Here’s an admission, I haven’t read a lot of Spiderman comics, my relationship with Spiderman mostly comes from Marvel’s alternative media. The excellent 90’s TV show, the video games and the movies. Recently I picked up a Marvel Unlimited membership and gained access to Spider Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15. As I read through the now familiar origin story, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
Stan Lee’s initial stories on Spiderman now seem a little dated. This comes from the details that he injected from the pop culture of the time. There are references to The Ed Sullivan Show and the notion that professional wrestling is real. It clearly locates the story in 1962, however this approach was groundbreaking at the time and helped bring a ‘real world’ quality to Spiderman’s dilemmas.
Steve Ditko’s art is perfect for the character, the proportions are a little bizarre and the action sequences are crazy. They synchronise extremely well for the character in this time period. It’s this detail which set Spiderman’s creation apart from most other Marvel heroes drawn by Jack Kirby or John Romita Sr. Ditko brought a sense of inner turmoil to Spiderman’s characterisation.
The artwork is dark, it’s gritty and expressionistic. It allows the reader a glimpse into the angst and grief that Peter Parker faces during his teenage years. Peter isn’t handsome in the comic but then no one is. This is an unconventional approach to take and it serves to intrigue the audience.
The intrigue is piqued further when we realise that this hero isn’t some middle aged guy in spandex beating the hell out of people for the love of his country or a financially well-off foursome battling intergalactic baddies. This was a teen with real world problems and authentic emotions. At this point no mainstream comic had dealt with anguish, arrogance and self loathing effectively. Spiderman did and it immediately resonated with comic book fans. He faced money problems, emotional issues and through the writing and art style confronted the authentic human experience.
This story is extremely well know now and may seem a little hackneyed but in 1962 this was revolutionary. It’s an empathetic piece which attempts to put us in Peter’s shoes and we can relate to him. He’s suffered a tragedy and for the rest of his days must shoulder this. However many times this origin story is updated it’s success is linked to sticking to the formula this issue crafted. Bullied for intelligence, pride coming before a fall and most importantly – with great power comes great responsibility.