Spider-Man’s First Appearance in Japan Was Hidden in Their Version of Playboy

Matthew Roybal is the Managing editor at Foreign Comic Collector Magazine. He made a discovery the other day, which he was gracious to allow Bleeding Cool to share, regarding the first appearance of Spider-Man in Japanese comic books. He writes,

What is this Japanese pornography cover doing in my feed you might ask? Well, let’s start by saying what it is….. this is the Weekly プレイボーイ #39, 1976, published by Shueisha. Translated it reads “Weekly Japanese playboy” issue #39, and hiding within this book is a version of the Spiderman #48 story, and his run in with Blackie Drago, an impostor Vulture. This classic silver age story is literally hiding between the very attractive centerfold (miss Karin Christie) and a bunch of weird erotic manga and ads.

Now as an American who cannot read kanji or kana there is nothing on this issues cover that gives a hint to the Spider-man story within. No Marvel logo, spidey face, no nothing! The only way for you to know this story is part of the first officially licensed Marvel output in Japan is to know it. Plain and simple folks, foreign comic collecting is more of a research field in some ways then a hobby. There are tons of licensed and non-licensed foreign silver age material out there to be discovered! Especially in Asia!

Now this book is the 8th Spidey story in the Japanese Playboy run. And, it uses only a part of the Spiderman #48 story for some reason? Many earlier panels are missing. For some reason also, the Japanese altered what would be the splash page of Spidey #48? WTF? Instead of Spidey in a snowstorm on a building top they used a panel from the interior and created what I think is a new background? Pics of this below…. Or maybe i’m completely wrong about a re-drawn background? I cannot prove it, but I think something is fishy here. What’s weird is this. The splash page seems to have Larry Leiber as the penciler? This isn’t accurate as Romita drew this entire issue! I think maybe the Japanese pub used a composite of an interior Romita panel and another bridge splash page that Lieber had drawn for something else? I cannot prove it out but I think maybe they had both artworks on hand. And, in an editorial decision, just maybe thought of making the splash page for this issue more dynamic? So they created a composite image because the original splash to Spidey #48 is sorta boring? Just Spidey sitting on a ledge. This Japanese splash page has action and height looking down. Anyways, I thought this alteration is pretty neat.

Now, do not forget that the artwork had to be flipped, similar to Arabic or Hebrew. Japanese script in most instances is read right to left. Especially in Manga! Im not sure if there is a writing style using kanji or kana lettering that isnt read right to left? A more knowledgeable Asian friend will have to chime in on that. Needless to say the flipped artwork is awesome to see. And also, I really enjoy all the vintage ads selling stereos and the like. Really creates nostalgia in me for sure.

The story panels themselves are very well done 2 color pages using red as a spot color. The printing quality of these Playboys is generally very good for newsprint interspersed with glossy pages. One panel in particular has a close up black and grey Spidey head with red eyes that really impressed me!

. The final panel has our villain, the fake Vulture, leaving Spidey on a snowbound rooftop to die. What makes this sooooooo impactful to me though is the choice of the Pub to put these final panels right next to the naked Karin Christie’s centerfold poster?

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Man, was Marvel not giving a sh-t about its intellectual properties back then! This was of course in the late 70’s when licensing saved Marvels bacon. My guess is they licensed any of their properties to absolutely anyone with a check that would clear. Considering the company had been in deep financial hardship in the late 70’s before Star Wars hit, these very loose standards as far as licensing goes make sense under the circumstance.

Please enjoy the pics, and thank you for reading this far! I have to thank Robert Fordham for trading me this book a few months ago! Dude has the entire run! And I gotta tell ya these Japanese playboys are no joke. If you are a foreign Spidey fan you have to have at least 1 of these novel crazy books in your collection. If simply to blow the minds of your comic obsessed friends! Have a great weekend……

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.