Back Issues [Spider-Man Day]: The Amazing Spider-Man #1

Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Story Title: “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon!”
Published: 1 March 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
By 1962, Marvel Comics had achieved incredible success with the Fantastic Four and, eager to follow up on this, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee sought to create a teenaged superhero for his younger readers to identify with. Inspired by a fly climbing up his office wall, Lee created Spider-Man (with the emphasis on the hyphen) and turned to artist Steve Ditko to finalise the character’s costume and accessories. Spider-Man’s debut almost didn’t happen, however, as Marvel publisher Martin Goodman disliked the concept and relegated the story to the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. However, Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time; Spider-Man’s subsequent popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and The Amazing Spider-Man has been in publication ever since.

The Review:
The issue begins with what has, in my experience, become a tried and true staple of all Spider-Man comics and that is the recap of Spider-Man’s origin. Some time after the death of Uncle Ben and bringing his murderer to justice as Spider-Man, Peter Parker recounts to himself (and the reader) the story of how he was bitten by a radioactive spider, took on a costumed persona to try and earn some money, and inadvertently caused his uncle’s death by not using his powers responsibly.

Maybe the other kids are right to mock Peter; he should have taken cash in hand!

Now, he and his beloved Aunt May are in a bit of a bind; they have no money to pay their bills and the landlord is literally on their doorstep demanding the rent! Although Peter offers to quit school to get a job, May insists that he continue his studies to become the scientist his uncle always dreamed he would be and, very briefly, Peter considers using his superhuman abilities to commit crimes to pay the bills. Quickly, though, he realises that his Aunt May would be devastated if he was ever caught and imprisoned and, instead, decides to fall back on show business. His duel commitments as Spider-Man and bookish nature continue to make Peter a laughing stock at school since all the hip kids of the sixties want to do is have fun and “jive” rather than study. Still, they would be amazed if they knew that Peter was really Spider-Man, who puts on a dazzling show at the town hall but, while he gets paid, he’s unable to actually get a hold of the money since he not only foolishly asks for a cheque but he asks that it’s made out to “Spider-Man”! I mean, come on, Pete; at least take cash in hand! At the same time, Spidey finds public opinion of him is immediately swayed thanks to the efforts of J. Jonah Jameson, writer and editor of the Daily Bugle, who not only writes a scathing editorial branding Spidey a “menace” but also goes all over New York City delivering lectures that paint Spidey as a bad influence and an outlaw compared to “real heroes” like his son, astronaut John Jameson, because he hides behind a mask.

Spider-Man runs rings around the Fantastic Four when they try to contain him.

Although many aren’t taken in by Jameson’s words, his efforts are enough to put an end to Spidey’s media appearances. Peter is similarly driven to frustration at his inability to get a part-time job and the fact that Aunt May has resorted to pawning her jewellery to make ends meet. The next day, Peter is on hand to witness John Jameson lose control of a space capsule shortly after launch after the guidance device malfunctions. While the guys in charge of the launch fail to think of a way to save the astronaut, Peter suits up as Spider-Man and, despite Jameson’s protests, hitches a ride on a plane to intervene. After webbing himself to the capsule, Spidey is able to manually engage the emergency chute and the capsule glides safely to the ground. However, despite his good deed, Peter is shocked and angered to find that Jameson has called for Spider-Man’s arrest following the incident and has even publicly blamed the wall-crawler for the entire thing as a means to fool the public into thinking him a hero. This time, public opinion is swayed massively in Jameson’s favour and a wanted notice is posted for Spidey’s capture; even worse, Aunt May also believes Spider-Man to be a dangerous criminal. Thankfully, in the next story, Peter hits upon the genius idea of trying to repair his reputation (and make some cash) by joining the much-loved Fantastic Four, thinking the team would jump at the chance to work with a super-powered teenager (why, especially when they have Johnny Storm/The Human Torch on the team already, is anybody’s guess). Since you apparently can’t just walk into the Baxter Building, Peter does the only natural thing and breaks in as Spider-Man; unsure of his intentions, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic activates the building’s self-defence measures and tries to hold him captive in a plexi-glass cage.

The Chameleon impersonates Spider-Man to steal military plans!

Contrary to the now-iconic front cover image, Spidey immediately breaks free of this trap and, as a result, gets into a tussle with the Fantastic Four. He tosses Benjamin Grimm/The Thing aside with ease, webs up Mr. Fantastic’s elastic arms, easily outmanoeuvres Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl’s pathetic efforts to ensnare him in a rope thanks to his spider-sense, and uses his fantastic agility to run rings around the Human Torch. Eventually, cooler heads prevail and the five are able to talk it out. However, when Spidey learns that the Fantastic Four are a non-profit organisation, and that they are in doubt about his reputation thanks to Jameson, he promptly leaves, disgruntled. Meanwhile, at a military installation across the city, Dmitri Smerdyakov/The Chameleon uses his incredibly life-like masks and disguises to steal documents from a restricted area to sell to Soviet Russia. After hearing of Spidey’s failed attempt to join the Fantastic Four, and his status as a public menace, the Chameleon not only deduces that Spidey must be desperate but also that he would make for a perfect fall guy for his plot to steal more missile defence plans. To that end, he uses his fancy technology to broadcast a message that only Spider-Man, with his heightened senses, would be able to hear (the Chameleon apparently being smart enough to work that out as well, conveniently) and, unable to pass up the chance to make some money, Peter (oddly referred to as “Peter Palmer” in one panel) heads to respond to the call.

Spidey apprehends the Chameleon but does little to repair his reputation.

At the same time, the Chameleon masquerades as Spidey and steals the plans using a specially-created web gun and fleeing in a helicopter right as the real Spidey arrives to be accosted by the cops. Realised he’s been played for a fool, and having spotted the helicopter’s escape, Spidey dramatically slingshots and parachutes his way across the city using his webs and then steals a motorboat to track the Chameleon to a Soviet submarine. Despite the Chameleon’s best efforts, Spider-Man is able to force him to the ground and convince the cops of his innocence. However, the Chameleon escapes custody using a smoke pellet and slipping into another face mask, that slippery devil! Despite being out of web fluid, Spider-Man is easily able to track the Chameleon down in the local vicinity using his spider-sense but, just as he nabs the crook, the cops accost Spidey, believing him to be the fake! Enraged and despondent, Spider-Man escapes into the night completely unaware that the cops did catch the Chameleon in the very next panel and thus proving that he was innocent all along.

The Summary:
The Amazing Spider-Man #1 is a pretty decent comic, overall. Like all comic books published in the sixties, it suffers a little bit from the narrative style of the time but, unlike others I’ve reviewed from around this time, these are nowhere near as bad; characters aren’t constantly yabbering on in “hip” slang, for instance, and while Spidey and the Chameleon do constantly narrate their actions as they go, it’s not as intrusive as in other comics. As a result, I found this an enjoyable enough read but it’s not as good as it could be simply because it wastes quite a bit of time reminding readers of Spider-Man’s origin. Still, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 quickly establishes many of the character traits and recurring themes that would plague Peter throughout his career; mainly, money troubles, public opinion, Jameson’s endless crusade, and the frail nature of his Aunt May.

I’ve always found the Chameleon to be an underwhelming villain but he’s good enough here.

Peter Parker is a youth constantly on the short end of life; nothing ever seems to work out for him in either of his guises and he is constantly beaten down by society no matter what he does, and yet he perseveres. This aspiring quality is emphasised here; though Peter does get angry and dejected at his lot in life, he never gives in to the temptation towards crime and is steadfast in his decision to use his powers for good. One good thing that comes from this issue is the answer to the question of who Spidey’s first super-villain was and the answer, disappointingly, was the Chameleon. It might just be me but I’ve never been a fan of this character, or of stories of mistaken identity and fraud in my superhero comics, but thankfully that latter aspect is only a small part of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. If anything, more time could have been spent on the Chameleon framing Spidey for crimes; this would have made Jameson’s tirade against the web-slinger make a little bit more sense (he just comes across as an asshole and a blowhard here), to say nothing to turning the public (and the Fantastic Four) against him and adding to Peter’s woes.

The Fantastic Four dropped in for what amounted to a quick cameo amidst some classic Spidey action.

Also, I feel like the front cover is deliberately misleading; clearly designed to attract readers of the Fantastic Four, who were Marvel’s first big superhero success story, it kind of implies a greater conflict with the group that, in reality, is confined to just a few panels. This is good, on the one hand, as Spidey never needed their help in getting out of danger or anything but it does kind of set the foundation for a bad practice in Marvel (and all of comics for that matter) to use popular or established characters to sell their new releases (ironically, Spider-Man would come to be one of the most infamous examples of this). Still, the comic is full of relatable teenage woes and angst, colourful and larger-than-life characters, and set the standard for Spidey’s status quo going forward. There could maybe have been a little more action and web-slinging amidst all the angst but it’s still an enjoyable read and a must-have for any die-hard Spider-Man fan.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Spider-Man’s iconic debut solo outing? Were you a fan of the character at the time or were you introduced to him through some other means and, if so, what were they? How relatable did (or do you) find Spider-Man as a character? What is your favourite Spider-Man storyline, costume, or character and why? What did you think to the Chameleon being his first villain? Do you like the angle that the public is so easily turned against Spidey or do you think it doesn’t make much sense given how many superheroes run around New York? How are you celebrating Spider-Man Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for Spider-Man Month starting this Friday!

Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man (Mega Drive)

Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Released: 1991
Developer: Technopop
Also Available For: Game Gear, Master System, and Mega-CD

The Background:
Shortly after debuting in the pages of Amazing Fantasy, Peter Parker/Spider-Man graduated to his own solo title and quickly became Marvel’s most popular comic book character. Accordingly, Spider-Man was one of the first of Marvel’s superheroes to make the jump to videogames. In the early nineties, SEGA held the licensing rights to produce home console games based on Marvel Comics characters and one of the first, and most popular, of these was Spider-Man (also known as Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin), a game I first played on the Master System before switching to the 16-bit version after being won over by the superior graphics.

The Plot:
Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City that is set to explode in twenty-four hours, distributed the keys to disarming the bomb to some of Spider-Man’s most lethal foes, and has even framed Spidey for the crime! And, as if all that wasn’t bad enough, Eddie Brock/Venom is stalking the city, further stacking the odds against the web-slinger.

Spider-Man is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer with an emphasis on exploration and combat; given the nature of the plot, players have just twenty-four in-game hours to complete the game. Dawdle too long in the game’s locations and you’ll doom the entire city to destruction, which places a real anxiety into the gameplay which is, sadly, not reflected in the game’s mechanics.

Spidey’s webbing allows him to take out crooks and quickly traverse levels.

Obviously, you take control of Spider-Man, a clunky, stilted, and awkward character who displays all of Spidey’s trademark abilities: he can punch out goons with B, jump with C (be sure to hold the button for a higher jump), and cling to walls, ceilings, and backgrounds by pressing jump twice. He can also shoot webbing with A, which is perfect for taking out goons from a distance or up high as you can diagonally direct Spidey’s web; while you can’t shoot upwards, you can shoot a web out while jumping to swing along horizontally but, while this is great for covering large distances quickly, it’s not so great for the many instances of vertical movement.

Spidey’s webbing is super useful but you’ll need to earn cash from selling photos to refill it.

From the pause menu, you can select between two webs: a sticky web projectile and a web shield to help protect Spidey from damage. However, Spidey has a finite supply of webbing and, when he runs out, you’ll have to rely on your punches and jump kicks. After retrieving Parker’s camera from the Daily Bugle though, you can select his camera from the pause menu and take pictures of goons and bosses to earn cash and refill your webbing, but you only have a limited number of shots available so it’s best to save these for getting pictures of Spidey’s more recognisable enemies.

Control is sluggish and awkward, meaning Spidey lacks his trademark grace and agility.

Control is a major issue in Spider-Man; Spidey is slow moving, his punch doesn’t have a lot of reach, and not only is his hit box quite large but so are the ones of his enemies. You can get around this a bit with his webbing, jump kick, and crouching kick but, more often than not, you’ll clip through enemies and fly backwards when hit with attacks. However, the most frustrating thing about Spider-Man, and the game in general, is how janky the jumping and wall-climbing mechanics are; some levels, such as the city streets, easily allow you to climb walls in the backgrounds but others, like the caverns, don’t. In the warehouse and sewers, you’ll need to climb up vertical walls and ceilings to get through air vents and tunnels and navigate past crates and such, but you need to keep C held down to stay attached to the surface. Nowhere is the control more annoying than in the caverns level, a cramped and maze-like environment that restricts your movement and requires you to perform some tricky web-swings and jumps to progress, which can be frustrating to pull off as Spidey prefers to either just drop off ledges or bump his head on ceilings (or just get shot when he finally makes the jump).

Graphics and Sound:
Spider-Man is a bright and relatively detailed videogame; it was, however, an early release for the Mega Drive so it’s not exactly making the most of the 16-bit machine’s “blast processing” power. Spider-Man and his recognisable villains all look pretty good, especially Venom and Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, but the regular goons and enemies leave a lot to be desired.

While sprites are colourful and detailed enough, the levels are noticeably lacking in detail.

Where the game’s graphics really fall flat, though, are in the environments; New York City looks pretty good and you can clamber up the sides of buildings, stop a random street mugging, and even encounter J. Jonah Jameson on the streets but the warehouse isn’t exactly exciting or impressive. Central Park is quite dynamic, with benches, trees, water fountains, and an intractable fire hydrant but, like all of the game’s locations, it’s surprising barren in the background and lacking in depth. The power station tries to make up for this but ends up being more of a mess of greys and yellows, though there are, occasionally, some interesting elements to some levels (debris floating in the polluted sewer water, for example).

A variety of cutscene styles are employed to tell the game’s story, though the music is pretty poor.

Spider-Man’s story is told through the use of various different types of cutscenes: one is simply the Kingpin making spurious claims through news reports, another is simply the Spider-Man sprite walking in a black void while text scrolls on screen, another uses comic book-like panels and text to show Spidey interrogating his foes, and another use in-game sprites and a bit of text. As you might expect, the comic book panels and sprite-based cutscenes are much more interesting to look at but, even for an early Mega Drive title, they’re very basic. The music is even worse, being bland and uninspiring and, overall, the graphics, music, and presentation were actually better on the Master System, which also featured additional characters and features.

