WASHINGTON — Spider-Man saves Barack Obama's inauguration in a limited-edition Marvel comic that drew snaking lines of fans to comic shops across the country Wednesday.
Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics' editor in chief, came up with the plot line after the geek-in-chief-elect confessed to being a big Spider-Man fan in an pop-culture survey in October.
Issue No. 583 in "The Amazing Spider-Man" series contains a "Bonus Back-up Feature": a five-page story in which Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter ego, is confronted with two Barack Obamas determined to be sworn in at Tuesday's ceremonies.
Parker pulls it off by asking the contending Obamas what the president-elect's nickname was as a high school basketball player. Only the real Obama knows the answer: Barry O'Bomber.
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As the dastardly character Chameleon is exposed, Spider-Man tells him: "The president-elect here just appointed me . . . secretary of shuttin' you up," punctuating the sentence with a straight left to the chin.
Although Fantom Comics, a shop at Washington's Union Station, didn't open until 10 a.m., the line for the $3.99 Obama-Spidey issue was 50 buyers long by 9:30, when the store manager came out.
"If you're behind this guy in line, you're probably not going to get one," he said, indicating the 10th would-be customer.
A few departed as 10 a.m. approached, but the line outside the store continued to grow. Inside, the phone was ringing off the hook.
"I was here at 6 a.m.," said Frank Lewis, the first person in line, a Metro bus driver. "I've never read a comic book before in my life," Lewis said. "I plan to keep it for my 2-year-sold son, but he's not going to see it for a long time."
"I have a couple hundred comic books at home," said Kevin Jiulianti, 29, a Web designer who once squeezed his 6-foot-4-inch frame into a 12-year-old's Spider-Man costume and went to work.
"I'm a fan of Spider-Man," he said, "but Barack pushed it over the top."
Jiulianti recalled waiting in line seven years ago for a Spider-Man issue whose theme was the 9-11 attacks. "The line was long, but nothing like this," he said.
Carl Klein, a comic collector from the age of 6 who arrived before 9 — but too late to get a comic — said: "I am unprepared, very unprepared. I figured there'd be a line, but not this early."
Comic book stores and newsstands were unprepared, too, said Matt Klokel, owner of Fantom Comics.
"We only found out (about Obama's guest appearance) last Friday, like everyone else," he said.
Klokel ordered only enough comics to satisfy his regular Spider-Man subscribers, plus a few extras.
The comic exists in two covers: The more widely available one features Spider-Man but not Obama. Obama's face dominates the rarer "Variant B" cover, which has a blue background. Spider-Man dangles behind Obama's right ear, asking, "If you get to be on my cover, can I be on the dollar bill?"
The comics immediately found a hot market on eBay, where Variant B was offered for $299 on Wednesday afternoon.
A second printing of No. 583 will be released next Wednesday, the day after Obama's inauguration. Its cover features Obama and Spidey against a yellow background. It's available for pre-order in comic-book stores and on eBay.
Jiulianti said he'd be back for that one.
"The great part about this is that whether you go to see it or not, you took part in the inauguration," he said. "Ten years from now, when you see Barack Obama, you can say, 'I stood in line for that guy.' "
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