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They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Spider-Man turning 50

As excited as I am for "The Dark Knight Rises" (remember Christian Bale's rant on the set of Terminator: Salvation years ago? That's me, but in a good way), my geeky heart belongs to Spider-Man.

I know it sounds corny, but hear me out. When I was a kid, Batman was the superhero I wanted to be, but I knew Spider-Man was the superhero that suited me best, if that makes sense.

When Spider-Man entered my world, I was a shy, geeky 7-year-old in grade school, just like Peter Parker, albeit an older version. When he put the mask on, showed off his mega-cool web shooters and crawled up walls ... well, that's when the dreaming began.

For a 7-year-old, there wasn't anything as cool, and I wasn't the only one. We're approaching the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man's first comic book appearance. In August 1962, Spider-Man appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15. Since then, he's been a pop culture sensation with no end in sight.

On July 4, "The Amazing Spider-Man" hits the big screen, only this time Tobey Maguire is out as Peter Parker, and Andrew Garfield is in. Many are saying this reboot is too quick, but I'll subscribe to the theory Spider-Man always sells. As bad as Spider-Man 3 was, it still made big bucks, but a change was needed.

Trailer buzz for the film has been building, mostly because the reboot appears to be heading back to the franchise's roots when Spidey first appeared in '62. That's a good thing. Co-creators Stan Lee (writer-editor) and Steve Ditko (writer-artist) conjured up a masterpiece of imagination. Years later (35 to be exact), Spider-Man is still stuck to me like his webbing.

The obsession isn't there like it was as kid, but similar to the first time you learned to ride a bike, or those late summer nights playing kick the can with childhood friends, early memories of happiness never leave you. When a lot of things in the world didn't make sense to me as a child, Spider-Man made perfect sense. It's that simple.

Strangely, we might have never seen or heard of Spider-Man had his creators not taken a chance in the early 60s. Before Spider-Man, teen-agers in superhero comic books were usually relegated to the role of sidekick. Lee and Ditko broke new ground by making Parker a teen-age high school bookworm, but it was more than that. Parker's fear of rejection, inadequacy and loneliness made him a fragile hero.

Most comic book publishers wouldn't dare go that route with a super hero, especially in the '60s for fear of poor sales. In Lee and Ditko's case, the creation of Spider-Man was more about timing. According to reports, the publisher of Marvel Comics at the time agreed to try out Spider-Man in the final issue of the canceled Amazing Adult Fantasy, renamed Amazing Fantasy for that August 1962 issue.

The thought was if Spider-Man tanked among readers, it would likely be gone forever with the cancellation of Amazing Fantasy. It didn't happen. A few months after the web-slinger's introduction, the issue was reportedly one of Marvel's highest-selling comics.

In March 1963, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 hit newsstands and the series became Marvel's top-seller. Just as quick, Spider-Man became a pop culture icon. In 1965, an Esquire magazine poll of college students ranked Spider-Man as one of their favorite revolutionary icons, along with Bob Dylan. Asked why, one interviewee reportedly picked Spider-Man because he was "beset by woes, money problems, and the question of existence. In short, he was one of us."

Spider-Man is also one of us in another way: He makes mistakes. The biggest occurred in what has to be one of the best origin stories in the history of superheroes. It's a brilliant tale that would have worked well in one of Rod Sterling's Twilight Zone series.

After Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and is bestowed his powers, he dons his Spider-Man costume, is instantly a novelty TV celebrity, and in the process becomes full of himself. When he ignores a fleeing thief he could have easily stopped, that same thief later shoots and kills his uncle Ben. Only after capturing the thief does Spider-Man realize that, "With great power comes great responsibility."

That was a lot to grasp at the time for a 7-year-old. Heavy stuff for sure, but Spider-Man's origin story and his '60s comics have resonated with me for years. Here's hoping we see some of that old Spidey nostalgia in the latest big screen version - almost 50 years to the date.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo



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