blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Spider-Man: The Con Caper and the Curse of Rava (1978, Tom Blank and Michael Caffey)

In a more modern context, The Con Caper and the Curse of Rava take on additional depth. First, there’s convicted state or federal senator (or congressman) William Smithers. He’s a white guy who once upon a time gave Black woman Chip Fields her first chance in the early seventies after she would’ve spent most of her life living during the Civil Rights movement. So being Smithers’s trusted sidekick would’ve meant a lot.

It’d sure be terrible if Smithers turned out to be a sociopath, just a charming one.

In the second half—Caper is two episodes of “The Amazing Spider-Man” TV show joined together for syndication and home video, which is how “TV on DVD” worked until… DVD—but the second half’s big eyebrow raise is how the show manages to be shitty towards villain Theodore Bikel while lionizing capitalist imperialism. Bikel’s from Kalistan, which is presumably based on someone in the writers’ room—Robert Janes (which I swear is a pseudonym in something) gets the credit for Curse—but someone heard of Khalistan, a still unsuccessful (going 300 plus years now) attempt by the Sikh to get their own homeland.

So, Curse is also a great example of how Hollywood media ransacked the cultures and histories of the entire world under the premise: Americans are too dumb to know, then they’re too dumb to care, then they’re just not watching the show–the great balance.

Curse isn’t about Sikh homelands, of course. It’s about a cult of Kalistani dissidents led by dark pope Bikel (no, really, he’s the pope of the group) who want to steal their historical Rava statue—their god of destruction (while Rava’s scary looking, not cool, and buff, he’s also very male, even though—wait, am I getting made they didn’t use Shiva or something? Look at me retroactively enabling this shit).


The statue’s in New York City because the current Kalistan administration wants those American greenbacks, in this case, delivered (or couriered) by none other than Daily Bugle CEO and “Spider-Man” regular J. Jonah Jameson (Robert F. Simon). Simon’s dead wife was big into getting relics into their private blue blood museum, and he’s continuing the tradition in her honor. He’s a justified Karen in his imperialist looting.

Bikel threatens museum guy Byron Webster with telekinetic feats, pointlessly witnessed by closest-thing-to-a-love-interest Adrienne Larussa. She’s not an actual love interest for Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond), but she fills the slot. She’s actually in an antagonist position for most of the episode.



Even though they use South Asian visual imagery for some of the protesting cult members—the ladies, the dudes are all just white seventies hippies—Curse isn’t sure how to write this made-up fantastical religion, so they add this anti-Muslim bent to it. Like some of Bikel’s dialogue. It’s a lot.

Even though Bikel’s barely in the episode. He’s a long-shot villain who stares at something until Hammond’s Spider-sense goes off.

All right, now. We’re mostly out of ways Caper Curse ages horrifically. There’s obviously lots of veiled and unveiled misogyny, and general weird classism, but I think the specifics are done. Now for the problem of tying these two episodes together. Con is Fields’s episode; she even sings a song. But it’s about Simon trusting Fields—he’s a shitty blue-blood Karen in the late seventies dealing with all these damn kids and their TokTiks—even after Fields was wrong to trust Smithers. Fields has to eat a little crow, but most of it’s internal. And Smithers turns out to have really broken bad. Not just a little.

But there’s also the Caper part. Everyone says “con” a lot; everyone says “caper” a lot. The writer—this time credited to Gregory S. Dinallo—wants to make sure the viewers in the audience who’d just learned to read title cards, know the episode’s called The Con Caper. It’s weird. The first half of Caper Curse is this seventies groovy with decent guest stars Andrew Robinson and Ramon Bieri as two prisoners who stage a riot in a ruse to get recently released and now prison reformer Smithers back into the prison. Only from the outside, obviously.

Apparently, traditional spoiler rules do not apply to compilation TV movies. But since Caper is from season two and Curse is from season one, the whole premise is a spoiler for Curse. However, no one’s really in danger in Curse. It’s mostly about Simons being falsely accused, so they can have vaguely amusing scenes with Simons yelling at Hammond from his jail cell. Then Michael Pataki also gets all these weird scenes with Simons where Pataki’s got to be suspicious of Simons because he’s reporting seeing telekinesis stuff. Except Simons clearly said no to doing the jackass scene on film, so Pataki’s always talking about the report Simons gave. So Pataki’s got to say the silly comic book shit. And he hates it. It’s not a good episode for Pataki, but it’s his most sympathetic. Having to put up with Simons’s Karening is too far.

There are some amusing changes between the episodes besides Pataki being gone in the first one (because he didn’t come back) and being around for the second. His replacement in season two is Ellen Bry, an annoying capable young woman who wants to hang out with Hammond for some reason. She works at another paper, so she’s also covering Smithers and the prison stuff. But Fields has a decently sized Afro in the first episode, which she doesn’t have in season one. She was very close-cropped in season one. Okay, wait, no… Fields’s hair can make sense.

See, she cuts it after episode one, which is from season two, then it’s super short in the bridging addition—which takes place on a sitcom family kitchen set, and you can practically hear someone say “Action”—then it grows back a little for the second episode.

Hammond’s hair is shorter in season two than in season one but even shorter than season two in the bridging scene. So it makes no sense. Also, whoever wrote the bridging dialogue either didn’t give a shit about Curse’s first act or was eye-rolling it.

The first half’s totally passable late seventies mainstream groovy–so much music from Dana Kaproff. Everything’s got music. It’s awesome. Sort of. It’s fun. Or close enough to it.

The second half’s basically “Spider-Man” doing “Ghost Story.” Even when Hammond’s got a powered supervillain like Bikel, we’re years from a live-action superhero fight. It’s as if it took Westerns ten years to have actual horses.

The direct’s low middling. Technicals are competent.

If there’d been a better second episode—because you forget the transition problems fairly quickly thanks to Curse looking completely and utterly different, including film stock—Caper Curse probably would’ve worked out? Curse is just an unpleasant episode. The B plot is Simons’s jail arc. Oh, and Hammond stalking Larussa and mansplaining to her. He’s a jackass.

What a way to react to being kidnapped with your coworkers… growing your hair, digging out that suit jacket, buttoning your shirt, and being mean to people.

I’d said these compilation pictures might be the right way to watch the ever-unavailable “Amazing Spider-Man” TV show, but I’m reconsidering.

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: