It had been a gruelling day, toiling to keep the streets safe from mutant reptile scum, and to top it all I’d had my ear chewed off by Jonah for missing the major money shot. My camera stalled for a split millisecond at the critical moment and I knew instantly Aunt May’s electricity bill wasn’t going to get paid that week. With great power comes a great big electricity bill, and you know how Aunt May loves her Scalextric play-sets.
Not for the first time, daydreams of my brief stint in the squared circle beckoned. It was an easy living, and at least between the ropes – in the throes of the pantomime – no-one laughed at my homespun spandex leotard. This was in the glory days before ‘Cosplay’ made it weird. Damn nerds!
A burly security guard stomped past the chaotic mound that passed for my desk, ticking off his final sweep of the Daily Bugle offices, the wake of his tremors snapping me back to reality. We traded an unspoken glance that said it all. Then with an incontestable flick of the light switch, I was unceremoniously flushed out into the street like a household pest on cleaning day. It’s a routine we both had saved on speed-dial.
I’d done all I could for the day, yet still those nagging doubts wouldn’t abate. There was always another wannabe Doc Ock scheming in a covert lab somewhere, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike. I’d only been watching grainy old Tarzan movies on the staff training VHS player in the conference suite – that guy’s my hero! – but you know how it is, anxiety takes its toll, even on a web-slinging super-hunk like moi. I’d rescued a cat from a kid’s Thomas the Tank Engine coin-op novelty ride and unscrewed a jar of Gaveston for a pensioner that day.
Shattered, visions of slinking back to my cool, safe apartment, easing down the inside of the mercifully shut door, anaesthetized the pain. Mary-Jane, the love of my life – and now wife of three years – would be waiting to kid me into believing everything would be OK in the end. You’d like her; she has the cutest ickle dimples, and every time she’s near, birds suddenly appear. Just like me, they long to be, close to her…
We’re getting off track! You asked me about that fateful day? You didn’t, really? Well, we’re here now.
Arriving home there was no trace. Squat and diddly, only the other way round. She works as an actress in the daytime TV show, Secret Hospital …yeah I know, but it puts flies on the table. They’re not known for shooting this late into the night, and even when she goes out with the girls she’d normally be back by now, so I knew something must be wrong.
She should have been in the bedroom halfway towards dunking Jack Nicholson into a vat of acid. In the Amiga game, Batman the Movie, you understand. She isn’t a psycho. Only really plays it to wind me up anyhow; she loves pointing out that the caped crusader has a ‘proper’ super-suit, whereas I look like a gymnast out of a United Colours of Benetton commercial. Her favourite game is actually Lionheart. There’s no accounting for taste.
Spidey senses far beyond tingling, a clapper board shaped note flashed like a wayfaring beacon in the corner of my eye. Had Mary-Jane finally woken up and sniffed the Nescafe? Reached the conclusion she could no longer live with the unrelenting anguish of never knowing if I would make it home alive? Constantly twitching at the curtains, gnawing her fingernails to bloody stumps in preparation to absorb the devastating news from a solemn, world-weary New York cop.
An entanglement of relieved-terror overwhelmed my palpable loss as the truth unravelled. Mysterio was behind this! An old adversary deep down I knew I hadn’t heard the last of.
Rejected as a Hollywood leading man, contorted irrevocably by the dissonance craving stardom invoked, he resigned himself to the anonymity of first stuntman work, then backstage special effects. A bystander, watching me seize every newspaper headline, seducing the unbridled adoration of the public. Every commendation chipped away at his fragile ego. Mysterio burned with a jealous rage that drove his loathsome malevolence.
His half-baked solution was to commit crimes under the guise of my red and blue lycra, besmirch my good name and then reap the rewards capture would confer. With me incarcerated he intended to plug the gap with his own brand of crime-fighting, only his rouse failed miserably and he wound up in the slammer himself, attracting the public’s vitriol rather than admiration. Once out on parole, he intended to make me pay! Erm… for his misdemeanours. I’ve never quite understood how that works. This is the kind of thing they don’t teach you in superhero school.
Mysterio isn’t aware of my secret identity, just that I’m his best link to Spider-Man, so insisted I ensure he’s there to meet him at the Rockwell Film Studio the following night if I ever want to see Mary-Jane alive again. An adept amateur chemist, magician, and hypnotist operating on familiar territory, I would be in his world, playing by his rules. I had a bad feeling about this (TM).
