Spider-Man is a fictional character, a comic book superhero that appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. In the comics, Spider-Man is often referred to as “Spidey”, “web-slinger”, “wall-crawler”, or “web-head”. Created by writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Steve Ditko, he first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962). Lee and Ditko conceived the character as an orphan being raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and as a teenager, having to deal with the normal struggles of adolescence in addition to those of a costumed crimefighter. Spider-Man’s creators gave him super strength and agility, the ability to cling to most surfaces, shoot spider-webs using wrist-mounted devices of his own invention which he called “web-shooters”, and react to danger quickly with his “spider-sense”, enabling him to combat his foes.
When Spider-Man first appeared in the early 1960s, teenagers in superhero comic books were usually relegated to the role of sidekick to the protagonist. The Spider-Man series broke ground by featuring Peter Parker, a teenage high school student and person behind Spider-Man’s secret identity to whose “self-obsessions with rejection, inadequacy, and loneliness” young readers could relate. Unlike previous teen heroes such as Bucky and Robin, Spider-Man did not benefit from being the protégé of any adult superhero mentors like Captain America and Batman, and thus had to learn for himself that “with great power there must also come great responsibility”—a line included in a text box in the final panel of the first Spider-Man story, but later retroactively attributed to his guardian, the late Uncle Ben.
Marvel has featured Spider-Man in several comic book series, the first and longest-lasting of which is titled The Amazing Spider-Man. Over the years, the Peter Parker character has developed from shy, nerdy high school student to troubled but outgoing college student, to married high school teacher to, in the late 2000s, a single freelance photographer, his most typical adult role. In the 2010s he joins the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero teams. In December 2012 Peter Parker died while his mind was in the body of his enemy Doctor Octopus while Doctor Octopus lived on inside of Peter Parker’s body as The Superior Spider-Man.
Spider-Man is one of the most popular and commercially successful superheroes. As Marvel’s flagship character and company mascot, he has appeared in many forms of media, including several animated and live-action television shows, syndicated newspaper comic strips, and a series of films starring Tobey Maguire as the “friendly neighborhood” hero in the first three movies. Andrew Garfield has taken over the role of Spider-Man in a reboot of the films. Reeve Carney stars as Spider-Man in the 2010 Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Spider-Man placed 3rd on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time in 2011.
Creation and development
In 1962, with the success of the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee was casting about for a new superhero idea. He said the idea for Spider-Man arose from a surge in teenage demand for comic books, and the desire to create a character with whom teens could identify. In his autobiography, Lee cites the non-superhuman pulp magazine crime fighter the Spider (see also The Spider’s Web and The Spider Returns) as a great influence,:130 and in a multitude of print and video interviews, Lee stated he was further inspired by seeing a spider climb up a wall—adding in his autobiography that he has told that story so often he has become unsure of whether or not this is true. Looking back on the creation of Spider-Man, 1990s Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco stated he did not believe that Spider-Man would have been given a chance in today’s comics world, where new characters are vetted with test audiences and marketers. At that time, however, Lee had to get only the consent of Marvel publisher Martin Goodman for the character’s approval.7:9 In a 1986 interview, Lee described in detail his arguments to overcome Goodman’s objections. Goodman eventually agreed to let Lee try out Spider-Man in the upcoming final issue of the canceled science-fiction and supernatural anthology series Amazing Adult Fantasy, which was renamed Amazing Fantasy for that single issue, #15 (Aug. 1962).8:95
Comics historian Greg Theakston says that Lee, after receiving Goodman’s approval for the name Spider-Man and the “ordinary teen” concept, approached artist Jack Kirby. Kirby told Lee about an unpublished character on which he collaborated with Joe Simon in the 1950s, in which an orphaned boy living with an old couple finds a magic ring that granted him superhuman powers. Lee and Kirby “immediately sat down for a story conference” and Lee afterward directed Kirby to flesh out the character and draw some pages. Steve Ditko would be the inker. When Kirby showed Lee the first six pages, Lee recalled, “I hated the way he was doing it! Not that he did it badly—it just wasn’t the character I wanted; it was too heroic”.9:12 Lee turned to Ditko, who developed a visual style Lee found satisfactory. Ditko recalled:
One of the first things I did was to work up a costume. A vital, visual part of the character. I had to know how he looked … before I did any breakdowns. For example: A clinging power so he wouldn’t have hard shoes or boots, a hidden wrist-shooter versus a web gun and holster, etc. … I wasn’t sure Stan would like the idea of covering the character’s face but I did it because it hid an obviously boyish face. It would also add mystery to the character….
