Web to the Past: Spider-Man

Logan J. Fowler helps celebrate 50 years of an amazing superhero…

In 1962, editor of Marvel Comics Stan Lee decided to alternate the comic book hero a bit. Instead of having the good guy be of a more mature nature, he decided to have the hero be a teenager dealing with growing pains, but much more than he anticipated. Along with artist Steve Ditko, the two introduced Spider-Man to the world in Amazing Fantasy #15.

Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker, is an orphan teen who resides in a house in Forest Hills, Queens, with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. When Peter’s life is forever changed by a radioactive spider that bites him, he uses his new found arachnid powers for fame and fortune, mostly in the wrestling arena. One fateful night, Peter fails to stop a burglar who escapes from the premises. Peter thinks nothing of it, until he comes to the realization that the same burglar he let go kills his Uncle Ben. Peter accepts this fault as no one else’s but his own, and realizes that
“With Great Power There Must Also Come Great Responsibility,” the adage of Peter’s Uncle Ben. With the phrase utilized the springboard for the comic book hero, Spider-Man spends most of his adventures fighting crime, cracking wise, and most importantly, web slinging his way into reader’s hearts by way of his everyman status.

Spider-Man has one of the best rogue galleries in comic book existence, probably second to Batman (but some would say that’s debatable). Green Goblin, Venom, Sandman, Doc Ock, Electro, Chameleon, Rhino, The Lizard, and Kraven the Hunter are just some of the names in a wide selection of Spider-Man baddies. However, he mostly has help in taking them down with the mysterious Black Cat (who has her fair share of run ins with the law), and of course, many superheroes in the Marvel Universe including Iron Man and Captain America.

Peter hasn’t had a small number of love interests either. Mary Jane Watson, Betty Brant, and Felicia Hardy (the aforementioned Black Cat) have all pined for Pete, or vice versa, but the most important female in Peter’s life is Gwen Stacy. The story arc in Amazing Spider-Man #s 121-122 had Peter’s first love tossed off a bridge by Norman Osborn (Green Goblin), and it is a heavily believed fact that Spider-Man’s web that catches Gwen mid air snaps her neck. This sends Peter into a disturbing mode, vowing to kill Green Goblin. However, when he encounters his love’s kidnapper, he can’t take his life, but the Goblin doesn’t share the same respect. As the villain’s glider heads towards Spider-Man, the web head moves quick, utilizing his spider sense, and Green Goblin’s air transport does the bad guy in.

Speaking of spider sense, that’s just one of the powers Parker has in his arsenal. He can also climb surfaces, mostly the side of skyscrapers, and he can sense oncoming danger (aka the spider sense). In addition, Spidey can jump far distances, is nimble, and shoots webs from his wrists. Since Peter is a scientific genius, he created the web shooters himself, and just replaces the fluid using cartridges.

Spider-Man was far too popular to just stick to the comic book page. Becoming a massive media mogul was only the best next move for the friendly neighborhood wallcrawler. In 1967, five years after Spider-Man made his first comic book appearance, the web head swung across our television screens in an animated TV series. The show contained probably one of the best cartoon theme songs in existence (that’s not bias, folks, it just is that catchy) and while I’m sure the creators of the program might think some in bad taste, animated stills from the show have made their way onto the internet in the form of memes. Google “Spider-Man memes” and you’ll probably discover a ton. Heck, I even have a facebook album devoted to them.

Spidey kept his TV appearances going, even if they didn’t seem to work out that well. In 1977, the webhead had his first live action tv series (I’m not including his appearances on The Electric Company as “first”) in which star Nicholas Hammond portrayed Peter and alter ego Spidey. The show failed to create the atmosphere that was correct for Spider-Man and was axed. The wallcrawler came back on TV screens in 1981 where he had a powerful posse; Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends had Spidey joined by Iceman (of the mutant group the X-Men) and Firestar, and the animated program also featured cameos by familiar members of the Marvel Universe.

In 1994, Spider-Man had his longest running TV show, as the FOX network put the friendly neighborhood good guy on Saturday mornings for all the kids (and a then 11 year old Logan) to enjoy. The show featured a ton of Spidey’s best foes, had a great voice cast, and appearances from a bunch of characters in the Marvel Comics Universe. The skyscrapers had a 3D look at some instances in the program, and while it looks kind of cheesy now, back then the state of art graphics probably got a few folks thinking that they could render CGI buildings in for real ones in a live action Spidey movie.

However, an idea for Spider-Man the movie had been talked about for years prior. At one point James Cameron (Titanic, True Lies, Terminator) had written a script for it, but it pretty much went bust. As everything got ironed out for Spidey’s big screen debut, we left the 90s and hit the 2000s, and by that point Sam Raimi (Evil Dead series) was attached to direct the live action Spider-Man movie. Tobey Maguire (Pleasantville) became the titular Spider-Man, with Kirsten Dunst playing aspiring actress Mary Jane Watson. Willem Dafoe strapped on the (laughable) Green Goblin suit, and James Franco took on the role of Norman’s son as well as Peter’s best friend, Harry. The scene stealer of the film was Daily Bugle editor in chief J. Jonah Jameson, played with gusto by J.K. Simmons. His performance is the comic book character incarnate.

Anyway, Spider-Man’s first movie opened in 2002, and I was there opening Friday. While some scoff at the movie as being overly cheesy, it is still my favorite of the trilogy considering it does most everything right. The night when I saw it, I was like a kid in a candy store. If you don’t know this by now, Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, so seeing him do his thing on the big screen was like a dream come true. The movie pocketed nearly 830 million bucks worldwide, and talk of a sequel was a no-brainer.

