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Eight years before Marvel's Spider-Man, there was Ben Cooper's Spider Man costume

(Image credit: Steve Ditko (Marvel Comics) / Ben Cooper)

Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, but could he have been inspired by a children's Halloween costume produced as early as 1954?

The question - and costume - come to light from a collectibles dealer named Ben Cimino, who discovered a 1954 catalog and Halloween costume for a character named "Spider Man" (opens in new tab) (note the lack of a hyphen) with a familiar webbing pattern - however, with a yellow-and-black color scheme. 

Ben Cooper Spider Man costume

Ben Cooper's Spider Man costume from cover of 1954 catalog (Image credit: Ben Cooper)

This yellow "Spider Man" costume was made by Ben Cooper Inc., and first advertised in 1954. Although now defunct, Ben Cooper Inc. was a prominent producer of Halloween costumes from the '30s to the '80s. Ben Cooper's "Spider Man" costume sold consistently from 1954 to 1962, with slight variations over the years.

Lee and Ditko are credited for creating Marvel's Spider-Man in 1962, although preliminary work on the visual design was done by Jack Kirby (who according to the New York Post is "rumored" to have worked briefly for Ben Cooper in the '50s). Lee has openly said that the character was based somewhat on the pulp hero the Spider, and there have been outside claims that Lee was inspired by Archie's the Web as well as the Fly, which was created by Kirby and Joe Simon. There is also some dispute about how much of Kirby's early work was carried over into Ditko's version.

"Ben Cooper was 10 miles from Marvel's offices," Cimino told the New York Post (opens in new tab). "Ben Cooper ruled Halloween in New York City, so Ditko had to have seen this costume. When he got the assignment for Spider-Man, maybe something came back when he was designing it. It's so much like the Ben Cooper."

1968 Woolworth's ad

1968 Woolworth's ad (Image credit: Woolworth's)

Making the case stranger, in 1963 Ben Cooper manufactured the first Marvel licensed product ever - you guessed it, an official Marvel Spider-Man costume, just a year after the character was created and a year before any other known Marvel licensed merchandise for the character.

"So why would Ben Cooper, a company that was already producing a Spider Man costume, be interested in licensing Marvel's Spider-Man long before the comic character achieved mainstream popularity?" asks the Post.

Cimino reached out to Ditko about the similarities, with the reclusive artist replying by letter, "The burden of proof is on the person who makes the assertion, claim, charge.  Some clippings, etc., are not rational proof of anything but some clippings, etc."

Marvel did not respond to the New York Post's request for comment.

"No one is going to talk about this, because there are billions of dollars at stake," Cimino theorizes. "You don't know if the Ben Cooper heirs are going to come out of the woodwork and sue or something."

Ben Cooper Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991, and was eventually bought out by a competitor, Rubie's Costume, in 1992.

The upcoming PS5 version of Insomniac Games' Spider-Man will have a plethora of Spider-Man costumes (although not the Ben Cooper costume).

Chris Arrant
Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant covered comic book news for Newsarama from 2003 to 2022 (and as editor/senior editor from 2015 to 2022) and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)