Spiderman was stealthily creeping up the side of a Victorian house in downtown Annapolis when BAM! the web slinger was caught in his own web.
Before the wall crawler could escape, the villainous zoning enforcement officer had spotted him. Next thing Spidey knew, he was about to disappear from Maryland's Colonial capital.
But after conquering the Sinister Six, the Green Goblin and even the Vulture, the Amazing Spiderman couldn't give in to the Historic Preservationists without a fight. Neither could the owners of The Twilite Zone, a comic book haven that was threatened with $400-a-day fines for its storefront poster of the webhead.
"I guess they just don't like superheroes," said Roger "Bumper" Moyer, the 28-year-old co-owner of the shop that specializes in baseball cards, tapes and hard-to-find comic books. He and his partner, Scott Hanna, also 28, said they've been fighting a two-year battle with the city's Historic District Commission over increasing the shop's visibility with a Spiderman sign.
Tucked away on a narrow street one block from City Dock, The Twilite Zone is often overlooked by tourists browsing through the downtown shops, said Mr. Hanna. To attract customers, he and Mr. Moyer first suggested adding a small Spiderman character to their approved sign hanging over the door. But POW!, the historic commission --ed their hopes by deeming it "unsuitable."
The five-member commission was established in 1969 to protect the historic atmosphere of the city's carefully restored Georgian architecture and red-brick streets. All construction applications for the downtown area must receive the volunteer board's stamp of approval.
In recent years, fed-up business owners and residents have criticized the commission's nit-picking. Some dubbed it "hysterical Annapolis" after the board objected to a plastic rose trellis and insisted it should be wooden. Others complain that the commission stifles development by dragging out hearings on routine applications for signs or new sidewalks.
"We think they're misguided, petty bureaucrats who have got some power," said Mr. Moyer, the son of former Mayor Roger Moyer, now deputy director of the Annapolis Housing Authority, who helped designate the historic district.
Mr. Hanna agrees, although both men are hoping to reach a compromise with the commission allowing Spiderman to survive. hearing has been scheduled for July 28, and the store has been granted a grace period on the fines.
The Twilite Zone owners are frustrated by a series of confrontations with the commission, which began with the refusal of their proposed minor sign change and turned into full-scale arachnophobia.
In October, a commission member objected to a stand-up Spiderman outside the store entrance.
BLAM! That week, the web slinger "mysteriously disappeared," Mr. Hanna says. The commission has also objected to a stand-up Superman and a stand-up model of basketball superstar Michael Jordan.
But Larry Tom, the city's director of community development, said the store's real battle is with the city. The poster, which shows Spiderman hanging from a web against a yellow brick background, is in violation of the city's zoning code, which prohibits all banners except temporary ones, he said.
"It's illegal, plain and simple," he said. An officer with the Planning and Zoning Department noticed the poster and promptly reported it two weeks ago.
The historic commission is willing to work with The Twilite Zone to develop a different sign, said Sandra M. Croot, who owns the two-story building that also houses a Native American art store and a jewelry shop.
"There's a very strict sign code in this town, but we hope to work something out," she said.
Both Mr. Moyer and Mr. Hanna want to keep the wall crawler because he's an instant advertisement for comic books. They also think he's more "cool" and "less trendy" than Batman.
They argue that the poster is no more offensive than other advertising in the historic district, including a neon sign at the Subway sandwich store and the beer commercials at City Dock. Most of their customers agree, although a few think the poster "kind of clashes" with the wooden wall.
"I think they could allow the wall walker to be out there," said Noah Kay, a 22-year-old who is a fan of Eight Ball and other "underground" comic books. He said he doesn't read many superhero comics, but thinks Spiderman is all right.
"He's needed here," he said.