Although the interior artwork was by Ditko alone, Lee rejected Ditko’s cover art and commissioned Kirby to pencil a cover that Ditko inked. As Lee explained in 2010, “I think I had Jack sketch out a cover for it because I always had a lot of confidence in Jack’s covers.”
In an early recollection of the character’s creation, Ditko described his and Lee’s contributions in a mail interview with Gary Martin published in Comic Fan #2 (Summer 1965): “Stan Lee thought the name up. I did costume, web gimmick on wrist & spider signal.” At the time, Ditko shared a Manhattan studio with noted fetish artist Eric Stanton, an art-school classmate who, in a 1988 interview with Theakston, recalled that although his contribution to Spider-Man was “almost nil”, he and Ditko had “worked on storyboards together and I added a few ideas. But the whole thing was created by Steve on his own… I think I added the business about the webs coming out of his hands”.9:14
Kirby disputed Lee’s version of the story, and claimed Lee had minimal involvement in the character’s creation. According to Kirby, the idea for Spider-Man had originated with Kirby and Joe Simon, who in the 1950s had developed a character called the Silver Spider for the Crestwood Publications comic Black Magic, who was subsequently not used. Simon, in his 1990 autobiography, disputed Kirby’s account, asserting that Black Magic was not a factor, and that he (Simon) devised the name “Spider-Man” (later changed to “The Silver Spider”), while Kirby outlined the character’s story and powers. Simon later elaborated that his and Kirby’s character conception became the basis for Simon’s Archie Comics superhero the Fly. Artist Steve Ditko stated that Lee liked the name Hawkman from DC Comics, and that “Spider-Man” was an outgrowth of that interest.
Simon concurred that Kirby had shown the original Spider-Man version to Lee, who liked the idea and assigned Kirby to draw sample pages of the new character but disliked the results—in Simon’s description, “Captain America with cobwebs”. Writer Mark Evanier notes that Lee’s reasoning that Kirby’s character was too heroic seems unlikely—Kirby still drew the covers for Amazing Fantasy #15 and the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Evanier also disputes Kirby’s given reason that he was “too busy” to also draw Spider-Man in addition to his other duties since Kirby was, said Evanier, “always busy”.:127 Neither Lee’s nor Kirby’s explanation explains why key story elements like the magic ring were dropped; Evanier states that the most plausible explanation for the sudden change was that Goodman, or one of his assistants, decided that Spider-Man as drawn and envisioned by Kirby was too similar to the Fly.:127
Author and Ditko scholar Blake Bell writes that it was Ditko who noted the similarities to the Fly. Ditko recalled that, “Stan called Jack about the Fly”, adding that “days later, Stan told me I would be penciling the story panel breakdowns from Stan’s synopsis”. It was at this point that the nature of the strip changed. “Out went the magic ring, adult Spider-Man and whatever legend ideas that Spider-Man story would have contained”. Lee gave Ditko the premise of a teenager bitten by a spider and developing powers, a premise Ditko would expand upon to the point he became what Bell describes as “the first work for hire artist of his generation to create and control the narrative arc of his series”. On the issue of the initial creation, Ditko states, “I still don’t know whose idea was Spider-Man”. Kirby noted in a 1971 interview that it was Ditko who “got Spider-Man to roll, and the thing caught on because of what he did”. Lee, while claiming credit for the initial idea, has acknowledged Ditko’s role, stating, “If Steve wants to be called co-creator, I think he deserves [it]”. Writer Al Nickerson believes “that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the Spider-Man that we are familiar with today [but that] ultimately, Spider-Man came into existence, and prospered, through the efforts of not just one or two, but many, comic book creators”.
In 2008, an anonymous donor bequeathed the Library of Congress the original 24 pages of Ditko art of Amazing Fantasy #15, including Spider-Man’s debut and the stories “The Bell-Ringer”, “Man in the Mummy Case”, and “There Are Martians Among Us”