For the past forty years, one of the most popular and enduring comic book heroes has been Spider-Man. Written as a last-ditch effort by Stan Lee to get the character off his chest, Spider-Man made his entry into the Marvel Universe through Amazing Fantasy #15, in 1962. Since it was Amazing Fantasy's last issue, the Spider-Man story was meant to be a throwaway , but due to overwhelming mail and sales figures, the character was given his own solo title, which proved to be one of Marvel Comics' most successful and popular titles. To this date, the character's comics sell consistently in the top 20, and movies and cartoons of the character have been wildly successful and profitable. What makes Spider-Man, as a character, different from the various superheroes published by both Marvel Comics and DC Comics over the past decades, and how does this translate into him being such a popular and important icon? What was the target audience of the original story, which introduced the character, and how did the comic read to this target audience? What was different about the character and the comic he starred in which catapulted the character into competition with comic stalwarts Batman and Superman, and attained icon status alongside those two characters? How did Spider-Man remain popular and fresh to a whole new generation of readers, and does he still maintain his popularity with the readership that has followed him for over three decades? What makes the character durable and easy to relate to?
The Origin of the Spider-Man character
One of the keys to Spider-Man's popularity as both a character and as a franchise has been the ability of the reader to identify and relate to the character. When Stan Lee first conceived the character in 1962, the comic book landscape was far different from the modern one. There were two primary comic book publishers when it came to super hero comics, DC Comics and Timely Comics. Up until that point, the focus of many comics was on the superhero and not the alter ego. Superman comics focused more on him when he was Superman, and the time spent as Clark Kent was used as a plot device to come up with reasons for him to change to Superman. Batman comics used his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, as a plot device even more so than Superman comics did, and Batman did not have a stable love interest to anchor his alter ego like Clark Kent did. Superman was an alien, and Batman was a wealthy playboy, and both situations could not likely be relatable to the readers of comics, typically young boys and teenagers. Because there was little focus on the alter egos, the comics focused on the fights and adventure, and the heroes had very few problems outside of the fights they engaged in, in each issue. Each issue was self-contained, and future issues did not reference past issues or cite past adventures. In fact, it was not until Lee created the Fantastic Four that continuity and use of a more serialized nature of storytelling was introduced into North American comic books. When it came to tales of superheroes, there were such firm conventions in place, especially regarding love interests, who never discovered the hero's secret identity, and would often need saving by the heroes, thereby, resulting in romantic feelings developing for the heroes, but not the alter ego.
Another important convention regarding the creation of Spider-Man was how teenagers were portrayed in comic books. There were teenaged superheroes before Spider-Man, most notably Robin, Toro and Bucky, but they were not full-fledged heroes with their own adventures, and they were not viewed as being able to hold their own stories or adventures. In 1961, when Stan Lee wrote Fantastic Four #1, he created one of the members of the team, Johnny Storm, as a teenager. Although as the Human Torch, Johnny was part of a team and not the main focus of the comic, he still acted in a sidekick capacity for much of the original run by Stan Lee. To understand the sudden...
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