10 Things You Didn’t Know About Spider-Man
Arguably Marvel Comics’ biggest star, Spider-Man is a household name and an icon of popular culture. But how much do you really know about everyone’s favorite wallcrawler?
Debuting in a modest 11-page story in August of 1962 in the pages of ‘Amazing Fantasy’ #15, Spider-Man became an instant hit, and soon spun off into his own title, a comic still published 50 years later. And while most people are familiar with the story of high school student Peter Parker’s run-in with a radioactive spider and his transformation from high school wallflower into superhero legend, there are many chapters of his amazing story that aren’t quite as well known. Take a look at 1o things you might not know about Spider-Man below.
10. Peter Parker was the second “Spider-Man” to debut at Marvel
By the 1950s, super-heroes had fallen out of vogue with their comic book audience. The larger-than-life costumed adventurers that had made comics such a success in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s were slowly giving way to monster titles and science fiction stories. And while the revitalization of heroes like The Flash and Green Lantern over at DC Comics was beginning to jumpstart the Silver Age of the comic book industry, Marvel wouldn’t catch up to their main competitor until the release of ‘The Fantastic Four’ #1 in November of 1961.
A month before writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby would spring their dysfunctional family foursome onto the reading populace, one of the last gasps of the monster movement came in the form of ‘Journey Into Mystery’ #73 in an odd little yarn entitled “Where will you be, when… The Spider Strikes!” In it, a common household spider was doused with radioactive rays. But instead of biting an unsuspecting high school student named Peter Parker, the spider instead began to develop the intelligence of a human being and grow to massive proportions. Able to speak and even shoot his own web fluid, this man-spider of sorts was killed by the story’s end, just in time for the so-called “Marvel Age of Comics” to begin.
9. Peter wasn’t as nerdy as everyone thinks
A common complaint among internet regulars about the recent film, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,’ was the idea that the movie’s Peter Parker wasn’t nearly as geeky as his comic book counterpart. But the truth of the matter is, that while Peter was certainly a “professional wallflower” when writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko unleashed him upon the world in 1962, when the teen became Spider-Man, his confidence as well as his popularity were given a significant boost.
By issue seven of his own series, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,’ Peter already had his first girlfriend in the form of the lovely young secretary at The Daily Bugle, Betty Brant. By issue eight, he ditched his glasses after beating up his longtime bully in front of his entire class. And when Peter graduated high school in 1965 (in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ #28), the most popular girl in school, Liz Allen, confessed to having a crush on him. If that wasn’t enough, Peter would go on to spend the majority of his college years being fought over by the beautiful Gwen Stacy and the equally stunning Mary Jane Watson. Not quite the textbook definition of a science nerd…
8. Spider-Man’s web fluid only lasts for about an hour
A common sight for New Yorkers of the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man can often be witnessed swinging overhead on a thin strand of webbing. But unlike the rest of his powers, Peter’s web fluid isn’t a side effect of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Instead, Peter used his scientific know-how to develop his own adhesive web and web-shooters, which allow him to not only travel in style above the rooftops, but to also bind villains for the police to discover at their leisure when they’re done doing whatever it is police do in a city chock full of superheroes.
Luckily for window washers and street cleaners alike, Stan Lee was quick to key in readers to the fact that Spidey’s webbing only lasts for about an hour before it evaporates into thin air. This concept was explained in the very first annual of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ from 1964, and expanded upon in many tales afterwards, including a short story in 2005’s ‘Spider-Man Unlimited’ #7 by a brilliant writer unashamed of self-promotion. The webbing’s time limit was Stan Lee’s way of explaining why the often-broke Peter Parker didn’t just quit his life of crime fighting to pursue a lucrative career in the adhesive business.
7. Peter Parker is a Mets fan
Growing up in Forest Hills, Queens, it would seem only natural that Peter Parker would become a fan of the closest baseball club, the New York Mets. But the real reason for Peter’s undying support for his local team was revealed in ‘Peter Parker: Spider-Man’ # 33 (September, 2001) by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Mark Buckingham. As the world’s unluckiest superhero, Peter loves the Mets because he can identify with them. In Peter’s own words, the Mets are “a bunch of loveable losers who hit the occasional home run by accident.”
But more to the point, like any diehard fan of a particular team, Peter loves the Mets because he was raised to love the Mets. Going to Shea Stadium was a yearly tradition with his beloved Uncle Ben, one that Peter continues even after his Uncle’s untimely death. (The very same death that inspired Peter to don the costume of Spider-Man in the first place.)
6. Spider-Man once literally turned into a spider
As is often the case in the world of comic books, when a successful superhero movie hits theaters, the comics themselves will incorporate bits and pieces of the films into their universe in order to cash in on some of the movie excitement. When the Penguin appeared in ‘Batman Returns’ with a gruesome, unkempt appearance in 1992, his comic book counterpart evolved from a dapper, pudgy felon into a more grotesque and ruthless villain shortly thereafter. A year after the first ‘X-Men’ film hit screens in 2000 debuting matching black leather uniforms for the mutant heroes, their comic book equivalents soon gained similar costumes in the pages of ‘New X-Men’ #114. So when Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ hit theaters in 2002 boasting a Spidey with natural web-fluid that shot from slightly disturbing slits in his wrists, it was only a matter of time before the comics followed suit.
