Thanks largely to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and SamuraiFrog’s series of blog posts on Marvel Comics, I’ve gained somewhat of an interest in reading some of the classic superhero material. It doesn’t appear that the Brooklyn library system has all that much of it, although it can be difficult to search for because a simple keyword search for the name of a popular hero can bring a lot of irrelevant results, and even the relevant ones have been reprinted in several different volumes. I did, however, manage to check out The Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 1, a 2013 publication in the Marvel Masterworks series that collects Spidey’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy and the stories from the first ten issues of his own magazine, omitting the letters pages and other such content. Spider-Man was a clever character in reflecting the stereotypical comic reader of the time, a nerdy teenage boy who has trouble getting along with his peers. It’s partially wish fulfillment, yet at the same time gaining super powers doesn’t get rid of his problems. He has money woes and general teenage awkwardness, and was of course largely goaded into crime-fighting by the murder of his Uncle Ben. The basics of the character are introduced quite early on, including J. Jonah Jameson’s vendetta against Spidey and Peter Parker’s job taking photographs for Jameson.
I’ve never been entirely sure how all of his powers relate to actual spiders, but there’s some justification for most of it. He has the proportionate strength of a spider, which is able to lift about eight times its weight, although Peter can actually lift a lot more than that. The agility and wall-climbing are obvious, and even his spider sense is said to be related to how spiders have hairs that can sense vibrations in surfaces and the air. One thing a radioactive spider bite DIDN’T give him, at least according to the original story, was the ability to spin webs. He had to make the web-shooters himself, because that’s totally believable for a teenage boy. Okay, so most of it isn’t realistic, but I think that somewhat stretches the willing suspension of belief, and suspension is partially what spider webs are about. Besides, when you think of spider-related super powers, wouldn’t spinning webs come way before precognition? The Sam Raimi films gave Spidey biological web-shooters, but I believe the more recent movies stick with the homemade ones. Peter finds a lot of different uses for his webbing in these first few books, including making swamp shoes and fake monsters.
Peter is pitted against a lot of different villains in just these issues: the Chameleon (who actually doesn’t have any super powers, just rubber masks), the Vulture, the Lizard, Electro, the Sandman, and Dr. Octopus; as well as a malfunctioning robot, aliens, and gangsters. Not surprisingly, it’s the bad guys who have weird powers of their own, either through inventions of their own or accidents, who have become his better-known opponents. Most of them are either scientists or laymen who stumbled into scientific experiments. His wisecracks when fighting are a significant part of the character, and it’s pretty much stated that his swagger is often to disguise how unsure he really is, although he does get genuinely cocky at times.
He’s also established as part of a larger superhero universe, with his coming into contact with the Fantastic Four a few times (he and Johnny Storm have a bit of a rivalry), fighting Dr. Doom, and mentioning Ant-Man. Apparently Spidey is going to appear in later Marvel Cinematic Universe films, although I couldn’t say whether they’re going to make them follow-ups to either of the recent series or just start him from scratch. Regardless, I don’t think we need to see him gain his powers and learn about responsibility again. We already know about that.