When this trade paperback was originally solicited, it was to be called Spider-Man: The PSAs, but upon release it’s now entitled Amazing Spider-Man Fights Substance Abuse. It’s a shame that its title was changed, because it also reflects a change in the contents included in this volume, in particular taking out a few issues that I was extremely excited about having collected in trade paperback form. In 1990, Marvel Comics published a variety of public service announcement comic books for Canadian consumers, which dealt with a variety of societal issues including bullying, hit and runs and drugs, and featured Spider-Man in Canadian cities, taking on some of his classic villains. Because of the change in title/contents, this collection only collects the first two of these Canadian PSAs, which are likely unknown to American audiences, and features Spider-Man fighting Electro and Chameleon on Canadian soil.
This collection includes Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, Spider-Man, Storm & Power Man, Amazing Spider-Man: Skating on Thin Ice!; Amazing Spider-Man: Double Trouble!; Fast Lane #1-4 and Spectacular Spider-Man #1000. The first three issues feature the infamous drug storyline from Amazing Spider-Man which Stan Lee wrote in the early ‘70s, featuring the return of the Green Goblin in his last appearance prior to the Death of Gwen Stacy just two years later, plus Harry Osborn’s foray into drugs, which became a long-standing aspect of the character. Harry Osborn as a character was forever changed by this storyline, as it impacted how future writers treated him and his mental state, and how he related to his friends. The storyline is still a powerful one, as Spider-Man tries to rescue his friend, while at the same time being confronted with Harry’s father, Norman, as the Green Goblin.
The second story included is so obscure that there isn’t even any information included in the trade as to who the creative team was, as it’s unknown who worked on the issue. It features an eclectic team-up between Spider-Man, Storm and Luke Cage, as they take on Smokescreen, a villain who’s tangled up with getting young kids to smoke cigarettes. Whereas the first story was told in a dramatic manner, it wasn’t done in as heavy-handed a manner as the rest of the stories in this volume, plus it was canon. The rest of these stories aren’t canon at all, and as a result the stories feel much more disposable and forgettable.
The third and fourth story comprise the first two of the Canadian PSA issues, written by Dwayne McDuffie and chronicling Spider-Man’s adventures in Canada as he tangles with the Chameleon and Electro. The stories aren’t quite as heavy-handed as the Spidey/Storm/Luke Cage story, but then that’s a mark of being written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie. He manages to make the stories far better than they have any right being, and although he supplies the requisite social commentary, he doesn’t shy away from using classic Spider-Man villains, and having a good time of it.
The fifth story included is absolutely atrocious, and is the worst example of beating the reader over the head with a PSA message, The storyline, which involves Mysterio and deals with the use of marijuana, was originally featured as an insert in select Marvel Comics, over the course of four months, and to be quite frank they’re a blight on the issues they weighed down with their presence. The story isn’t enjoyable, it doesn’t even have the fun outdated sensibility inherent in the Spidey/Storm/Luke Cage story, it just tries too hard to convey its message, and the message ends up being almost parodied by the end.
The last issue in the volume is Spectacular Spider-Man #1000. which is a very different type of PSA story. Written by John Ostrander, the story is actually much darker than the res tof the stories in this volume, and although there’s definitely the clear message about drugs being bad, there’s much more to this story, with regards to the choices one makes, bullying, and how every individual’s actions have cause and effect on the people around them. It’s not a happy, light story, but instead a much more sombre tale of a young man who has become a thug, pushing drugs, being told who he is, what he can be, without really knowing who he is, and discovering that. As a result, even when he tries to turn over a new leaf, he does so for the wrong reasons, and because of his prior actions, a chain of events unfolds which leads him to be ridiculed by his friends and family, bullied, and even rebelling against that doesn’t turn out that well for him. The story is dark, but the characterization is well-crafted, with strong characterization. Spider-Man and the Punisher play minor roles in the story, but they’re definitely not the stars of the issue, and as a result the story is a lot more grown up, realistic, and mature.
On the whole, this is an enjoyable and fun collection, with various different stories being told which represent the different ways that Spider-Man has been utilized to tell anti-drug stories throughout the character’s fifty-year history.