Spider-Man’s real-world history might seem fairly normal, but his impact at the time cannot be overstated.
It’s hard for modern comic book fans (including this writer) to understand the true impact of Spider-Man.
Until Spider-Man’s first appearance in 1962, almost every super-powered teen was a sidekick (the most notable exception being DC’s Superboy). Suddenly, being a teen didn’t mean ‘second-tier hero’. This would pave the way for groups such as DC’s Teen Titan’s and Marvel’s Generation X, and also their New Warriors comic.
New Warriors, while a somewhat obscure team, is notable for being the group that inadvertently caused the first Civil War event in Marvel comics.
This means that Spider-Man’s creation eventually (however tentatively) led to what’s often regarded as the one of the best films in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War – so it’s quite apt that this was the movie that introduced Spider-Man into the MCU.
(And yes, Peter Parker technically first appeared as a young child in Iron Man 2 – but he wasn’t Spider-Man back then.)
Spider-Man: Real-World Origins
Spider-Man was created by industry legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, back in the early days of Marvel comics.
Lee, noting the success of Fantastic Four, felt it was time to introduce another superhero to the Marvel roster. Stan Lee states in his Autobiography, Excelsior!: The Amazing Life of Stan Lee, that he was inspired by a watching a spider crawl up a wall, but he also says that he’s told that story so many times he no longer remembers if it’s true or not.
Lee says he chose the name Spider-Man (as opposed to Spider-Boy) because he wanted the character to be able to grow into adulthood without having to change his name, and he added the hyphen (Spider-Man, not Spiderman) to differentiate his character from a character from one of Marvel’s competitors, DC comics. The character, of course was Superman – his name also begins with S and he also wears a red-and-blue costume. Interestingly, Ditko originally proposed a purple-and-orange costume for Spiderman, but (for whatever reason) that particular design didn’t stick.
Marvel’s higher ups (Stan Lee was years away from being the face of Marvel) didn’t think Spiderman would be very popular, but they allowed the Lee/Ditko creation to appear in the final issue of their sci-fi/supernatural anthology comic series, Amazing Adult Fantasy.
The series was slightly renamed for the final issue, and so Spiderman’s first appearance was in Amazing Fantasy #15. After checking the sales for the comic, Marvel was surprised to find that it was one of their best-selling comics, so they gave the green light to a Spider-Man solo title. This new series would be called ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, presumably in reference to his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy.
It seems strange, looking back. This character was introduced in a spooky sci-fi anthology comic, and then went on to become one of the most beloved comic superheroes ever. This would be like if one of the episodes from Black Mirror spawned an entire franchise that lasted 80 years and was still going strong!
Spider-Man: In-universe origins
It’s probably fair to say that most people are aware of the basics of Spider-Man’s origin story. If you’re not, you can read more about it here in our ‘Superhero Breakdown: Spider-Man’ article.
Bearing this in mind, we’ll skip ahead to the point where he’s already Spider-Man, and mention a few of his more formative experiences.
The first is the death of his first love, Gwen Stacy. While most people (in the comics) believe that she was killed by Green Goblin, it was actually Spider-Man that killed her. Green Goblin threw her from a bridge, and Spider-Man cast a webline at her to save her. Sadly, this resulted in her death (due to the whiplash effect caused by her sudden stop).
No matter how many people he saved, Spider-Man would never forgive himself for this.
Not long after this, there was a running gag about his Aunt May trying to introduce him to their next-door neighbour’s niece, Mary-Jane Watson. This went on for some time, until they finally met and Peter fell in love with her at first sight. He eventually proposed to her, but was rejected, so he moved on. He became romantically involved with Felicia Hardy, also known as the punnishly-named catburglar, Black Cat.
Around this time, Spider-Man gained a new black costume, at which point he started acting in a more aggressive and altogether unfriendly way. He’d soon discover this was because the suit itself was actually a living being, an entity from a race of alien parasites known as Symbiotes who fed on negative emotion. He managed to free himself from the Symbiote, who would go on to bond with someone else, ultimately becoming the villain/anti-hero Venom.
Not long after that, he proposed to Mary-Jane Watson again. This time, she said yes.
He then found out he was a clone, when he was approached by the REAL Peter Parker. Taking his late uncle’s first name and his Aunt May’s maiden name, he went by the name Ben Reilly. He began using the name Scarlet Spider, and created another spider-suit, introducing the hoodie as part of the Spider-Man aesthetic. Fear not though, for it turns out that our boy Ben was indeed the original Peter Parker.
After a while, Spider-Man would join in the massive comic crossover event ‘Civil War’, on the registration side – resulting in his secret identity being made public. He and Aunt May moved into Stark Tower, mainly to help keep Aunt May safe.
Nonetheless, his beloved Aunt May was killed by an assassin hired by the crime lord Kingpin.
Peter, having exhausted all other options, asks Mephisto (essentially Marvel’s version of Satan) for help, who offers him a deal. Mephisto agrees to bring Aunt May back to life, and also wipe everyone’s memory of Spider-Man’s secret identity, but it will cost Peter his marriage to Mary-Jane Watson (i.e. they would never have met, and would never fall in love again).
Peter accepts these terms.
After various adventures, Spider-Man would then find out that he was actually given his powers by a spider totem (a cosmic-level animal spirit/guide), and go on a literally-epic adventure with other spider-themed characters. At the end of all of this, he’d find himself the CEO of a major biotech company – a far cry from the constantly-broke teenager he’d once been.
Otto Octavius (also known as Dr Octopus) eventually managed to take over Peter’s mind, meaning that he essentially WAS Peter Parker, and therefore Spider-Man. Believing himself to be a much better version of Spider-Man, he called himself Superior Spider-Man.
Eventually, Peter (who still survived as an aspect of Otto’s consciousness) managed to show Otto the error of his ways, and was able to regain control of his body.
While his new lavish billionaire lifestyle is decried as a betrayal by some of his older fans, it seems apt.
Peter has always represented geeks in general, and his rise to power is analogous to the rise in power of geek culture. Once considered lowly nerds, it could be argued that they now rule the world – at least when it comes to technology and how it’s used.