Spider-Man and the New Mutants #1 (1990)
“Homework for Spidey”
“Hits and Misses!”
Writers – Walter Simonson & Louise Simonson
Pencils – Alex Saviuk & Bret Blevins
Inks – Keith Williams & Bret Blevins
Letters – Janice Chiang
Colors – Evelyn Stein
Edits – Bob Budiansky
Chief – Tom DeFalco
Sponsored By – K-Mart
Now, if you’ve been following this site for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that I’ve got a big-time weakness for PSA issues. I won’t bother linking to ’em here, but it’s safe to say we’ve seen our fair share of “very special” issues here.
Today we’re going to be looking at one starring Spider-Man… and some young folks. No, it’s not that Spider-Man and Young Folks PSA (though that one would almost certainly get me more hits and engagement). We’re going to check out one I never even knew existed until happening across it a few months back at a used bookstore. Spider-Man and… Skids? Really, Skids? Of X-Terminators, New Mutants, and “Rusty and…” “fame”? Well… okay then.
This one, going by the cover, has to do with child abuse… which, is a slippery slope and a subject I’m a bit nervous to cover here. I hope I can do so with the proper respect and insight… I guess you’ll all be the judge from here on in…
Our first story opens with Spider-Man swinging by, I’m guessing, a rather unsavory neighborhood… where he happens across something of a rumble. Two rival gangs are havin’ it out in broad daylight… and it’s up to our hero to shut ’em down. Which he does, more or less just by showing up. The gangbangers scatter… and the day is saved, or so it seems. Amid the newfound silence, Spidey hears another scuffle goin’ on nearby… this time, concerning some children! He hops over to the playground, and this is where we meet… a kid named Billy.
Billy is beating up a kid named Junior… and Spider-Man would really like to know why. Ya see, Junior was talking about Billy behind his back… oh no he di-in’t! And so, Billy decided to enforce some playground justice. When Spidey presses him for his rationale, we learn that… this kid has literally had it beaten into him that “might makes right”. His teacher, Mrs. Pettigrew routinely hits Billy!
Spider-Man ain’t cool with that… and thinks to himself that, this is probably what leads kids in this playground to ultimately become the gangbangers he had to break up two minutes ago. He pulls Billy aside to have a chat… and suggests that the kid tell his parents that he’s being abused in school. Billy isn’t so sure… he thinks his folks will just say he’s making it all up. Spidey suggests he try anyway… ya never know.
And so, they swing on over to Billy Maslin’s house… and meet his parents, Wilson and Mary. Billy attempts to explain the situation… which, initially doesn’t go all that well. His father figures, if the teacher is hitting him, it’s probably because he’d done something to deserve it. When Billy reveals that he’d also just gotten into another fight with Junior… Papa Wilson threatens a spanking! Right there, in front of Spider-Man! How embarrassing.
Spidey’s all “whoa-whoa-whoa”… and suggests to Daddy that spanking might not be the most helpful approach at present. He says what Billy needs right now is moral support… and really presses the couple to chat up Mrs. Pettigrew about the, ya know, public displays of child abuse. Just then, Mary gets it in her head that maybe they should talk to Billy’s teacher. Don’tcha just love it when you give someone an idea… then they pretend they came up with it themselves? Whatever the case… the Maslins are going to head to P.S. whatever the heck, to chat up the teach.
Spider-Man swings by as the Maslins are about to head inside, and pats himself on the back for facilitating this whole thing. Did Mrs. Pettigrew stop beating up Billy? Well… I suppose that doesn’t really matter, since the story ends here.
Our second story features Skids of the New Mutants… as she’s shopping for some nondescript canned goods. Unfortunately for her, the nondescript food item she covets is all the way up on the top shelf… and when she reaches for it, she manages to topple a whole heapin’ helpin’ of nondescript cans all over the place! This does give her the opportunity to show off her mutant “deflector shield” ability… so, I think we can allow it.
While she picks up the newly-dented cans… she spies a mother attempting to grocery-shop with three children, which I’m pretty sure was one of Dante’s Circles of Hell. It does not look pleasant in the slightest.
The two older kids are arguing over which form of diabetes they’re going to be having for breakfast that week, and are getting pretty wound up… and wind up knocking over a whole display. At this point… Mom’s had enough. It’s spankin’ time!
This sends Skids into a flashback about her earlier adolescence… when she was the regular victim of abuse at the hands of her stepfather. It was during one of these beatings that her mutant deflector shield powers manifested. She was so traumatized, that she remained inside her bubble for several years.
She knows she’s going to have to intervene… which, I dunno about you… makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. She uses her shield to protect the young girl who is still being thrashed by her mother. Rather than throwing Mom into even more of a rage, this measure actually gets her to stop and consider her actions. Skids tells the mother to finish up her shopping and that she’ll help the kids pick up the knocked over display. The mother… probably dazed out of her mind at this point, agrees.
So, we’ve got Skids and the kids picking up a bunch of boxes of cereal… when little brother starts acting out. Upon seeing this, big sister goes to… you guessed it… smack the boy. Skids stops her mid-swing, and asks her to think about what’s she’s about to do. She doesn’t like it when her mother hits them… and here she is, about to hit her brother.
Big sister is confused… she doesn’t understand the mixed messages her mother gives her. On one hand, she can be so nice… but, on the other… she can be abusive. Finally, mom wraps up her shopping… just in time for a lecture from Skids. Our Sally suggests that Mom maybe take some classes in parenting (oh no she di-in’t)… and, rather than Mom hauling off and slapping her… the Mom agrees. Unfortunately, she just doesn’t have the time. Skids then offers to watch the children for her so she can. After all, that’s what friends… and weird teen-agers you run into at the grocery store… are for.
