Spider-Man's a stand-up guy, and he'll go to bat for almost any good cause. Unfortunately, the fact that he's an arachno-sapien in a bodysuit transforms any serious attempt at advocacy into a perplexing tableau. Here are 10 odd Spider-PSAs.
10.) Spider-Man wants you to vote (1992)
In this television spot, Spider-Man does the typical 1990s thing of mugging the camera while doing gymnastics in the shadows; in fact, it's not unlike the opening credits of Living Single. Perhaps the best part of this spot is when the superhero signs his voter registration form as "SPIDER-MAN." Way to commit voter fraud, Petey.
9.) Spider-Man, Storm, and Power Man Battle Smokescreen (1982)
In this title, Spider-Man joins Luke Cage in spying on a promising student-athlete who's suddenly taken up cancer sticks. Luckily, the student's puffing habit leads the heroes directly to Smokescreen, a crime boss whose superpower is to smell like Virginia Slims. Of course, this is cause enough to call Storm away from the X-Men.
This is the biggest problem with PSA comics — they use an overkill of superheroes for problems that could generally be solved by one or two unaccredited social worker. Who cares about the fact that Magneto is turning the world's entire supply of bauxite into a giant scimitar? Somewhere in Manhattan, a teenager wasn't carded.
8.) Spider-Man loves potassium...(1980)
I'm pretty sure this ad occurs in an alternate Marvel universe where A.) J. Jonah Jameson died in the womb, so Spider-Man is the recipient of massive public adulation; and B.) Uncle Ben never died, and a guiltless Peter Parker was allowed to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a devil-may-care performance artist.
7.) But at the end of the day, he's more of a Vitamin C guy. (1980)
Two more reasons why this ad rules:
1.) The mayor was about to defund secondary education in NYC as a thank you to Spider-Man.
2.) The fact that they got the most grizzled man on the planet to say that Spider-Man is a connoisseur of citrus.
6.) The Amazing Spider Man: Adventures in Reading (1991)
In this supermarket giveaway comic, Spider-Man and a gang of plucky teenagers chase a villain named Trog into a bunch of fictional works. Trog has stolen a device that allows him to cross the pall that divides non-fiction from fiction. Why does Trog want to relive Ivanhoe and War of the Worlds. Because he's illiterate. Absolutely nobody is sympathetic of this fact by the comic's end. You shouldn't come out of a free Spider-Man PSA comic thinking he's a dick. That's just a failure of marketing through and through.
S5.) Ghost Rider tells kids to wear their helmets or he'll kill them (1991)
In 1991, Spider-Man starred in a PSA series throughout Canada's fine cities, where he met such local heroes as the Montreal Expos. One of the finer moments of this series took place in Toronto, where Spidey and Ghost Rider lectured children on bicycle safety. Fire-and-brimstone leatherboys hate horseplay.
S4.) Ultron teaches children that being a minority engineer is cool (1991)
In The Amazing Spider-Man - Riot At Robotworld, Spider-Man teaches black and Latino youth that engineering is a viable career path. This is not achieved through blandishments but a near-death experience with Ultron, a Cylon, Robocop, and the Terminator. Also, what's up with all these comics being released in 1991?
3.) An Arthurian monster teaches children that diabetics are drug users (1991)
In Spider-Man Battles The Myth Monster, an Arthurian creature that lives off of prevarications shows up at a local high school and begins spreading delicious falsehoods about epilepsy, diabetes, and asthma. Luckily, the school nurse is descended from Arthurian stock. At this point, I'm just going to assume the crime rate in Manhattan tripled in 1991, given that Spidey took the year off to hang out with high schoolers.
2.) Spider-Man was inappropriately touched by an older boy (1984)
Oooh boy. 1984's Spider-Man and Power-Pack is infamous not for its treatment of a controversial topic (sexual predators) but for the revelation that Peter Parker had been the victim of an older boy's wandering hands. To the best of my knowledge, this plot point is never, ever mentioned again. I'm not disputing that comic books are a useful medium to teach kids about scary topics. It's just that you generally don't drop these sort of intense character developments in a giveaway comic. You can read the whole thing at Comics With Problems.
S1.) Spider-Man battles an alien who's crazy about teen pregnancy (1976)
That last comic was a downer, so we're going to end on a high note. In the Planned Parenthood-sponsored Spider-Man vs. The Prodigy, Spider-Man thwarts Prodigy, a nefarious space alien who starts a disinformation campaign about teen pregnancy. Why? He needs an army of worker-humans to lord over, duh. There's a lot to love here. The comic opens with the standard PSA trope of Spider-Man spying on teenagers...
S...then introduces Prodigy and his master plan...
...moves to the most overwrought scene of Spider-Man hand-wringing ever...
S...and closes with a borderline lewd usage of web fluid.
Finally, Spider-Man tells us that masturbation will not drive you insane. Batman's silence on this controversy speaks volumes. You can read this in full at Scans Daily.