Spider-Man has always been around. So it’s pretty easy to become a fan. Well, at least for anyone born after August 1962, he has always been around. That’s the year Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced the world to Spider-Man in the comic book Amazing Fantasy #15. He didn’t appear in his own Marvel comic book for nearly a year, and shortly after that, he was a toy and a cartoon. So almost from the beginning he was more than the comic book.
If you were a kid in the ’70s you couldn’t escape the deluge of superhero stuff that called out from the aisles of stores. Marvel Comics must have hired a promotional wizard in the character licensing department because Marvel was everywhere. They had racetracks, model kits, tooth brushes, light switch covers, vehicles, color forms, records, bubble bath, a newspaper comic strip, books, and action figures. We were served up all sorts of superhero merchandise, and we gobbled it all up. But, for me, Spider-Man captured my imagination and still does to this day.
I’m actually having a hard time remembering when I first saw Spider-Man. I have a dream-like memory of seeing him with his Spider-buggy at a car show. I was scared to death that he was going to talk to me or shot me with webs. There was a live-action TV show didn’t start until ’77 but he appeared before that on the Electric Company as a live-action version starting in 1974. But I probably played with my sister’s Spider-Man Mego action figure around that same time. Though I can’t recall the first time, I do remember that he fascinated me, and I always wanted to know more about him.
Stan Lee did a fantastic job creating a character that was relatable to kids. Peter Parker was a school kid transformed into a superhero by getting bitten by a spider! I imagine every child that hears that origin says, “Hey I’m a kid, I could be bitten by a spider!” Sure the spider may have to be radioactive, but that could happen to any spider, right?
What is a fan?
There is a threshold that you must reach before you can call yourself a fan. But I’ve never been comfortable calling myself a fan of anything, partly because it sounds ridiculous and partly because I’ve never really been able to identify what that threshold is.
I’ve always felt like you needed to have an obsessive ability to recall facts to be called a fan of something. But someone identified another great indicator of fandom over at Wikipedia.
“Fans usually have a strong enough interest that some changes in their lifestyles are made to accommodate devotion to the focal subject.”
So if you go out of your way to take part in a certain activity in particular, then you are a fan. If you have to dedicate space in your life for physical supportive material related to your interest, then you are a fan. So by those specifications, my dad is a fan of killing meddling squirrels because of the time he spends hunting them down for messing up the air conditioner in his van!
We’ll maybe that isn’t such a good indicator. How about this:
“If you like something a whole lot and you
- have more than 10 things that support or refer to your interest
- can recall more than 25 bits of information about that subject matter
then you are a fan.”
Those are the rules from here on out. Write them down.
First Comic Book
Around 1981 I finally got ahold of my first comic book, and it was The Amazing Spider-Man #222. I bought it for ten cents at a flea market. It was sitting on the corner of a table full of junk. The table could have had precious antiques or magical tiki heads, but all I saw was Spider-Man. I remember looking at the cover a really long time. I’m sure it’s taking up way more brain cells than it should especially since I couldn’t tell you what the story was about inside.
So I’ve been a comic book fan for 30 years, and Spider-Man is the reason I began collecting and started back collecting comics when I stopped for 5 years. And it’s the only comic I’m currently collecting. Peter Parker is sort of like a friend that I keep up with but don’t ever get to talk to. Heck, I probably know more about him than I do some of my actual close friends. Yet, over all this time, I’ve never felt the need to read his story from the very beginning.
I’ve only read Amazing Fantaxy #15 once, and I’ve skimmed Amazing Spider-Man #1 several times, but I haven’t read any of Stan Lee’s run. He wrote 100 of them! But for whatever reason, I’ve never felt the need to go back to the very beginning and read those issues.
Stan the Man
Stan Lee is coming to the Charlotte next week. He will be at America’s favorite convention : Heroes Convention. Part of me wants to see him and shake his hand or at least say thanks, but the other part of me thinks it’s strange because I’m going to see Spider-Man’s dad. I’ve never gone to a friend’s dad and said, “Thanks for having Duane, he’s a really great friend, and we’ve had a lot of amazing times together. Um… so… anyway, thanks for making my friend for me and could you sign this picture of him?”
Being a creator myself, I’ve never had to deal with that sort of situation. Having someone who loves my characters enough that they could talk to me about their motivations does seem neat, but also a little creepy. But, I guess if you’re basically the creator of an entire universe, like Stan Lee is, you’re capable of handling all sorts of awkward situations. Especially if your working in the obsessive arena of comic book uber-fandom.
The Curse of Super Heroes
Stan Lee came up with one of the greatest mottos in super hero history. He was a fantastic wordsmith, and he boiled down the essence of what Peter Parker struggled with since the beginning. It has served as sort of a mission statement for all the creators after him to work with.
Spider-Man didn’t choose to be a hero, he was chosen. He didn’t even realize what it was he was suppose to do with his new abilities. When Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider he didn’t know immediately that he should go out and fight crime. He didn’t even have the motivation to do so. Stan Lee gave him a push by killing off his Uncle Ben. His death was a consequence of Peter’s misuse of power and that made him realize that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Sure, the death of a guardian as a motivation wasn’t a new idea, but having it be the fault of the hero, and wrapping it all up with a timeless tagline was pure genius. A modern-day fairytale with a moral and a reason to continue the story.
Whatever a Spider Can
It doesn’t look like Spider-Man is going away anytime soon. There are plenty of entry points for becoming a Spider-Man fan, with a new movie on the way and more merchandise and licensed products than one person could possibly collect. He’s grown bigger than a comic book superhero.
The fact is, comic book fans are decreasing. The sales of Amazing Spider-Man have gone from half a million copies when he started to under 100,000. You’re more likely to meet someone who is familiar with his many incarnations in other media. A recent video game even presented alternate versions of him in the same game. It sold over a million copies. So it is possible you could run across someone who is a Spider-Man video game fan before you’d ever meet a Spider-Man comic book collector. That’s true for pretty much all comic book superheroes these days.
I’m hopeful that the huge success of superheroes in the movies and the growing popularity of digital comics can breath new life into comic book collecting. (The industry has been laying on the couch gasping for air since the collapse in the late ’90s. It’s a long, boring story. Just think the recent housing market bust but with comic books instead of land.) It makes me happy to think that more people will enjoy the adventures of the web head I’ve enjoyed over the years. But I know it’s never going to be the same as when I was a growing up.
Things change, and you can’t ever change them back. Sometimes they change for the better, and you realize how crappy it was before. But most of the time, you just yearn for how it use to be. You reach out to family and friends to see how they’re doing and to talk about the way things were. You join together to share moments and to experience new things. I guess I’ll be doing that with my pal Peter Parker the rest of my life. Maybe one day I’ll finally go back and read those first 100 issues. So thanks, Mr. Stan Lee, for your son. He truly is amazing.