In 1983, Marvel Comics published a gimmick called The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book, and challenged readers and prospective creators to, in essence, audition for Marvel. The book provided a tutorial on how a comic book is created, and then presented the beginning of a new, unfinished Spider-Man story. The idea was for budding writers and artists to submit their attempts to complete the story, demonstrating their skills in scripting, plotting, pencilling, inking, coloring, and/or lettering. The most promising candidates would likely find work with the House Of Ideas, Merry Ol’ Marvel.
What a scam. What a shell game. And yes, of course I attempted a try-out.
The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book gives the first 14 pages of the Spider-Man story (“Personals” by Jim Shooter, who was Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief at the time), plus the unscripted, pencilled pages 15 through 19. For the writing auditions, hopefuls had to write a script for pages 15 through 19, and then write a plot breakdown, completing the story from page 25 through 29.
The first 14 pages of “Personals” show us that Spidey’s foe Doctor Octopus has escaped from prison, and Spider-Man has grown discouraged in his own failure to apprehend that nogoodnik and his accomplices, Chris and Louise. Meanwhile, an unknown girl named Janet witnesses a rooftop battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, and has been writing letters to Spider-Man, letters that have appeared on The Daily Bugle‘s Personals page. The printed exchange of letters between Spider-Man and Janet have captured the public’s fancy, and the letters have encouraged our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to keep on keepin’ on in his quest to defeat Doc Ock.
The script try-out begins with a confrontation between Peter Parker–the everyday nebbish who is secretly everyone’s favorite wall-crawler–and his protective Aunt May. All characters are copyright Marvel Entertainment–well, except for The Hooded Halibut; Marvel passed, so I’m keepin’ ol’ HH. And keep an eye out for a sneaky cameo appearance by a lesser-known DC character, too. Take it away, Capable Carl Cafarelli:
1. MAY: I didn’t particularly care for your tone of voice when I spoke to you on the phone last night! Maybe you were a little depressed, but you sounded like a coward, a quitter…
2. MAY: …Parkers aren’t quitters, young man!
3. MAY: See this story in the newspaper? Even a masked hoodlum like that horrible Spider-Man can bounce back from the doldrums and display some backbone…!
4. MAY: If he can do it, you certainly can!
5. PETER: Aunt May…
6. MAY: Oh!
7. PETER: …you’re the greatest!
8. PETER: That little pep talk was just what I needed to lift my spirits! You should try coaching the Mets in your spare time!
9. MAY: My goodness, you’re such a kidder!
10. MAY: It’s good to see you’re back to your old self again, Peter! Can I expect you for dinner tonight?
11. PETER: Count on it!
12. MAY (t): Hmmm–maybe Peter and I should have these talks more often…!
13. PETER (t): What a gal!
14. PETER (t): Even though my spirits didn’t really need lifting by now, it was sweet of her to try!
1. CAPTION: The next day, back on Long Island….
2. VOICE: Spider-mania…
3. LOUISE: …I don’t believe it! Dozens of personals, all claiming to be from Spider-Man or his so-called “secret girlfriend!”
4. CHRIS: Plus several others from Captain America, Bucky, Papa Smurf and someone named Irving Forbush!
5. OCK: Indeed…
6. OCK: …every paper in the area is filled to the bursting point with those personals, glorifying Spider-Man, stroking the web-head’s ego…
7. OCK: …mocking me!
8. OCK: If not for this “secret girlfriend” and her personals ad, that accursed wall-crawler might have given up his meddlesome ways and left me in peace!
9. LOUISE: What’re you gonna do about it?
10. OCK: I believe it is time I placed my own ad in the personals!
11. OCK: Listen carefully….
12. CAPTION: Later….
13. S.E: Kra-aaash!
14. JJJ: What in Sam Hill–?
1. OCK: Get up, Jameson! Have you no manners!
2. JJJ: I-I was just, er, looking for my contact lens!
3. OCK: I have a personals ad that I want you to run immediately!
4. JJJ: Groan! Not again!
5. OCK: Quiet!
6. OCK: I believe your deadline is approaching, Jameson?
7. JJJ: Ulp!
8. JJJ: Stop the presses, Ms. Leeds!
9. JJJ: I said, stop the presses!
10. CAPTION: Some time later….
11. PETER: What the–?
12. PETER: Oh…my…
13. PETER: …gosh!
1. PETER: A bluff–it’s gotta be a bluff!
2. PETER: The police would know!
3. TYPESET: PHONE
4. SGT: Fifth precinct, Hainer–what? Spider-Man’s secret girlfriend?
5. SGT: Now listen, sonny–we’ve logged roughly 300 calls at this precinct alone from people claiming to be Spider-Man, his secret girlfriend, Doctor Octopus or his second- cousin, The Hooded Halibut! The crank callers are having a field day! We have no way of knowing which calls–if any–are the real McCoy!
6. PETER: So you have no idea if that girl’s life is really in danger?
7. PHONE: Nope. Sorry!
8. PETER: Not as sorry as I am!
9. S.E: Klik!
10. PETER: Blast! Even the police aren’t sure if this whole thing is a hoax or not!
11. PETER: But meanwhile, an innocent girl could die just because she supported me publicly, and gave my spirits a much-needed boost!
12. PETER: I don’t have any choice! I’ve got to meet Doc Ock’s challenge! I can’t take the chance that he might really be holding her hostage!
