up #74 breaks little new ground. Still, it's well-drawn and it provides an amusing excursion for Spider-Man. The issue has become a charming piece of '70s memorabilia, a four-color Fotomat shot of a pop-culture time and place. Both the webslinger and the tv show were about to begin endless revisions and reworkings.
Neither would ever be quite the same again.
Chris Claremont: writer
Marie Severin: artist and colorist
Manette Kawecki: letterer
Some images of this issue may be found here.
1. *Cough* You young'uns won't remember this, but--*wheeze*-- back when Saturday Night Live was new, edgy, and hip-- yet also playfully childlike--, a running gag involved turning the camera on some unsuspecting audience member just before the cut to commercial and putting an amusing subtitle onscreen.