Spider-Man and His Amazingly Craptacular 70s Merchandise

One of the first outlets where I could express my burgeoning geekhood was in my toy collection. While I would inevitably stuff my room to capacity with all things Star Wars, that wasn't my first experience with toys from a major nerd franchise. My first obsession with collectible playthings in the mid- to late-70s was with none other than ol' Web Head himself, Spider-Man.

Looking back, my Spider-Man collection was a modest one. I had some Spider-Man t-shirts, some ViewMaster and Pocket Flix sets, a few comics and even the classic Mego action figure. Then again, most things related to Spider-Man were pretty modest back then. Don’t let the picture above fool you; back in the late 70s, it was hard to come by some top-notch, non-comic-book Spider-Man stuff.

During that time, there was only one Spider-Man cartoon on syndication, there were no video games, and the only live-action adventures could be seen on Electric Company and a short-lived TV series featuring Nicholas Hammond. That was as good as it got. No big-budget big-screen Spider-Man movie in the works (let alone a big-budget big-screen Spider-Man reboot after a trilogy of big-budget big-screen Spider-Man movies), no Spider-Man action figures with 20+ points of articulation and highly-detailed plastic sculpting and paint jobs, and certainly no high-end video games such as the recent Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.

Reflecting this dearth of Spider-goodness, here is a list of the four most disappointing Spider-Man toys that I owned back during these dark ages of superhero merchandising. (All pictures for this post have been provided by the ever-fantastic Mego Museum and Plaid Stallions sites.) Read on ...

4. The Spider-Car: My folks bought me this toy to go with my 8" Mego Spider-Man action figure. The Mego Spider-Man figure was fantastic; of all of the product lines that Mego produced, its lines of 8" cloth-suited DC and Marvel superheroes were its crowning achievements. However, the Spider-Car left quite a bit to be desired as an accessory toy for Spider-Man (which is surprising because according to Mego Museum, Stan Lee himself came up with the idea for this toy). After all, if you've got a super-posable figure made in the likeness of a superhero who is known for agility and acrobatic skill, it's pretty counter intuitive to give the figure a car as an accessory. No one in my family could figure out how to get the "web" to stay attached to the web trap device, so the toy's single novelty feature was a complete bust for me. Nevertheless, the car did sell well, and Mego also made a smaller version of it for their 3 3/4" Pocket Heroes line.

All of my complaints aside, you have to give this toy a few extra geek points because it's one of the most unintentionally morbid accessory toys ever made for a superhero figure. Think about it: The only way that the car's web trap could practically work as a villain-capturing tool is for Spidey to commit vehicular homicide. Because the web is set up to quickly grab the hit-and-run victim's body for later eyewitness-free disposal elsewhere, the Spider-Car is the perfect vehicle for any friendly neighborhood reckless driver.

Then again, even if the Spider-Car ever did become part of official Marvel Universe continuity, I doubt that Spidey would have the chance to drive it--other Marvel superheroes with severe anger management issues (say, Wolverine and The Punisher) would be too busy borrowing it for days and weeks at a time. Furthermore, in the area of unintentionally morbid superhero accessory toys, the Spider-Car ranks third behind the Batmobile and Supermobile toys from the Super Powers action figure line by Kenner back in the 80s. The Batmobile had a spring-loaded Bat-Claw for holding villains built into the car's rear bumper, while the flying Supermobile had handcuffs built into places where landing gear would normally be located. Use your imagination.

3. The Remote Control Spider-Car: Another car toy for Spider-Man, but with no room for an action figure and no other features to speak of other than the fact that it was remote controlled. Unfortunately, the features of this toy from Azrak Hamway International (AHI) were horrible: it only moved in two directions (forward and turning in reverse) and it required a total of five batteries (four AAs for the car and one 9-volt for the controller) for it to do just that much. The front wheels were purely cosmetic, since a hidden fifth wheel underneath the car determined which direction the car would go. Thankfully, I think that only two of these kinds of remote control toys were made for Marvel characters: one for Spider-Man and one for Captain America (see the pic above). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the next toy on this list.