13. PETER: But if he harms her–
14. SPIDEY: –then Heaven help Doc Ock–
15. SPIDEY: —when SPIDER-MAN breaks loose!
1. CAPTION: Soon after, at the office of New York’s most beloved newspaper publisher….
2. SPIDEY: I’ve heard of cross-ventilation, but this is ridiculous!
3. JJJ: You!
4. JJJ: You masked menace! You wall-crawling criminal! This is all your fault, you–you–
5. SPIDEY: Okay, okay, I get the idea!
6. JJJ: That blasted first letter should’ve never been run! You probably cooked this whole thing up to publicize yourself, you gloryhound! My next editorial will show the whole city what a cheap phoney you are!
7. SPIDEY: Calm down, willya Jameson–I’m starting to blush!
8. SPIDEY: Just tell me what Doc Ock wants me to do!
9. JJJ: Just wait here–and be quiet!
10. SPIDEY (t): Oh no! I’ve got to wait here and listen to Jolly Jonah rant and rave?
11. SPIDEY (t): Man! Ock’s really fighting dirty this time!
12. CAPTION: Meanwhile, in the Bugle‘s reception room…
13. REPORTER # 1: What’s the story? Is this another of Jameson’s publicity stunts?
14. COP: If it is, then we’d like a few words with him as well!
15. REPORTER # 2: Has there been any word from Spider-Man?
16. REPORTER # 3: Is it true that this “secret girlfriend” is really Brooke Shields?
17. RECEPTIONIST: One at a time, please..!
18. CAPTION: Suddenly…
19. JANET: This is all a mistake! No one’s holding me hostage!
MARVEL TRY-OUT: PLOTTING (Story resumes after Dr. Octopus has captured Janet, and is forcing Spider-Man to submit to a beating)
PAGE TWENTY-FIVE: Ock’s tentacle connects and Spider-Man crumples to the floor. Ock continues to batter Spidey’s motionless form; Janet screams in protest, tears streaming down her face, but there’s no stopping Ock now. He begins to cackle insanely–after all these years, he’s finally beaten Spider-Man! Louise and Chris look on disapprovingly as Janet sobs and Ock picks up Spider-Man’s body and waives it triumphantly before him.
PAGE TWENTY-SIX: Spider-Man comes to life! He knocks Ock to the ground, disconnects the controls to Janet’s death-trap (rips the button out of the wall, actually) and dodges Louise and Chris’ fire. Doc Ock can scarcely believe it–defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, again! Recovering his web-shooters, Spidey makes short work of Louise and Chris and quickly frees Janet. The reunion is short-lived, however, as Ock recovers his composure and Spider-Man has to face a fighting-mad Doctor Octopus.
PAGE TWENTY-SEVEN: Ock attacks, but Spidey outmaneuvers him at every turn, taunting the villain with his usual Spidey banter. Ock attempts to grab Janet and again use her as a hostage, but Spidey’s webbing stops Ock in his tracks, Janet slaps Ock’s face hard (shocking him far more than hurting him) and a right cross from Spider-Man puts Ock down for the count. Justice doesn’t come without a price, though: Spider-Man’s knuckles hurt something fierce.
PAGE TWENTY-EIGHT: Spider-Man summons the police, and he and Janet swing away as the police arrive. Spidey takes Janet back to the rooftop where they’d first seen each other. Janet asks how Spider-Man survived Ock’s should-have-been-fatal assault, and Spidey explains that it’s kind of a trade secret (his spider sense enabled him to foresee where Ock’s blows would hit, so Spidey could effectively roll with the blows and escape serious injury). Standing on the rooftop, Spidey and Janet face each other almost like two teenagers on a blind date, but now Spider-Man has a question: who is Janet? What was she doing on this rooftop at four o’clock that morning? At first, Janet mumbles something about a “trade secret,” but relents. Her parents are recently divorced, she says, and she lives with her mother in this very building.
PAGE TWENTY-NINE: Janet doesn’t really get along that well with her mother; at best, they put up with each other. To Janet, it sometimes seems as though everyone she’s ever looked up to has deserted her or let her down in some way, from her estranged father through the rock star she once bumped into in Manhattan (and who was a real condescending jerk). She’d come to the roof that morning, unable to sleep, just to be alone and get away from her mother and that one-room apartment. But then she saw Spider-Man in action, and she saw…not just a remote hero, but a real hero who was also a real person underneath, and she was impressed and considerably cheered up. Janet and Spider-Man embrace briefly, and Spider-Man raises his mask half-way to give Janet a brotherly kiss. They vow to get together soon for an informal date (seriously, but with absolutely no inclination toward romance). Meanwhile, Spidey is due for dinner at Aunt May’s–and, come to think of it, he’s starving!
2016 POSTSCRIPT: I wrote all this in 1984, and it’s probably been thirty years since I last re-read it. The scripting is too wordy, which is a common problem for me, but (in the words of the great philosopher Popeye) I yam what I yam. But otherwise, I like the script okay. The plotting portion isn’t as bad as I remembered it; I don’t think I would have, like, bought it or anything if I were an editor, but it’s adequate, and a little better than my memory told me it was.
This was the only writing I ever submitted to Marvel. I also submitted a number of things to DC over the years, and this Marvel try-out was probably better than anything I ever sent to DC (which gives you an idea of the aroma wafting above my DC attempts). The closest I ever got with either company was around this same time frame, when DC returned several of my proposed plots, but kept one–a proposal for a World War II black superhero called The Trident–for further review. Nothing came of it, unless, I dunno, maybe they’re still reviewing it.
Say, if DC suddenly decides to do something with The Trident, maybe I can team him up with The Hooded Halibut. After all, The Hooded Halibut’s a free agent now.