It was to my great delight to find out last week that Spider-Man No Way Home won the Kid’s Choice Award for best live-action movie. As I wrote several weeks back the latest Spider-Man film should have received an Oscar nod for best picture. But Hollywood, as we saw at the Academy Awards Ceremony, is not only full of snobs but a bad indicator of a good movie. Kid’s on the other hand see the truth, sometimes to the dismay of adults as in The Emperor’s New Clothes. They live more” in the moment” than most adults do and therefore can see more than most adults can see. If a kid says something is good or bad, it’s best to pay attention.
Stan Lee got his start in comics while still a teenager. He went to work for Timely Comics as a writer somewhere in the late thirties or very early 40s. Lee worked for Timely for 20 years until that fateful day when his boss asked him to come up with a Superhero team comic book to go head to head with DC’s Justice League of America. Lee teamed up with Jack Kirby and The Fantastic Four was born. The Marvel Legends began.
What many people don’t realize is that Lee was ready to give up working in comics just before that fateful day. He had enough writing thinly veiled comics that copied whatever was popular at the time. In other words, if Zorro was popular, Lee would write a Zorro-type character and sell it. Anything for the company to make a quick buck. Really The Fantastic Four was a to be a copy of The Justice League, except for the fact that The Fantastic Four acted like a team only when they had to, they were no Justice League. The League had honor and high moral standards. Heck, they were indeed super friends. The Fantastic Four could just barely tolerate each other. They brought true human problems and emotions, including resentment and despair, into comic books and the industry was changed.
But I digress. As stated Lee was ready to quit comics. He had begun to talk with his wife about leaving the industry and beginning work on what he hoped would be the great American novel. His wife convinced him to give comics one last chance and in that last chance, The Fantastic Four was born. Lee took every bit of the creative talent he had in writing the story of the Fantastic Four. Maybe he figured this was his last shot so he’d go out in a blaze of artistic glory. Instead of going out Lee began to soar to heights of popularity and stayed there until the day he passed away.
After The Fantastic Four Stan and Jack created the Incredible Hulk which, believe it or not, did not sell well at the beginning. The Hulk, also, wasn’t green when he first made his debut, he was grey. But things did turn around. Grey turned to green and we have the Hulk that we all know and love today.
Lee came into his third inning. He was up to bat. Would he strike out or would he hit a home run? OK, enough with the sports metaphors. Amazing Adult Fantasy had reached its fourteenth issue and it was not doing well. Adult: would mean that a bit of sleaze was probably in this magazine but Stan Lee himself tells us that the comice book was a collection of fantasy monster stories usually about five pages long. The stories were written by him and illustrated by Steve Ditko. The magazine was about to be canceled after the publication of its fifteenth issue and Lee decided to experiment.
Stan Lee was a big reader of the Pulp Magazines that were published in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Many germs of comic book characters that would come later can be found in these ten-cent novels in a magazine. The pulps’ main characters included The Shadow, Doc Savage, and one that Lee particularly liked The Spider. The Spider was just an ordinary guy who was an expert marksman. He disguised himself with fangs and a hunched back. His true Identity was Richard Wentworth the last in the line of a wealthy family. He began his career after saving a college friend from criminals. Lee liked the name The Spider but he had other ideas than a man who was good with a gun. Lee was about to break more comic book rules.
Teenagers were not the main character in almost any comic book. There are a few notable exceptions. Superboy, stories of Superman when he was a boy and then a teenager. Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel were both teenagers when they got their powers but unlike Billy Batson when he became Captain Marvel by shouting SHAZAM turned into an adult Mary and Junior stayed teenagers. The last is Kid Eternity a teenager who was murdered but is granted the ability to come back and fight crime by being able to call up all the heroes from the past. Aside from these most teenagers were sidekicks to other Superheroes. Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl all fall into this category. Even Johnny Storm, The Human Torch of the Fantastic Four was not on his own though eventually, he would gain his own solo stories.
Lee decided to take a chance and make his next superhero a teenager with all the problems that come with being a teenage boy. He kept the name Spider but dropped the marksman and gave the young man the abilities of a Spider. With those thoughts in mind, Spider-Man was born.
Lee didn’t have much hope for his new character. He didn’t start him off in his own magazine as he did with The Fantastic Four and The Hulk. He starred him in the last issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy only now the word adult was dropped from the title and Spider-Man made his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy number 15 in August of 1962. Lee’s first two creations were illustrated by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko was the artist for Amazing Fantasy and Lee stuck with him for his new creation.
Not many people need to be told the origin story of Spider-Man. A teenager, Peter Parker, who is a bookworm and a student of science is shunned by his peers. On attending a demonstration of radioactivity, a spider who has absorbed some of the radiation during the experiment, bites Peter giving him the abilities and proportionate strength of a spider. Peter, after learning of his new abilities decides to cash in on them and make himself rich with his new talents. He hopes to be able to help his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben who had raised him. He designs a costume for himself to conceal his identity, web-shooters to gain another spider ability and begins to make TV appearances. He also becomes arrogant and a bit self-centered. When a thief runs by him in the hallway of the TV studio Peter lets him go and tells the police that it is their job to catch crooks, not his. On his way home that night there are police cars at his home. His Uncle Ben has been killed by a thief he found in the house. The police tell Peter that they have the killer trapped in an old warehouse. Peter immediately dons his costume and goes after the killer himself. Peter does nab the guy but on catching him realizes it is the same crook he let run by him in the studio. His guilt overwhelms him as he feels responsible for his Uncles death. He remembers something his Uncle Ben once told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Stan Lee says in the book, The Origins of Marvel Comics, with the publication of Amazing Fantasy number 15 and the story of Spider-Man out of his system, Lee went back to working on his new superstars. Lee essentially forgot all about Spider-Man. It would be months before it was realized that Amazing Fantasy #15 was a best seller and the reason had to be Spider-Man. There was a swift meeting held and The Amazing Spider-Man comic magazine number 1 made its debut in an issue dated March of 1963.
Spider-Man has entertained us now for 60 years. He has starred in several different Marvel Magazine titles and is probably one of the most iconic heroes of all time. Spider-Man is to Marvel what Superman is to DC, their most recognized character and almost a symbol of the company itself. Spider-Man like Superman has appeared in almost every form of entertainment. In television shows, both live-action and animated, and movies also both live-action and animated, novels based on the character, a newspaper strip, and a Broadway musical, the only thing Spider-Man did not get is a radio show. Spider-Man was born a bit too late for that.
Spider-Man broke down all kinds of barriers in his 60 years and continues to do so. The comic book character took on many of the social issues of the 60s and 70s and made an impact. I well remember being affected by Peter’s best friend Harry Osborne having a drug addiction. It helped keep me on the straight and narrow. There were also gut-wrenching stories like the death of Peter’s first true love Gwen Stacy at the hands of The Green Goblin. There were also some joyful tales including Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson an event that took place in the comic book, the newspaper strip, and at a live ball game in NYC.
Spider-Man continues to entertain us today. His movie adventures are now reaching millions of people and his comic books are still enjoyed. As I stated at the beginning of this blog, it did my heart good to see Spider-Man No Way Home win The Kid’s Choice Award for the best live-action movie. I hope that the film will pick up more honors in the months ahead. It’s also my hope that The Academy of Motion Pictures begins to see that movies based on comic books or children’s literature or animated films all have artistic value and should be placed in the best films category. To me leaving these movies out, movies that the people love is a disgrace. A movie does not have to be filled with sex, over-the-top violence, and foul language to be a good film. It has to have a solid story well-formed characters and great acting. The Marvel movies have all of that. DC we are waiting for you to catch up.