As Marvel celebrates the 50th anniversary or birthday of their greatest superhero Spider-Man, here are some more elements that has best defined everyone’s favorite web-slinging hero. These aspects and many others are the reason why Spider-Man continues to captivate many fans.
A Doubtful Everyman What makes Spider-Man such an endearing hero is the fact that he isn’t the most powerful superhero. He isn’t even the smartest. He gets by with his pluck and determination and sometimes by knowing when to retreat and come back to fight another day.
While he is quite a powerhouse when he puts his mind to it, often he fights more powerful foes or the villains just happen to gain the upper hand. This usually led to bouts of severe doubt. This happened very early in his career in The Amazing Spider-Man # 3, which was the first appearance of his arch nemesis Doctor Octopus. Early in the issue, Spidey easily captured some robbers and he mused to himself that his crimefighting career was too easy. Little did he know that a few pages later he would get a major thumping when he first fought Doctor Octopus. He was so humiliated by his defeat that he considered hanging up his costume until a high school lecture by the Human Torch about not giving up, inspired his alter ego Peter Parker to get back into the fight and eventually defeat Doctor Octopus.
There was another moment when he had to prepare to fight Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man # 78. Most of that issue dealt with Spidey coming to grips that he might not survive the oncoming battle with Doc Ock and was mentally preparing for the ordeal. It was notable because in that issue, Peter took time to say goodbye in his own way to his loved ones. Of course, readers knew that he would come out the winner but he didn’t and his fears and doubts made him very relatable to readers.
Often Peter winds up berating himself over his choices and the consequences from them. He blames himself for his Uncle Ben’s death, for causing his Aunt May so much stress over his disappearances, and so on. The sad thing is that many times Spidey is correct in blaming himself. One of the more boneheaded things to happen to him is that he failed to graduate college (The Amazing Spider-Man # 185) because he didn’t have the required credits and didn’t notice this due to his superhero activities.
When it comes to his anguish nothing could top the aftermath of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s death in The Amazing Spider-Man # 121. In that infamous issue, the Green Goblin kidnapped Gwen to lure Spider-Man to the George Washington Bridge. At one point, the Green Goblin tossed her off the bridge and Spidey snagged her with his webbing. As he pulled her back up, he was congratulating himself on having saved his girlfriend. But what he didn’t realize was that his action actually snapped her neck and killed her. The issues that followed illustrated his rage and grief and to this day, he’s has been shown to be still haunted by her death as would any one of us.
Supporting Cast Unlike many superheroes Spider-Man has been blessed with an excellent supporting cast. Starting with his Aunt May, always on the verge of death until recent writers realized that plot point was used once too often. She first came off as an overbearing mother type, but over time, May Parker learned to let go of Peter and became supportive of him. May had an intriguing development where she learned of her nephew’s secret identity following a brutal battle he had with Morlun (The Amazing Spider-Man # 35, Volume II). However, her knowledge of Peter’s secret identity was undone by the infamous “One More Day” storyline that rebooted the Spider-Man universe.
The most glaring casualty of the reboot was the dissolution of Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson. Aside from Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane is Peter’s greatest love and ever since her first full introduction (The Amazing Spider-Man # 42) she rocked his world and won over many readers with her flash and verve. Mary Jane was there to pick up the pieces after Gwen died. Her most shocking revelation came at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man # 257 when she admitted to Peter that she always knew he was Spider-Man. This knowledge was a barrier to their on-again-off again relationship, but they eventually married. Naturally, his Spider-Man activities conflicted with his domestic life to the point that she left him at one point (The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2001), though they later reconciled. Foolishly, TPTB at Marvel Comics decreed that Spider-Man couldn’t be married because they felt the marriage plot line was stale. Hence the “One More Day” story where Spider-Man made a deal with Mephisto to save his Aunt May at the cost of his marriage. But even though they aren’t married in the new timeline, it was shown in recent issues that they still have feelings for each other, so it may not be over.