This… is going to be a tough one to actually analyze. Not only do to its PSA nature, but by the arguably contentious subject matter. I can’t assume to know everybody’s position on whether or not a child ever deserves to be spanked/hit… all I can do is tell ya my story, and I apologize in advance for these next several self-indulgent paragraphs.
Growing up, there were times where I’d get hit. I mean, I hate the fact that I’m “of a certain age” nowadays where I can reflect on my childhood as a time where this was more widely socially acceptable… just makes me feel ancient. Anyhoo, did I like it? No. Did I deserve it? Maybe… maybe not. Did it effect and modify my behavior? Definitely. Here’s the thing though… did I learn my lesson? Did I realize, via the punishment, why what I was doing was wrong? No… can’t say that I did.
Being a full-time student of psychology for around a decade at this point, and working on my third degree… I’ve taken many, many classes on child and adolescent psychology, as well as (mostly Skinnerian) behaviorism. Spanking as punishment is ever the hot-button topic… made even more interesting by the fact that grad school is typically made up of a very diversely aged group of students. There are people in their 60’s, people my age, and… yes, people in their mid-20’s. It’s very eye-opening to hear the “takes” on hitting from such a differently-aged assortment of intellectuals.
There’s a saying in psychology that… the best research is me-search, which is to say… you’re your own best subject, since you know your history, and have 100% access. When discussions become heated… we’re often told to look within, with an analytical eye… ya know? Like, push aside the emotion, push aside everything but “what is”. It’s basic A-B-C behaviorism (antecedent leads to behavior leads to consequence). You break apart an action, and more or less analyze it by its component parts.
It’s not often I change my mind on things… especially things I grew up accepting as fact. So, initially… when the concept of spanking was introduced to conversation, I looked at it as just something that “happened”, ya know? “I got smacked, and I turned out okay!” That sort of thing. But… there’s this thing called cognitive dissonance. It’s when you hold a position, but also many cognitions that fly in the face of that position. While I got hit… and was okay with it, it wouldn’t be something I would do if/when I had children of my own. Now, why is that?
Well, in reflecting and breaking down the A-B-C’s… I came to the conclusion that spanking, yes… did result in a change of behavior. At the same time, however, it didn’t tell me why what I was doing that elicited the smack was wrong, ya dig? I stopped “misbehaving” not because I actually learned anything… it was simply to avoid reprisal. It was this realization that… well, it caused me to become a bit more “fluid” with my personal position on the subject.
I didn’t mean to waste the last few minutes of your day on that paragraph… that became a short essay, but… ehh, we’re already here. What does all my gobbledygook have to do with the stories we just read? Well, rather than simply viewing them as a black and white issues… it causes the hamster on the wheel in my head to start spinning out a bit.
Let’s start with the second story, as it’s one that I can better wrap my head around. This feels like something you could see in any Walmart on any day of the week… and, it’s weird. If we see this going down, and the parent does nothing… we judge them. Conversely, if this happens and the parent(s) get slap-happy… we also judge them. Can’t win fer losin’… so, what’s the right answer?
Putting ourselves in the shoes of a tired mother dragging three children to the grocery store… two of whom are whirling dervishes… what would we do? Not being a parent, it’s easy for me to say “tell the children to behave” and be done with it. That’s… unfortunately, not realistic, is it? So, what would we do? I don’t have an easy answer.
Going by the A-B-C approach… we can suggest that perhaps the cereal aisle is a “trigger” for the tots… and, so… maybe mom should just avoid it? Also, let’s check out the consequences… hitting… which, is also, attention. These are three kids with an overworked and overtired mother… could the attention they get from being hit be something of a positive reinforcer? Ya see, I’m thinking far too hard about this, haha. I’ve been on semester break for all of a week at this point, maybe I just miss grad school.
One more step though before we shift gears. Skinnerian behaviorism involves something called “extinction”… which posits (very simply) that any attention, good or bad, can serve as reinforcing a behavior. Anything from rewards to a beating… can reinforce a behavior in a given situation. Extinction is, more or less, ignoring the behavior… not giving any reaction… and, in so doing (or not doing), removing any possible reinforcement from it. So, those parents in Walmart not doing anything about their screaming kids? They might just be practicing Skinnerian behaviorism! No, they’re probably not…
As a story… it was okay. I do feel like Sally was sorta-kinda taking her life into her own hands in a) intervening, and b) suggesting mom take parenting classes. I don’t know that I’d suggest anyone actually do that… unless you’re cool with getting beaten up yourself!
Now, the first story… corporal punishment in schools. Hmm… this feels like something out of the 1950’s, but… it ain’t! In fact, on one of the “et-cetera” pages I’ve included below, we learn that as of 1990, two-thirds of schools still allowed teachers to swat the tots with a paddle! Whaaa?
I wanna say, having Billy’s father be quick to swat… maybe confused the issue a bit? I get that we’re really trying to press the issue of spanking here, but… this just felt like a step too far. Kinda pulled me out of the story… unless we’re supposed to think that poor Billy’s just constantly getting beaten up, whether at school or at home. I think we could’a just done with one or the other.
Also, the quick turnaround and non-ending didn’t do all that much for me. Out of the two stories, this one felt like an “assignment”, whereas the New Mutants chapter actually had some of that trademark Louise Simonson “heart”. The back half, as heavy-handed as it was, could very easily have been fitted into a back-up slot in a New Mutants Annual or something… where the Spidey strip… ehh… it was cashin’ a check, and not much more.
Overall… I thought this was fine. Some top talent were involved in this… and, at least the back-half, didn’t feel like a “throwaway”. Worth a peek if you happen across it in the cheap-o bins!