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The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Spidey Can’t Sense People Who Look Like His Friends?

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Reader David Pryde suggested I spotlight the change Gerry Conway made to Spider-Man’s spider-sense…

When Spider-Man’s Spider-Sense debuted, it was fairly nebulous thing. It was just some sort of supernatural instinct. Like, from Amazing Spider-Man #1…

But eventually it came to be a “danger” sense. In Amazing Spider-Man #80, Spidey can tell that Captain Stacy is really the Chameleon because of his spider-sense…

In Amazing Spider-Man #114, one of Gerry Conway’s first issues, he introduces a new wrinkle. Spidey’s spider-sense only warns him to danger from people he doesn’t already view as his friends! As you can see, this is how Aunt May is able to sneak up on him with a vase…

In Amazing Spider-Man #148, Conway continues this idea by having Spidey hang out with Miles Warren without any warning signals going off…

Later in the issue, Warren explains why that is…

This little retcon, though, has been pretty much entirely ignored since Conway left the book. Like from Amazing Spider-Man #388, where androids have been impersonating Peter Parker’s parents. They have been programmed to be nice until they discover Spider-Man’s secret identity, at which point their evil programming kicks in. So while they were nice, Spidey’s spider-sense did not go off. Now that they have been triggered…

There are plenty of other examples, of course (like Hogboblin specifically finding a way to block Spider-Man’s spider-sense so he can’t tell who he is). I just figured this example worked best.

Conway, by the way, even used the change back when he returned to the books in the late 1980s. Here, from Web of Spider-Man #51, is Peter’s spider-sense going off when the Chameleon impersonated J. Jonah Jameson…

59 Comments

Wasn’t there also an issue where his spidey-sense did not warn him of an attack because it was Aunt May bashing him in the head with a lamp I think to help her darling Octavius or something like that?

To me it always seems to have been one of those things that just changes a bit randomly to fit the story depending on the writer.

Isn’t the editors note wrong in the second page? Spidey first fought the Chameleon in ASM #1….not issue 2. The reason it is wrong, is because the Chameleon himself was impersonating Stan Lee when that issue was being proof read. Stan, I want my no-prize!

A couple more examples of each:

Aunt May was once able to smash a vase over the the back of Spidey’s head during one of those stories about hers and Doc Ock’s gross relationship. His spidey sense didn’t go off because, hey, it’s his aunt, right?

In a backup story from one of the anniversary issues in the 90s, Peter’s spider sense alerted him to Mary Jane sneaking up to hit him with a pillow.

Thanks guys, I’ll add the vase incident. It totally slipped my mind. And it is a perfect example since it was also a Gerry Conway issue, demonstrating pretty well that this was strictly a Conway thing.

When I read the second spider-man / superman team-up (the one with Hulk, Doctor Doom and Wonder Woman) I was surprised by how versatile the spider-sense had become, because at the climatic point it allowed Spidey to know which way to turn a lever so that a catastrophic explosion would not happen.

Oh, and there is that matter with the Venon symbionte. At least at first, Venon did not trigger the spider-sense, IIRC because the symbionte knew how to block it somehow. But when the clone saga began, wasn’t it established that Peter couldn’t feel Venon but Ben did?

Oh, and there is that matter with the Venon symbionte. At least at first, Venon did not trigger the spider-sense, IIRC because the symbionte knew how to block it somehow. But when the clone saga began, wasn’t it established that Peter couldn’t feel Venon but Ben did?

Wouldn’t that be because the symbiote had bonded with Peter but not with Ben?

Conway also inverted it once- in an issue of Web of Spider-Man, Peter mistakenly believes that the Molten Man is trying to extort Liz. (He’s really asking her for a loan.) So his spider-sense goes off even though the Molten Man isn’t planning on doing illegal and Peter gets into a fight with the Molten Man.

@Brian: beats me. I could never figure that out. I believe they said so, yes, but I can’t make sense of such an explanation.

