A Spider-Man For All Seasons, Part 1 - Mania.com

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A Spider-Man For All Seasons, Part 1

A look back at 40 years of amazing adventures from the creators who made Spidey a hero

By Arnold T. Blumberg     August 24, 2002

None of us ever had the character to ourselves - not really. From early in his illustrious crime-fighting career, there was a steadily increasing number of avid fans thrilling to his tragedy-tinged adventures. But sometimes, sitting alone with a stack of Spider-Man comics, it felt like his tales of web-spinning derring-do were just for the entertainment of one happy reader. You see, the Fantastic Four watched over the entire Earth and occasionally the cosmos; Captain America fought for his country and American ideals; the Hulk only cared about himself; but Spider-Man? He was out there swinging through the city streets and bashing the bad guys for you.

Spider-Man looks in disbelief at what used to be the World Trade Center in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36

That's how it felt anyway, and it's that personal identification that so energized the Spider-Man saga and explains his Everyman appeal to this day. For four decades, he's quipped his way through countless battles, upheld the principles of personal responsibility and a greater sense of justice, conquered just about every medium on the planet, and become one of the most recognized pop culture icons of the 20th century and beyond. That's quite a legacy for a character that was almost nothing more than an afterthought way back in August 1962. When bookworm and wallflower Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, first appeared in the pages of AMAZING FANTASY #15, one of many horror/sci-fi anthologies by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and other Marvel stalwarts, his first adventure was shoehorned in because the series was ending and no one expected anything to come of this creepy teen with a tragic origin. Boy were they wrong!

The end of the road for the Green Goblin...or was it? AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122.

Perhaps it's that Everyman quality we mentioned earlier that saved Spider-Man from the oblivion of cancellation, gave him his own title and eventually enabled him to build a mini-Marvel empire of several concurrent titles, team-ups, cameos, annuals, one-shots, mini- and maxi-series, and much more.

"He's the most 'realistic' of the superheroes," says Spidey's co-creator, Stan Lee. "Most readers think, 'Hey, that could be me if I were bitten by a strange spider!'"

Certainly it's that sensibility that is the core of the new ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN version of the character as well, a younger and slightly hipper version of Parker scripted by Brian Michael Bendis.

The first appearance of the Green Goblin in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #14.

"We as a society love to root for the underdog," says Bendis. "We know that if we had superpowers, we would still have the everyday problems that everyone else has. The idea, 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility,' is almost religious in its universal truth. And he's a pretty funny guy with kick ass powers."

That motto, part of the Spider-Man credo since his very first appearance, forms the fundamental morality that has seen Peter through crises of career and faith, from the loss of his uncle and then his first true love, Gwen Stacy, to the death of his Aunt May (unfortunately, she got better), to the recent separation from his wife, Mary Jane. Despite all the tragedy in his life, Peter remains true to the belief that his great power must be utilized to protect the innocent and preserve justice, even if it means that he himself must suffer. But hey, the guy also has some fun too!

John Romita Sr. & Jr. united for the cover of the new Amazing Spider-Man #1

"Spider-Man is one of the great comic characters, right up there with Superman, Batman and Captain America, and arguably the greatest to come out of postwar America," says former Spider-scribe Roger Stern. "He's the introspective 'Urban Trickster' character. He was the first super-hero to really question what he was doing and why he was doing it. He has that serious, angst-ridden, 'Great
Power/Great Responsibility' side, but he's still a lot fun. Once he puts on that mask, he's liable to say or do anything. And, come on, wouldn't it be a total kick to be Spider-Man? Or at least to have his powers?"

"Peter Parker was and is an awkward teenager who becomes a superhero," adds John Romita Jr., son of the legendary AMAZING SPIDER-MAN artist and himself an accomplished illustrator of the wall-crawler's exploits. "He was considered a nerd and despite his powers, still has the problems that go along with adolescence. Everyone can identify with Spidey. This is the novelty of the character. This is what all kids fantasize about. This also had never been done in comics before - the chance to be a superhero while going through the toughest part of your life."

Kirsten Dunst stars as Mary Jane Watson in SPIDER-MAN

For Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada, the very fact that Marvel zeroed in on the man behind the mask was key to Spider-Man's success and longevity.

"There is that [Everyman quality]," says Quesada. "But also keep in mind that at the time that the Peter Parker persona was developed, what made him a milestone for Marvel was the fact that the company decided to focus more on the alter ego than on the guy in the suit. There's a gigantic difference between Peter Parker and Cark Kent or Bruce Wayne, which were the predecessors."

"Clark Kent is an act put on by Superman," adds Quesada. "He isn't really this sort of nebbish kind of guy. He puts on that particular persona to steer people away. Batman really isn't this arrogant rich guy. It's a persona he puts on - they're false. Peter Parker is Peter Parker, it's just what he is. It's not a persona the character puts on to steer people away from Spider-Man, and it was that difference - and the fact that he is an Everyman - that ultimately made the character universally appealing."

It's been a long road from AMAZING FANTASY #15 to today, and although there have been dozens of landmark events in the life of our hapless wall-crawler, there have been a number of miserable missteps too - the Clone Saga, anyone? But through it all, the fans have demonstrated the same dedication and determination that Spider-Man himself has often exhibited, sticking with their hero through thick and thin. Now, as we enter a new Golden Age for the character courtesy of the talents of such creators as Paul Jenkins, J. Michael Straczynski, Kevin Smith, John Romita Jr., and many others, it seems that Spider-Man's legacy is indeed in very good hands as he embarks on another chapter in his unending saga. Of course, the fact that a multi-million dollar feature film starring the wall-crawler has shattered box office records and made movie history doesn't hurt.

Tobey Maguire stars in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN

"The thing that we're the proudest of here is that, yeah the movie sure did bring some much-needed attention Spider-Man, but we really helped ourselves," says Quesada. "A year to a year and a half before the movie came out, Spider-Man's sales started taking an upswing. It had nothing to do with the movie - it had everything to do with the creative care that we put behind the character. We can certainly pat ourselves on the back for Spider-Man's success. Again, we welcome the movie's success. You don't have to change the core ideas or the core visuals, just do it and people will want it. Thank God for [SPIDER-MAN director] Sam Raimi - he said 'What Stan and Steve and John and all these guys created is pretty damn good, all I have to do is put it on film.' And he did."

Next time, we take a look at a whole webful of favorite Spider-Man moments chosen by Spider-creators past and present. Join us then, bunky!



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