On this date in 1962, Spider-Man made his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15. He was one of the first teen comic book characters not relegated to a supporting role. Spider-Man creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko wanted to create a character that the growing number of teen comic book fans could more easily identify with. Stan Lee had a picture in his mind of Peter Parker as an everyday high school kid and rejected initial attempts to make him unrealistically heroic. After reviewing the sales of Amazing Fantasy #15, some of the best they had ever seen, Marvel put out The Amazing Spider-Man, the web-slinger’s first solo series.
The popularity of the comic series led to the release of ABC’s animated series Spider-Man (1967-1970), which helped make Spider-Man a cultural icon. In fact, despite the countless Spider-Man titles in various types of media, “‘60s Spider-Man” (as he is widely referred to on the internet) is arguably the most widely recognized world-wide. This is partially due to the spike of popularity the Spider-Man series reached after Marvel made all of the episodes accessible online in 2009. Fans of the old show and more recent Spider-Man series alike began watching episodes on platforms that allowed them to pause the video. People quickly began noticing some of the humorous facial expressions, poses, and logical fallacies in the Spider-Man series and began posting image and GIF files of Spidey’s hijinks for the amusement of their fellow internet users. Almost overnight ‘60s Spider-man became a full-fledged meme. To this day, reaction images (both with and without added text) and silly GIFs of ‘60s Spider-Man can be found on sites like Facebook, tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and 4chan.
Since the 1970s, Spider-Man has been featured in cross-over comics with characters from the Marvel universe and other universes (namely DC). Two of my personal favorites are Batman & Spider-Man: New Age Dawning, in DC/Marvel Crossover Classics #4, and Ultimate Deadpool, an episode of Disney XD’s ongoing animated series Ultimate Spider-Man. They are the two extremes of cross-over interactions. Batman, with his all-business attitude, serves as a perfect straight man for Spider-Man’s signature wit, whereas Deadpool, who frequently breaks the fourth wall and the laws of physics, makes Spidey look positively serious.
In the vast collections of comic books, graphic novels, animated series, merchandise, and movie franchises over the 52-year span of his existence, Spider-Man has undergone several costume changes. Virtually everything about Spidey’s suit, from the color scheme to the size and shape of his eye panels, has been known to change from series to series. Other notable changes include his body type and personality. In his early days, Spider-Man was portrayed as a relatively bulky guy, sporting plenty of muscle definition. There has since been a movement to depict Spider-Man as a wiry, quick, and clever teen, which is seen by some fans as fitting better with Peter Parker’s image as an adolescent whose hobbies usually involve science.
Spider-Man’s motivations and personality have also varied by series. The Amazing Spider-Man: An Origin Story, an interactive comic application released by Marvel Reads, says that in Spider-Man’s early days, once he gained some clout for saving the city, he was self-centered and spent entirely too much time with the media. This ultimately costs him his beloved Uncle Ben, who is killed by a criminal that Spider-Man had the opportunity to stop but didn’t. After he realizes just how much of a mistake it had been not to capture said criminal, he decides that he should stop being selfish and fulfill the responsibilities that were thrust upon him when he got his powers. In other series, he did not have a direct relationship with the criminal who killed his Uncle Ben but the death still serves as a catalyst for Peter fully assuming the hero role.
Peter Parker’s personality has been the subject of controversy among fans over the years. Possibly the biggest split in the Spider-Man fandom is whether or not the Spider-Man movie franchise from the early 2000s (directed by Sam Raimi) offers a valid depiction of Peter Parker’s character (played by Toby Maguire). Many fans have expressed displeasure with Maguire’s performance. On the other hand, fans seem to be whole-heartedly embracing Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, which just had its second film in theaters earlier this year. Although, this could be due to the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man starts while Peter is in high school whereas Spider-Man begins with Peter in college, which means he was dealing with an entirely different set of problems each time. Andrew Garfield has what many are calling an “awkward cuteness” which adds to the sincerity of his character, while Toby Maguire is known for appearing sad or troubled and is often perceived as being “whiny.” Andrew Garfield also has the wiry build that some fans have come to expect of Spider-man.
Whatever the case may be, the Spider-Man fandom is still going strong and growing after 52 years. Generations of kids have grown up on Spider-Man cartoons, comics, and toys and have retained their love of the iconic web-slinger. Here’s hoping for another 52 years. Happy anniversary, Spidey!