I think the Spider-Sense works best if we don’t really think too hard about it, because the powers given to it over the years have been on occasion so ludicrously tailored to fit the particular storyline, the only good in universe explanation I could come up with would be to suggest that as Jack Kirby is in fact ‘God’ in the Marvel Universe, (or perhaps part of the holy trinity of Jack, Stan and Steve) he has appointed an actual divine power to follow Spider-Man around and make sure he stays alive, but the story is still interesting. Because no way is it ever going to make sense if you stick to explanations that don’t suck.

Gerry also had the Chameleon impersonating J Jonah Jameson for about ten issues, and it continually went off whenever Spidey was around him, but he just decided to ignore it. For quite a while, although it was lampshaded by having Peter ***** himself out for ignoring his Spider-Sense “You’d think after all this time I’d have learned not to ignore it!’ Yeah, you would think that.

Not sure how that fits in.

True, I imagine the Chameleon thing was Conway fitting in with the precedent set after he left. So I suppose the Molten Man one was just an aberration.

When Conway returned to the book ( or at least when he returned to the character in the late 80’s) he made the Spider-sense work in the presence of the Chameleon who was impersonating J. Jonah Jameson. I guess his editors told him that’s the way it works.

I added in the fact that Conway adapted to the new status quo when he returned in the late 1980s.

Travis Pelkie

July 7, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I was totally going to say that backup issue with Mary Jane and the pillow. Spidey explains to her how the Spider-Sense works there. I believe it’s Spider-Man 26, with the shiny shiny cover.

I guess I’ll just have to follow the link in Sean’s name and catch up with the Comics Critics. I’ve been missing them!

I don’t think Conway was doing a retcon and then people came by later and undid the retcon and then Conway himself adapted some new status quo, like you say in the article. I just think Conway didn’t understand how he Spider-Sense worked and screwed it up. And everyone else just recognized it as a screw up and carried on as usual when their turn came to write Spidey. And later on Conway finally got a better handle on how Spidey’s powers worked. In general I got the idea Conway didn’t understand the scope of Spidey’s powers based on some of the things he had him doing.

A spider would not view Aunt May as a threat in nature, because they would realize she’s about ready to drop dead upon being hit by the first stiff breeze that comes along. Thus, why spider-sense doesn’t view her as a threat, either. That’s my explanation, and I’m sticking to it.

Cory!! Strode

July 8, 2012 at 4:56 am

I have read the comics around the “Aunt May doesn’t set off his spider-sense” issues and there was a HUGE fuss about it in the letters pages, with people being quite upset about it. I should see if the letter’s pages are on my DVD of all the issues of Amazing Spider-Man to see if it got resolved there.

Thanks for this post, Brian!

I find it funny that with the Jackal, the spider sense seems to see through a secret identity to recognize Prof. Warren, makes a judgment call (“well, he’s not a threat”), and it’s the wrong call! Maybe Peter can’t always trust his spider sense after all.

I agree with Luis Dantas that it’s fun to see different writers stretch the use of the spider sense. Claremont did a Marvel Team-Up story where the spider sense helped him know which lever released Havoc from a contraption and which set off the explosives that were rigged up. I liked that one.

I liked the subtle uses, too. There was a Defalco issue (the Beyonder gold building issue) where Spidey skittered along a wall of a military building and his sense would tell him whenever a guard turned in his direction, so he’d know when to duck around the corner. I just like the thought of his spider sense essentially acting as look-out while Spidey’s sneaking around.

Glenn Simpson

July 8, 2012 at 6:25 am

I thought it was funny (and I say “thought” because I don’t recall it coming up lately) when SM would say that the coast must be clear to change from Spidey back to Peter because his spider-sense would warn him if it wasn’t. So not only does the spider-sense respond to overt danger like someone planning to hurt him, but also twice-removed danger like someone finding out Peter Parker is Spider-Man. There’s no guarantee that that happening is going to harm Peter.

Unless the “harm” is in the eyes of Peter. In that case, it should go off when he’s around a girl who might break his heart :)

I remember Tom Brevoort (I think) saying somewhere that Spidey’s spider-sense must always be at a low buzz due to all the nuclear missiles pointed at the U.S. by other countries. Like an earlier poster said, it’s best not to think too hard about this.

pHred not phred

July 8, 2012 at 7:42 am

As a kid I just decided that those times that his Spidersense wasn’t working correctly was because he had a head cold or something. Wasn’t there a strip or a cartoon where this was stated explicitly?

