Spider-Man turns 60 years old this month. He’s as boyish as ever.
By George Gene Gustines
This year several Marvel heroes are turning 60: While the Hulk (March) may be incredible, Thor (this month) mighty and Iron Man (December) invincible, the amazing Spider-Man was one of the first Marvel heroes to seep into the public’s consciousness.
Spidey, as he is popularly known, made his comic book debut on June 5, 1962, and his story was quickly spun into cartoons and live-action television. Before he became a movie-franchise fixture, he was in segments of “The Electric Company” and had his own prime-time series, 1977-79, starring Nicholas Hammond. The wallcrawler has even inspired a somewhat troubled Broadway musical.
In honor of his 60th birthday, I lit a spider-signal on social media, asking fans to recommend their favorite stories. Dan Slott, who wrote Spider-Man for 10 years, playfully recommended one of his own: “They should start with Superior Spider-Man and stop right before Peter gets his body back. The End.”
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko pack a lot into the 12-cent Amazing Fantasy comic introducing Peter Parker and his alter ego, Spider-Man. It is the story we all know now: Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, his Uncle Ben is fatally shot during a burglary and he learns that “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Fun fact: The original artwork was anonymously donated to the Library of Congress, where visitors can see it in person.
Gwen Stacy emerged in 1965 as a love interest for Peter. Their relationship ended in tragedy in this issue, when she was abducted and killed in a battle with the Green Goblin, one of Spider-Man’s arch foes. In 2014, readers were introduced to another Gwen, one from a parallel universe where she was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spider-Woman, a.k.a. Spider-Gwen. These days she goes by Ghost-Spider.
In this comic, the hero makes a surprise visit to Tim Harrison, a 9-year-old who is mentioned in a newspaper as being the wallcrawler’s biggest fan. When the youngster asks Spider-Man who he really is, the hero hesitates, then unmasks. (On the last page, it’s revealed that Tim is in a cancer clinic and has weeks to live.)
Spider-Man’s new black-and-white costume, which debuted in this issue, had more than meets the eye. The new look turned out to be an alien being that tried to possess the hero. (The alien evolved into Venom, a character who would be featured in live-action films.) Readers learned the back story of the black costume in Marvel’s Secret Wars. The original art of the page in which the costume first appeared was auctioned for $3.36 million in January.
“Face it, Tiger. You just hit the jackpot!” were the first words spoken by Mary Jane Watson to Peter Parker in 1966. More than two decades later, she said “I do.” It was a marriage that was presented in comics, in the Spider-Man newspaper strip, and portrayed by actors in a mock ceremony at Shea Stadium, a fitting venue for Peter, a Queens native. The wedding dress was by Willi Smith, a fashion designer who died just before the comic was released.
Marvel’s Ultimate line was a fresh take on its flagship heroes, reintroducing them for modern times free of decades of accumulated lore. First up was Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, who would set a record of 111 consecutive issues on a Marvel series. This version of Spidey, ahem, ultimately died but not before passing the torch in 2011 to Miles Morales.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Marvel wrestled with how its heroes, many of whom are based in New York, would react. The result was this issue, whose cover went dark. Inside is Spider-Man, with captions that read: “Some things are beyond words. Beyond Comprehension. Beyond Forgiveness.” Last year, 20 years after the attacks, Marvel published an eight-page story featuring Spider-Man and Captain America reflecting on that day.
A war between Captain America and Iron Man over civil liberties had unexpected consequences for Spider-Man, who believed in a government registry for heroes and unmasked himself to show his support for it. Aunt May paid the price for Peter’s revelation — she was shot by someone targeting him. To save her, Peter made a deal with a devil: The demon Mephisto would save May and undo Spider-Man’s unmasking, but the cost would be erasing his marriage to Mary Jane.
Can a villain do better than a hero? Dr. Octopus, a longtime enemy of Spider-Man, thinks so: He seemingly kills the hero and takes over his body, costume and mission. Dr. Octopus vows to do a better job of protecting New York City. He fails, of course, but some good comes of it: As Peter, Doc Ock returns to Empire State University and gets his doctorate.
This issue, written and drawn by Chip Zdarsky, is about a Spider-Man documentary that offers a glimpse of the everyday New Yorkers who have encountered him — fans and those who distrust him. In an interview for the documentary, Peter Parker — who often supplied photos of Spidey to The Daily Bugle — has the last word, reflecting on Spider-Man’s inability to save everyone. But, he says, no matter what, he is “never going to stop trying.”