Created by: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
For: Marvel Comics
Currently owned by: Marvel Comics
First appearance: Amazing Fantasy #15, from 1962
Real identity: Peter Parker
Simply one of the great pop culture creations of the modern age, Spider-Man is one of the few comic characters to greatly outreach the medium that created him – no matter where you go in the world, people know who Spider-Man is. Children love the character before they’ve ever read a comic and his recent movies have been among the most successful in the history of cinema. There’s few greater success stories in the history of fiction.
Created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko because Marvel Comics wanted a character who’d appeal to their growing teenage readership, the revolutionary aspect of Spider-Man wasn’t his powers and costume – although the face-covering mask was a break from the norm and Ditko’s design was undeniably unusual (Jack Kirby, apparently, was initially slated to draw the character. Accounts vary as to why he didn’t – Lee claims Kirby’s design was “too heroic”, Kirby stated it was because he was too busy). Spidey’s alter ego, Peter Parker was probably a greater reason for the success. Previously all superheroes had square-jawed heroic, manly leads. Parker was a troubled, geeky, ‘ordinary’ teen, struggling with the same problems that his readership were facing. The relatable nature of the concept sounds obvious today but then it was a breakthrough. Sales of Spider-Man’s 1962 trial debut, in Amazing Fantasy #15, were good and publisher Martin Goodman, who had been initially hesitant about Lee’s pitch, agreed to give Spidey his own series – The Amazing Spider-Man #1 was released in March 1963 and the character prospered at the same time that Bob Dylan, The Beatles and the Civil Rights movement were affecting America. Spidey was part of the country’s exploding youth culture revolution.
Everyone knows the origin story by now. Nerdy science geek Peter Parker lives with his uncle and aunt until he’s bitten by a radioactive spider during a science demonstration, gaining the proportionate powers of an arachnid. He becomes a wrestling/TV star through his new abilities and refuses to tackle a fleeing burglar, saying it’s the job of the police. When his uncle is killed and he tracks down the murderer, he finds that it’s the burglar that he refused to stop, showing Peter Parker that “with great power comes great responsibility”. Spider-Man is born.
And the classic early stories just seemed to create iconic character after iconic character – a truly amazing run of creativity. Megalomaniac newspaper publisher J Jonah Jameson, Dr. Octopus, The Green Goblin, The Lizard, The Scorpion, The Sandman, Mysterio, The Vulture and Electro – these are characters Marvel has been trading on for over 45 years, and they all came out of the classic Lee-Ditko run which, eventually came to a close when Ditko left the title with issue #38 (July 1966). But the Spider-Man template had been created, and the quirky, geek-chic cool of Ditko’s visuals was an enormous part of that success. Jack Kirby would say, in 1971, that Ditko "got Spider-Man to roll, and the thing caught on because of what he did."
Nevertheless, the series continued when another great Marvel artist, John Romita Sr., followed Ditko, staying on the title for four years and creating a further period of iconic visuals. Gil Kane was next and the classic tales kept coming, particularly The Night Gwen Stacey died (#121, 1973), where the Green Goblin killed Spider-Man’s first true love – a shocking development at the time. This simply didn’t happen to major characters in comic books. Many see this event as being one of the pivotal moments in the close of the innocent Silver Age of comics. The more violent Bronze Age followed.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man’s appearance in other media continued to build the legend. His initial animated series – with the still-ubiquitous theme music – ran from 1967-70, the live action TV show followed in 1977 (with the pilot making it to cinemas) and there’s been various animated series’ over the years, with Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends (81-83) being perhaps the best loved.
His comic back catalogue also continued to grow. By ’72 Spidey had his second series, Marvel Team-Up. By ’76 his third – The Spectacular Spider-Man. By the time Todd McFarlane launched his three million-selling Spider-Man #1 in 1990, it was Spidey’s fifth monthly title. He had long since become the flagship for Marvel Comics. In 1991, when Marvel became the first comic book company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, an actor dressed as Spider-Man accompanied Stan Lee to the ceremony. The record-threatening financial results of the Spider-Man movies, under the direction of Sam Raimi, have pushed Marvel to ever-greater success, to the point where they are now financing and producing their own movies rather than going through major Hollywood studios. Spider-Man’s image is even printed on the cheques they pay their creators with.
Ability to cling to walls: That bite from the radioactive spider allows Peter Parker to stick to walls and ceilings, even through his gloves.
Spider-Sense: An ability to sense danger before it happens, and also to track down Spider Tracers of his own design.
Perfect balance and astonishing agility: Spider-Man’s athletic ability is way beyond that of the greatest gymnast.
Super strength: The proportionate strength of a spider allows Peter Parker to throw a mean punch and lift enormously heavy things, which comes in handy on classic pop culture sequences like Amazing Spider-Man #33.