Maybe the Spider-Sense has a sense of humor, now that I think about it. ‘Yeah, it’ll be funny if I let Aunt May crack him one, that’ll teach the guy to get cocky.’

Noticed you used the art from Web #51, the Mark Bagley fill in issue. First time he drew Spidey, I think. Nice continuity of artist.

I’m amused that the Jackal himself says the spider sense doesn’t work on friends. While Spidey has blabbed (foolishly) enough about his spider sense that the bad guys know about it, I have no idea how the Jackal would reach an informed conclusion about how specifically it works.

Hmm, now that I actually remember the full storyline, I guess the Jackal could have reached that conclusion by studying the clone Spidey.

Noticed you used the art from Web #51, the Mark Bagley fill in issue. First time he drew Spidey, I think. Nice continuity of artist.

Bagley worked on both the Amazing and Spectacular Annuals from ’88, which predate WoS #51.

I remember this from looking into Bagley’s earlier work about a year ago, because both What If… #4 and the Madness In Murderworld promo comic are two of my favorite works of his, and both seem light years ahead of his other work at the time. Turns out that Keith Williams inked both of ‘em.

was also going to point out that spiderman’s spider sense could not sense the evil symbiote and including when Eddie started showing up as Venom. though thought it was Norman who first found a way to neutralize spider mans spidey sense before the hobgoblin did .

ooker- Thanks for letting me know.

If the Spidey sense worked it would have warned him about the Emo Spidey sense in Spiderman 3.

So, there goes a guy who can take some punches from Rhino but can´t stand a vase in the head from an old lady…..

Another ‘Spidey sense is weird’ story — I think it was from the Sin-Eater storyline, but I’m probably wrong — Peter is slumming with a large crowd and his spidey sense goes off, crazy buzz, and then it stops. And then it goes off again and again — Pete deduces that it’s going off due to a sniper panning his gun across the crowd (not specifically at Pete) and he flies into action…

One could make a scientific explanation (a thin one) for Spidey’s spidey-sense going off when danger is close and imminent — but from a distance like this, with a sniper….well, someone already said it, but spidey-sense makes him near-omnipotent. And maybe it is — we’ve all thought Spidey was a little special, even for a common hero — I mean, Pete is a genius who has been compared to Reed Richards and the like — he had the good luck to be bitten, by a radioactive spider. Maybe Pete is truly ‘the chosen one’. I’m surprised Galactus hasn’t chosen him as a herald, or the Phoenix Force didn’t go straight to him.

“Spit list?” That’s okay, I know what he meant.

Spider Sense is about the most misunderstood, mis-used and ignored superpower in all of comics.

I’ve read about a thousand Spider-Man comics, and as often as Spider Sense has been a plot point, I’ve seen Peter get snuck up on.

Garth Ennis had the right idea. Stupid power? Ignore it.

(Except for the cool Catwoman joke. That was awesome.)

I seem to recall some story from the late 80’s where Peter’s spider sense goes off in his apartment, even though the only person in danger at the time was his next door neighbor.

I don’t think the Jonah scene proves your point–Jonah’s never been a friend to Peter, so naturally he doesn’t douse the spider-sense the way Miles Warren does. But yes, it’s odd Peter doesn’t realize after all this time that something’s wrong, or has it always gone off when Jonah’s around?
I remember one MTU with Daredevil where Peter’s blinded by the bad guys and finds his spider-sense enables him to move freely when blind (“I must be the first blind super-hero ever.”) because it alerts him if it puts a foot wrong.
I don’t know this is abandoned-and-forsaken as much as general inconsistency, or just a glaring error (which several people argued after the Miles Warren unmasking).

I remember one MTU with Daredevil where Peter’s blinded by the bad guys and finds his spider-sense enables him to move freely when blind (“I must be the first blind super-hero ever.”) because it alerts him if it puts a foot wrong.
I don’t know this is abandoned-and-forsaken as much as general inconsistency, or just a glaring error (which several people argued after the Miles Warren unmasking).

