Marvel Comics made drug awareness comics that featured Spider-Man in 1990 issued exclusively in Canada. In these stories, the famed wall-crawler went to Canada to teach children about the dangers of drugs. Canada Post and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police gave away these comics for free. According to a blurb in the back of the comic, a girl named Beth Smith wrote a letter to Marvel Comics suggesting the idea.Sound crazy? Sure, but it was the 90s, and Marvel Comics did a lot of crazy things back then. Marvel went into bankruptcy protection in 1996, and ideas like this were probably the reason. I doubt the validity of the story, but if Beth Smith is out there somewhere, drop me a line on Twitter.Marvel pumped out five of these comic books that featured Spider-Man in Canada in this vein. The creators probably figured they eliminated the scourge of drugs in Canada because after two issues they switched the theme to bicycle safety for the rest of the run. But that’s a story for another time.
LO, IT BEGINS WITH HOCKEY PUCKS…
The story takes place in New York City where Spider-Man is in a battle with his longtime foe Electro. The police arrive and scare off the villains. Spider-Man discovers that Electro was defending hockey pucks that were to be shipped to Winnipeg, Canada. Finding this suspicious, Spider-Man uses his alter-ego’s position at the Daily Bugle to convince his boss J. Jonah Jameson to send him to Winnipeg. Apparently, the Daily Bugle was going to do a story about a science fair in Fredericton.
This is all incredibly silly; the Daily Bugle is one of New York City’s biggest newspapers. They regularly have front page news about Galactus trying to eat the planet Earth, why would they cover Canadian science fair? The last time Peter had to convince Jameson to send him to Canada it was because the Hulk was on a rampage. Who knew “science fair” ranked higher than “Hulk battle” in Jameson’s books?
WINNIPEG IS FOR LOVERS
The rest of the story takes place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My comedian friend Freddy J capsulizes Winnipeg very well in his stand-up set. To quote: “Winnipeg is so depressing if you did a Google image search for ‘things to do in Winnipeg’ the first result would be a footstool and a noose.” Joking aside, Winnipeg is one of the most violent cities in Canada. Winnipeg has been ranked as the murder capital of Canada at least 16 times between 1981 and 2012. Drug use in the city is high. Choosing it as the setting for your anti-drug comic is soul-crushingly appropriate.
Peter Parker begins his interview with Beth, who is part of a hockey team called the Future Aces. He also learns about Allan, a First Nation child who has a lot of potential but is slacking off. Deciding to see what the problem is, Peter decides to follow Allan as Spider-Man. Allan gets his kicks hanging around with a guy with a rat tail drinking beer and smoking in the mall parking lot. The story comes full circle when Spidey discovers that one of the kids has a hockey puck that secretly contains drugs. I am not an expert in drug-smuggling or anything, but I think border security would pick up on the fact that there are loose pills rattling around inside a hollowed out hockey puck.
Spider-Man swoops in and takes Allan on a tour of the shadier parts of Winnipeg to show him where drugs come from. The whole time, Beth and her friends are following behind to see what Spider-Man is doing with their friend Allan. Miraculously, Spider-Man’s stealth mission isn’t compromised by constant exclamations made by the children.
… AND LO, IT ENDS WITH HOCKEY PUCKS.
Eventually, Spider-Man tracks the drugs down to an “ominous”-looking warehouse. Leaving the kids outside, the wall-crawler goes in to investigate. There he is attacked by Electro, who — surprise! — was smuggling drugs the whole time! This leads to the token “kids put themselves in danger to help save the day” moment. It’s a moment in these promotional comics where the children throw their lives in danger tackling the super-villain. In this case, Allan and his friends defeat Electro by shooting him with hockey pucks. As silly as this sounds, I remind people that Spider-Man once defeated Electro using rubber gloves.
Spider-Man gets his second wind and then wraps up his foe for the police, but Electro’s mysterious partner escapes (SPOILERS: It’s the Chameleon).
Peter finishes his interviews the next day. Later, Allan turns down an offer of cigarettes and beer after winning the big game. Considering his job done, Peter Parker looks forward to finally getting around to covering that science fair, but can’t help but wonder who Electro’s partner was.
DROWNED IN CROSS-PROMOTION
Promotional comics typically have a lot of corporate sponsors tossing money to pay for the project. These companies then get to advertise in said book. Any sort of moral message that could be made in this comic book were drowned out by the abundance of cheap product mail-in deals.
Kids not only learned about drugs but also how to hound their parents for merchandise. Kraft peanut butter was offering a mail-in offer for a Spider-Man watch. Spider-Man’s horrible watch pun is terrible on its own, but the set up is kind of confusing. I am assuming he’s talking about saying no to drugs, but he comes off like he’s promoting stubbornness. Next time you talk to a Flat Earther, check and see if they are wearing a Kraft Spider-Man watch.
When I think of saying “no” to drugs, it reminds me to do my laundry. Which is great, because detergent companies Downy and Cheer also had mail-in offers as well. Who knew Spider-Man was a mouthpiece for Proctor and Gamble? The kid in the first ad is kind of depressing. “Thanks for always being there when I need you the most.” Someone should get child welfare on the phone and rescue this poor kid.
The last promo in this comic involved Frosted Flakes cereal. This one I remember getting as a kid and boy was it awful. At the time, in specially marked boxes, you found a Spider-Man/Tony the Tiger activity book.
This activity book was basically the same story as the comic book. The only difference was it — inexplicably — included Tony the Tiger. As Spider-Man was teaching kids to say “no” to drugs and fighting Electro, Tony the Tiger was around shouting things like “I found a clue!” and “Look out Spider-Man!”It also had stickers.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Allan getting lured into drug use just barely scratches the surface of the real issues that the many First Nations youth face in Canada. This story grossly under-defines the problems they face, and adds insult to injury by literally presenting Alan with red skin. Sadly that was the practice until the late 90s.It also reinforces Canadian stereotypes. Primarily our national preoccupation with hockey. People seem to think that’s our national sport. That’s only half right because we also consider lacrosse a national sport as well. Then again, try to find someone who is excited about lacrosse. So when it comes to picking a sport for the story, hockey was probably their best bet.Incidentally, this is the only issue of this run with a cover by Todd McFarlane, who is also Canadian.That concludes this edition of Meanwhile in Canada. We’ll be back soon with a look at the rest of the comics in this series of Spider-Man drug awareness/bicycle safety comics!