Excellence in science: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko defined Peter Parker as being a science geek with great ability and his invention of web-shooters certainly backs that up. These wrist watch-like instruments fire a super adhesive substance that allows Spidey to swing around New York City, can be used to create a bulletproof shield and is also useful for tying up bad guys.
CAREER LOW POINT
The Clone Saga of 1994-96 (it ran for two years!) isn’t exactly remembered fondly by fans. Some still hold it dear, however. A Bring Back Ben Reilly petition can be found online at http://www.freewebs.com/bringbackben/
The Amazing Spider-Man (TV series)
Played by: Nicholas Hammond
Set in New York but filmed in Los Angeles, no super-villains, only appearances by J Jonah Jameson and Aunt May out of the comic cast and dubbed “too juvenile” by Stan Lee – CBS’ Spidey TV series hardly sounds like a winner, but kids loved it. Nicholas Hammond, one of the Von Trapp children from The Sound Of Music, was Peter Parker. Who knows who the poor stunt men were running up and down LA skyscrapers in near-blind Spider-Man masks.
Director: Sam Raimi
Played by: Tobey Maguire
With great power comes great box office take. $114 million on its opening US weekend and an overall gross of $822 million; Sam Raimi’s interpretation of the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko origin story was an all-encompassing box office smash – the eighth most successful movie of all time. Its leads – Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson and Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin – were huge hits, with Maguire staying true to the slightly geeky Parker persona, and the soap opera tone of those original ’60s Spidey stories translated amazingly well to the 21st Century.
Director: Sam Raimi
Played by: Tobey Maguire
All concerned returned for the hugely successful sequel – a mere $784 million worldwide this time. Dr. Octopus was the nemesis, and the plot lifted liberally from the classic Spidey comics, particularly Amazing Spider-Man #50 ‘Spider-Man No More’. Again, the spirit and the voice felt true to the original material, and the public and critics loved it.
Director: Sam Raimi
Played by: Tobey Maguire
Where the bubble burst. Not at the box office – the third in the series still garnered $890,871,626 worldwide – but the movie itself was a mess. Raimi and his brother, Ivan, wrote the screenplay and it took Spidey into the ’80s and his alien symbiote costume, which made him wear eye liner and go all emo. The Sandman AND Harry Osborn’s Green Goblin were thrown in too, and the less said about Peter Parker’s evil dancing in front of Mary Jane the better (one of the more cheese curdling cinematic moments of recent times).
• Stan Lee has stated that the ’30s pulp character The Spider was a major influence on Spider-Man’s creation.
• At the time that he designed Spider-Man’s costume, Steve Ditko shared a Manhattan studio with noted fetish artist Eric Stanton.
• The cover to Amazing Fantasy #15 – Spidey’s first appearance – was pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by Steve Ditko.
• Jack Kirby later alleged that Spider-Man came from a character he and Joe Simon had developed in the ’50s called The Silver Spider.
• A 1965 Esquire poll of college campuses found that students saw Spider-Man as being a favourite revolutionary symbol alongside Bob Dylan and Che Guevara.
• Harry Osborn’s drug addiction (Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, 1971) came about because the Nixon administration asked Stan Lee to write an anti-drugs story.
• Issue one of Todd McFarlane’s 1990 Spider-Man title sold over three million copies, an industry record.
• Author Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier And Clay) contributed to the screenplay of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.
• A Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn Out the Dark, is due to open in 2010. The score and lyrics were written by Bono and The Edge of U2.
• Spider-Man 4 is to be released in cinemas in 2011, with all the series’ main players back onboard – Raimi, Maguire, Dunst etc..
The Green Goblin: He dresses in a (green) goblin costume, laughs hysterically and chucks exploding pumpkins at people. Oh, and he killed Peter Parker first true love, Gwen Stacey. You don’t get much badder and madder in the Marvel Universe than Norman Osborn. Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, The Green Goblin first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1964) and has been Spidey’s arch-nemesis ever since, not even letting being dead for a period get in his way.
Dr. Octopus: Dr. Otto Octavious is yet another of those pesky mad genius’ who keep trying to kill Spider-Man, having first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #3 (1963). Yet another Lee and Ditko creation, ‘Dock Ock’, a brilliant but mean-spirited nuclear physicist, invented a set of mechanical arms that could be controlled remotely, but a radiation leak and explosion fused them to Octavious’ body. They’ve since been removed but he controls them telepathically.
Venom: A late-but-memorable addition to Spidey’s rogues gallery – he first appeared as Spider-Man’s black costume in Marvel’s Secret Wars #8 in 1984. It was four years later, in Amazing Spider-Man #288, that writer David Michelinie and artist Todd McFarlane turned that costume into the alien parasite Venom. When Spider-Man rejected the symbiote it turned bitter towards him and bonded with disgraced reporter Eddie Brock.