The Spider-Sense as a way for Spider-Man to navigate even when blind is something that goes back even to Lee/Ditko days. Spider-Man used it to chase Chameleon in the pitch dark in ASM #1, to fight The Ringmaster of Crime with his eyes closed and also used it to fight the Looter with his eyes closed because he didn’t want to be blinded by Looter’s dazzle gun.

‘The Spider-Sense as a way for Spider-Man to navigate even when blind is something that goes back even to Lee/Ditko days.’

And yet JMS still gave him the utterly amazing and new power of being able to see in the dark.

Eric Qel-Droma

July 8, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Let’s not forget the time in ASM Annual 1 when his Spider-Sense gives him the power to read a card covered in web-fluid.

Travis Pelkie

July 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I think I read once that Stan claimed that the reason he gave Spidey the Spider-Sense was because it seemed to him that any time he tried to swat a spider, it ran away before he could get it.

Keep in mind, this is Stan, and this was probably well after the fact that he claimed this. But it does seem plausible.

Then, once you’ve got a Spider-Sense established, hell, you can do all sorts of crazy stuff with it.

Michael Howey

July 8, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Slott gas made the powers of spider sense explicit by removing it. When he bounces and swings it directs him away from loose rocks, windows and weak flag poles etc… It’s the whole damn game.

If Spider-Sense can see it’s Miles Warren under Jackal’s mask and then it doesn’t react, maybe it can also see it’s really Chameleon under Jameson’s mask and that’s why it reacts? :)

I’m glad the whole “Spider-Sense can warn Peter which lever to pull” thing was used in comics, because SPOILERS when he did that in an A: EMH episode SPOILERS, I thought it was really weird.

Spider-sense didn’t react to Aunt May with a vase because it had seen the new movie and it liked her. It really, really liked her.

Yeah, spider-sense doesn’t bear thinking about too much. I notice they glossed over it in the new movie, too. If I were forced to come up with an explanation, I’d say it’s more of a psychic power than anything else, and it varies considerably based on Peter’s health and emotional state, as well as other dangers in the vicinity, whether overt (bad guys) or more passive (traffic). Sometimes if conditions are right he can focus it, but other times he can’t really “gather his thoughts,” so to speak. So it mostly occurs as flashes and it’s not always reliable, but when it does “go off,” he should take it seriously until/unless it’s proven wrong.

Joe S. Walker

July 9, 2012 at 8:57 am

The idea of him not sensing danger from Aunt May was a cute twist (although the way it’s done, it all but comes with inch-high letters saying DIG THE TWIST, HUH!?)

I think many, many, many years ago, Marvel did a 2 page feature entitled something like “How Spidey’s Powers Work”. It said (and I’m paraphrasing but I think fairly accurately): “much like a spider knows that it has caught prey by feeling the vibrations along its web, Spidey’s spider-sense detects the prescence of enemies (or danger).” I remember thinking as a little kid, “how does that explain how it works?”

@Rick

I am curious, have you seen the new movie or played the videogame?

If you have seen any of those you know why I am asking.

If not, man, you and any other true believe have to see it.

Rick – I definitely remember that. I think I was okay with it for a minute or two, then said “Waitaminute…”

In Marvel Team-Up #70, Havok (from the X-Men) is trapped in a booby-trapped device. Spidey can’t just smash him out because of the trap but there are three buttons on it. 2 activate the trap and 1 opens it. Spider-man starts to press the first two but his spider-sense warns him not to, the third is clear so he presses it and viola! Havok is freed!

Now I always thought this was cool – a straight up super-power requiring no explanation. Old school heroes had a variety of powers not just one that can be used in multiple ways. In the modern takes on heroes, people want to explain the mechanics of everything. I thought it could be some kind of hyper-subconscious judgement constantly going on. People’s nerves/anger/facial clues/etc. Like maybe Peter would be a great poker player. It’s harder with the booby trap solution from MTU70 though. I suppose you could argue it’s his brain picking up on which button is pushed more often or something as he focuses on them, but I still kind of prefer the ‘magic’ detection of danger.

