A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of sharing a ridiculous story with you all that involved the Avengers getting to go on the Late Show with David Letterman. It was an incredibly goofy story, and it opened up the idea of various Marvel superheroes taking part in various late-night comedy shows, since most of them take place in New York. And, at that time I mentioned that I had an even stranger issue to talk about later in the month. That time has come, and as you can see from the cover above, things are about to get very strange. Because of course Spider-Man has met the early cast of Saturday Night Live. Why wouldn’t he have? This may seem a little strange to hear, but in the 1970’s Marvel’s characters had a very different cultural footprint, and some of them could even be considered to be fairly cool. Now, obviously Marvel characters are quite popular today, serving as the inspirations for some of the most popular movies around, but back in the 1970’s the characters had a more hip allure to them. Characters like Howard the Duck, Doctor Strange, and the Silver Surfer started resonating with the counter culture, and started to become popular in more subversive circles. And, in a statement that also sounds completely ridiculous now, when it first began airing Saturday Night Live was one of the most subversive things around. In recent years it’s become a popular punching bag as it slides into obsolescence, but those original years managed to catch something electric in the public consciousness, helping it become a staple of American culture for decades to come. So, it makes sense that Marvel would decide to mix their chocolate with SNL’s peanut butter and try to make some money off of a synthesis of the two. And, since it’s a Marvel Team-Up issue from the late seventies, it’s also completely out of its goddamn mind.
The issue begins with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson running through a torrential downpour on a Saturday night in New York. And they hurrying because they’re late to try and get some seats to see a live broadcast of Saturday Night Live! And, in typical Parker fashion, everything is going wrong. Their dinner went too long, the downpour is slowing everything down, and by the time they actually get to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, they find that most of the seats are already taken, and they’re going to have to sit up in the balcony. Peter’s kind of striking out on this date, and things aren’t helped by the fact that as they’re waiting in line a massive man storms past them, pushing Peter out of the way. And, when the man makes contact with Peter his spider-sense goes off, alerting him to the fact that this guy is up to no good. But, he’s already in the deep-end with Mary Jane, so he decides to play it cool, and just ignore the guy, getting into the feel of the night by joining Mary Jane in yelling praise at Gilda Radner as she walks by. And, as our unlucky couple go find their seats, we follow Gilda back stage as she locates the rest of her fellow comedians as they crowd around John Belushi, who has received a strange ring in the mail.
So, yeah. Apparently John Belushi received an ominous glowing ring in the mail, and as Dan Ackroyd suggests, got very drunk and shoved it on his finger, and now it won’t come off. He’s tried all sorts of things to get the damn thing off his finger, but nothing’s working, not even the combined might of the entire cast lining up in a conga line to try and pull the thing off. And, as the cast members stand around poking fun of Belushi’s substance abuse issues, Lorne Michaels shows up and tells them that it’s time to stop goofing around, and get ready for the show. So, the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players all head out of Belushi’s dressing room, and start getting ready to put on a show, walking past that same muscle-bound man that pushed into Peter, who seems to be guarding the prop room.
And, as everyone passes the guy by, we see him slip into the room, where a whole army of goons are waiting. He has hired them to arrive for the show, and help him track down a powerful magical ring that was accidentally sent to the building. He wants to keep things quiet, but if necessary he’s not afraid to kill any of the people in the building. And, as he’s explaining things to his people, he begins putting on a suit of samurai armor, and activating a magic katana. Because this is actually the Silver Samurai, a supervillain who is here to potentially kill the cast members of Saturday Night Live! And, while all of that’s going on, we see that the show has begun, as Peter and Mary Jane find their seats. And, it’s going to be a great show, because it turns out that the host this evening is none other than Stan Lee! And, the musical guest is Rick Jones, because in case you weren’t aware that when Rick Jones wasn’t busy being everyone’s lame sidekick he also had a career as a middling folk rockstar. It’s shaping up to be a great show, even though Mary Jane is immediately hitting on the guy sitting next to them, and they appear to be seated in front of Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets. Folks, this comic book is bananas.
Peter does his best to ignore the fact that his girlfriend is openly flirting with someone else, and tries to enjoy Stan Lee’s opening monologue, which is mainly just Stan making truly terrible puns about various superheroes. And, as Peter’s watching, he notices something out of the corner of his eye. One of the Silver Samurai’s goons has just grabbed and restrained an NBC page who is standing near them. That makes it clear that something fishy is going on, and Peter gets up to excuse himself, and slip into some more comfortable. He’s able to scurry up into the rafters of the building, putting on his Spider-Man costume, and almost dropping one of his shoes onto Stan Lee’s head.
And, once he’s in costume, he begins investigating the building, trying to figure out what’s going on. He heads to the control room, where we see a group of goons holding Lorne Michaels hostage with a gun, but they’re positioned in a way that Spider-Man isn’t able to realize what’s happening, and he just kind of walks away, figuring that things are normal there. He keeps walking around as we swing backstage, where Bill Murray is getting ready to go up and do a bit on Weekend Update. And, as he’s waiting he comes across John Belushi, whose still trying to get the damned ring off his finger. Murray makes fun of him a bit, and then wanders off, where he just so happens to come across Silver Samurai barking orders to his men. Murray quickly realizes that something bad is happening and decides he needs to do something about it. Luckily, because Stan Lee is the host all of the sketches apparently revolved around superheroes, so there are plenty of props laying around. Which means Bill Murray picks up Mjolnir and hits some goons with it.
