Fifty-nine years ago a radioactive spider took a bite out of a kid named Peter Parker and the pop culture universe was changed forever. In honor of Spider-Man Day, here's an essay I wrote last year for a Spanish book about the character's history. Enjoy!
June, 1966. I was standing in the Brooklyn, New York candy store where I bought all my comics and I couldn’t take my eyes off the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #39: There was the Green Goblin gliding through the sky dragging a bound and defeated Peter Parker—his Spider-Man costume visible beneath his street clothes—behind him. To my twelve-year-old eyes—conditioned as they were to the pristine DC Comics of the day—this was mesmerizing. A villain who’d actually unmasked the hero! A hero so utterly helpless! As with all great comic book covers, this one fired up my imagination. I didn’t even have to read this story: that single illustration, brought to vibrant life by the incomparable John Romita, Sr., suggested dozens of incredible tales that played out in my head. (This, I later learned, was Romita’s first issue of Amazing Spider-Man. It looked like he’d been drawing the book all his life.)
I was still a hardcore DC fan then—there was something spooky, almost dangerous, about those early Marvel Comics and I wasn’t quite ready to take the leap—so I resisted buying that issue; but a month later I gave in to temptation and purchased the story’s conclusion: I was, as the British say, gobsmacked. Stan Lee’s scripting was so exciting, so nakedly emotional. And Romita’s interior art—with his dynamic layouts and impeccable storytelling—was every bit as irresistible as the cover that had enchanted me thirty days before.
I tracked down the first chapter, along with many earlier Spidey issues—brought to life by the incomparable Steve Ditko, who co-created the character and plotted many classic Spidey tales—at a local used book store (this was before the days of comic book shops) and lost myself in the magical world that Lee, Ditko, and Romita created. Peter Parker entered my life then and he’s never left.
As much as I adored Spider-Man as a reader, it was as a writer that I really fell in love with the character. Peter Parker is perhaps the most emotionally and psychologically real protagonist in any superhero universe. Sure he wears a mask and swings around on a web-line, but, beneath that mask, he’s as confused, as flawed, as touchingly, wonderfully human, as the people who read, and write, about him. The book may be called Spider-Man, but it’s all about Peter: a decent, compassionate young man who’s always struggling to do the right thing.
I think that’s what I love most about Spider-Man (and why his popularity has continued, pretty much unabated, for all these years): his humanity. His decency. No matter how discouraged he may be, no matter how often he fails, he always picks himself up and tries again; and every time Peter Parker triumphs, it’s a triumph for all of us, because he’s such a wonderful example of the human spirit at its best. Spider-Man both mirrors our weaknesses and inspires us to reach for our highest ideals—and that makes for a truly timeless character.
And a massively relatable one.
I don’t know if I’d want to spend a Saturday night hanging out with Bruce Wayne or Reed Richards, but I’d most certainly want to spend an evening enjoying a good meal—talking about life, the universe, and everything—with Peter. I think that’s why those of us who’ve been lucky enough to chronicle Spider-Man’s adventures have simultaneously found ourselves in the character and infused him with our own doubts, fears, and highest aspirations. As we write about Spider-Man we inevitably merge with him. And I think Spidey’s millions of fans share the same experience as they read his comic books or watch him bound across a movie screen. In some strange, wonderful way, we’re all Peter Parker.
I’m honored to have had the chance to journey along with Peter and add to his ongoing, ever-evolving mythology.
Fascinating story. However, you left out how you felt like you were viewing an alien world as you say in the middle of Brooklyn's wheat fields, and saw spider-man swing between skyscrapers.ReplyDelete
I hate to do this... but I am admittedly incredibly pedantic, so not enough to change things... I think the date wrong of when Pete first appeared.
The cover of Amazing Fantasy #15 read August, but that would have been the last point you could return the book for a fullrefund.
This website, lists the publication date as June 5, 1962 :
Of course, I could be wrong... there IS a first time for everything.
However, teh points are well made either way.
i have a belief about comic characters. The best way to judge them is to strip down everything fantastical about the, and think how long you could tell stories about that character, and still be interested.
For Peter Parker, it is a very long time indeed. In fact, if they retied him, and let Miles Morales takeover, and had he and MJ move to another city, I would read a comic series just about the life of him as a retired Superhero. Just stories about a guy and his wife making it in the new city.
