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Beacon Senior News

The making of Peter Parker

Oct 01, 2020 01:28PM ● By Randal C. Hill

How Stan Lee’s unlikely teenage hero became a pop icon.

It was the late 1950s, and comic book sales were stagnating. So was the enthusiasm of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, following two decades in his high-pressure, often-chaotic world of work. He later recalled to Rolling Stone, “I got to thinking, why not try something different? Something I’d like to read. No more cardboard characters and predictable stories where the hero is 100 percent good and always wins, and the bad guy is 100 percent bad and doomed to lose…”

Lee eventually came up with a unique idea—a fairy tale for the modern teenager. 

“My formula became: Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and accept that a character can fly through the air, climb on walls or have the strength of 50 men. What would his life be like if he lived in today’s world?”

In August 1962, Lee introduced Spider-Man to the world, a character supposedly inspired both by Lee having watched a spider crawl up a wall, as well as the memory of one of his favorite childhood comic books, “The Spider, Master of Men.” 

Spider-Man is a timid, nerdy, genius-level teenager named Peter Parker. As you well know, a bite from a radioactive spider resulted in numerous mutations in his body, including the proportionate strength and agility of the arachnid as well as a “spider sense” that warns him of nearby danger. 

His new body has the agility, balance and bodily coordination beyond that of the finest human athletes. But Parker himself still remains a teenager with everyday problems that include allergy attacks, money woes, acne issues, dandruff flakes and striking out with girls.  

Parker adopts a red-and-blue costume as well as the name Spider-Man in order to conceal his true identity. He also creates and wears a pair of wrist-worn “web shooters” to approximate a spider’s web-spinning abilities, forming sticky ropes of webbing. Parker spins such webs when needing to capture bad guys, some of whom became the world’s most notorious comic-book criminals: Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Scorpion, Shocker the Lizard, Venom and Carnage, to name a few.  

Because comic book kids had previously been portrayed as mere sidekicks to larger-than-life protagonists, Parker’s character was quickly embraced by teenage readers. Spider-Man soared to unimagined heights when given his own series in March 1963. Eventually, Lee’s character surpassed even Superman in sales, reigning as the world’s largest-selling comic periodical for several years.

When Lee first described the idea to his publisher, Martin Goodman, Goodman reportedly sneered, saying “Yech! Who wants to read about spiders? People hate spiders! I can’t see that as a name for a hero or a series at all!” 

Perhaps he couldn’t, but loyal and enthusiastic Stan Lee fans certainly could. 

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