As you can imagine I was proper miffed at this turn of events. I’m quite fond of the missus, and no-one else will put up with me leaving dirty footprints all over the ceiling so she’s definitely a keeper.
Striding into the parking lot the next evening ready for action I was suddenly engulfed by a green vapour cloud… years before adult nicotine dummies took off. Woozy, unsteady on my feet, spider webs spurted in all directions in misguided self-defence as I hit the deck gasping helplessly for breath.
I don’t know why I didn’t just go straight round there and take Mysterio by surprise before he had chance to prepare. I’m not normally such a stickler for following orders. Oh well, you live and learn.
When consciousness and I were reacquainted, realisation dawned that I’d been transmogrified into a monster! Minuscule and pixelated with the black outline missing from the top of my head and the base of each sole. I was someone’s Deluxe Paint work-in-progress! My eyes’ erratic scan of this blocky apparition still incomplete, a booming, unseen voice mocked my horror. Its reverberations hammered home the point; I was a fly caught in Mysterio’s web!
I needed to escape this auditory assault fast, yet found I couldn’t break into a run no matter how hard I fought against the artificial inertia in effect. Mysterio must have meddled with the gravity – no superhero surges towards a target with the consternation of The Terminator… while strutting with all the haste of Neil Armstrong strolling in slow motion on the moon. Scrutinising this movie studio prison for clues was going to take an eternity… just as Mysterio planned.
Not content with torturing me in the real world, he’d arranged to have me injected into a flip-screen, 8-bit Commodore 64 gig masquerading as a 16-bit Amiga game. Well, this was novel. Yeah, I’d endorsed that old Atari 2600 title from way back, but I wasn’t in it so to speak, I’d only signed off on the Parker Brothers using my likeness. I never expected to be physically trapped in pixel land! Credit where it’s due though, that title screen is gorgeous. I look quite dapper in tights.
To even up the odds and prolong his amusement, Mysterio had left the instruction manual beside me with a Post-It note attached. Scribbled on it in the scrawl of a madman was, “READ ME!”. Just like that, shouty style. How rude. I suppose it could have been, “smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast”. It was hard to tell.
Apparently he’d manipulated Oxford Digital Enterprises into cobbling together a ploddingly-paced puzzle-platformer hybrid for the sport of persecuting me. To make me a laughing stock they also arranged for it to be published around the globe, Empire and Paragon sharing the distribution rights. They were all in on it together, no doubt coerced into the conspiracy, their family’s lives hanging in the balance should they attempt to contact the police.
Though this all happened back in 1990, the humiliation still haunts my every waking thought (dreams too). Daily, I’ll be stopped in the street by taunting strangers. “There goes the not-so Amazing Spider-Man, eight pixels short of a sprite” they’ll holler. Another knee-jerk reaction favourite is “Superhero? More like superzero!”. It cuts me to the quick, let me tell you. I’m only human. Well, technically not any more since that radioactive spider bite incident. Never mind.
“You got your ass handed to you by R2D2”, that’s another ‘classic’ one-liner. Sure he bleeped me up (that’s not censorship, I mean it literally) and ran over my toes when I wasn’t looking. I don’t ever recall him detaching any body parts though. That’s just weird. Who comes up with these phrases and do they know what they mean?
Anyway ODE split up the levels into themed movie sets within a studio. These were supposedly based on tropes from the world of horror, science fiction, epics, outer space, westerns, and urban adventure, plus a backstage area and executive offices. You couldn’t tell them apart – that was the problem – because they all looked like empty warehouses pathered by a vaguely recognisable mascot. If you’re familiar with vintage cinema and TV, the pun-ny set names sometimes give them away more than the props and inhabitants.
See what you make of these: Mummy’s Revenge (goose-stepping avenging mummies in fact), Rat Trap, Under the Soil, Bad Moon Falling, Leo’s Maze, Paper Plates From Mars, Cardboard City.
