Book Nostalgia: Spider-Man
By Dante on July 5th, 2012
I can’t remember what the first comic book was that I ever bought, but it had to be either a Batman or Spider-Man. I’ve loved Batman for 20-plus years, ever since seeing the first Tim Burton Batman movie in a theater in 1989. But I’ve been into Spider-Man equally as long, maybe because his more cartoony aesthetic look to me as a younger kid. In fact, two of my most vivid memories of childhood are 1) watching the opening credits of Batman and having my world turned upside down (Batman was my Star Wars), and 2) coveting this book about comic books (that I saw at a Scholastic Book Fair!) that included a miniature replica of The Amazing Spider-Man #1.
I find myself taking these nostalgia trips more and more often as more and more of the comic books I read as a kid are turned into movies. Earlier this week, for example, the latest Spider-Man movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, opened in theaters (check out Kid Reporter Fred Hechinger‘s awesome interview with Spidey himself, Andrew Garfield!) — the perfect opportunity to revisit those early Spider-Man books.
Spider-Man, like all comic books, has gone through different iterations based on various creative teams. The character first appeared 50 years ago in Amazing Fantasy #15, the last issue of a flagging anthology series, and was created by Stan Lee and the inimitable artist Steve Ditko. The origin is American myth by this point: nerdy teenager Peter Parker is bit by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man. It was a thinly-veiled allegory for going through puberty, with Peter going through radical personality and physical changes, but the stories and characters, in the end, were just great. Spider-man was an instant hit and immediately got his own title, The Amazing Spider-Man. Lee and Ditko worked on Amazing until issue #38, in July 1966, at which point artist John Romita Sr. took over and ushered in the first of many aesthetic changes to Spider-Man, his family, and his gallery of rogues.
In many ways, Romita was a necessary, stabilizing force for the character (he worked off-and-on on Spider-Man through the 1970s), shepherding Spidey through a turbulent time culturally and in the industry. There were a lot of great stories in this era, but to my mind those early Ditko books are unmatched for their New Frontier hopefulness, their razor-sharp wit, and their Pop sensibility. Re-reading those books now, it’s amazing how little seems old. Sure the fashions and sensibilities are decidedly early ’60s, but Spider-Man as an outlet for Peter Parker’s teenage difficulties — in real life Peter is a pushover and a bust with the girls; as Spider-Man he’s cool and wise-cracking and women fawn over him — is something that still resonates. This was always a staple of the character, but it was never more important than in those first few years when Spider-Man was being established.
The movie The Amazing Spider-Man draws heavily on this first era of Spider-Man, despite its present-day setting. The movie is a lot of fun and really captures the Lee/Ditko magic of those early stories. It’s nice to watch this big-screen adventure, but it can’t top reading those first Spidey books.
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