I own the above poster. It was actually banned due to the reflection of the World Trade in Spidey’s left eye.

Spider-Man donned his suit again in 2004, and this time, the webhead went toe to toe with Doc Ock, portrayed by Alfred Molina. Featuring a breath taking train sequence, the scope was larger, but in my own personal opinion, the movie trips up a bit. It has an underlying soap opera atmosphere (the “will they or won’t they” between MJ and Peter gets old real fast) and Doc Ock’s character ending was not true to form, even though Molina did a bang up job playing him. The Spider-Man flu is interesting, and provides a threat considering Peter possibility falling to his death (the movies used organic webshooters for the films, NOT homemade ones), but ultimately, the film is kind of over praised as I see it. It has its moments, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like something was off about it.

But nothing was more off than a lot of stuff in Spider-Man 3. As Spider-Man 2 concluded its theatrical run with 783 million dollars, having Spidey swing high from the buildings in cinematic format for a third time was going to happen. Spider-Man 3 opened summer 2007, and I was privy to a free screening a week before the movie even came out! Guess being a geek paid off. And when I walked out of the theater I…

I actually really liked it.

Now hear me out before I lose all credibility as a Spider-Man fan. Love is blind, and I clearly understand that now because I was excited to see Spider-Man on the big screen once again. And I got soaked up in all of it. I’ve grown wiser with age, and upon watching the movie a bit, I’ve realized that it’s a poor excuse for a film, not even basing it off the Spider-Man mythos, but how it utilizes the characters. Plus the casting was genius in some areas (Thomas Haden Church as Sandman, I mean the guy looked exactly like his comic book counterpart) and mind boggling in others (Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom? What?!). Plus top it all off with an eyeliner wearing jazz tapping Peter Parker and there you have it.

In addition, Mary Jane pouts the whole time then is kidnapped (again!) at the end of the movie, Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard) finally shows up but is wasted, and Harry takes up the of the new Green Goblin, only to suffer from amnesia and act like nothing happened. While Osborn is all happy go lucky with Peter and MJ Sandman comes in, and then melts away when attacked with water. Oh, and then Eddie Brock shows up and turns into Venom because Peter wrecked his life and one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes bites the dust in 9 MINUTES AFTER JUST HAVING BECOME THE SADISTIC SYMBIOTIC SOUL.

-sigh-

Despite the third entry pissing off many fans, it was the highest grossing entry in the series (worldwide) and talk of a fourth Spider-Man movie was underway. However, once Sony and Raimi got into problems about the next Spidey saga, Raimi jumped ship, and no talk was ever heard of regarding the fourth film again.

But what about a reboot? With Sony still holding the rights to the adventurous arachnid, the company decided to start the Spider-Man story from scratch, wiping off the slate of anything that came before, especially the third entry. Much to the groans of the fan base, Sony put in motion the notion to give Spider-Man a fresh cast, a fresh look, and a fresh approach. A mere 5 years after Spider-Man 3 was released, your friendly neighborhood wallcrawler will be back in theaters this summer, with the title being The Amazing Spider-Man. Directed by Marc Webb, who helmed the indie-style hit 500 Days of Summer, the movie focuses on Peter’s estranged relationship with his parents, namely his father, who worked alongside the one armed Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Parker also is placed back in high school and his origin story is retold, focusing more on his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, a welcome change from Dunst).

When Connors creates a science experiment utilizing Lizard DNA to grow his arm back, he turns into the villainous Lizard, and it’s up to Peter, aka Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) to put a stop to him. The cast also features Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May, and the inspired casting of Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy, Gwen’s father, and ultimately, the voice of authority who tries to put Spider-Man behind bars. The cast is dynamite for sure, but is a revisit to the Spider-Man origin story worth slapping down money if, let’s be honest, the first Raimi film came out only a mere 10 years ago?

That’s what Sony is hoping. That’s what a good number of fans are hoping. It’s what I’m hoping. Truth be told, I will be seeing The Amazing Spider-Man opening weekend, but in the beginning, when the first trailers were sprung on us, I was doubtful. And that was a semi bad sign, as anything tied to the wallcrawler’s world normally gets me excited. However, as time passes and gets closer, I have to say I am pretty pumped for the film. I think Garfield nails the look and behavior of my favorite superhero, and the effects look slick, sans the Lizard, he still looks bogus. The darker tone that they are utilizing may make or break the film, but I hope that the new direction and the solid members involved make Spidey swing higher than he ever could in Raimi’s vision. I’ll make sure to detail all the pros and cons of the movie when I review it for the site in due time.

On a personal note, I discovered Spidey back in high school at a time in my life when I was severely bullied for something that really meant a lot to me. It was an outlet of sorts, and while I won’t get too deep into the story, let it just me known that it affected me very negatively, how I was treated. But when I discovered that Peter Parker was just like I was, a bullied teen, a troubled soul, it really made me hopeful that I was understood, even in a fictional format. Spider-Man means so much to me that I have a spider web tattoo inked into my left bicep, an iconic reminder that no matter how hard life gets, something good is waiting for me. I have loved seeing Spider-Man on billboards, back packs, painted on kids faces, etc, because he is a true hero to me personally, one that pulled me out of a metaphorical life ditch. I just want to see his newest movie succeed because as a fan I am wishing the best for my favorite comic book character. I don’t mean to get overly sentimental but writing this blog about a piece of pop culture has been an amazing honor and one I am very excited to be sharing with you.

With that said….

Happy 50th anniversary, Spider-Man. Keep on swinging. _m/ m/_

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