LIKE DC’S OWN HERO in red and blue, Spider-Man almost never came to be. When Stan Lee approached his publisher with an idea for a new teenaged hero who had “the proportionate strength and agility of a spider,” he didn’t exactly get an enthusiastic response. No one likes spiders, they said. Teenagers work better as sidekicks, not as superheroes in their own book. And what’s with the depressing origin story?
But Lee believed in it, and he pushed for his creation. Finally, the publishers slated the first Spider-Man story for an issue of Amazing Fantasy, figuring that a soon-to-be-canceled series was as good a place as any to test-market a new character. That first story focused on young Peter Parker, the school nerd, and a social outcast, who received strange superpowers when a radioactive spider bit his hand. At first, he tried making money with his new gifts by becoming an entertainer, but when a burglar he failed to stop went on to kill his Uncle Ben, Peter realized that his new powers came with a price and that he could never again allow someone to die from his own inaction.
And that was that. The title was over, and it was up to the readers to decide what came next. When the book became one of the company’s biggest bestsellers in years, it wasn’t hard to figure out why. Lee got the green light to go ahead with The Amazing Spider-Man #1.
Spider-Man quickly became the most popular hero in Marvel’s growing stable, but his popularity meant a lot more than mere money for Marvel. Like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man broke all the rules for superheroes. But where the members of the FF were more or less happy with their powers, Spider-Man cursed his new abilities almost as often as he reveled in them. He paid bills, looked after his sickly Aunt May, and often wondered where his next rent cheque was coming from. He made mistakes and was often as feared by the public as the villains he fought. In J. Jonah Jameson, he saw the face of an establishment that couldn’t control him, so it feared him instead (a lot of teenagers during the ’60s could probably relate). Another inspiring touch: Peter Parker learned photography so that he could make money taking pictures of himself in action, making him the first superhero to be aware he was living in a media age, where good deeds aren’t always enough to fight a bad P.R. image.
Peter’s grown up a bit since then — over the years, he’s gone to college, married the girl next door, and become a little more settled into his life. But it’s a safe bet to suggest there will always be challenges in his life to overcome, and he’ll always be there to overcome them because — as he knows more than anyone else — with great power comes great responsibility.
From The 100 Greatest Comics of the 20th Century By Mitchell Brown
Did you know…
Amazing Fantasy #16 was actually prepared for press when the title was canceled. The lead piece in that lost issue was run in Amazing Spider-Man #1.
A Spider-Man newspaper strip commenced in January 1977. It was still running by the turn of the century.
Jack Kirby was the original artist for Spider-Man, but Lee felt his drawings were too glamorous and heroic for the hard-luck hero. The task of drawing the first stories fell upon Steve Ditko, whose artwork on Spider-Man is generally regarded as one of the finest runs of the Silver Age.