Any list of iconic superheroes would have to include Spider-Man. Since the character’s creation, in the August 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy, the character has proven enduringly popular and has transcended comic books, appearing in a variety of animated programs and three different feature film series. In addition, Marvel has featured Spiderman in a variety of publications, most notably The Amazing Spiderman, and incorporated him into a variety of superhero team-ups, such as with the Avengers, and spun off several alternate-universe scenarios, such as Spiderman 2099. With a career now spanning over 50 years, Spider-Man has proven to be a durable and enduring hero, who has transitioned successfully from generation to generation, whether as a Hollywood blockbuster character, the product of animation services, or on the printed page.
A new kind of superhero
Marvel comics were riding a high in 1962, with the success of the Fantastic Four. Marvel’s creative guru, Stan Lee, realized that tapping into the growing demand for comic books from teens might present some new opportunities for the comic publisher.
Previous teenage superheroes adopted the role of sidekick to an older, established character. Think Robin as a sidekick to Batman. Lee’s inspiration was to give super powers to a pretty typical teen that many of his readers could identify with – the shy and nerdy Peter Parker. Not only does Peter have to learn to use his powers while maintaining a secret identity, he has to handle all the usual challenges of growing up at the same time. As the series has continued, we’ve seen the evolution of Peter, from teenager to college student, from teacher to freelance photographer, and from single to married (and back to single).
The Animated Legacy
Spider-Man first received an animation treatment on the ABC network show, Spider-Man, which ran from 1967-1970, and in syndication for many years afterwards. The animation services producing the show worked on extremely limited budgets. The syndication of these cartoons was long lasting and is still remembered by many who were children during the period.
A variety of animated programs, produced by many different animation services, have followed this seminal effort, particularly since the growth of alternative cable channels and direct to video marketing. Notable among them are 1981’s Spider-Man, a product of the animation services of the Marvel Productions animation studio. Additional treatments by animation services at NBC (Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends), Fox (Spider-Man and Spider-Man Unlimited), MTV (Spider-Man: The New Animated Series), Sony (The Spectacular Spider-Man), and Disney (Ultimate Spider-Man) have aired to varying degrees of commercial and critical success.
Live action and feature films
As with most comic book adaptations, adapting Spider-Man to live action was more difficult to do convincingly than it was for animation services. An early effort The Amazing Spider-Man appeared for only one season on the CBS network.
It took the advent of digital special effects and the growing embrace of comic book movies by Hollywood to see the first convincing efforts to put Spider-Man on the big screen. The initial trilogy of Spider-Man films directed by Sam Raimi, starring Tobey Maguire – Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3, appeared starting in 2002 and were successful at the box office and generally well-received. Yet the series has been rebooted twice since, with the titular character portrayed by Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland. Marvel has worked Spider-Man into the Marvel Universe as well, with his inclusion in Captain America: Civil War.
On to the future
Spiderman is set to continue on the big screen in 2018, with Avengers: Infinity War. There seems little doubt that this enduring character, based off on the idea of a skinny kid learning to use superpowers while still being very human, will endure many more years.
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