Enemies and Bosses:
While racing to confront his rogue’s gallery, Spidey comes up against a handful of hired goons; these guys will shoot at you with handguns from a distance and try to knife you when you get up close and, later, switch to using sniper rifles. You’ll also come up against such cliché enemies as bats, snakes, dogs, and rats and, in the first mission, will be attacked be one of New York’s finest as well. Levels also feature more formidable and elaborate enemies as well as alligators and “Mutant Jumpers” await you in the sewer, electrified bats fly at you at the power station, laser-firing turrets and ED-209-like robots patrol the caverns, and a giant ape will randomly show up in Central Park!

Ducking and using your webbing is the key to besting both Doc Ock and the Lizard.

The only way to disarm the Kingpin’s bomb is to retrieve five keys from some of Spidey’s most notorious foes; you’ll know when a boss or more powerful foe is near because Spidey’s spider-sense will go off and the music will change. The first you’ll battle (once getting past a rampant forklift truck) is Doc Ock, who awaits you in a dank warehouse and attacks you with his trademark arms. In the Master System version, you could web up his arms to hold his attacks at bay but, here, I found that didn’t seem to work so I just crouched under his attacks to get closer and attacked him that way. In the sewers, you’ll encounter Doctor Curt Connors/The Lizard, who scrambles about the place and whips at you with his tail; however, he also has a tendency to just crouch there looking scary so it’s pretty easy to fire webs at him and jump kick him into submission.

You’ll need to watch out for, and use, the environment to defeat Electro and the Sandman.

As you navigate through the power plant, you’ll be attacked by annoying bolts of electricity that, as you might expect, come from Max Dillon/Electro; Electro flies about the place on a cloud of lightning and shoots thunderbolts at you but his true threat comes from his ability to electrify the girders that you’ll no doubt be standing on so…make sure you’re not on them when that happens! Easily the most unique of the game’s bosses, though, is Flint Marko/The Sandman, who emerges from a sandpit in Central park, turns into sand to avoid your attacks, and attacks with extendable arms and by shooting sand-fists your way. He’s also invulnerable to your attacks so you need to turn around and web-swing back to the start of the level and use the fire hydrant to douse him in water and put an end to him.

Venom shows up more than once to constantly dog your progress and cause you grief.

One of the game’s more persistent bosses is Venom; Venom often shows up at the worst possible moments, such as during other boss fights and at the beginning of the street level (where you’ll also have to watch out for Jameson, who berates you and hurts you if you get too close). Each time you fight Venom, they bound overheard, fire webs at you, and punch you in the face but, generally, the best method of attack is to let them jump over your head, fire your own webs, and punch them whenever they come close. These fights get more difficult as the game progresses thanks to the presence of other enemies and bosses but, in the caverns, I found Venom got a bit stuck on a ledge just out of reach so I could just finish the level without fighting them.

After defeating Hobgoblin, you’ll have to battle basically all of the bosses at once to get to the bomb!

The main enemy of the city level, though, is Jason Macendale, Jr/Hobgoblin, who flies around the rooftops of the city on his goblin glider and tosses a bunch of explosive pumpkin bombs down at you. Luckily, your diagonal webbing can make short work of Hobgoblin but his threat is magnified when you reach the Kingpin’s bomb, which is protected by all the bosses you’ve fought so far (with the odd exception of Doc Ock). Thus, you must battle the Lizard, Electro, Venom, and the Hobgoblin all at once, which is an impressive sight but extremely chaotic. It’s best to try and focus on one at a time, if possible, and take out guys like Hobgoblin and Electro because they can cause major headaches from the air.

If you’re able to keep M.J. from dying, you can batter the Kingpin into submission to win the day.

After defeating them all, you must select each of the five keys you’ve collected from the pause menu and insert them into the bomb in the correct order; each time you put a key in wrong, you’ll lose a chunk of time but, as long as you get it right and avoid a game over, you’ll be spared the constantly timer counting down. Next, you can pick up some health from the air vents and go one-on-one with a very squat and hunchback-looking Kingpin. This is easily the game’s toughest boss fight as the Kingpin deals massive damage with his big, meaty fists and it’s hard to tell when you’ve actually hit him. To make matters worse, Peter’s wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker (who was kidnapped by Venom earlier in the game) is suspended over a fiery pit and you must web her chains to keep her from being lowered to her death. This is really tricky to do because your target is just off-screen and it’s hard to get the angle right to web her chains, to say nothing of the Kingpin’s persistent attacks. If M.J. is lowered into the pit, then it’s an instant game over…which is always fun.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Scattered throughout many of the game’s levels, you’ll find little Spider-Man icons which, when collected, will refill your health. From the pause menu, you’ll also see a little head icon; this is Peter’s head and selecting it will instantly teleport you to Peter’s apartment, where his health bar will slowly refill at the cost of your precious time. This is somewhat pointless as, when you return to the game, you have to start the level from the beginning again but you may have to sacrifice time for health in the game’s tougher moments since you only get one life to finish the game. You can continue if you fail but, again, this will cost you precious time. Otherwise, that’s it; the only way to refill your webbing is to take pictures of Spidey’s famous foes and there are no temporary power-ups or abilities available throughout the game.

Additional Features:
From the main “Options” menu, you can select from four different difficulty settings: Practice, Easy, Normal, and Nightmare. Be warned, however, as while these will, obviously  make the game easier or harder depending on your choice, you can’t progress beyond the sewers if you play on “Easy”. From the same menu, you can also set your stamina level and the amount of web cartridges you carry, which can be beneficial to keeping you alive and in the fight on the game’s more challenging levels.

Other difficulty modes and options allow for some replay value but there are better Spidey games.

Sadly, that’s technically as far as it goes; in the Master System version, you could perform a trick to have Spidey wear his black suit and even play a cheeky mini game but you can’t to that here so the only other benefit available to you are the cheats. While in the “Options” menu, place your cursor on the “Difficulty” option and hold Start on controller two; hold A, B, and C and controller one and press up/right and you’ll see a !!! icon appear in the menu. Once you start the game, if you pause the action and press A, you’ll completely refill your webbing; B will refill your health, C will grant you a few seconds of invincibility, and pressing A, B, and C will skip you ahead to the next level. This is useful to progress you through the game but means nothing if you screw up with the bomb or in the final battle as you’ll still fail the game if you don’t defuse the weapon or keep M.J. safe.

The Summary:
I really enjoyed the Master System version of Spider-Man; I never finished it in the years when I owned it and stupidly sold it some time ago but it was bright and entertaining with some detailed sprites and backgrounds. As a result, I was really excited to play the Mega Drive version of the game, having been won over by screenshots of the game’s superior graphics. However, graphical superiority doesn’t actually translate into a better game; yes, Spidey and his villains look great but the game is a slow, plodding, awkward experience. Climbing walls and navigating through the game’s unfortunately cramped areas is a pain, the lack of viable health power-ups and extra web abilities is disappointing, and the challenge on offer is artificially high and ridiculously unfair at times. It’s a shame as it wouldn’t take much to make the game a bit more enjoyable; upping Spidey’s speed a bit and giving him a vertical web shot would have been a big help but, in the end, it’s a decent enough title but there are definitely better Spider-Man games to play on the 16-bit consoles.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played the Mega Drive version of Spider-Man? If so, what did you think to it? How do you feel it holds up compared to the other versions of the game? How did you find the game’s controls and mechanics? Which of the bosses was your favourite? Did you ever defuse the Kingpin’s bomb and save M.J. or did you fail at the last hurdle? Which Spider-Man videogame is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment down below.

