I have always had a deep affection for Peter Parker and his heroic alter-ego, Spider-Man. Like many kids who were born during or after the inception of the Marvel Universe, I learned to read and cut my literary teeth on the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man comic books; and like many of those children, I was a shy and lonely kid who could easily relate to the awkward young Peter Parker and l lived vicariously through the stories and adventures of the web-slinger.
Though I’m just one among millions of Spider-Man fans the world over, I feel like I’ve always had a unique connection to the character in that my birthday is the same as Spidey’s. That is, my birthday is August 15, 1962, and the first appearance of Spider-Man was in the 15th issue of Amazing Fantasy, published in August of 1962. I loved Spidey before I ever consciously made that connection, but it’s always been fun to tell people I have the same birthday as Spider-Man.
Another weird connection, or at least parallel coincidence, between my life and Spidey’s, is that Peter Parker was a photographer for most his life and I was a photographer for at least 15 years of my professional career, both in the U.S. Navy and as a civilian. Now I’m certain Peter never served on-board a U.S. Naval vessel, but he did take a cruise once, until the Tarantula ruined the adventure (see Amazing Spider-Man #134.)
Now before I tell you how I used to date a hot red-head and how super-villains will never let me rest, I figured I would celebrate the 50-year anniversary of ol’ web-head by recounting some of my favorite moments from his vast and rich history, as created by comic-book legends including Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Sr. (and Jr.), J. Michael Straczynski, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Gerry Conway and Sal Buscema to name just a few.
Some of Spider-Man’s most incredible feats have involved his web-shooters, but these incredible devices that Peter Parker invented in the basement of his Aunt May’s home have got him into almost as many jams as they’ve gotten him out of. In fact, his web-shooters jamming at the worst possible time, or inconveniently running out of web-fluid, has led to some of the most spine-tingling Spidey stories ever.
One of my favorite web-shooting heart-stoppers was in Amazing Spider-Man #128, when the Vulture carried the hero high above New York City, far from any buildings – and then dropped him. What followed were several frames of the web-spinner falling to his death and lamenting his imminent demise all the way down. At the last moment though he manages to web together a net that springs him to safety, only to find that he just used the last of his web-fluid. It’s those kinds of close calls that kept readers on the edge of their seats throughout Spider-Man’s history.
Another classic aspect of Spidey that I’ve always loved was his love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. The hard-nosed J.J.J. will stop at nothing and spare no expense to discredit the web-swinger or just flat-out destroy him. The irony of Peter Parker selling Jameson photos of his alter-ego Spider-Man, that the newspaperman then uses to defame the wall-crawler, is one of the greatest twists in all of comicdom.
One of the best Spidey versus J.J.J. moments ever was in the famous “Spider-Man No More” story from Amazing Spider-Man #50 (probably the greatest Spidey comic ever), when the web-head reclaims his discarded costume from Jonah’s office and rubs his return in the publisher’s face, in the web-spinner’s famous wisenheimer style.
After years of animosity between Peter, Jonah and Spider-Man, some of it light-hearted and some of it deadly serious, Jonah finally blows a gasket and has a heart attack. It happened in Amazing Spider-Man #546 (2008) and it’s hard to believe it took over 45 years for that to happen.
Spider-Man has always had the best comic-book team-ups and was the star of the Marvel Team-Up comics for most of that book’s run. These were some of the most fun Spidey stories and starred pairings of Spider-Man with Marvel’s heavy-hitters like Iron Man and the Hulk, as well as eclectic characters like Brother Voodoo, the Son of Satan, the sexy Asgardian Valkyrie, Killraven, the cloven-hoofed Woodgod and even the Frankenstein Monster.
My all-time favorite Spider-Man team-up is the oversized Marvel & DC Comics crossover that touted the “Battle of the Century,” Superman Vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. At the time that this giant-sized book hit the stands in 1976, it was just about the coolest comic I had ever seen was the first time that the two big comic book publishers had ever joined forces on a superhero story.
This ultra-fun book had it all – Supes & Spidey, Peter & Clark, Lois & Mary Jane, Lex Luthor & Dr. Octopus and even J. Jonah Jameson & Morgan Edge. This comic still stands as probably the greatest superhero team-up ever and one of Spidey’s greatest adventures.
The thing that has always made Spider-Man so appealing and so easy to relate to has been the never-ending problems he endures. But whether it’s Peter or Spidey, he always finds a way to rise above his hardships and persevere. And this man has been though A LOT. Best friends who are super-villains, super-villains trying to kill your Aunt, super-villains trying to marry your Aunt, clones, killed girl-friends, no money, no home, the flu, losing your clothes, losing your costume – or any combination of these problems and more.
Even when Peter tries to walk away from the superhero life that has caused him so much grief, things always end up getting worse in the end. Case-in-point – in one of my favorite stories, Amazing Spider-Man #100, science-student Peter Parker concocts a serum meant to take away his super-powers; the potion sends him into a deep restless sleep where he relives battles with all of his greatest enemies and when he wakes up, hoping to be rid of his spider-powers, he instead has grown two extra sets of arms – just like a real spider. Now that’s some bad luck!
Another aspect of Spider-Man that has always endeared the character for me is the colorful and wacky characters that he comes up against. The more modern Spidey takes himself a lot more serious, but “back in the day” many of Spider-Man’s foes were downright corny – and I loved every one of them. From the Kangaroo, to the Grizzly, to the Enforcers (with characters like The Ox, Fancy Dan and Montana – who was good with a lasso), these bad guys were not just bad – they were BAD – but they were and are so much fun.
The corniest spider-moment for me has to be from Amazing Spider-Man #130, when the Human Torch helps Spidey build his Spidermobile which he then uses to go up against Hammerhead (the mob-boss with the flattop that he uses to slam into and break things.) Spidey doesn’t even know how to drive and goes careening through the streets of New York with the Human Torch flying behind trying to stop him before he kills someone. It’s hilarious – and it’s those types of moments that give the character his humanity.
So as we celebrate the web-swinger’s anniversary, my hat is off to all of the writers and artists who have breathed life into my favorite hero over the past 50 years. Thank you for enriching my life and helping me smile through the tough times, inspiring me to try and do good and not to ever give up, and for making the good times even better. Here’s to Spidey – may he continue all of his good work for generations to come – Happy Birthday!
Join with us in sharing some of your favorite Spidey moments in the comments below.