The new timeline also resurrected his best friend Harry Osborn. First introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #31, Harry became Peter’s best friend, even though Peter knew that Harry’s father, Norman, was the Green Goblin. But Harry had his own issues. Plagued by insecurities and an unkind father, Harry suffered drug addiction in The Amazing Spider-Man #s 96-98. Harry later had a mental breakdown after his father’s death and became the new Green Goblin (The Amazing Spider-Man # 136) and this conflicted friendship continued until The Spectacular Spider-Man # 200 where Harry died after saving Spidey’s life. In the post-“One More Day” comic books, Harry never died and has severed ties with his father.
Other notable supporting cast members include Flash Thompson, a high school bully who picked on Peter but is now a disabled veteran and the new Venom; Felicia Hardy, the anti-heroic Black Cat, who loves Spider-Man but not his plain alter ego; Jean DeWolff, a hard bitten detective who had a secret crush on Spider-Man but was tragically killed in the storyline “The Death Of Jean DeWolff” (Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #s 107-110); super rich Max Modell and fellow scientists at Peter’s current job with Horizon Labs; J. Jonah Jameson, Peter’s former boss at the Daily Bugle newspaper who ran crusades for years against Spider-Man but is now the mayor of New York City. Then there was Ben Reilly, Spider-Man’s clone who took up the Spider-Man mantle temporarily at the conclusion of the awful “Clone Saga” storyline. Ben passed himself off as Peter’s cousin and eventually the two men grew close, considering each other as brothers. This all ended in Peter Parker, Spider-Man # 75 when Ben was killed by a resurrected Norman Osborn/Green Goblin.
Hero Worship & Impacts As seen from his stories, Spider-Man has had a pronounced impact on the lives of many people. And he is actually unaware of how profound his impact is, which is the same for all of us. The Amazing Spider-Man #439 takes place in the far future as a historian ponders on Spider-Man’s legendary status. Although some of the historian’s knowledge about Spidey was quite fanciful, the storyline lets readers know that he will be well regarded in the future. Some of the very best Spider-Man stories barely featured him at all, such as Tangled Web # 4. It dealt with an underling of the Kingpin who fails at a task for the crimelord (thanks to Spider-Man’s brief interference) and must pay for his failure with his life. But he’s had more positive influences in other lives, especially those of young boys. In Tangled Web # 10 he barely makes a cameo appearance as the issue concerns itself with two bickering brothers who learn the meaning of heroism from a chance encounter with the Web-Slinger.
But two other tales truly touched readers’ hearts. The first one was in Peter Parker, Spider-Man # 35 Volume II, this story called “Heroes Don’t Cry” features a poor black boy who worships Spider-Man and has an imaginary relationship with him. The ending was very touching as the boy says goodbye to Spidey who then removes his mask…and it’s shown that this imaginary Spider-Man happens to be black. A more well-known heart touching story about hero worship came in a backup story called “the Kid Who Collected Spider-Man” in The Amazing Spider-Man # 248, which was about a young boy who receives an unexpected visit from his hero Spider-Man. We learn that the boy was a big fan of Spidey and in the story Spider-Man opens up to the boy and tells him all about his life. He even goes as far as to reveal his identity to the boy (a rare occurrence back then). At the end of the story, a newspaper article reveals that the boy is actually dying and his last wish was to meet his hero Spider-Man. This was one time that Spidey saw that he’s had a positive impact on the life of someone else. A lesson that we can all learn.
Conclusion Even though Marvel has decided to cancel The Amazing Spider-Man next month with issue # 700, Spider-Man will endure. Marvel plans on releasing a new title called The Superior Spider-Man and fans can still follow his assorted appearances in other titles. But frankly it wouldn’t be a surprise if the title The Amazing Spider-Man will resume sometime in the future with a # 1 slapped on it before Marvel decides to resume the old numbering system. Hopefully this will occur because it helps make fans feel as if they’re part of something really vast and treasured.
Also, as anyone knows, Spider-Man has made a successful transition to other media like books, video games, animated shows, a Broadway musical and blockbuster films. His film franchise was just successfully rebooted this year and a new film will begin filming in February. So his status continues to grow.
Happy Birthday Spider-Man, may you have many more to celebrate!
NOTE: The artwork above was done by the following greats: John Romita, Jr., Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, John Romita, Jr., John Romita, Sal Buscema, Dan Jurgens, Humberto Ramos and Ron Frenz.