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Spider-Man is turning 50

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 28 2012 4:47 p.m. MDT

Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Columbia Pictures

On July 3, a brand new Spider-Man played by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) swings into movie theaters in Sony’s reboot of the beloved Marvel Comics character.

Although it probably won’t be on most audience members’ minds, this year also marks the 50th anniversary since Spider-Man first appeared in print back in August of 1962.

Over the past 50 years, the wall-crawling hero has spun a web that stretches from comic books to TV shows, movies, video games, toys and even a Broadway musical. Along the way, he has become one of the most recognizable and influential characters in pop culture.

Here’s a look back at the history of Spider-Man.

Origin and early years

The creation of Spider-Man is a subject of more than a little debate for comic book historians thanks to some conflicting claims of authorship.

Most would agree, however, that like so many of Marvel’s characters, Spider-Man was the product of a collaborative process — what was famously called the “Marvel Method.” Writer/editor Stanley Lieber — or “Stan Lee,” as he called himself — would pitch a rough character or story idea to an artist, oftentimes borrowing from pre-existing material or recycling unused Marvel concepts. The artist would then add details and flesh the idea out enough for the always-busy Lee to come in and crank out a quick issue. Thus, in many cases, no single person could claim sole responsibility for a character.

In the case of Spider-Man, Lee partnered with artist Steve Ditko, providing him the basic outline of a teenager named Peter Parker who is bitten by a spider and endowed with superhuman abilities. Ditko then created the character’s look, including most of the details that make him so unique. Wrist-mounted web shooters, for example, gave Spider-Man the ability to swing through the New York streets, and in a time when half-masks were all the rage, Ditko opted for a full facemask so Peter Parker could hide the fact that he was still just a teenager. Pretty remarkably, Ditko’s original character design — easily one of the most iconic in comic book history — has remained almost completely unchanged to this day.

When Spider-Man made his comic debut in 1962, however, he was just part of the sci-fi anthology “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15, appearing alongside stories ranging in subject from Martians to mummies. At the time, superheroes were just beginning to experience a revival after nearly two decades of weak public interest. But after “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 became one of Marvel’s top-selling issues, Lee and Ditko were given the go-ahead to create a spinoff series, which they titled “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The first issue hit comic stands a few months later at the beginning of 1963.

Spider-Man immediately stood out as a different kind of superhero. Unlike Superman or Captain America, for instance, Spider-Man — especially his alter ego, Peter Parker, the nerdy kid from Queens — was a character young readers could identify with. As Stan Lee related in an interview with the Detroit Free Press, “I wanted the character to be a very human guy, someone who makes mistakes, who worries, who gets acne, has trouble with his girlfriend, things like that.”

Peter Parker’s everyday struggles balanced the larger-than-life situations he found himself in as a costumed crime-fighter. Over the years, this mix of fantasy and relatability has made the Spider-Man comics an ideal place to explore relevant social issues.

In the early ’70s, for example, a story line written at the behest of the government’s Department of Health, Education and Welfare paved new ground by tackling the issue of drug addiction — even though, at the time, any depiction of drug use was considered a violation of the Comics Code.

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