It may be a little difficult to believe now, when Marvel superheroes dominate the box-office and permeate popular culture, but there was a time in the 70’s when Marvel was desperately trying to build a wider awareness of its characters and mostly failing. These attempts took two main forms. Marvel signed a deal with Universal to put a slate of their characters on television with mixed results (Doctor Strange and Captain America had pilot films, but were never picked up for series runs, while The Amazing Spider-Man had a brief run and The Incredible Hulk ran for five seasons), while Marvel’s comics tried for relevancy by putting out stories based on popular entertainment acts of the day, like KISS and Alice Cooper. And in 1978, Marvel Comics teamed up Spider-Man with the cast of Saturday Night Live in Marvel Team-Up #74. Or as the full cover title proclaims, Marvel Team-Up featuring Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players!
Written by Chris Claremont with art by Bob Hall and Marie Severin (who both inked and colored), the story is of course silly and lightweight. But it holds up better than I expected it to, with the Claremont script being surprisingly more readable than most of Claremont’s output in the 80’s, when the X-Men started turning into an industry-changing juggernaut (so to speak). The story opens with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson arriving late at NBC Studios to attend the live performance. The narration tells us they’ve been waiting a year for the tickets.
Meanwhile, inside, John Belushi has a problem: he has a ring stuck on his finger, for some reason. And in this way, we are introduced to the cast.
The comic was published in 1978, so the SNL cast is the second cast (what many of us probably think of as the “original” cast), with Bill Murray replacing Chevy Chase and the two forgotten first season cast members gone. The caricatures have mixed success; Belushi is pretty well done, along with Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella character and Dan Aykroyd (not counting this panel, where he’s virtually unrecognizable). But new kid Bill Murray and Garrett Morris aren’t so lucky.
Another curious thing: Marie Severin’s inks are a little overfeathered and muddy, but in these two panels here, they really look a lot like her brother John Severin’s work. So much so that I wonder if he did an uncredited pitch-in to help with a deadline or something.
While Belushi and the cast are trying to deal with the ring dilemma, a mysterious figure meets with a group of thugs in a storage room. He wants the ring back and knows it was accidentally sent to a cast member of the show, although for some reason, he doesn’t know which cast member it is. He stresses the need for subtlety as he dons a suit of shiny silver armor, for he is the really effin’ subtle Silver Samurai (soon to come to the big screen in The Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman)!
And now, it’s showtime! And of course, since this is a Marvel cross-over, the guest host for tonight’s show is Stan “The Man” Lee, with musical guest Rick Jones! Stan Lee begins a really unfunny monologue while Peter Parker’s spider-sense goes off. So he excuses himself from Mary Jane and finds a place to change to Spider-Man. Bill Murray spots the thugs and decides to find out what they’re up to, causing him to miss the Weekend Update segment, which he is supposed to anchor. It doesn’t matter, since the thugs end up cutting through the stage floor to kidnap Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner during the skit (and since I ragged on the monologue, I should mention that Claremont’s Emily Litella skit is pretty good, or as good as Emily Litella ever got as a character). Spider-Man rescues the performers and then rallies the cast members to fight back.
So they dress Garrett Morris up as Thor and send him out to perform a really dangerous stunt with an electrified platform to take out most of the thugs, while Dan Aykroyd decides to use theatricality to throw the criminals off-balance. He dresses up in a 19th Century Russian officer’s uniform and dubs himself Mad Dog Mulcahy, the Crazed Killer Colonel of the Crimea, and then along with Laraine Newman, he assaults the control room where producer Lorne Michaels is being held hostage.
Meanwhile, on stage, the Silver Samurai confronts John Belushi, in costume as his samurai character.
Interestingly enough, the Silver Samurai’s special energized sword, which can supposedly cut through anything, doesn’t immediately destroy Belushi’s prop sword, and so they have a running duel through the studio. Spider-Man arrives just in time to help Silver Samurai pop the ring off of Belushi’s finger. Turns out, the ring is a teleportation device, which the Samurai uses to make his escape, promising to return soon (which he did nine issues later).
And so the show is saved, and Peter makes it back to Mary Jane, and as far as I know, Stan Lee never did get to host the actual Saturday Night Live.