Back Issues: Spider-Man swings back into spotlight

‘Far From Home’ in theaters now

Another studio held the movie rights to Spider-Man as the Marvel Cinematic Universe grew around Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and (this still sounds weird) the Guardians of the Galaxy. But in the comics, he was — and perhaps on some level will always be — the biggest star.

As part of an ongoing agreement with Sony Pictures, the wall-crawler’s second MCU feature, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” is in theaters now.

Peter Parker was introduced in a sub-plot in “Captain America: Civil War” and his role expanded in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which managed the impressive feat of not looking like any of the previous five blockbusters starring the character and still being a quintessential Spider-Man movie.

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spidey debuted in 1962’s “Amazing Fantasy” #15, the last issue of the title. The story goes that then-Marvel publisher Martin Goodman didn’t care for Lee’s pitch for an arachnid-powered teen hero, until the sales numbers for that issue were tallied.

Most people know the origin, so much so that “Homecoming” barely touched on it. High school wallflower Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider, endowing him with superhuman strength and agility, the ability to stick to walls and ceilings and a “spider-sense” that warned him of danger. The youngster used these abilities to make money as a professional wrestler and entertainer until a criminal he’d failed to stop because he didn’t think it was his problem shot and killed his Uncle Ben.

At that point, Peter took his uncle’s lesson of “With great power comes great responsibility” to heart and used his abilities to help others — no matter how often that choice blew up in his face.

Peter Parker is the Charlie Brown of the superhero set: He means well and tries hard, but that doesn’t always translate to success, or respect.

In “Amazing Spider-Man” #1, Peter is branded a phony by The Daily Bugle, despite saving the life of the Publisher J. Jonah Jameson’s son. Trying to cash a check from one of his pre-hero performances, he’s turned down by a bank teller since it’s made out to “Spider-Man” and it could be anybody under that mask.

Later, to help make ends meet, Peter starts selling photos of Spider-Man to the Bugle, earning money by providing the visual elements for Jameson to continue to skewer him. (As a side note, I find the idea of Parker getting spectacular pictures with a webbed-up camera snapping automatically far less believable than the whole crawling-on-walls thing.)

Doing the right thing in his costumed identity often meant headaches or worse for the unmasked part of Peter’s life. He constantly found himself unable to make it to school and social obligations and was afraid to confess his alter ego to his elderly Aunt May, due to her frail health.

Meanwhile, many of the villains Peter faced off against had secret identities of their own, some very close to Peter. The Green Goblin, for example, was his best friend’s dad (and later the friend himself), and Aunt May very nearly married Doctor Octopus. The reveal of (three-year-old spoiler alert) the Vulture as the father of Peter’s date in “Homecoming,” while not comic canon, was as genuine a Spidey moment as has ever been captured on film.

The newer movies owe a lot to the 21st century reinvention of Spider-Man in Marvel’s “Ultimate” comics, which focused on Peter in high school. He graduated fairly early in the original comic book history, but the Ultimate line played up his youth, with artist Mark Bagley rendering him smaller than his other superhuman counterparts.

The way in which other heroes view Spider-Man in the comics varies. Often, he’s seen as the class clown, grating on fellow heroes and villains alike with his wisecracks. But he’s also an elder statesman in the main comics and finally joining the Avengers (as well as the Fantastic Four) in recent years seems to have underscored that status.


Recommended Reading

* “Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man” Vol. 1 — The origin and first appearance of Spider-Man, who as an awkward teenager with money problems, was a little different from the other superheroes of the day.

* “Ultimate Spider-Man: Power and Responsibility” — This 21st century update to the origin of Spider-Man launched Marvel’s Ultimate comics line and is an influence on the most recent films.

* “Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide” Vol. 1 — For something completely different: Longtime Spidey writer Dan Slott sets Peter Parker up as a billionaire tech mogul. Will he still be the same hero he always has been?