Spider-Man: A Retrospective
For a guy that’s about to turn 50, Spider-Man hides his age well. Since his inception in 1962, Spider-Man has become one of the most recognizable pop-culture icons in existence. You can find the web-slinger in comics, television, film, gaming and on lunchboxes and backpacks. This feature plans to detail the timeline of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, covering the character’s beginnings up through his most recent appearances in film and gaming. Let this serve as a history lesson on why Spider-Man is as important as he is.
Amazing Fantasy #15 releases in August of 1962 and introduces the world to the amazing Spider-Man. Created by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, Amazing Fantasy #15 told the story of an orphan boy raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, who is bitten by a radioactive spider and blessed with the abilities of the arachnid — super strength, a spider-sense, the ability to crawl up walls, etc.
Spider-Man is such a hit that he’s actually given his own starring role in his very own comic — Amazing Spider-Man, which debuts in March 1963.
Esquire magazine runs a poll across college campuses nationwide and discovers that Spider-Man, alongside Marvel’s jade giant, Hulk, are considered “favorite” revolutionary icons, held in the same regard as Bob Dylan and Che Guevara.
Spidey made his television debut with an animated series simply titled “Spider-Man.” The series ran from 1967-1970 before finally being canceled. But if for nothing else, Spider-Man was responsible for the Spidey theme song that nearly everyone can sing on command today.
To get the word out on the negative effects of drugs, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Stan Lee to publish a comic with anti-drug messages. Naturally, Amazing Spider-Man was selected, due to it’s popularity at the time, which featured a story where Peter Parker’s friend, Harry Osborn, got addicted to pills to display the negative effects that come from it.
Spider-Man gets his second starring comic series: Marvel Team-Up, which featured Spidey teaming up with other Marvel heroes and villains. Marvel Team-Up was eventually replaced in 1985 by Web of Spider-Man.
A third Spider-Man title is added to the Marvel portfolio, this time another solo flight for Spidey. The series is The Spectacular Spider-Man, which ran parallel with Amazing Spider-Man.
This year marks the first time Spider-Man leapt from 2D animation to live-action acting on the television screen. The series had it’s sore spots, stuff like low production values and shying away from the character’s core concept, but this show still stood as an important moment for ol’ web-head’s screen career. Hell, this show proved the costume doesn’t look that ridiculous on a real person. That will come in handy down the road…
After a few lackluster, text-based gaming adventures, Spider-Man teamed up with Captain America in Spider-Man and Captain America in Doctor Doom’s Revenge for PC-DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. The game allowed players to play as either Spidey or Cap and fight villains one-on-one until they confronted Doctor Doom.
Developed in 1990 for Commodore’s Amiga system, The Amazing Spider-Man was an action platformer with Spidey out on a mission to save his wife, Mary Jane, from the fish-bowl helmet clutches of his nemesis, Mysterio.
The Amazing Spider-Man vs. Kingpin was the first Spider-Man title to hit Sega’s consoles. The game premiered on the Master System and was later ported over to the Mega Drive/Genesis, Game Gear, and finally the Sega CD. The game was a critical success, noted for its faithful adaptation of the comic characters to video game form, as well as its winks and nods to the Spidey mythos; like taking photos and selling them to the Daily Bugle in order to purchase more web-fluid.
After getting a few television productions under their belt, Marvel and FOX partnered up to bring Spider-Man to television screens once again with the new show acting as a supplement to the Network’s already-successful X-Men cartoon. Spider-Man: The Animated Series wound up being one of the most faithful translations of the character to the small screen, which is a large reason why the series lasted 65 episodes over five seasons.
In the mid 1990s, Marvel kicked down the doors with two major Spider-Man storylines in the pages of the comics, both of which were adapted into video games. The first title (and most important) was Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage releasing on the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive/Genesis in 1994. The game featured a plethora of characters from the entire Marvel Universe and is widely regarded one of the greatest Spider-Man video games of all time, mostly due to the nostalgia factor amongst gamers.
Due to the success of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Western Technologies and publisher Acclaim released Spider-Man for the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, incorporating elements from the wildly popular cartoon. Much like previous Spidey games, Spider-Man was a side-scrolling action platformer. However, the list of boss characters was quite impressive with everyone from The Owl, Rhino, Hammerhead and Green Goblin represented.
In 2000, Activision published their first (of many) Spider-Man titles in Neversoft’s Spider-Man for the Sony PlayStation. The game was critically acclaimed, labeled by many as the “best Spider-Man game ever.” Spider-Man boasted alternate costumes, a “What If” mode, and the first 3D web-slingin’ action Spider-Man had seen in gaming. Soon thereafter the Spider-Man games would become completely open-world sandbox titles – all inspiration can be traced back to Neversoft’s Spider-Man as the foundation for the formula.