However, the way Marvel actually went about giving Peter Parker organic web-shooters bordered on the bizarre. In the pages of a six-part adventure that began in ‘The Spectacular Spider-Man’ #15 (August 2004), Spider-Man was mutated into a giant spider when he was kissed by the villainess known as the Queen. Thanks to writer Paul Jenkins and artists Michael Ryan, Humberto Ramos and Paco Medina, Spidey spent a brief time as a giant arachnid before he returned to normal, albeit with the ability to produce webbing from his wrists. Thankfully, Spidey would go back to his standard web shooters in a reboot of sorts years later, allowing fans to finally stop thinking about their favorite hero’s bodily fluids on a monthly basis.
5. Wolverine and Spider-Man teamed up before Spidey was even born
In the 1960s, readers had thought that Peter Parker grew up in a relatively normal household. That was until the 1968 release of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man Annual’ #5 changed everything. In it, writer Stan Lee and his brother, artist Larry Lieber, revealed that Peter’s parents, Richard and Mary Parker, had been spies for the US government before their fiery death in a plane crash. Even more unlikely, years later in 1997’s ‘Untold Tales of Spider-Man’ #Minus 1, a flashback tale by writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Sr. keyed readers into the fact that Spider-Man’s parents had once saved the life of a fellow agent referred to as Agent-Ten. Later in the issue it was revealed that Agent-Ten was none other than Spidey’s future Avengers teammate, Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine.
Sure, saving the life of Wolverine will earn anyone bragging rights. But Mary Parker upped the ante when she saved the life of everyone’s favorite mutant while also a few weeks pregnant with her future son, Peter. So while they might not have been aware of it at the time, Spider-Man and Wolverine first met years before the two would become costume-clad superheroes. Consequentially, the issue also serves as the world’s first Wolverine/Spider-Embryo team-up.
4. Peter’s Aunt May was almost married to the mob
As if the secret life of his parents hadn’t been strange enough, Peter Parker later discovered that his beloved Aunt May had her own mysterious past. As a young woman, May had had an affair with a handsome gangster named Johnny Jerome, a fact exposed by 1984’s ‘Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual’ #4.
Penned by writer Bill Mantlo and brought to life by artists Kerry Gammill and Sal Buscema, this story showed the youthful May trading Jerome’s affections for those of the gallant Ben Parker once she learned Johnny’s dark secret. As it turns out, May was one hot item back in the day, despite how creepy that may have sounded to anyone who had ever read a Spider-Man comic book. It’s a good thing no writer would ever expand on that concept by crafting a mini series solely about May’s sexual exploits. Because that would be gross.
3. Peter Parker’s middle name is Ben
Few heroes have had their personal lives explored to the extent that Peter Parker has over the years. Since his very first appearance, Peter’s life has been just as important as that of his masked alter ego, more so than most of the medium’s other superheroic icons. One indication of this is the simple fact that Peter Parker has a middle name. Peter’s middle name, Benjamin, was meant as a tribute to his Uncle Ben Parker, the man who taught Peter, the world and even Teen Wolf that with great power there must also come great responsibility.
The name seems to originate from ‘Web of Spider-Man’ #19 (October, 1986), written by David Michelinie and illustrated by Marc Silvestri, an issue that saw Peter present his birth certificate at the Manhattan Federal Building in order to get a passport. But this minor detail remained under the radar of most comic book writers long afterwards, with even Stan Lee kept in the dark about this factoid for quite some time.
2. Spider-Man once teamed up with the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live’
The “Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players” of ‘SNL‘ made their comic debut in ‘Marvel Team-Up’ #74 (October, 1978) when Spider-Man needed their assistance to stop the nefarious Silver Samurai’s rampage of the NBC studios. (Hey, it was the ’70s.)
Writer Chris Claremont and penciler Bob Hall launched the NBC-approved issue that featured the cast of ‘SNL’ pitching in to help Spider-Man, even going so far as to pose as the Avengers to fool Spidey’s evil foe. While readers may have found it a bit unnerving that the web-swinger would let celebrities fight his battles for him, seeing John Belushi pit his samurai skills against a Marvel villain was certainly worth the price of admission. And seeing Stan Lee host ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the Marvel Universe was many a comic fan’s dream come true. In fact, there’s still a Facebook page devoted to seeing that fantasy become a reality.
1. On one occasion, Spidey stopped an alien from tricking an entire generation into having unprotected sex
As any diehard comic fan knows, Public Service Announcement (PSA) comics can often offer some of the most bizarre plotlines ever to grace the realm of superheroes. But Spidey’s first PSA, an ashcan-size gem from 1976 entitled ‘The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Prodigy’ by writer Ann Robinson and artist Ross Andru, is easily the cream of the weirdness crop. In an incredibly contrived sci-fi plot, the story featured an evil alien named the Prodigy who deliberately misinformed teens about the repercussions of sexual activity. The alien informed shiploads of unsuspecting youths that they couldn’t get pregnant before the age of 15 or on their first sexual experience.
The Prodigy’s evil goal? To inspire the youngsters to have babies “right and left” so that he could put the offspring to work in his forced labor camp. While it was never clear why the Prodigy didn’t just kidnap the teens in the first place, Spider-Man nevertheless came through in the end and exposed the evil alien for the intergalactic pervert that he was.
Matthew K. Manning is a comic book writer, historian and fan living with his wife and daughter in Mystic, Connecticut. His newest book, ‘Spider-Man Chronicle,’ was released in early October by DK Publishing.