2. Energized Spider-Man: Even though this 12" Remco toy looks like an action figure, it wasn't. No parts on the outside moved--none of the limbs, and not even the head. It was just a hollow plastic mold of Spider-Man with a tiny winch mounted inside of it, which was powered by a C battery. The winch had a roll of fishing line that had a plastic hook on the end of it, and it spooled through Spider-Man's raised hand. (See the original commercial here.) To play with this toy, you had to:
  • Mount a clamp that came with the toy to the side of a table, chair, or whatever else to which you could mount the clamp.
  • Pull some fishing line out of Spider-Man's hand and then attach the line's hook to the clamp.
  • Flip the switch on the side of Spider-Man's waist to activate the winch, and Spider-Man ascends the fishing line--his "webbing"--until he makes it to the clamp.
That's it. All the toy could do is go up, but not down--the winch didn't have that option. This Spider-Man did have a plug jack on the other side of his waist for accessories (most of which were sold separately), but all that did was route power from the C battery into the accessories--it would make his flashlight glow, his helicopter blades spin and so forth, but it didn't make the Spider-Man figure any more flexible. Once the winch stopped working, there wasn't much else you could do with this toy. I suppose you could re-purpose it as a Spider-Man statuette--that is, if you consider holding an overhead rail while traveling in a subway train to be a suitable action pose for this mighty Marvel superhero. (For perspective, compare this toy to the latest Iron Man remote controlled action figure. The differences will blow your mind.)

This is me back in the 70s, before I learned
the valuable lesson that just because a toy
requires batteries doesn't make it a good toy.

For such an underwhelming toy, Remco didn't stop with Spider-Man. It also released other 12" figures of Superman, Batman, the Hulk and the Green Goblin. Each were equally joint-less, and had the internal winch and the plug jack for other accessories. Superman would "fly", Batman would ascend his Bat-Grappler line, and the Hulk would pull down a wall (I'm not sure what the winch did for the Green Goblin). After the initial 12" energized toy line, Remco released a smaller 9" "powerized" line of mostly the same heroes that did some of the same stuff but this time without requiring batteries. Also, the Green Goblin was dropped from the second line and was replaced by Captain America. What did Cap do? In addition to a grappling hook, his iconic shield would spin. Wheee!

1. Spider-Man Webmaker: This item was what was known in toy manufacturer circles as a "rack toy". According to Plaid Stallions, rack toys were "low cost toys (that) were produced mainly by companies that never did any sort of TV advertising and their items seemed to be more commonly found at drug and grocery stores." There were plenty of cheap, easy-to-break toys to be found in this category of playthings, but this particular product from Chemtoy included some kind of freaky glue-like substance that was supposed to emulate Spider-Man's webbing. This rack toy also came with tiny, easy-to-lose plastic figures of Spider-Man, the Green Goblin, Mary Jane, and a spider (which, given its scale, could easily use its own webbing to capture and eat the other figures), along with an "Empire State Play City" on the rear side of the toy's cardboard backing.

With the Spider-Man Webmaker, you could either stretch webbing over the play city to make a flimsy Spider-Man diorama with a 2-D background, or you could stretch the webbing across fences, benches, shrubs, and whatever else you could use it on that wouldn't upset your parents. Either way, the Webmaker required at least some modicum of skill if you wanted to get your money's worth out of it--you know, to make webs that could support the included figures. This never made sense to me, because this toy was so cheap and would barely last a day. If you had that kind of skill, you were better off applying it with a tube of rubber cement to a Spider-Man model kit anyway since those kits last longer. Then again, if this rack toy was re-released today, you could use it with the tiny human-headed insect accessory that comes with this action figure to re-create the last scene from the original The Fly.


  1. Geez I actually know this. The Spider car was briefly in the comics. Not sure how many issues. I just remember him driving it into the river to escape the cops. I think he remarked "Oh well. It was a bad idea anyway. " Or something similar. Bye car!

    1. I've heard the same thing, although I don't think that the toy Spider-Car was the same as the comic book Spider-Car. I just remember a brief story line in the comics during the 70s when the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four bought a dune buggy-like vehicle for Spidey as a birthday gift. The car didn't last long.


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