The storyline in which Spider-Man’s pants turn out to be a malevolent alien intelligence hellbent on world domination is a fundamental component of the wall-crawler’s storyline to such a point that it literally makes for one of three events noteworthy enough in the character’s history to warrant inclusion in a motion picture. Alongside his origin and the death of Gwen Stacy, the only other comics storyline which graduates to the silver screen – albeit in an abbreviated and not exactly Oscar-worthy fashion -- is the time Spider-Man found a ball of black mucus and decided to spread it all over his body pretending that it was “clothes.”
(As I think about it, it’s also made it to Spider-Man’s animated incarnations, which is something I don’t think “Kraven’s Last Hunt” will ever do. I can’t quite picture a CGI Disney Channel incarnation of Spider-Man erupting buck naked from a casket full of spiders – or, at least, not without the “Sports Goofy” yell being involved).
The subsequent storyline involving the “costume” turning out to be an alien symbiote, then later attaching itself to Peter Parker’s competitor Eddie Brock, and then spawing a whole buncha other dumb symbiote monster-spider-man-things (as depicted in Giant-Size Monster-Spider-Man-Thing #1) is pretty well-covered, but I’ve noticed that whenever the acquisition of the symbiote costume is referenced, it’s sort of a throwaway “He got it during Secret Wars” thing, ignoring the fact that the whole story is much dumber than that.
Secret Wars was, of course, a groundbreaking toy catalog which was published back before most of us knew any better, and as a vehicle for selling action figures was a terrific artistic success. At the time, Secret Wars – featuring Marvel’s top roster of heroes and villains and having them fight like idiots for no reason – seemed to predicate the existence of super-hero MMOs and video games; canned characterization bookending a ton of side quests, repetitive missions populated with gigantic fight scenes, and when you’d collected enough Energon Cubes or whatever you could give your favorite character a new costume.
In the abstract, it seemed like a formula that simply could not fail. Once a year, or every other year possibly, grab a handful of then-popular superheroes and supervillains, huck ‘em on a slab of dangerous neutral ground, and have ‘em fight for a half-dozen issues until the publisher can afford a new boat. What happened instead was Secret Wars II (although, to be fair, the model inaugurated by Secret Wars has become the template of the now-perennial Event Comic, so while its immediate sequel was a true barker, its legacy has some real staying power).
In any case, the story of Spider-Man’s new pajamas begins in issue No.8 of Secret Wars (December 1984), a comic which rocketed in value on the collector’s market despite not having much of interest going or doing much to initiate the actual plot of Spider-Man’s Costume’s story arc. Well, wait, it did have that scene where Hawkeye tries to murder a guy, which has always been pretty funny.
For such a portentious event in the history of the Marvel Universe, you might think that Spider-Man’s wardrobe change would be foreshadowed menacingly early into the series. It wasn’t, not at all, and in fact Spider-Man’s costume seems to hold up just fine and be in no need of replacement (maybe a wash, though) until a big good vs bad clusterfuck in the villains’ headquarters. The Absorbing Man takes a shot at Spider-Man using a special type of breakaway wall which is hell on tailors.
|That's the spirit, Absorbing Man!|
Walking around in his messed-up spider-danskins apparently weighs heavily on Spidey’s fashion-conscious conscience, which is why he’s lucky to meet Thor and Hulk coming out of a locked room in the hero’s headquarters, presumably because they’d just connected on Grindr.
Thor has managed to find a machine which repairs and replaces clothing – or textiles in general, I think, since Hawkeye later uses it to make new arrows – and I would have dearly loved to have seen the scene where Thor tries to figure out how to use an alien piece of advanced technology. “Verily shalt thou makest me ein helmet most glorious, silvery device of unknown origins, or forthwith the party of the first part shall smite thee with mine hammer’st most bawitdaba!” and then Hulk goes “No, you just push this button here, see” and Thor goes “Must mine hammer strike thunder and lightning upon thine jojos, furnace of shoes?!!” and Hulk goes “No, look, I’ll just do it for you.”
“My spider-sense is warning me of danger, I better put this down – too late!” It’s worth mentioning that, earlier in this same issue, Spider-Man makes a big point of showing off how his reflexes are so uncannily fast that they defy human comprehension, and that his spider-sense warns him of danger in sufficient advance that it’s practically impossible to touch him if he’s on the ball. “Gosh, my spider-sense is really going off about this thing in my hand, might be a grenade, boy, just look at this thing, woo, what an ominous black ball of slime, neat, I should get rid of it, wow, really feeling threatened now, okay, guess I’ll get rid of – OH NO IT’S ON ME TOO FAST!” Fuckin’ kids.
The real question is “what exactly was that machine?” It was supposed to be some sort of machine that made Zubaz pants out of nowhere but instead it’s a machine that if you approach and ask “Hey, may I have some socks and underwear please?” it replies “Sure, here is a parasitic lifeform, wear it in good health.” Or, wait, I guess the real question is why the Hulk didn’t get himself any new pants.
Weirdly, Spider-Man subsequently takes a back seat to the story for the remainder of Secret Wars. For reasons best known only to Jim Shooter, the miniseries largely focused on Doctor Doom, Captain America, the Wasp and Magneto, and Colossus. Frankly, for the comic which was meant to launch the big dynamic change in a character, it didn’t have much going for it in terms of actual story – which, in this age of media-made announcements of big comic book “news”, you might consider to be a cautionary tale.