Spider-Man is a Marvel Comics
character. He first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15, written by Stan Lee
and penciled by Steve Ditko
Stan Lee had a new idea for a superhero. There was something strange about his idea: rather than having a teenage sidekick, the hero was the teenager. That hero was Spider-Man. The editor-in-chief of Marvel at the time, Martin Goodman, was hesitant to pick up the idea, because he thought that the reference to spiders was too distasteful. However, he allowed Lee and Ditko to put the story into the last issue of a failing comic, Amazing Adult Fantasy. Stan Lee dropped the Adult from the title, and Amazing Fantasy #15 went to print.
Inside was a story about Peter Parker, a high school student (and a bit of a nerd). Orphaned as a child, he was raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Nerd that he was, one day he attended a demonstration of a new radioactive device. A spider happened to be caught in the radiation, and bit Peter shortly before dying. Dazed as a result of the bite, Peter walked out of the lab, only to nearly be hit by an oncoming car. He was warned by a buzzing in his head (what would later be known as his spider sense). Peter jumped out of the way…about 20 feet out of the way! What’s more, he was sticking to the side of a nearby building! After a little further experimentation, Peter had discovered all of his new powers.
But that’s not the important part of the story. Peter was making a quick buck exploiting his superpowers on television under the identity of Spider-Man. He even developed some web-shooters to further his act. One night, a thief ran by him while he was backstage. Rather than stop the thief, Peter let him go, figuring it was not his problem.
Returning home one night, Peter saw that his house was surrounded by police. A burglar had broken in and shot his beloved Uncle Ben. Peter heard that the police had the burglar surrounded in a warehouse. So he went to deal with the burglar himself.
Peter entered the warehouse and quickly took care of the burglar. Upon taking a closer look, he was horrified to learn that it was the thief he had let run by a few nights earlier. He could have prevented the whole thing if he had just stopped the thief! Truly, this was a tragedy the Greeks would have been proud of.
So Peter decided to devote his powers to stopping other such tragedies from occurring, learning that, ”…With great power there must also come -- great responsibility!” (Easily the most quoted line from a comic.)
So basically, Spider-Man’s career as a hero is based on guilt. But something about Spider-Man had struck a chord with teen comic book readers. They liked the idea of a hero that was just like them, a high schooler with issues that they could relate to. This is what makes Spider-Man so important. Before Spider-Man, superheroes were invincible, and had no real personal lives to speak of. They just did the hero gig all the time. The Fantastic Four were astronauts. The Incredible Hulk was a nuclear physicist. Superman was, well…Superman! Spider-Man revolutionized comic-book storytelling. Not bad for a book whose concept was distasteful.
Spider-Man's superpowers are all related to spiders (as one might expect). Recently, it was revealed that it was not the radiation that gave him his powers. Instead, the spider that bit Peter at the demonstration passed on the powers to Peter so that he could be a totem, or avatar, for spiders in general. Peter didn't know this because the radiation killed the spider before it could tell him. What exactly did the spider give him? He has the proportionate speed and strength of a spider. He sticks to walls, even through thin layers of clothing (or spandex). He has an extra “spider sense” that warns him of danger. In addition to all of these nifty natural powers, Peter created some synthetic webbing that is incredibly strong and sticky, as well as shooters for said webbing. This webbing is how he gets around, swinging from building to building on web-lines. It biodegrades after about an hour.
Throughout the years, Spider-Man has remained one of the most down-to-earth heroes out there. He lost a battle to Doctor Octopus because he had the flu. He grew up and went to college. He was evicted from his apartment. He got married. You get the idea. He’s constantly referred to as a sort of Everyman by writers and fans. This is the biggest part of his appeal.
The Spider-Man section of the Marvel Universe is home to 2 of the only characters in comics to stay dead: Uncle Ben (for obvious reasons), and Gwen Stacy (other than a clone or two). The death of Gwen Stacy was another major moment in comics. Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker's girlfriend, and when she was killed by the Green Goblin, it shocked everyone. Characters that close to the main character almost never died back then. Stan Lee himself has said that he thinks it was a bad idea. Comics lost some of their innocence when Peter lost Gwen.
But Gwen Stacy’s death is only one instance of Peter Parker’s life going badly. Most people in the city think that he’s a menace, thanks to J. Jonah Jameson’s negative (and generally false) reporting in the Daily Bugle. Peter does manage to profit from this by taking pictures of himself as Spider-Man and selling them to the Bugle. He even published a book of his Spider-Man pictures. But because he obviously is able to get close to Spider-Man, several villains have royally screwed up Peter Parker’s life trying to get to Spider-Man (few know the two are the same person); most notably Kraven, the Chameleon, and the Green Goblin.
Still, Spider-Man perseveres, and this refusal to quit is another reason people love Spider-Man. He will always be the most iconic hero in the Marvel Universe, and readers should have no problem finding stories about him: He's had about a dozen monthly series at some point or another, generally with 2 or 3 going at the same time, and in any given year there are 5 or 6 Spider-Man miniseries. Not to mention all of the guest appearances he makes in other Marvel titles, and he's a new Avenger, so he's in that book every month as well. Some would call this overexposure, but his fans will tell you that Spider-Man is a good enough character to shoulder the load.
- Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, by Les Daniels.
- And of course, my own collection of Spider-Man comics.