Marvel probably would not publish that book (though I do believe that in 3 1/2 years, Mile will be pushed as the only Spider-Man0, but I would buy it.
That is part of why the Newspaper strip was so interesting. Stan Lee was in mos way involved in the plots, and writing the dialogue until 2000, and those stories really do focus on Peter far more than SPider-Man.
Hell, his first non-team up spin-off was PETER PARKER the Spectacular Spider-man. A book intended to focus more on Peter's world.
And there is good reason. I remember picking up a back issue by Roger Stern, from like the early 80s, and the supervillain story was very much a fill, but the way Stern was writing Peter.... in a decades old book... THAT was what I anted to read. The action was a burden, I wanted to read about Peter Parker's life.
Of course, Stern was a master of great villain stories as well, but those don;t serve the point, I was trying to make.
That was the brilliance of Into the Spider-Verse, the Spider-man who is the ideal hero can't survive it, but Peter B. Parker is Peter Parker to the max and Miles has his own hang-ups. They are the ones who saved the universe...es.
That was Stan Lee's great legacy, the feet of clay, the painful humanity, the good, bad and ugly that IS Peter Parker.
ANd make no mistake, Dematteis, that love for Peter Parker is why s many fans want the marriage back, because they are invested in the life of Him... not the Spider-Mask or the powers. ANd i think there is an idea among fans...real or not, I was not in the room... that undoing the marriage was viewing Spider-man as an IP for calculating instead of a character.
True or not, that perception is an issue because, as incredibly, unbelievably sad as this...we view Peter Parker as a friend. And that is a powerful thing for Stan Lee to have been able to string together.
His humanity can touch everyone from city dwellers, to a young you...sitting at the banks of a Brooklyn Crick with nothing but nature around for miles.
So, as you can tell... I hate SPider-Man, just so much.
Most importantly, you not have the Larkin Poe song, "California King," to remind you of SPider-Man
Not sure why "Spider-Man Day" isn't on the anniversary of his first appearance. Didn't realize that till later. If they're going by the cover date, that's definitely a goof, as you point out.Delete
"We're all Peter Parker." That's how I felt as a kid. Spider-Man was my favorite comic and I wanted to become like him when I grew up. As an adult I'm still striving to become like him! But, as the poster on his wall said, "Every day in every way I am becoming better and better."ReplyDelete
There's something truly universal, and truly magical, about Peter Parker. No matter what our backgrounds are, we connect to him, relate to him. Stan, Steve and JR really created a character for the ages.Delete
Thanks for checking in, William!
I enjoyed issue two of JL Infinity, but the false advertisement continues. The book endedDelete
Also, I think the letterer spelled Indiana wrong when it showed where J'onn was living. Tough it was nice of you to bypass stereotypes of the state, and represent its Hindu population.
You also finally got to write that Elseworlds story about a White Supremacist Superman... as a villain of course. A weird goal to seek out so.
I think there might be an easy way to figure out why Spider-man day was on the wrong month.
This series will NEVER end, Jack. When we're discussing the most recent issue ten billion years from now, you'll see how wrong you are.Delete
Glad you enjoyed it!
"Stan, Steve and JR really created a character for the ages."Delete
Amen to that! I might have mentioned this before, but Peter Parker is kind of my favorite fictional character ever. And it's cool to see JR also given credit as a co-creator. Spider-Man wouldn't be the character we all know and love without him.
Not to take anything away from Ditko, but the Romita era, especially that first year or so which is pretty much perfect, is very special to me. Getting to work with John remains one of the highlights of my career. What a talent...and what a gentleman!Delete
My name is Elaine DeMatteis (Davis) and my grandparents were Giuseppe DeMatteis and Anna Marie Damiani originally from Villa San DeMetrio, Italy but settled in L'Aquila, Italy. My maternal grandparents were Norina Ciccone and Paul Pezzuti. They came from the Villa Sant Angelo, Italy nearby. Would any of this information have meaning to you? I'm just curious about my ancestry.
Hi, Elaine. My family is from Calabria, way in the south, so I don't think there's any connection. But it's always nice to meet another DeMatteis!ReplyDelete
Well written JMD yes Spider-Man/Peter Parker is and has always been a unique character in the world of superheroes. The stories you have written about this character has continued to add depth to the series.ReplyDelete
characters in the series.
Hope all's well, Allen!Delete
Well said JMD.ReplyDelete