A Drug-Themed Spider-Man Comic Permanently Changed The Comics Code
We've talked before about the Comics Code, the list of rules that comics publishers agreed to follow starting in 1954. The Code banned violence, profanity, and horror. It said stories must always respect cops. It said, with suspicious specificity, "Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities."
Possibly the most worrying bit was a clause that also banned "all elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency." That chilled writers from writing about many topics the Code didn't even say anything about.
One such topic: drugs. You couldn't write a story that said "hey, kids, drugs are cool," but you also couldn't include drugs at all, even if you weren't promoting drug use. Batman couldn't, say, nab a drug dealer, because that would mean mentioning drugs, and drugs are bad.
In 1970, however, a government official contacted Stan Lee about doing an anti-drug Spider-Man story. Spider-Man would save one addict from jumping off a roof, separately confront Harry Osborne about his drug use, and eventually horrify Green Goblin with news of Harry overdosing. This story would violate the Code's ban on drug references, but Lee assumed that would be fine. This was a government-approved anti-drug PSA, and the whole point of the Code was to make comics the government would be cool with.
He was wrong. The Comics Code Authority refused to approve the comic. Marvel responded by releasing the book as planned, just without the Comics Code stamp on the cover.
The book sold just fine. The Comics Code Authority, realized they'd better acknowledge their mistake or soon comics would just ignore them all the time, made a bunch of changes to the Code. Curiously, they did not immediately change their policy on drugs, but they did change their policy to now let writers portray government officials as corrupt.
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