Spider-Man wasn’t always the popular icon he is today. The original publishers of the character thought the wall-crawling hero was a terrible idea. Fortunately for Stan Lee, publisher Martin Goodman decided to give the concept a try since this would be the last of the Amazing Fantasy series due to a drop in sales. The first appearance of Spider-Man appeared in 1962 in a copy of Amazing Fantasy 15, the last of the series.
No one could have suspected this throw-away concept would lead to the creation of one of the most iconic superheroes.
Still so much is unknown about unknown about Spider-Man’s character. What was Stan Lee thinking when he dreamed up Spider-Man? When did the character begin to appear in comics? What made Spider-Man so popular today?
All this and more will be answered in our overview of Amazing Fantasy 15 and Spider-Man’s first appearance in the world.
Origins of Spider-Man
Once Stan Lee persuaded publishers to try out his new concept, Amazing Fantasy 15 showcased the youngest superhero seen in the comic series.
Most people can recite the story of Spider-Man from memory: Peter Parker, the teenage boy who struggles with money, classmates, and self-doubt who turns into a web-slinging crime fighter and vowes to keep the people of New York safe as best he can.
The teenager, Peter Parker, possessed “spider senses” that alerted him to upcoming dangers. He can synthesize web fluid, build wrist-mounted web-shooters, and built his own red and blue costume.
Stan Lee wanted to depict a relatable character who didn’t only deal with villains and fighting crime but also had personal issues to take care of.
A teenager was the obvious choice for this concept. Spider-Man had more to worry about than fighting street crime; he had girl problems, had to keep up his grades, and keep a social life.
Peter Parker also deviated from the superhero norm by not having a witty side-kick to talk to. Instead, the character did a lot of talking to himself. In fact, Spider-Man has had even more soliloquies than Hamlet.
Lee used this to his advantage by putting thought bubbles alongside Spider-Man. This way he could put interesting thoughts that wouldn’t necessarily fit in the story itself to give the character more relatability.
Publisher, Martin Goodman, was such a critic of the idea he went as far as calling it the “worst idea” he’s ever heard.
Much to Goodman’s surprise, the last comic in the series had such a high appeal to teenage comic readers that it quickly sold out and led to an increased demand for Spider-Man and other teenage crime-fighting superheroes.
The Concept of Spider-Man
Publishers also thought readers would be repelled by the character’s teenage tendencies such as romantic troubles, concerns about money, problems in school.
Rather than using a name like “Spider-boy.” Lee wanted the character to age over time into a superhero worthy of a manly name.
He also wanted the character to be taken seriously as a superhero and not an inferior adaption of the superheroes depicted in other comics. This is ultimately why the name “Spider-Man” was chosen.
When it came to Spider-Man’s look, Lee wanted the character to resemble a normal guy instead of the unattainable figures portrayed in other series like the Hulk or Captain America.
Jack Kirby, the legendary comic designer, was the first one approached to take on the role of visually portraying Spider-Man.
Because Kirby was used to designing strong, heroic figures like Captain America, Lee deemed his sketches disagreeable and moved on to another artist.
Steve Ditko was the second approached to design Spider-Man’s character. He was a talented illustrator who studied under Jerry Robinson, the designer behind Batman.
Ditko was a perfect fit. When he sat down with Lee to discuss the character, he told him about his own vision back in 1950 for a character called the Silver Spider, which an orphan boy picks up a ring that gives him superpowers.
Dikto kept close to the vision Lee had of Spider-Man. He didn’t put any shoes or boots on him since he had the power to cling to surfaces. He hid the character’s face completely behind a mask to hide a boyish figure and add mystery.
The final Spider-Man visual motif was penciled by Kirby using Ditko’s original cover. The two illustrators came together to produce what is now one of the most recognizable comic covers by people all over the world.
The Original Story
The Amazing Fantasy 15 most commonly resembles the plot of Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man film.
Peter Parker is a reserved, isolated high school student. As an orphan, he lives with his closest relatives Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
When Peter is attending a science museum, a spider bit him which released a dose of radioactivity that gives him the proportionate force and quickness of a spider.
We see Peter exploring his new powers on the rooftops of New York City, slipping into a mask to win money during wrestling matches and of course, designing his legendary suit.
With his new skills, Peter is less interested in fighting crime and protecting the city than he is making some extra cash. As a young orphan in a poor family, this makes sense to the audience.
When Peter, disguised as Spider-Man, shows off his abilities on television, he ignores the opportunity to catch a thief who is running away from stealing a television studio’s box office receipts.
This thief later kills his Uncle Ben, leaving Peter devastated by his ability to be distracted by money when he can stop the evil that is going on around him.
As Peter subdues the murder, he decides he must devote himself to protecting the people of New York City and do all in his power to stop criminals.
With this realization comes Lee’s now-famous caption: “With great power, there must also come great responsibility!”
Immediately after the release of Amazing Fantasy 15, sales were off the charts. Spider-Man very quickly became, and remains today, one of Marvel’s best-selling characters.
After a successful debut, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko teamed up to continue the series as a monthly comic book titled The Amazing Spider-Man which ended up running for 50 years.
The Amazing Spider-Man #1 was released in March 1963 and soared it’s way to becoming the top Marvel selling series and a cultural icon.
A 1965 Esquire poll among college campuses showed that students voted Spider-Man among their favorite characters alongside the Hulk and Bob Dylan.
The series became so influential among young people that the Nixon administration approached Stan Lee to write and publish a comic which deterred the use of drugs.
In issues #96-98 during May-June 1971, a storyline is created which portrays the dangerous effects of illegal drug use.
Peter Parker’s friend, Harry Osborn, develops a dependency on pain pills. When Spider-Man conquers the Green Goblin, he does so by revealing Harry’s addiction to drugs.
This action was seen as going against typical comics code, but the publisher decided to go through with the story anyway.
The series had continued success in 1972 when Marvel unveiled a second series released each month that would be featuring Spider-Man battling against superheroes and villains also featured in the Marvel series: Marvel Team-Up.
After the publishing of Marvel Team-Up, Spider-Man appeared in two or more monthly series from then on.
In 1976, Spider-Man earned his second solo series titled Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, and the third series Web of Spider-Man began in 1985 which replaced Marvel Team-Up.
The ‘90s brought two more Spider-Man series, Spider-Man in 1990 and The Sensational Spider-Man in 1996 which replaced Web of Spider-Man.
While the concept of the character remains the same, the details of Spider-Man change over time. The irradiated spider of the ’60s was changed to a genetically modified spider in the 1990s.
Spider-Man On Stage
The momentum that producers saw on on the comic pages did not stop in Hollywood.
Sony brought the series into a major motion picture in May 2002 earning more than $800 million nationwide. This led to Spider-Man 2 in 2004 and Spider-Man 3 in 2007 all proving equally successful.
The Spider-Man film series rebranded itself and premiered again after the Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel in 2009.
The series rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 and the Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014.
Amazing Fantasy 15: Getting Caught in the Web
For an experiment that was not intended to go anywhere, the Amazing Fantasy 15 took off in a way that nobody could have expected.
Spider-Man has seen many changes from the comic books to the big screen in the past few decades, the original concert by Stan Lee remains the same.
A hero and a teenage helper all rolled into one; Lee was able to capture the most adolescent superhero in comics that remains culturally relevant decades into the future.