Bill Murray then trades clothes with the goon he knocked out, and begins following around the rest of the criminals, hoping to figure out what’s going on. Which becomes a problem when he doesn’t show up for the Weekend Update segment he was supposed to be on. But, Gilda Radner and Jane Curtain do an admirable job at keeping the show going. That is until the Silver Samurai decides he’s done being stealthy, and ends up cutting holes beneath both of their chairs, causing them to plummet below the stage so his men can check and see if they have his ring. Unfortunately, neither of them do. Fortunately, Spider-Man shows up just in time and begins fighting the Silver Samurai before anything gets too dark.
The Silver Samurai and Spider-Man apparently have some bad history, and the Samurai isn’t pleased to see the webhead interfering with his business. But, he’s got a lot on his plate at the moment, so he just cuts some nearby pipes, causing a bunch of steam to distract everyone while he and his goons escape. Well, almost all of them. Gilda and Jane end up tackling one of the goons for questioning, but this turns out to be Bill Murray, so they still don’t have any real leads. Spider-Man and Bill Murray then decide that they’re going to go after the Samurai while Jane and Gilda return to the Weekend Update desk so they can keep up the show and make sure the audience stays calm. And, while that’s going on, the goons continue to check on the castmates, until they end up entering Laraine Newman’s dressing room, where she’s getting into a Ms. Marvel costume. But, the goons don’t realize that it’s a costume, and they being panicking, which gives Spider-Man the opportunity to get the jump on them.
At this point the rest of the cast member come rushing in, and are filled in on what’s going on. And, obviously, they want to help. Luckily though, Laraine and Spider-Man realize that the goons actually do seem pretty freaked out by superheroes, and they just so happen to have all sorts of superhero costumes laying around for the show. So, they dress Garrett Morris up as Thor, and have him go confront a group of the goons who are walking on a catwalk. They’re initially pretty freaked out by the appearance of the God of Thunder, but they pretty quickly realize that Thor isn’t black. Which is the sign for Gilda and Bill to run a current through the catwalk, electrifying the goons while Garrett is safe in his rubber shoes.
These were apparently the last of the goons, so now it’s time to save Lorne and take down the Silver Samurai. Dan Ackroyd and Laraine Newman decide they’re going to dress in outlandish costumes and rush the control room, hoping to throw the last of the goons off, while Spider-Man looks for the Silver Samurai. Unfortunately, while this is going on we see that Jim Belushi has been wandering around, getting ready for an upcoming sketch with no idea what’s going on. And, it just so happens that the sketch he was getting ready for is one where he’ll be playing his samurai character. So, he’s all dressed up in a kimono, carrying a fake katana, and wearing the magic ring. And, it just so happen that that’s when the Silver Samurai finds him.
So, the Silver Samurai is now engaged in a duel to the death with a very hungover John Belushi. And, while this is going on the folks in the control room finally notice what’s going on, and end up being just distracted enough for Dan Ackroyd and Laraine Newman to come bursting into the room, taking the final batch of goons down. At which point we see that Belushi and the Silver Samurai’s battle has spilled out onto the main stage, where the audience assumes it’s all just some new sketch. Oh, and we also see that the guy sitting next to Mary Jane, and who has been hitting on her the whole time, is Ken Morrow, who I assume has to be the same Ken Morrow who was on US Olympic “Miracle on Ice” hockey team. Neat!
Weirdly, it seems like John Belushi actually knows how to use his sword pretty well, so he’s able to hold his own against the Silver Samurai, who seems to be toying with the comedian and not just killing him. Spider-Man attempts to save Belushi, but the Silver Samurai doesn’t want to be distracted, and ends up just chucking his magical katana at the webhead, cutting his web and causing him to fall to the ground. And, without a weapon, Belushi decides to go for it and tries to just stab the Samurai. But, Silver Samurai catches the blade, yanks it out of Belushi’s hands, and just starts trying to rip the magical ring off of his fingers. And, it works! Silver Samurai is able to get a hold of the ring, which begins glowing. He then cackles madly, telling Spider-Man and the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players that the rings power will let him teleport anywhere on the planet. He then vanishes, leaving them all just standing there, and the audience assuming they just witnessed the craziest sketch they’ve ever seen. The show was a success, and people go out to drink while Peter talks to Mary Jane about getting hit on and John Belushi plans his future working with Spider-Man.
When I first heard about this issue, I assumed that it would have been about Spider-Man becoming the host on Saturday Night Live or something. So, you can imagine my surprise when the issue almost instantly become so much crazier than I could ever have anticipated. There seems to have been no rules at Marvel Comics in the seventies, and they were just doing all sorts of insane things. So, of course they decided to have Spider-Man save John Belushi from a psychotic samurai who is dead-set on getting back a magic ring from him. And, of course they’re also going to have Stan Lee host the show, Rick Jones do the musical number, Ken Morrow hit on Mary Jane, and Statler and Waldorf be in attendence. Why the hell not! This issue is a goddamn fever dream, and I love it. It’s so perfectly Marvel Comics, so perfectly representative of the kind of madness that inspired me to start writing these pieces. This issue takes a crazy premise, Spider-Man saves the cast of SNL, and makes every insane choice they could from there. And, the best part of it is that it technically makes sense, in universe. Why wouldn’t Peter Parker want to go see SNL? I guess it tracks that Stan Lee would be hosting the show, since Marvel Comics are usually portrayed as being incredibly popular in the Marvel Universe since they’re essentially historical documents chronicling the adventures of real-life superheroes. Honestly, the craziest part of the whole issue is that John Belushi would attempt to fight the Silver Samurai to the death. But, who knows what superpowers cocaine can give you.
Marvel Team-Up #74, “ Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night” was written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Bob Hall, inked and colored by Marie Severin, lettered by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki, and edited by Bob Hall, 1978.
Categories: Marvel Madness