Talking Movies [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Released: 14 December 2018
Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
Sony Pictures Releasing
$90 million
Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, and Liev Schreiber

The Plot:
After being bitten by a radioactive spider and gaining the proportionate strength and agility of the arachnid, Miles Morales (Moore) finds himself caught up in an elaborate plot by Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin (Schreiber) to cross dimensions. In the process, Miles is mentored by, and joins forces with, other incarnations of Spider-Man from across the multiverse while stull struggling to carve out his own identity in the role.

The Background:
In 2011, writer Brian Michael Bendis decided to kill off Peter Parker/Spider-Man and replace him with a younger character in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man (2000 to 2011), Miles Morales, an African American youth of Puerto Rican descent, a decision which created much controversy at the time. Miles, however, soon became a popular character and appeared not just in cartoons and other merchandise but also the mainstream Marvel continuity (“Earth-616”). After the poor reception of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014) led to Spider-Man finally being incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Sony were determined to continue producing Spider-Man films and spin-offs separate from the MCU. Writers Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman chose to focus their efforts on Miles since he hadn’t yet featured in a film and, to further separate the project, it included not only Spider-People from across the multiverse but also a distinct and intricate animation style that was as vital to the story as the music and dialogue. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse received unanimous praise upon release and made over $375 million at the box office, won numerous awards, and is highly regarded as one of the best and most unique Spider-Man movies ever made. Its massive success meant that both a sequel and a spin-off were soon announced and no doubt contributed heavily to Miles’ continued popularity.

The Review:
First and foremost, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Miles Morales’ story, even amidst all the chaos and multiverse madness permeating the plot; unlike the traditional Peter Parker, Miles’ parents are still alive and, while he struggles to adjust to boarding school and to make new friends, he’s nowhere near the social outcast Peter is often portrayed as during his teenage years. A big fan of music (though he is amusingly poor at reciting lyrics) and with an artistic flair, Miles is a slightly rebellious and resentful youth who struggles to live up to the expectations of his father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), a police officer who regards Spider-Man (Chris Pine) as a menace and delights in embarrassing his son at his new school with typical dad humour. A somewhat streetwise kid who was a popular figure at his old school, Miles is largely an outsider at his more officious and pretentious boarding school; he’s uncomfortable in the mandatory uniform, feels like he doesn’t really fit in, and is intentionally trying to sabotage his future there so he can go back to his old school and his old friends. Believing that his father doesn’t really understand him or his dreams, Miles has a far closer relationship with his uncle, Aaron Davis (Ali), who encourages his penchant for street art and actually takes the time to connect with him on a more peer-to-peer level. To Jefferson’s chagrin, Miles idolises his uncle, who indirectly leads to him gaining his spider powers.

Miles’ struggles with his spider powers are directly paralleled to the onset of puberty.

Already somewhat uncomfortable in his new environment, Miles’ newfound spider powers (which are explicitly compared to the onset of puberty) only increase his agitation; he struggles to adapt to and master his abilities, gaining a far louder and more noticeable internal monologue and accidentally attaching himself to Gwen Stacy’s (Steinfeld) hair in an awkward attempt to flirt with her. Interestingly, Miles’ exploration of his abilities is a source of as much entertainment and amusement as it is an integral part of Miles’ character development; throughout the film, Miles struggles to master his powers, which seem to trigger unconsciously or involuntarily, and a massive part of Into the Spider-Verse revolves around Miles living up to the lofty expectations now placed upon him by his amazing new abilities.

In Miles’ world, Peter is a competent, renowned, and experienced superhero.

Miles lives in an alternative world that isn’t quite Earth-616 or the Ultimate universe; it’s one that draws inspiration from all over Spider-Man’s various adaptations and interpretations but one where Spider-Man is a renowned and experienced superhero. Carrying himself with the confidence of a veteran of many battles, life lessons, successes, and failures, this Spider-Man is, honestly, uncharacteristically competent in a lot of ways (he’s still married to Mary Jane Watson (Zoë Kravitz), has the full support of his beloved Aunt May Parker (Lily Tomlin), and even has a Spider-Cave full of different Spider-Suits, for God’s sake). During an intense battle with the monstrous and demonic Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone) and the slick and efficient Prowler, Peter is shocked to meet Miles, someone who shares his abilities, and vows to train him and give him the opportunities he never had when he was first starting out, such is his commitment to using great power with great responsibility.

Kingpin may look ridiculous but he’s a formidable threat who killed Peter with his bare hands!

Sadly, and unexpectedly, Peter is killed right before Miles’ eyes by the Kingpin; Fisk, who blames Spider-Man for exposing his criminal deeds to the world and thus driving away his wife and son, has built a gigantic Super-Collider which he plans to use to rip a hole between dimensions and retrieve his family from another time and place. When Peter costs him this opportunity, Fisk beats him to death in a brutal and surprising scene and spends the remainder of the movie desperately trying to track down and reacquire the USB flash drive that allows the collider to work. Like Green Goblin, Fisk is a comically exaggerated version of himself, even compared to the creative flair of some comic book artists, but as preposterously absurd as Kingpin looks, his threat has, arguably, never been more tangible and brutal than in Into the Spider-Verse. Exuding unmatched power, wealth, and authority, he commands some of Spider-Man’s most notorious foes with a cold menace and is more than happy to get his hands dirty in his desperate attempt to be reunited with his family.

Peter B is an out of shape, world-weary version of Spider-Man who’s far from his prime.

Shaken by Peter’s death, and overwhelmed by the immense responsibility now in his hands, Miles is shocked to meet an alternative version of Peter, Peter B. Parker (Johnson), who arrived during the brief period that the Super-Collider was active. Unlike his counterpart from Miles’ world, Peter B is an out of shape, jaded, wreck of a man who has lost his way, and everything near to him, and yet, despite his crushing losses, obvious depression, and having grown weary of the power and responsibility that comes from being Spider-Man, Peter B still continues to be Spider-Man and does his best to tutor Miles in coming to grips with his powers. He’s obviously not as effective or competent a mentor than his counterpart promised to be but he does what he can regardless and is fully willing to put his life on the line to allow his fellow Spider-People to return home.

Thanks to her friendship with Miles, Gwen learns to open herself up to others once again.

Speaking of which, Miles is also joined by a whole host of unexpected Spider-People; the first one he meets is Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy, although he is unaware of her true identity at the time. A vastly different version of the traditional Gwen, Spider-Woman gained her powers in Peter’s place in her world and is a tough, sarcastic character who, while having a soft spot for Miles, is reluctant to open herself up to him, or anyone else, for fear of losing them. In a film arguably crowded by Spider-People, Gwen stands out by being one of the more recognisable and fleshed out characters and is, basically, a tertiary protagonist as her growing friendship with Miles is a major part of her (and his) character development.

As fun and interesting as the other Spider-People look, there’s not enough time for them all to shine.

Sadly, the same can’t really be said about the rest of the Spider-Crew; Peni Parker/SP//dr (Glenn) is perhaps the least developed and expendable of the group. While she is rendered in an outstanding anime aesthetic and has a heart-warming bond with her spider mech, she’s largely inconsequential to the story and could have been spliced out with any other version of Spider-Man. Spider-Noir (Cage) and Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (Mulaney) manage to stand out a little better thanks to being rendered in monochrome and talking like a thirties gangster or being a literal cartoon character, respectively, but we don’t really learn a great deal about them and they’re mainly there to emphasise that every universe has a Spider-Man and that Spidey’s legacy and ideals are carried by a variety of characters all throughout time and space, which all directly ties into Miles’ character arc of growing into, and finally accepting, his role as Spider-Man.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse immediately sets itself apart from other Spider-Man movies not just by focusing on Miles as its main character and its cross-dimensional subplot but also by virtue of being an animated movie. Truthfully, animation suits Spider-Man down to the ground as, often, some of the more exhilarating sequences in Spider-Man movies are the computer-generated fight scenes and web-slinging moments and Into the Spider-Verse definitely uses its medium to its full advantage, featuring a unique aesthetic, comic book-like sound effects for emphasis, and even varying the frame rate to emphasise the differences between the various Spider-People and Miles’ comparative inexperienced compared to them.

