Over the years, comic strip heroes have been used in public service announcements to promote safety, teach lessons, or promote an ideology. In 1982, AIM Toothpaste (a Lever Brothers Company) and the American Dental Association teamed up with Marvel Comics Group to release a comic book titled The Amazing Spider-Man: Crisis at Cape Canaveral (with art by John Romita Sr) to advocate good oral hygiene, and then they put it in one of Spidey’s adventures.
Spider-Man was used as a dental PSA
The comic book was given away for free at dental institutions across the country. Despite the cover boasting that it was worth 60 cents, this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Two years earlier, AIM had released a similar adventure with Spider-Man battling the Green Goblin. The apparent success of that endeavor was enough to spawn this kind of sequel, and AIM and the ADA went all in on dental care. The overall plot was quite simple; An upcoming rocket launch at Cape Canaveral would send a new, powerful weather satellite into space. Doctor Octopus wanted the device for his own nefarious purposes. Peter Parker was on site to take pictures and sees the nefarious doctor following him. Instead of a battle royale between the two, Doc Ock goes to a nearby dentist named Dr. All.
A confused Peter pretends to have a toothache to get into a room so he can eavesdrop. It turns out that the supervillain was suffering from real toothaches and the dentist is about to reprimand him for eating way too many sweets and not brushing or flossing regularly. There’s also something bizarre about his x-rays, but Doc Ock storms out before more can be said. Intrigued, Peter chases after him, but is stopped by the dentist. The wallcrawler actually sits through teeth brushing to maintain its cover. At this point, the reader learns that Aunt May instilled good snacking habits in our healthy hero, always favoring cheeses and vegetables as treats. His teeth are in excellent condition due to regular visits and above average dental care.
Spider-Man saved the day with good hygiene
After this, this story ends pretty quickly, with Spider-Man confronting Doctor Octopus during the launch of the rocket. A fight leads to Doc Ock losing a tooth (poor oral hygiene strikes again) that happens to contain a micro-device he would use to use the weather satellite. As Doctor Octopus is led away in handcuffs, Spider-Man reminisces about how good oral care saved the day. The strip itself was full of fun and games against tooth decay. It featured the board game Dreadful Dungeons of Tooth Decay and Spider-Man teaching readers how to properly brush their teeth.
Then there was a coupon and a way to sign up for the AIM Kids Club. Honestly, John Romita’s artwork clearly holds up, and while the story is a bit goofy, it wasn’t a bad read for the price, if you were a kid. “Crisis at Cape Canaveral” is a really interesting window to 40 years ago when advertisers and associations had to use all available media to send a PSA message to children. It’s a shame this series didn’t continue, as a next issue featuring Spider-Man berating Venom for poor dental care could have been brilliant.