What’s genuinely striking about many of these stories, particularly early on — and which I had forgotten about entirely from reading these as a kid — is how well so many of these stories function as good ol’ fashioned Spidey comics. If you take away the animal puns and some of the cartoon set pieces, you’re left with solid stories of heroism featuring colorful heroes against equally-as-colorful, oftentimes ridiculous villains.
The first story in particular, in which Spider-Ham and Captain Americat have to rescue a video arcade from a saboteur, feels like it’s of a piece with the superhero books of the ’60s. There’s a touch of the kind of humor you’d find in an Archie book, but for the most part, we’re watching two heroes try to figure out an admittedly simple mystery and then knock the baddies’ lights out! It doesn’t get more old-school Spidey than that.
This may be due to the fact that Spider-Ham was the brainchild of Larry Hama and Tom DeFalco (who, of course, would go on to write a beloved run on Amazing Spider-Man). There’s a real love for classic Spidey on display here, to the point where some stories re-enact classic Lee/Ditko Spider-Man moments with a humorous twist. One highlight of these homages would be the first story’s sequence of Spider-Ham struggling to push aside a mountain of soda machines in a nod to The Amazing Spider-Man #33’s iconic scene.
There’s a feeling of discovery that runs through many of these issues, particularly in the first half of the collection. It’s clear that the original one-shot did much better than anticipated and the demand was there for more Peter Porker stories. Luckily for the creators involved, the introductory story laid so much groundwork for Peter and his world, so the main series is more than happy to just keep throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks. The number of ancillary characters and members of Spider-Ham’s own rogues gallery introduced here is almost dizzying at times, but there’s a feeling of excitement and genuine fun to all of it.
That’s not to say that they’re all winners. Some of the stories rely a little too heavily on the “funny animal” aspect, with gags standing in place of a solid story. That’s not to say that the jokes aren’t funny, as many of them still land. However, they do need a decent story to attach themselves to, and there are the occasional stories in this collection that feel a little too thin. There are also a few, like “Goose Rider” and “Croak and Badger,” that feel like the innovation in these features began and ended with the pun-based name, with not much else in the way of story or humor.
Still, for every “Goose Rider,” we get genuinely genius characters like Ant-Ant, the ant with the strength and abilities of an ant. I mean, that’s already three different kinds of brilliant, but the story he makes his debut in is just as fun as the name, with Ant-Ant’s general reluctance to admit that he may not be all that impressive after all informing much of the comedy.
These comics are at their very best when they lovingly poke fun at the tropes of superheroes and the audience’s familiarity with the trappings of Spider-Man. One of the very best gags, one that has stuck with me since I read it for the first time around the age of five, is from Issue #11 and it involves the classic “half-masked” look. As Peter Porker struggles with the duality of his life as a superhero, the illustration shows half of him draw with his costume on, which prompts the nearby junior reporter to ask, “Did you guys see what just happened to Peter?” It was maybe my first exposure to metafictional humor and it still holds up as genuinely clever.
This collection includes the original Marvel Tails special that introduced Spider-Ham, as well as all 17 issues of his original series. It’s a great value, considering all of the backup stories it includes, featuring such memorable characters as Thrr, Dog of Thunder and Nick Furry, Agent of S.H.E.E.P. (no, I don’t care if I sound like a raving lunatic — let me enjoy these dumb jokes). The artwork has been remastered and pops brighter than any Looney Tunes short. Beyond the strong storytelling and the puns you could hope for, this collection is a genuine treat for the eyes.
Pick this one up for any kid that walked out of Into the Spider-Verse loving Spider-Ham (and who wouldn’t?) or for yourself if you want to dive into some undemanding and unabashedly fun stories. There’s some solid storytelling and genuine love for the world the series is lampooning on display here. The non-stop puns are just a sweet, sweet bonus.
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