In June of 1962 the fifteenth issue of Amazing Fantasy (formerly titled Amazing Adult Fantasy) was released. There were four stories and an editors note in the issue. The only story that matters in the issue is the first one. It’s called Spiderman and was the launch of a world wide phenomenon readers would come to love up to this day. The story involved a smart teenage science major who was often bullied by his peers. The boy had a doting family who loved him dearly and he appreciated them. Then, one fateful day, a radioactive spider bit the teenager and the world changed. Not just for Peter Parker but for the world of entertainment.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created one of the most iconic and memorable characters of all time. Spider-man was for decades, hands down, no question, the most popular character Marvel ever created. It would take a mutant with adamantium claws and a bad attitude to knock him out of first place. Still, even now, Spider-man is a top tier character and the favorite of millions of people. And it almost didn’t happen.
According to Stan Lee, his editors didn’t want him to write a book where a teenager was the hero. They didn’t think that would sell well. But they allowed him to write a shorter story and put it in an anthology book that was maybe going to be cut from their lineup anyway. Turns out, people loved a story about a teenage hero.
What makes Peter Parker stand out from other heroes of the day are not his powers but his flaws. He’s a teenager capable of making mistakes. Mistakes that have serious consequences.
In the first appearance of Spider-man we see Peter picked on and made fun of for being a kid who is more into science than dances. We see him bitten by the spider that transforms him and gives him powers. We see Aunt May and Uncle Ben dote upon him. We see Peter show off his powers and become a known costumed hero through his feats of strength in a televised wrestling match. We even see him invent his iconic web-shooters.
All of those moments are important and significant. But the one moment from this issue that matters the most is the one moment when Peter does nothing. He lets a crook get away with money that doesn’t belong to him even though Peter could have stopped the criminal. This lack of action causes the death of Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben. The crook goes on to murder Ben and when Peter discovers it was his fault his uncle died, he learns “with great power there must also come — great responsibility.”
The guilt of that moment makes Peter place the world upon his shoulders. He must do right because if he stands by and does nothing, people could die. His heroics are born not out of vengeance or out of the need to prove to the world how good or powerful he is. No. Peter becomes a hero because it is his responsibility. This will be a driving force in his comics to this day.
It can’t be overstated what a groundbreaking issue in the world of comics this first appearance was. Between Lee’s story and Ditko’s art an icon was born. One that is here to stay. There will be many, many more issues of this character for me to review. Not all of them are great but this first one matters to the world of entertainment in a major way. We see it portrayed over and over again in comics, books, television and film.
One of the moments I hate seeing most in anything Marvel is the death of Uncle Ben. At the same time, I know it’s one of the most necessary moments in all of comics. I’ll endure that moment over and over again because what comes after is so compelling.
Next on the reading list is Journey into Mystery #83 where we will meet a god of thunder who wields a hammer like no other.
If you’ve been enjoying these posts and want to read some comics yourself, click on the link below. Note that I am an Amazon affiliate and will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.Read more about Spider-man on Amazon