Aligning Godzilla with a retractable platform, causing him to fall to his doom with the flick of a switch was fun actually. That made me feel dead clever. Of course, I knew that wouldn’t be the last I’d see of him. If you want to get his autograph, give him a moment to compose himself, dust down and you’ll find him slumming it in the wild-west saloon aka the Cheers set. Loved the helicopter trip too, balancing on the rotary blades like that as I ascended without uncontrollably spinning like a record, or scrawping my feet one iota.
Even so, all I really wanted to do was kapow, zap and kaboom enemies into oblivion like in all those slick beat ’em up Marvel console games that would come later. It transpired though that I couldn’t do any of that cool stuff, merely trudge about reeeeally reeeeally slowly attempting to avoid hypnotised actors and rats.
It was all about the switches. Flipping switches with my feet, flipping switches with my hands, shooting switches with an unlimited supply of proteinaceous spider silk. Flipping, switching, flipping, switching, flipping… On one occasion I even switched a flip by mistake. I think I got away with it… just.
Some invisible, these switches would initially only impact changes in the current room, shifting walls to allow me safe passage, deactivating traps, draining pools of water and whatnot. As the challenge escalated they’d also begin to influence events occurring elsewhere. I wouldn’t be aware of their consequences until I’d flipped screens (more flipping flipping!), and then I might have to double back to reverse them if I’d flipped when I should have flapped, or flopped. I yearned for the days of encasing gangsters in web-cages and dropping them off at the cop shop. Job done. Next.
On my knees forehead in hands, despair was beginning to take root. I needed to make the best of a bad situation, snatch back Mary-Jane and split this joint.
First things first, I’d have to be sure my webs were at least up to speed; I’d have been lost without those. Apprehensively, fingers splayed southwards I jerked my wrist in the direction of a door handle, willing my spinnerets to activate. Nothing. Nada. One of my sexiest signature moves neutered without explanation.
“Huh?”, I asked the digital cockroaches, assuming there would be some skulking in a musty, forgotten corner not too far away.
Knees now groaning, clamouring for blood flow, I rose to my feet, half-heartedly flicking my feeble wrist, more out of habit than genuine expectation.
“A web! I’m back baby!”
It seemed that somehow crouching was incompatible with web propulsion. I told you there were bugs lurking! Perhaps it was by design, another devious contrivance to stretch my already taut sanity to breaking point.
I discovered I could launch into a swing as long as I was airborne prior to casting my web. Nevertheless, the puny things would disintegrate on contact with anything and everything, making them less threatening than my non-punching fists and non-kicking legs. Web-cocooning was all they were fit for; temporarily freezing fishbowl face’s spellbound puppets that is.
OED had designed me to be able to stick to any surface ‘No More Nails’ style, even those there was no point clambering over. Light-bulbs and the vertical segment of steps, for instance. Unfortunately, this meant I’d often get stuck on objects I only intended to pass by. For an accomplished gymnast, I was quite frankly embarrassed to have to re-learn the art of walking.
On the contrary, I was a crackerjack faller! A glimmer of hope! I could plummet for miles head first, like a troublesome politician, bound, gagged and dropped down a well in a coal sack (I rub shoulders with some deviant creatures in my line of work. Sooner or later they infect your similes.). Then at the 11th hour I’d torque myself upright on autopilot to avert a messy splat. I made Catwoman look like a sloth with a hangover!
I could crawl up walls, as is customary for a Spider-Man. Also, hang from the ceiling standing upright… er… downright I mean. All except for the ones Mysterio had coated with anti-spider gunk – they even deflected my webs. Those that were purely holographs weren’t exactly amenable either.
As if all that wasn’t undignified enough my single precious life was represented by a screen length, gradually decaying mirror image of everyone’s most cherished human arachnid. That’s me in case you were wondering. Turn to camera 4, thumbs up, engage million-dollar smile. Oh, sorry, that’s a stage direction apparently.
You’d think the flesh might gradually begin to return to my bones following a spot of old fashioned R & R… and you’d be dead wrong. They had me scaling a levitating clapper board instead. Topical I suppose. Better than gobbling burgers or whatever. I’ve gotta watch my waistline after all.
At the top of the screen there was what looked like a traditional health bar, only it wasn’t. It was actually a progress bar in disguise. Confusingly, on the C64 it really is a health bar. Yes, there is also an 8-bit version available, which may explain why this looks like an 8-bit game; minimum portage, maximum profits.