Jokes, gags, and quips are just part of the film’s humour, which is full of amusing banter.

Humour is an important element of the film; Into the Spider-Verse is full of amusing lines, sight gags, and comedic moments that come naturally and are incredibly amusing thanks to some effortless and believable line delivery from the likes of Moore, Pine, and Johnson (Spider-Man’s quips during tough situations and battles are a notable highlight). Characters have an easy banter and sass to them that allows even the least developed of them to appear far more nuanced in the short space of time they have to shine and humour is emphasised through Miles’ inexperience with his powers, wry commentary on his increasingly chaotic situation, and the frantic nature of the action scenes and character beats.

Action and fights are colourful and frantic, ensuring no two fights are the same.

Speaking of action, Into the Spider-Verse is crammed full of some of the most impressive, intense, and frenzied action scenes in any Spider-Man movie; the freedom offered by relying on animation allows for some of the most diverse and varied web-slinging as each Spider-Person swings, fights, and moves differently. The use of music and onomatopoeia emphasises the action, which is fast-paced, memorable, and impactful thanks to the film showcasing a wide variety of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, which includes the likes of the Green Goblin, Lonnie Lincoln/Tombstone (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III), and Mac Gargan/The Scorpion (Joaquín Cosio).

Though a vicious mercenary, Aaron’s hesitation to kill Miles costs him his life.

Apart from Fisk, though, the most prominent villains of the film are Doctor Olivia Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn) and the Prowler; while Doc Ock is a sadistic and formidable, half-crazed scientist, it is the Prowler who has the most emotional significance to both the plot and to Miles. Constantly accompanied by an ominous, animalistic theme, the Prowler is portrayed as Fisk’s top mercenary; a brutal and vicious, cat-like fighter in a sophisticated suit of armour, Prowler stops at nothing to hunt down Fisk’s missing USB drive. Miles is absolutely devastated to find that the one person he thought he could rely on in the whole world, his Uncle Aaron, turns out to be the Prowler and even more crushed when, upon discovering Miles’ identity, Aaron chooses to spare his nephew and is executed by the Kingpin as a result and dies in Miles’ arms while urging him to continue on as a hero.

Miles finally embraces his role as Spider-Man, defeats Kingpin, and returns his new friends home.

In the end, against all the odds and his own doubts and inexperience, Miles customises one of Peter’s suits (crafting an absolutely bad-ass variant in the process) and fully embraces his role as Spider-Man to confront the Kingpin and put an end to his destructive scheme. It’s a real coming of age moment for Miles, who previously could only look up in awe at Spider-Man’s legacy, and allows him to not only finally live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him by his father and the various Spider-People but also repair his relationship with his father (and his father’s opinion of Spider-Man) through his actions. With the Spider-People returned home, Miles becomes the one true Spider-Man of his world, gaining lifelong friends and a renewed sense of responsibility, confidence, and identity in the process. It’s a strikingly effective story largely thanks to how relatable and complex Miles is portrayed throughout the film, being a rebellious and well-meaning kid who is simply struggling to find his place in an ever-changing world.

The Summary:
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not really a fan of how often a street-level superhero like Spider-Man gets caught up in multiversal misadventures and meets alternative versions of himself; just like how I’m often a bit perturbed by how often Bruce Wayne/Batman has to put up with the same events, I feel like Spider-Man works better as a more grounded hero who only occasionally dabbles in cosmic-level events. To that end, I feel like Into the Spider-Verse would have been just as appealing to me, if not more so, had the multiverse elements been dropped; Peter B could have just been the version of Spider-Man in Miles’ world, Gwen could have been the same or swapped out with Cindy Moon/Silk, and the other Spider-People could have been replaced by, say, Ben Reilly or Kaine Parker and the idea of a multiverse of Spider-Man could maybe have been saved for the next movie.

The film is a superb coming of age story charting Miles’ acceptance of his new role as a superhero.

However, having said that, that doesn’t mean I’m not a huge fan of Into the Spider-Verse as it is; make no mistakes about it, this is a fantastic movie from start to finish, with an extremely appealing aesthetic identity and some absolutely fantastic action. It also carries a very emotional heart to its story, which is one of identity, legacy, and expectation; a coming of age story that follows a young, emotional kid who is struggling to live up to the role his mentors expect of him, Into the Spider-Verse says a lot about not only the nature of Spider-Man but also the struggles of youth and puberty. I’m glad Into the Spider-Verse did so well and I’m genuinely looking forward to the sequel delivering more of the same high-octane action and heartfelt emotion, visual flair, as well as introducing more Spider-People and, hopefully, expanding upon the brief cameo from one of my favourite Spider-Man, Miguel O’Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac).

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What are your thoughts on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? Where does it rank among the various other Spider-Man movies for you and what did you think of the artistic style and focus on Miles Morales and the other Spider-People? Which of the alternative Spider-Man was your favourite? Would you have liked to see one, or more, get a bigger role and if so, which one? What other alterative version of Spider-Man would you like to see show up in the sequel? Are you a fan of Spider-Man always having adventures with alternate versions of himself or would you prefer to see him tackling more street-level threats? Are you a fan of Miles, and what did you think to Peter’s death both in Ultimate Spider-Man and in Into the Spider-Verse? Whatever your opinion on Into the Spider-Verse, go ahead and drop a reply down in the comments and be sure to check back in next Wednesday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Screen Time [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man (1977 Pilot)

Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Air Date: 14 September 1977
Network: CBS
Stars: Nicholas Hammond, Lisa Eilbacher, Thayer David, David White, and Michael Pataki

The Background:
Following his debut in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #5, Spider-Man soon graduated to his own solo comic series and, by the mid-1970s, had become an icon of mainstream pop culture thanks to numerous merchandise and adaptations in other media such as the 1960s cartoon. It was during this time that CBS bought the rights to produce a live-action show for prime-time television; however, rather than debuting as an episodic series, The Amazing Spider-Man first aired as a feature-length episode that served as a back-door pilot. The pilot actually received a theatrical release outside of the United States, though I only remember seeing it on TV here in the United Kingdom once as a kid; regardless, the pilot was a success and led to the commission of a thirteen episode series that aired between 1977 and 1979.

Spider-Man’s feature-length pilot led to a thirteen episode TV series.

Despite drawing favourable ratings during its airing, CBS were reluctant to continue the show as it was expensive to produce and underperformed with older audiences. As a result, the show was eventually cancelled and has never seen a re-release outside of a few VHS tapes back in the day. Although the series was lacking in any of Spider-Man’s recognisable rogues gallery, it’s rumoured that there were tentative plans to produce a crossover with the long-running Incredible Hulk series (1977 to 1982) but these, obviously, never came through. Today, the series is largely forgotten, having been long overshadowed by Spider-Man’s big budget live-action ventures but Peter’s likeness in the 1994 cartoon always reminded me of Hammond’s.

