A big part of Spider-Man’s popularity likely has to do with the nearly unrivaled rogues gallery created by Lee and Ditko in the comic’s early years, including characters like the Green Goblin, Chameleon, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio and, of course, the Lizard. A cast of post-Atomic Age freaks of science and Cold War villains, they helped ground the sensationalism of comic books in real-world fears having to do with the spread of Communism, the bomb and the Vietnam War.
Outside the comics
After quickly becoming one of Marvel’s most successful properties, it didn’t take long for Spider-Man to expand into new forms of media. As early as 1967, Lee and Ditko’s character was given his own animated TV show, which introduced the ever-popular Spider-Man theme song with lyrics by three-time Oscar winner Paul Francis Webster.
Although the original cartoon ended in 1970, Spider-Man has had a pretty consistent presence on TV in a variety of animated forms, including, notably, Fox Kids’ “Spider-Man” in the mid-1990s and “The Spectacular Spider-Man” from 2008-09.
Spider-Man transitioned to newspapers, as well, in 1977, with early story and art by the creative duo also responsible at that time for the character’s comic incarnation, Lee and John Romita Sr.
In 1978, two live-action Spider-Man series ran simultaneously on two separate continents: in the United States, a CBS-produced series starring Nicholas Hammond, and in Japan, Toei’s “Supaida-Man.” Aside from the main character’s costume, though, the Japanese Spider-Man had virtually nothing to do with the Marvel character. Instead, he used a giant robot named Leopardon to do battle with similarly scaled monsters.
Both the American and Japanese TV series were mercifully canceled in 1979, and after years of anticipation and a who’s-who of Hollywood directors courting, but eventually abandoning, the property, it wasn’t until Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” in 2002 that fans at last got to see a live-action version of the character on the big screen that was faithful to the spirit of the comics. Raimi and star Tobey Maguire followed up the success of the first film with two sequels. One (“Spider-Man 2”) is widely regarded as a high point of the superhero movie genre, the other as a train wreck.
In January of 2010, Deadline broke the news (to the dismay of many) that Sony had plans to forego a fourth “Spider-Man” film with Raimi and Maguire, choosing instead to reboot the franchise. This decision was met with criticism by fans of the original films who saw Sony’s move as just a way to avoid paying the director and cast’s increased salaries.
With the upcoming release of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” however, hopes are once again high among fans that Sony’s reboot of the franchise will be a real step forward for a character who has endured for 50 years and across multiple forms of media.
As is so often the case with comic book characters, a lot has changed for Spider-Man during his long history — even though Peter Parker himself has barely aged past 30 in the comics. The one thing that has remained constant for Spider-Man, though, is his popularity.
Sources: "An Insider's Part of Comics History: Jack Kirby's Spider-Man," by Steve Ditko, collected in "Alter Ego, the Comic Book Artist Collection," edited by Roy Thomas; "Stan Lee," by Sue L. Hamilton; "Comic Books: How the Industry Works" by Shirrel Rhoades
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