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Feature: Spider-Man

Amazing!

As an extended version of Spider-Man 2 comes to DVD, we appraise the world wide web of the spidery superhero…

CONSIDERING that spiders give more people the heebie jeebies than any other of God’s creatures, it’s pretty amazing that one of the world’s most beloved superhero characters, challenged only by Superman and Batman, has special powers that mirror those of the creepy little buggers.

An explanation is that Peter Parker’s arachnid abilities are but a small part of the clothes that maketh the (spider) man. Beneath the wall climbing, web spinning skills – which, of course, are very cool – lies that rarest of fantasy characters, a normal human being we can identify with and have empathy for. A young man whose responsibility to battle deranged villains in the skies of New York plays havoc on his work, financial and romantic commitments. The world’s first reluctant superhero.

Created in the early ’60s by Stan Lee, the enormously popular comic book icon who speaks with the booming resonance of a Shakespearian actor, Spider-Man was his attempt to create a teenage character which would be more reflective of the lives of its young readers. Bitten by a radioactive spider at a science presentation, Peter Parker developed its strength, agility, senses, adhesion and webbing. At first using his new powers to try to find TV fame, a chaos theory-illustrating decision to prevent a thief from getting away leads to the death of his Uncle Ben and an early stint as a vigilante, before accepting his responsibility as a superhero.

His first print appearance came in August 1962 in Amazing Fantasy #15 and, following the immediate excitement it created amongst readers, The Amazing Spider-Man was launched by Marvel Comics in March 1963. Within just over a year, Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko managed to create the foundation stones for the characters that still hold appeal four decades later.

Significant introductions in these early issues include J Jonah Jameson (#1), Doctor Octopus (#3), Sandman (#4), Doctor Doom (#5), Mysterio (#13) and The Green Goblin (#14). His enduring love interest Mary Jane Watson was introduced in issue 25, although, teasingly, the face of Peter’s red-haired object of affection wasn’t actually shown until issue 42. By this time Ditko had been replaced by John Romita – generally considered by fans as the definitive Spider-man artist – and its hero was becoming a worldwide comic book icon.

By 1967 he had reached American television, in animated form, complete with cheesy song featuring a funky bassline and inspired lyrics such as ‘Is he strong? Listen bud/He’s got radioactive blood’ and ‘Wealth and fame? He’s ignored/Action is his reward’. Running for three seasons and 52 episodes (a box-set of the entire run is available on Region 1 DVD), the quality of animation was, to be kind, rather basic, but it stayed true to the comic book characters and is remembered with some affection.

Indeed, even though a handful of other animated incarnations have appeared since – including Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (namely, Iceman and Firestar) in the 1980s, plain old Spider-Man and Spider-Man Unlimited in the 1990s and a brief, CG cel-shaded Spider-Man: The New Animated Series in the 2000s (available on DVD) – when questioned about an animated Spider-Man show it’s the one with that bloody jingle that most would think of.

by Jason Caro

Read more on the Spider-Man movies and phenomenon in
Ultimate DVD #83

Photo © Sony Pictures Entertainment
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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Ultimate DVD #83
May 2007
ships from Apr 11 2007
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