The Plot:
When freelance photographer Peter Parker (Hammond) is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider, he adopts a crime-fighting persona dubbed Spider-Man to oppose the aspirations of the malicious Edward Byron (David), who plans to hold the city to ransom with his mind control technology.

The Review:
After the introductory titles (which features both a glimpse of the spectacular stunt work that the pilot and series was known for and the show’s super funky seventies theme music), Spider-Man immediately introduces the central antagonistic force of the plot as a doctor and a lawyer are inexplicably compelled to walk out in the middle of their jobs and perform a bank robbery, with the only thing relating the two being mysterious pins attached to their suits.

Peter struggles to sell photos to, or get assignments from, the grouchy Jameson.

Next, we’re introduced to Peter Parker, a freelance photographer who suffers from allergies and is attempting to work his way through college by selling photographs to J. Jonah Jameson (White), to little avail. While Jameson is far less as explosive and grouchy than his usual iterations, he’s still volatile and a natural cynic at heart, especially when faced with the seeming randomness of the opening crime and the subsequent threat for further crimes to follow.

A lone spider is bathed in radiation during one of Peter’s experiments…

While Peter can’t catch a break with Jameson and is thus constantly low on cash, he’s intrigued by the threat of mass mind control that has been levied against the city and has far more luck in the field of science. Peter works in a laboratory alongside his friend and fellow student Dave (Larry Anderson) and the two of them are conducting experiments on radiation. However, while dealing with some radioactive waste, a lone spider is bathed in over 400 rads’ worth of radiation and, in its last desperate act, bites Peter’s hand.

Peter is exhilarated to find he can cling to walls and surfaces just like a spider!

I’m not entirely certain but I think this is the first time the spider bite was indirectly caused through Peter’s own actions and it’s an interesting change. Rather than going through any kind of adjustment period or troublesome transformation, Peter experiences the effects of the spider bite almost instantaneously, being aware of incoming danger thanks to his spider-sense and racing up a wall with ease and on pure instinct. It’s not until later, after a particularly gruelling night’s sleep, that Peter pieces together the fantastic event and realises that he has been genetically altered; this leads to a montage in which he explores the lengths of his new abilities on the outside of his Aunt May’s (Jeff Donnell) through the use of camera trickery.

After being dubbed “Spider-Man”, Peter throws together a costume to sell pictures to Jameson.

It’s not a great effect, and certainly nothing on the practical wire work seen later in the pilot, but it’s certainly ambitious for the time. Peter first puts his powers to good use while clambering up a wall in the city, which is startling enough to stop a purse snatcher (Barry Cutler) in his tracks. This leads to eyewitnesses dubbing him “Spider-Man”, which piques Jameson’s interest and, in that moment, gives Peter the inspiration to construct a colourful outfit and persona befitting of such a name and to explain Spider-Man’s logistics and capabilities to the pessimistic Jameson (and, in the process, the audience). While Peter acts on instinct to stop a criminal, his primary motivation for becoming Spider-Man is to sell Jameson pictures; there’s no Uncle Ben or lessons about power and responsibility here (which, I’m sure, today’s Spider-Man “fans” would throw a fit over!), just a regular kid trying to do the right thing and make some money out of little more than an ingrained sense of right or wrong.

Captain Barbara’s cantankerous, gruff demeanour was a real highlight for me.

In the course of the pilot, Peter runs afoul of the temperamental Captain Barbara (Pataki), a grouchy, cantankerous, and suspicious police captain who is kind of like the Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) of the show; perhaps because of his jaded nature, he is almost immediately suspicious of Peter and becomes even more so when Peter continues to show up at the scenes of the inexplicable crimes. Barbara is equally unimpressed with Spider-Man’s debut, believing (with little reason) that the wall-crawler is somehow involved in the mysterious events and voicing many of the more aggressive objections to the vigilante that are usually attributed to Jameson, who is skeptical of Spider-Man but never exhibits the hatred normally associated with the character.

Peter and Judy attend one of Byron’s aggressive seminars on the futility of life.

When covering the aftermath of another of the incidents in which Professor Noah Tyler (Ivor Francis) randomly committed a robbery and then crashed head-first into a wall, Peter meets his daughter, Judy (Lisa Eilbacher). Judy confides in Peter that her father has been attending a special group to teach people the “true meaning of themselves” through unusually aggressive lectures. This group, which is more like a cult or twisted church, is led by the pilot’s big bad, Edward Byron; Byron uses specialised radio signals to compel his victims to commit their crimes and is basically able to force anyone wearing one of his pins and subjected to his mind control device to follow his explicit instructions. Specifically, Byron has them commit robberies and then kill themselves and his end goal is extortion, as he threatens to kill several citizens unless he’s paid a ransom of $50 million. Byron exhibits a disdain for those in his group, and humanity in general, and believes himself to be above them both in terms of intelligence and stature; for all his grandiose speeches, though, he’s little more than a madman who wishes to exert and abuse his power and technology purely to satiate his greed.

Peter’s far from the hapless nerd from the comics and his ingenuity is heavily emphasised.

While Peter has some bad luck in the pilot, it’s generally more around trying to make money off the pugnacious Jameson and he’s far from the hapless, down on his luck nerd he is often pigeon-holed as. Instead, he’s a relatively well-adjusted young man who bonds with Judy extremely quickly and a central theme of the pilot is Peter’s intelligence and scientific acumen. Not only does he put together an impressive costume for himself but he quickly cobbles together his patented web-shooters and not only stumbles upon Byron’s hypnotic signal with his microwave emitter but also puts together a gadget to led him to the source of the signal.

Stuntman Fred Waugh took over once Peter donned the suit to perform the pilot’s dangerous stunts.

When in the costume, Spider-Man duties mostly fall to stuntman Fred Waugh, who adopts an agile grace and insectile posture that, possibly, was a conscious decision on Waugh’s part to emphasise the physicality of the character. The pilot features a number of complex and incredibly dangerous stunts achieved through the use of wire work, cables, rigging, and rotating sets; though you can make out some of the wires here and there, that doesn’t take away from the ambition of those involved and it’s because of this practical approach that, for the first time, we get to see a live-action Spider-Man literally climbing up the sides of buildings, leaping to ceilings and walls, and swinging across rooftops (something, even now, which is more likely to be achieved through CGI than traditional filmmaking techniques).

Spidey’s intelligence wins the day as much as his incredible strength and agility.

While these instances showcase Spider-Man’s agility, a protracted fight scene between the web-head and Byron’s three mind-controlled goons does a decent job of showing how formidable Spider-Man is (and, in a follow-up confrontation, his amazing recuperative powers); it’s not an especially thrilling fight scene as it’s a very slow and co-ordinated affair but, nevertheless, he’s easily able to outmanoeuvre and overpower the three. This also gets paid off at the conclusion of the pilot in one of my favourite scenes where Spidey, in the quest to bring Bryon to justice, makes friends with the three. Indeed, in the end, it’s not strength or agility that wins the day but a combination of luck (Peter’s control pin gets dislodged from his jacket) and intelligence as he not only discovers but also decodes Byron’s hypnotic microwave technology. This allows Spider-Man to tear down Byron’s control antenna and turn his technology against him, rendering him little more than a mindless puppet to face Barbara’s not-inconsiderable-wrath.

