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The First Appearance of Spider-Man and His Lasting Legacy

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An avid comic collector and fan for nearly 20 years, Vic started collecting comics around eight years old. Comic investing since the 2000s.

Spider-Man

Spider-Man

Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

Spider-Man may not be Marvel's first character to bring the comic publisher back into the superhero genre. However, the first appearance of Spider-Man was absolutely a landmark moment for Marvel Comics, and the character would pave the way for the company and forever change the comic industry as a whole.

When it comes to Marvel Comics, there is arguably no character that captured the hearts of fans worldwide more than Spider-Man. It is barely an argument that Spider-Man can be (and should be) considered Marvel's flagship and most popular character. Don't worry now; I'll prove my point concerning that bold statement as we dive deeper into the character. However, let's cover the Webhead's introduction.

Amazing Fantasy #15 - Steve Ditko cover

Amazing Fantasy #15 - Steve Ditko cover

Spider-Man's Debut in Amazing Fantasy #15

That's right. Amazing Fantasy #15 holds the first appearance of Spider-Man, as well as the debut of his secret identity of Peter Parker. The period of superhero comics prior to Marvel had characters that seemingly neglected the problems of superheroes in their civilian world and only concentrated on the city, town or world catastrophes that plagued their superhero identities.

His Origin Story

This could not be said of Peter Parker, and the way that young Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man in this very issue was a new concept in the world of comics. In the origin story told in Amazing Fantasy #15, we saw a teenage Peter Parker who was not overly masculine or heroic-looking. Actually, he looked like a scrawny, normal teen, but he was not your everyday normal kid, either.

Peter Parker was your everyday normal misfit. You know, the kids who don't fit in and who are often picked on and bullied by those who have high social currency. Peter was just that: a scrawny and smart geek that was often humiliated and belittled by one popular jock named Flash Thompson. He was also shy and not popular with the ladies.

In essence, Peter and Spider-Man were not perfect. In fact, shortly after Peter gained his spider powers from being bitten by a radioactive spider, he didn't set off to save humanity from the evils of the world. No, Parker plotted to personally profit off his newfound abilities and become a celebrity. After testing his powers to be able to last in the ring for three minutes against the wrestler Crusher Hogan, a businessman convinced Peter to get into show businesses, and the young lad created a Spidey costume and web-shooters to dazzle audiences with.

After a TV performance, Peter allowed a thief to bypass him. When confronted by a cop in pursuit of the thief as to why he didn't help nab the crook, Peter simply told him it wasn't his job and he was only looking out for himself. When his Uncle Ben was killed in a robbery, Peter later found out the murderer was the very thief he let go. Racked with extreme guilt, Peter learned that he was in part responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben.

How Spider-Man Revolutionized Comic Characters

Guilt and consequences would be themes for not only the comic character of Spider-Man, but for all comic characters henceforth. Yes, the character revolutionized the way comic characters were approached and written. After all, "With great power comes great responsibility."

It was these characteristics that made Peter Parker so relatable to so many fans so quickly, and according to Stan Lee, he purposely went against the grain. Like all good things that go against the status quo, there was resistance.

The Struggle to Create Spider-Man

The irony of Spider-Man first appearing in Amazing Fantasy #15 is that the comic title was being canceled. Spider-Man getting a feature in the comic was really a try-out attempt. If comic fans didn't take to the character, no big deal since the title was ending anyway. Spidey could've easily been a one-off character to forever disappear in the dust bin of Marvel's failed creations.

Even the idea of Spider-Man was rebuked by Stan Lee's boss, Martin Goodman. In fact, Goodman even chastised Stan for such an absurd idea.

He took great pains to tell me that a hero cannot be a teenager; teenagers can only be sidekicks. Also, everyone knows a hero doesn't have a lot of personal problems.

— Stan Lee on Martin Goodman's reaction in the book "Excelsior!"

On top of saying that superheroes couldn't be teens and real heroes don't have a lot of personal problems in comics, Goodman also emphasized his points that real heroes are too busy fighting evil and that the name "Spider-Man" was terrible since people hated spiders.

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However, Stan Lee recognized the market for comics was quickly shifting towards a teenage market, and the prior success of Fantastic Four convinced him that creating superheroes that teens could relate to was the smart move. Undeterred with creating a "hard-luck kid" type of character who was nerdy, struck out with the ladies, and actually had real-world problems on top of fighting evil, Stan set out to find an artist to complete his vision.