Clappers also doubled up as game savers. You may have been able to pause the misery and go for a break whenever you felt like it. Me, I was never off duty. While you were out there living and enjoying yourself Mysterio had me polishing the woodwork, mopping the floors, fetching and carrying…
I did eventually reach the final screen, the flippin’ 250th one no less! The one in which Mary-Jane was being held hostage by my arch-nemesis, the frustrated diva extraordinaire, Mysterio. Who isn’t in fact that mysterious at all because we know he’s called Quentin Beck, where he works, and what he does for a living. We’ve even taken a peek at his CV. OK, so it could have been one of several bogeymen hiding under the space helmet using the same alias, as they were inclined to do. Usually it would be him though.
Centre stage, Mary-Jane was wedged between two pillars obstructing her escape, whilst Mysterio, off to one side pacing back and forth, performed a convincing impersonation of a caged tiger. Seeing as he was otherwise engaged I decided I may as well cut to the chase, ignoring him entirely. Hurtling towards my beloved Mary-Jane, heart racing – making about as much progress as a deep-sea diver meandering along the seabed – I set about freeing her.
You’d think with all that time on my hands, a cunning, bulletproof plan would have formulated prior to reaching her, except all that hip-jiggling was distracting me from the task at hand. Still, Mysterio didn’t bat an eyelid… not that I’d be able to tell either way of course.
Mary-Jane’s gagged expression didn’t spell gratitude to me. If she could have folded her arms in disapproval, they’d have been folded tighter than a clam-shell. I was in a bigger, shabbier dog house than Mysterio could ever hope to threaten. Even so, the rescue mission itself felt suspiciously uncomplicated.
“She must be rigged with dynamite”, the gurning pessimist with horns, wielding a trident and perched upon my shoulder, whispered into my ear.
He was right too. Close anyway; unfathomably booby-trapped, mere contact with her liquefied the beautiful, peachy flesh from my bones. Somehow I was being chemically eroded from the ground up, my skeleton exposed an inch at a time. There was simply no time to look up the anti-dote Mulder and Scully hit upon in that skin-munching bug episode of The X-Files, otherwise, I may still be alive today. Yes, sorry – spoiler alert! In the blink of an eye, the mighty (handsome and suave too) Spider-Man was no more, slain by his own doting wife.
Die in this Zod forsaken place and you remain locked within the game for all of eternity, so Mysterio likes to remind me at every opportunity while I sculpt phoney Oscars in his honour and he prepares his florid acceptance speeches. Etched with his name, their plaques read ‘best actor’, ‘best supporting actor’, ‘best newcomer’, ‘best veteran’, best…’ you name it really. He’s off his rocker!
I never did find out what happened to the real Mary-Jane. The one I risked life and sanity to save turned out to be an impostor, cloned using the same technology as those R2D2, RoboCop and Jaws sprites. I can’t even say for certain if she was genuinely kidnapped in the first place! Maybe she was just late home that night. I only have a static-pictures-and-text intro sequence to prove otherwise. Tripping over all those mirrors, stumbling about blind in the dense smoke has left me so disorientated I can barely remember my own… what’s the word? Anvils too.
Many years later I overheard a bombastic cackling emanating from Mysterio’s trophy room, and with nothing better to do naturally went to investigate.
“Face it tiger, you hit the jackpot!”, he mocked, fruitlessly targeting his vitriol towards a clearly pre-recorded character on screen.
He was leaning back in a swivel chair, feet on his desk, hands clasped behind his head. Wickedly contented he was savouring a YouTube video of The Amazing Spider-Man for the Amiga.
“Now why should that game ring a bell?”, I silently inquired, biting my lip, squinting with painstaking concentration.
It showcased someone beating the game in 18 seconds flat by glitching through to the final screen, bypassing everything in between. With one strand of silly string the player shot the platform from under what looked like a super-villain, who then toppled over onto an electrified floor.
Tied up was a cliched damsel in distress. Writhing against some kind of Machiavellian human harness, praying for salvation to gallop forth on a trusty steed draped in white sat… red and blue lycra apparently.
With his rival fitting in time to the crackling beat of a man-sized fly zapper, the masked stranger turned away from the expectant hostage and casually strode away out of view, without so much as laddering his pristine tights.