The Summary:
I’m well aware that I’ve used the word “ambitious” a lot in this write-up but it’s the best word I can think of to describe Spider-Man; it’s impressive how much the filmmakers were able to pull off given the limitations of the seventies and I would argue that, despite a lack of recognisable characters and villains, Spider-Man is actually a far more accurate adaptation of the source material, in many ways, than The Incredible Hulk. They’re both relatively grounded and far more realistic takes on Marvel’s colourful heroes but Spider-Man features far more innovative special effects to bring the character to life.

Despite the lack of Uncle Ben and May’s reduced role, Peter still uses his abilities responsibly.

I have to say, even now, that the Spider-Man costume is pretty impressive; it’s kind of like an all-in-one body suit but the colours are suitably bright and vibrant and I love the simplicity of the design, which includes reflective lenses and, in time, mechanical web-shooters of Peter’s own design that allows him to swing between buildings and stop crooks with a variety of webbing. It’s rarely, if ever, Hammond in the suit but the plus side to that is that Spider-Man is pretty much always wearing his mask and fully capable of performing the pilot’s complex and ambitious stunts and fight scenes. Thanks to the alterations to the character’s origin, Uncle Ben is no longer a factor (he’s not even mentioned or even hinted at) and Aunt May has a much smaller, inconsequential role where she’s a doting matriarch rather than a decrepit, fragile figure (something subsequent live-action movies would emulate). Regardless, Peter is still compelled to use his powers for good (…and to make a little money at the same time) simply because he’s a good kid; he may lack the tragedy and pure motivation often associated with the character but he’s nonetheless as determined to help others.

I’ve got a lot of nostalgia for the pilot and I’ve love to see the show made more accessible.

Neither the Amazing Spider-Man or Incredible Hulk TV shows were on when I was a kid so the only exposure I had to either was in their feature-length spin-offs and, for the longest time, Spider-Man was about as good as you could get for a live-action adaptation of the character. I remember preferring the subsequent features that were produced some time after this and were comprised of combined episodes of the show but, revisiting this pilot episode after a good twenty years was an entertaining experience, to say the least. Sure, many of the effects haven’t aged too well and it’s disappointing that it doesn’t adhere more closely to the source material but I am very forgiving of this pilot and have a real fondness for it, and Hammond’s portrayal of the character, so I can only hope that, one day, the entire series gets a much-needed release on DVD so more people can experience this early and ambitious take on the character.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever seen Spider-Man or the Amazing Spider-Man TV show? What did you think of them at the time and how do you think they hold up today? What did you think to the show’s costume, stunt effects, and Hammond’s performance as Parker? Were you a fan of original characters like Captain Barbara and Edward Byron or would you have preferred to see more comic-accurate characters and villains in the show? Would you like to see a release of the series on home media or Disney+ or do you think it’s best to leave the show to obscurity? Whatever your thoughts on the seventies Spider-Man adaptation, go ahead and leave a comment below and be sure to check in again next Wednesday for more Spider-Man content!

Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man: The Video Game (Arcade)

Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Released: 1991
Developer: SEGA

The Background:
Having achieved success with the creation of the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics editor and head writer, the immortal Stan Lee, was searching for another title to match the success of Marvel’s first family. Inspired by a spider climbing up a wall, influenced by pulp vigilante the Spider, eager to capitalise on the surge in teenage demand for comic books, and working alongside artist Steve Ditko, Lee conceived of Spider-Man and was granted permission to feature the teenage superhero in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. Marvel publisher Martin Goodman was shocked to find that Amazing Fantasy #15 was one of the publication’s highest-selling comics and a solo Spider-Man series soon followed, with Spidey quickly becoming Marvel’s most popular comic book character.

Spidey has been Marvel’s flagship character and has crossed over into numerous other media.

Since then, Spider-Man has seen success in numerous other media; in 1967, he featured in a self-titled animated series, he famously appeared as a guest character on The Electric Company (1971 to 1977) and starred in his own live-action series in 1978, and heavily influenced my childhood through the fantastic Spider-Man cartoon (1994 to 1998) before eventually featuring in a number of live-action films. Furthermore, Spider-Man has also featured in numerous videogames, the first of which was the aggravating Spider-Man (Parker Brothers, 1982) for the Atari 2600. Before debuting in arcades, the majority of Spidey’s videogame efforts were sidescrolling action/platformers but this was the early nineties and button-mashing beat-‘em-ups were all the rage thanks to titles like Double Dragon (Technōs Japan, 1987), Final Fight (Capcom, 1989), and The Simpsons (Konami, 1991) so Spidey’s arcade debut naturally came in the form of a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up.

The Plot:
Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime in New York City, has sent his minions out into the city to retrieve a mystical artefact and only Spider-Man and his allies (Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and Felicia Hardy/Black Cat) can hope to defeat some of Spidey’s most powerful and iconic villains and oppose the Kingpin’s plans for domination.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is a fairly standard sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which players can pick from one of four characters (Spider-Man (obviously), Sub-Mariner, Hawkeye, and Black Cat) and make their way from the left side of the screen to the right beating up wave-upon-wave of nameless thugs. The game allows any player to select any character and allows for up to four players to play simultaneously, which is always an appreciated feature of such titles.

Each character is quite sluggish to control, and gameplay is shaken up by some ugly platforming sections.

Upon selecting your character, you’re dropped into the streets of New York and quickly learn that the game is quite limited in terms of the moves available to you. Each character controls in exactly the same way, with a few subtle differences: Spidey and Black Cat can swing from webs/lines to attack enemies (if you can pull off the attack, which kind of requires a very specific combination of jumping and attacking) and each has a slightly different jumping attack (Namor dives fist-first down into enemies, for example) and melee attacks (Black Cat is much more about the fancy kicks than Hawkeye). While you can perform a signature special attack (shooting webs or arrows, for example) at the cost of some health points, each character is just as sluggish and apathetic as the next thanks to a lack of a dash function. However, after beating up a few thugs and taking out a sub-boss, the game suddenly shifts to an entirely different perspective; the camera zooms out and the game becomes more of an action/platformer as your character must scale a vertical and horizontal map taking out more goons as they go. In this zoomed out mode, your characters are no longer able to perform melee attacks and must rely on their projectile attacks: Spidey shoots webs, Hawkeye shoots arrows, Black Cat attacks with a grapple hook, and Namor….shoots lightning…? Spidey and Black Cat can also scale and climb walls to navigate these areas faster and Hawkeye and Namor can hang on to overhead platforms to shoot at enemies but it’s a bit weird that you’re not given full access to each character’s abilities in this mode.

Your health is constantly ticking down an player’s are rated after each stage in place of a traditional scoring system.

Unlike many videogames and beat-‘em-ups, inserting coins not only allows you to continue from death but also boosts your health, which is represented by a series of numbers under your character’s name. Your health numbers also double as a time limit as they’re constantly ticking down and this is quite a unique and clever way to get kids to waste their hard-earned pocket money as, while you can find health (in the form of hearts) strewn around the game’s stages at various points, you’ll quickly be pummelled into submission by the game’s enemies and forced to drop more coins to pump up your health and continue on a little further. Sadly, in a marketplace crowded by fantastic beat-‘em-ups, Spider-Man: The Video game fails to stand out in a lot of ways; you can attack and destroy parts of the environment but there’s not much motivation to do this as there are no weapons to find and use and no items to pick up to increase your score. Your score isn’t even displayed onscreen as you play, for God’s sake, which is really unusual, despite the fact that your progress is rated at the end of each stage. Instead, the game’s primary selling point appears to be exclusively the Spider-Man brand and the odd inclusion of action/platforming sections.