Marvel also began their ambitious Ultimate Marvel initiative in 2000, creating a completely brand-new, off-shoot comic universe free of decade-long continuity baggage for their characters. Spider-Man, as you would expect, was one of the first characters to get his own series in the new Ultimate Marvel universe, alongside the X-Men and Fantastic Four.
The first Spider-Man feature film is released to obnoxious fanfare. The film is toted as one of best representations of a comic book character on the silver screen, as well as the best superhero film at the time. Period.
Taking its cues from Neversoft’s Spider-Man, Treyarch adapted the first Spider-Man film into video game form in 2002 with Spider-Man: The Movie, developed for PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and PC. Spider-Man: The Movie was also the first time aerial combat was integrated into the Spider-Man titles, allowing Spidey to freely web-sling around NYC.
The success of the first Spider-Man film easily justified the fast-tracking of a sequel. Enter: Spider-Man 2. Sam Raimi was back in the director’s chair, with the entire main cast of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco reprising their roles as well. Spider-Man 2 introduced the world to the villain Doctor Otto Octavius, which many know as Dr. Octopus.
With a new Spider-Man film comes a new Spider-Man licensed tie-in game. Spider-Man 2: The Game was once again developed by Treyarch and extended the “openness” of the series, allowing players complete control over their NYC web-slingin’. Gamers could choose to solely focus on the game’s narrative driven missions — recreating the plot of the second Spidey film with some liberties — or participate in a large number of side-quests to build hero points and upgrade Spidey’s abilities. The free-form, open structure of Spider-Man 2: The Game became the cornerstone for all Spider-Man video games in years following.
In this humble writer’s opinion, Activision released the greatest Spider-Man video game in 2005 with Ultimate Spider-Man. The cel-shaded graphical style was perfectly fitting for a comic-based video game, the story–written by comic writer Brian Michael Bendis–played into the continuity of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, and the gameplay–both as Spider-Man and Venom–was wildly addictive. Ultimate Spider-Man can also be seen as the pinnacle of Treyarch’s work on the Spider-Man video game franchise.
By the mid 2000s, Spider-Man was featured in eight different ongoing comic series at the time, not to mention the various limited series spotlighting the character. In the realm of Marvel comics, Spider-Man fever was infectious, with the character making enough cameos across the Marvel line to make even Wolverine jealous.
Three years after Spider-Man 2 hit movie theaters, Spider-Man 3 releases and kills the momentum of the franchise dead. Granted, this is no Batman & Robin disaster; Spider-Man 3 did quite well at the box office. But there’s no denying the script was overblown, campy and it just didn’t feel like the people involved had the same level of devotion to the project that we saw with the first two Spidey films. After this movie, Spider-Man movies were shelved for a time being.
It also wasn’t just the films that were starting to drag at this point, the Spider-Man video game blueprint was also beginning to feel stale by 2007. While Spider-Man 3: The Game sported a new plot and a larger version of New York City to explore, the sense of innovation and freshness in the series had all but disappeared. That’s not to say Spider-Man 3 was a bad game, it wasn’t, but the Spidey franchise needed a kick-start in a new creative direction.
Spidey returned to the small screen with The Spectacular Spider-Man in 2008. The series was a combination of the first few years of Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man. The series lasted two seasons and was well received by viewers and critics.
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions represented the dawning of a new creative era for Spider-Man video games. By studying everything that has come before, cherry-picking the best elements, and melting it all together, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions gave the Spider-Man video game franchise the kick it needed. Granted, the game wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a large step in the right direction.
Developer Beenox is tackling the adventures of ol’ web-head once again with Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Beenox proved they know how to craft a solid Spider-Man gaming experience, and they plan to perfect the art with Edge of Time. This game will set out to answer the question, “How important is Spider-Man’s legacy?” Spoiler: very.
The Spider-Man film series is rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man. This new take on the early adventures of Peter Parker returns the action to Parker’s high school years and plans to detail exactly what happened to his parents that leaves him in the care of his loving Aunt and Uncle. Andrew Garfield takes the reins from Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man.
What the future has in store for Peter Parker, no one knows. But let’s be serious, Spider-Man is a pop culture icon. He isn’t going anywhere. He will continue to be featured in comics, television, film, gaming and merchandise until the world ends. The character is one of the most recognizable, inspirational fictional characters in existence. I think the future is going to remain quite bright for the fellow.
Full Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Activision.