Spider-Man’s Celebrity Crossover Was Much Worse Than She-Hulk’s
The following contains spoilers for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Episode 3, “The People vs. Emil Blonsky,” now streaming on Disney+
Megan Thee Stallion’s viral guest appearance as herself is one of Disney+’s most memorable moments She-Hulk. Like seemingly everything else in the series, it garnered a divisive reaction. While some critics fall into the camp that finds everything the show does too “woke”, there are some valid critics on She-Hulk’s first brush with stardom. She-Hulk’s fan girl moment with the “Hot Girl Summer” rapper may not sit well with fans.
Like any aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are plenty of examples of superheroes crossing paths with real-life celebrities in the comics. With decades of stories to choose from, you can find examples that have handled celebrity crossovers worse than She-Hulk did. The most obvious came in 2002 when Spider-Man went on a crossover with the host of The show tonightJay Leno.
“Jay Leno & Spider-Man: One Night Only! (Remember to tip your waitress)” was a three-part back-up story published on Marvel’s line in the summer of 2002. The story, by Ron Zimmerman, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, Avalon Studios’ Dan Kemp, and RS & Comiccraft’s Wes Abbott don’t give the talk show host top marks on Marvel’s flagship character by accident. Spider-Man is subordinate to Leno on their team against a murderous reality TV producer. A particularly embarrassing moment in the third part of the story saw the web-slinger cling to the comedian while riding a motorbike. Spider-Man is also the butt of the joke at the end of the story when he gets stage fright during a Tonight’s show appearance.
A Spider-Man story that’s more about a celebrity is more like sponsored content than a Marvel story in continuity. Marvel’s place in the world in 2002 makes the focus on a dominant figure like Leno more understandable. Marvel Was Taking Over Cinema With Sam Raimi’s First Martin Scorsese-Approved Film Spider Man trilogy, but they weren’t far from their role in the comic book industry’s crash of the 90s and bankruptcy. Although they did not convert much Tonight’s show viewers into comic book readers, it makes sense that they would woo a mainstream audience, even if it was at Spider-Man’s expense.
Beyond attempts to attract mainstream audiences, the story’s author also explains why he favored a celebrity over a superhero. Ron Zimmerman’s background was in the entertainment industry, where he worked on everything from The Howard Stern Show to Hollywood satire Stock. Whereas Spawn/Batman Artist Greg Capullo’s name stands out the most in modern fan credits, Zimmerman got the lion’s share of the attention when “Jay Leno & Spider-Man” was released. None of this was good.
Zimmerman’s second Marvel credit, “Jay Leno & Spider-Man,” meant he didn’t get off on the right foot with fans. The first story he wrote; a number of Marvel Knights Punisher in progress, was not well received either. The fact that “Jay Leno & Spider-Man” was bundled with every Marvel comic for just three months, unfortunately, meant it was more widely read. It did little to bolster Zimmerman’s reputation or counter the belief among die-hard fans that he was a favorite project of Marvel editor Joe Quesada.
Leno appeared in another Spider-Man story written by Zimmerman in 2002, which was drawn by The boys co-creator Darick Robertson. In Spider Man: Sweet Charity, Leno hosts a charity auction where Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson are forced to go camping together by one of Zimmerman’s co-creations, Al, Kraven the Hunter’s son. Zimmerman’s brand of humor never clicked with comic book audiences, but he had a long and varied career that included writing for The simpsons between the time he left the comics and his death in July.
“Jay Leno & Spider-Man” was met with scorn by Marvel fans. This backlash pales in comparison to the mainstream attention Zimmerman received for rebooting classic western hero Rawhide Kid as Marvel’s first gay main character. This revival would become Zimmerman’s final legacy in comics. “Jay Leno & Spider-Man” has become a footnote 20 years later, vaguely remembered by readers who stumbled upon it in their favorite Marvel titles and internet comedy writers.