His first choice was Jack "the King" Kirby. According to Stan, he told Jack his ideas and then sent him to make it happen. However, Stan didn't like the way Jack Kirby drew Peter Parker. He was too heroic and too chiseled and masculine, not the scrawny, baby-faced, teenager he envisioned. Stan then brought the concept to Steve Ditko and voila! Peter Parker and his origin of becoming Spider-Man debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 and history was made.

Webhead's Impact on Marvel Comics

Remember when I said that Spidey was Marvel's flagship character? Well, I'm about to get into why I made that bold statement. Spidey was one of the few Marvel characters to headline three on-going comic titles simultaneously. Well, no doubt that Stan Lee was right in that the concept of Peter Parker was a smash hit. In fact, that issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 was such a success that Martin Goodman played it off like it was on board from the get go. Amazing how stuff like that happens.

So why is Spidey the flagship character of Marvel Comics? Well, in the world of comics, there are several problems that publishers and creators face. As mentioned before, Peter Parker started off as a teenager to appeal to teenagers. However, thirty years later, Peter can't just stay a teenager in the stories. How many times can you freeze a character like a Captain America, right?

Another dilemma is that times change and therefore so does relevancy. In the '60s and '70s, Vietnam was raging. In the 2000s, it was the War on Terror in the Middle East for Americans. I mean, some kid today isn't going to relate all that much to a comic character's continual problem of replacing a tape cassette of License to Ill because the tape player ate the tape when kids today are rockin' MP3s on their phones. Some kids today haven't even seen a tape recorder unless it was a reissue of a Generation 1 Soundwave action figure that their folks bought for themselves.

So, characters age and comics have to keep up with the times. Furthermore, comics have to deal with the constant problem of becoming stale and losing interest from readers. How is this mainly dealt with?

Spider-Man's Multiverse Appearances

Multiverses. Yes, alternate universes. Peter Parker too old in mainstream continuity? Well, he has alternate version in the Ultimate universe. No joke. That's how the Ultimate universe came about. Who was the character Marvel used to launch that universe back in 2000? That's right! It was your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, a.k.a Peter Parker.

Ultimate Spider-Man #1 - cover by Joe Quesada and Steve Firchow

Ultimate Spider-Man #1 - cover by Joe Quesada and Steve Firchow

But let's rewind slightly further back to 1998. The MC2 universe, or Marvel Comics 2 line, was created and spun off from a What If story about the daughter of Spider-Man, May Parker. Guess what title was the first to come out for the MC2? Yep, it was Spider-Girl, the daughter of Peter Parker, Spider-Man.

What If #105 - Cover by Ron Frenz

What If #105 - Cover by Ron Frenz

Rewind even further and you have the 2099 Universe. Spider-Man 2099 was the comic to kick off that alternate Marvel Universe as well. Go back more to What If #1 in 1976, and it would be a story about if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four to kick off that world of Marvel.

Spider-Man 2099 #1 cover by Rick Leonardi and Al Williamson

Spider-Man 2099 #1 cover by Rick Leonardi and Al Williamson

The Cultural Impact of Spider-Man

Spider-Man has captured the hearts of millions world-wide. First it was through the medium of comics, but the character later branched off into other forms of media such as animated cartoons, TV shows, books, and live-action movies. Danny Seagren was the first actor to portray Spider-Man live-action in Spidey Super Stories, a skit from The Electric Company that I remember watching and hoping to see as a kid. I remember Nicholas Hammond starring in the Spider-Man TV movies back in the 80s and marveling at how they got him to climb up walls like that.

Spider-Man's first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15is one of the major comic grails to own for many comic collectors and comic investors. It is, perhaps, the most valuable Marvel comics to come out of the Silver Age.

He is one of my favorite characters. I love the dichotomy of how shy and reserved Peter is in real life, but how much more out-going and a wise ass he is disguised as Spider-Man. It seems like such an obvious trope now, but comic superheroes had little differences between their civilian personalities and superhero identities in comics prior to Marvel and Spider-Man. For many, he begins the flawed hero archetype in comics, the hero that allowed readers to feel okay in not being perfect because he was far from it too. However, he still inspires those to aspire, cause...

With great power there must also come—great responsibility!"

— Stan Lee, Spider-Man story in "Amazing Fantasy #15"

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© 2022 Vic

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