The Spider-Man 2099 explanation (heighened peripheral vision and sensitivity to air movements IIRS) makes more sense.
I did enjoy the sequence in Amazing Fantasy 16 where Spider-Man gets this weird buzzing sensation and an overwhelming urge to duck, then looks up to see the place he was standing riddled with machine gun holes.

I wonder if his spider-sense would tingle (ahem) if Aunt May was about to discover him treating his body like an amusement park? Hey, that’s an important question. Of sorts… Don’t judge me!

@Fraser: that story where Spidey is blinded and finds out that his spider-sense allows him to orient himself was in fact not in Marvel Team-Up, but an early (#20s or so) storyline of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man in the late 1970s. It _did_ have a team-up with Daredevil, however.

It was heavily hinted that Spider-Man could potentially develop (or already had) a radar sense similar to DD’s. I believe that they based that on the observation that both of their accidents involved exposure to radioactivity.

This is an interesting article to expand. Spider-Man’s spider-sense is such an ill-defined power that plot often overcomes it.

For instance, one could easily take a hint from Jim Starlin’s Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 and decide that the spider-sense is a gift from Order and Chaos the cosmic entities themselves. That may in fact make the most sense.

Then there is the very first apparition of Monica Rambeau, Captain Marvel, way back in 1982’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual (boy, it has been thirty years already. I feel old). Peter wonders for a moment if his sense is tingling because Monica is somehow an imminent danger or for more explainable reasons…

A few years earlier, Spider-Man fought the second Foolkiller in Spectacular Spider-Man and found out that he would only tingle his spider-sense when he was not looking at Peter, who was his friend. The implication is that the Spider-Sense reacts to immediate intent to the point that it ignores likely future danger.

I don’t think the spider-sense can be made to work under a logical, predictable way at this point. It reminds me of Wanda’s powers in this way, and it may in fact be a good idea to tie it up to chaos in some way, be it the abstract concept, the magical idea or the MU cosmic entity.

To hell with the Spider Sense.

The bigger issue is that he can survive a fight with the Rhino but gets knocked out by a septuagenarian with a cheap vase.

The bigger issue is that he can survive a fight with the Rhino but gets knocked out by a septuagenarian with a cheap vase.

Gerry Conway.

Seriously, if you want to get through Gerry Conway’s run without driving yourself crazy, you just have to adjust to the fact that anyone and everyone can get a cheap shot in on Spidey and get him on the ropes. Even Aunt May.

It took me a couple of days before it occurred to me, but if Spider-Man’s Spider Sense had gone off on Aunt May, given how he decked that woman in Wolverine/Spider-Man, he probably would have splattered Aunt May all over the walls before he could stop himself, and he would have a much, much bigger guilt complex to carry around.

I wonder, does the spider sense also tell Spidey how hard he can hit a guy without killing him?

What’s going on with his mask in those panels with Aunt May and the vase? Was he really wearing a mask without the white part of the eyes, or was just artistic license to show just how clobbered he was by an octogenarian? Seems almost as weird as when the eyes of the mask changed shape to indicate various moods or emotions used by some artists (Erik Larsen I believe was the most notable in that regard). Then again, some artists have maskless Peter’s face turn into half a mask to indicate spidey sense out of costume rather than just the wavy lines, so it’s not like this sort of eye stuff is the oddest example of artistic license.

Spidey sense really does seem to be a bit of a nebulous power, but in a way I think that’s good, pinning it down too much would probably just ruin it.

JD, I seem to remember that in the Lee/Ditko era, they specifically mentioned that the half-mask look was only an artist’s dramatization, so I imagine it confused a few people.

@JD.

Peter is wearing another mask. He lost his original mask at a battle and ofr a couple of issues he weared a mask without the white eyes. Not sure but he may have gotten such suit on a Halloween Costumes shop.

@Rick – If we’re remembering the same feature it was from one of the late 1980s annuals. It also explicitly states that it warns Spidey even if the person is not normally a threat – and shows Aunt May attacking him with a broom!

I just looked up Spider-Man’s entry in the original Official Handbook. Despite the creators’ fondness for rationalizing super-powers with Trekbabble (other-dimensional forces was a favorite), even they have to say nobody knows how it works.

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