Graphics and Sound:
For the most part, Spider-Man: The Video Game looks serviceable enough; sprites are large and colourful but, like the backgrounds, are a little lacking in variety and detail. None of the playable characters have an idle animation, which lets the game down somewhat, and Spider-Man, especially, just looks bored and depressed as he plods around at a sluggish speed. When the game zooms out for its platforming sections, sprites take on a largely pixelated appearance but the backgrounds become much bigger and more detailed. Stages initially seem quite short as you come up against your first sub-boss in almost no time at all and, after defeating them, you’re tasked with climbing up to the rooftops of New York’s skyscrapers and the stages really open up.

Sound effects are limited but decent, and platforming sections expand the game, with “Latvelia” being the most visually interesting.

As you attack enemies, and are attacked, big comic book-style sound effects appear onscreen (as is pretty standard for comic book beat-‘em-ups) but I found sprites go a bit transparent when they pass over other sprites and graphics (though this could be due to emulation issues rather than a flaw of the title itself). The game does feature some limited voice acting but, despite featuring a female voice (who just loves to cry out “Spider-Man!” every time you insert a coin), no female voice work accompanies Black Cat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the male voice acting is the same for every character and hardly of a high standard and when you realise that Namor and Black Cat’s attacks are accompanied by some really weird sound effects that make them sound like they’re drowning or a robot, respectively. As you might expect, comic book-style cutscenes tell the game’s story; these take the form of still images with some accompanying text (though these don’t change depending on your character and mostly just feature Spidey by himself) and in-game cutscenes with some fitting word balloons. Finally, while the game’s stages are fairly standard (the streets, the rooftops, flying through the skies, construction sites and the like), they don’t really stand out much until you crash-land into the hellscape of “Latvelia” and the game suddenly busts out some decent fire effects. Finally, the game’s music, while interesting and serviceable enough, doesn’t really feel very unique to the Spider-Man brand or compared to other beat-‘em-ups.

Enemies and Bosses:
The majority of the enemies you’ll encounter throughout your journey are literally nameless, faceless goons; weird kabuki-mask-wearing, purple-spandex-clad thugs are the order of the day here but they are soon joined by such cliché beat-‘em-up enemies as martial artists (who can duck your attacks), rotund enemies (who can belly flop you), and robots (which shoot projectiles). Spider-Man: The Video Game honestly doesn’t have much going for it in terms of enemy variety; you’ll fight the same enemies over and over and only encounter some weird and memorable foes with you reach “Latvelia” and encounter some weird ape-like monstrosities.

Most of the game’s bosses are fought multiple times and in different forms.

However, Spider-Man: The Video Game is absolutely loaded with some of Spidey’s most iconic villains; after only a couple of minutes into the first stage, you’ll encounter Mac Gargan/Scorpion and, just as you’re getting into that fight, a massive containment unit opens up and Eddie Brock/Venom emerges. Although Scorpion soon runs off after a few hits, you’ll have to endure a handicap situation for a while as enemies spawn in, Venom teleports around the arena and chokes you with their goo, and Scorpion attacks you relentlessly. Once you whittle down Venom’s health, they use a mysterious artefact to grow to monstrous size and you’ll have to chase them to the rooftops for another encounter. This becomes the basic set-up for the majority of the game’s sub-bosses and bosses; you’ll fight them at one point and then have to give chase and battle them again in a slightly different situation after navigating the game’s zoomed out sections.

You’ll face Spidey’s most iconic foes while swarms of enemies pile in on the action!

You’ll battle Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (who has a nasty tendency to chomp down on your crotch), Flint Marko/Sandman, and Venom in a pretty standard beat-‘em-up format where you’ll be confined to an arena and have to fend off waves of additional enemies. Each boss reappears for a rematch later in the game but the strategy remains largely the same; keep your distance and land attacks while dispatching their support and things only really get hairy when Venom spawns a bunch of symbiote clones to fight alongside them!

The Goblins pose a significant challenge thanks to the game’s odd perspective.

Boss battles are mixed up a bit when you take on Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and Jason Macendale/Hobgoblin; while you’ll battle the Green Goblin on the ground, dodging his weird glowing hand attack, these two bosses stand out by taking to their iconic gliders and rushing at you from the air while tossing pumpkin bombs at you. These can be troublesome encounters as it’s difficult to judge where the Goblins are positioned to land your attacks or to successfully hit them with your jump attacks. Plus, when you battle Hobgoblin, you’re limited to your zoom-out attacks and will have to blast him with your projectiles and destroy large cannons to make things easier.

While Kingpin is a marginal threat, Electro and Doc Ock really get the shaft!

You’ll also do battle with the Kingpin in a standard beat-‘em-up encounter; Kingpin’s attacks are limited to headbutts, swipes, and a shoulder barge, making him little more than an inconvenience than a formidable boss fight even in his second phase. Still, at least he actually gets a proper boss fight; Max Dillon/Electro and perhaps Spidey’s most famous foe, Dr. Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus are relegated to mere semi-sub-bosses who randomly appear as you’re navigating the game’s later platform stages and they’re little more than a joke as you can easily damage boost through their attacks and pummel them into submission.

Doctor Doom is the game’s final boss and takes numerous forms.

After defeating the Kingpin, though, Dr. Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom randomly appears to claim the mysterious artefact and reveal himself to be the game’s true big bad. When you reach Doom’s Castle, you’ll have to dodge mines and battle through the game’s previous sub-bosses and bosses to confront Doctor Doom…only to find you’ve battled a Doombot all along! However, when you finally do get your hands on the real Doctor Doom, the fight is still little more than a standard affair once you take out Doom’s nifty floating battle craft: Doom is fast and slippery but doesn’t attack with magical bolts until the final confrontation and even then he’s not much more of a threat than the likes of the Sandman or the Lizard.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned, there’s pretty much nothing on offer to spice up your gameplay in Spider-Man: The Video Game. You can’t pick up and use weapons or power-ups and the only thing for you to pick up is hearts to increase your health, making gameplay decidedly more repetitive and monotonous compared to other beat-‘em-ups.

Additional Features:
Again, there’s basically nothing here (as is pretty much the standard for most arcade games). However, the fact that you can select any character to play as and play with up to four players, each who accumulate their own separate score at the end of each stage, does add some replay value (if you have friends to play with, of course…)

The Summary:
Spider-Man: The Video Game is a decent enough beat-‘em-up; it’s bright and colourful and includes all of Spider-Man’s most iconic villains but it doesn’t really offer a whole hell of a lot when it comes to gameplay or variety. Beat-‘em-ups are generally quite monotonous as a rule but they usually compensate for this with kick-ass music, detailed sprites, and some cool weapons and super moves; Spider-Man: The Video Game has none of these attributes, meaning it’s a step behind other arcade titles released at the same time and even ones released years prior. The game’s unique selling point of having action/platforming sections incorporated into the usual beat-‘em-up formula is interesting but its execution is flawed thanks to the graphics taking a hit. Throw in an odd assortment of playable characters (I get why Black Cat is there but why are Namor and Hawkeye here?), some repetitive boss battles, and disappointing use of some of Spidey’s more visually striking foes and you have a gameplay experience that is fun enough (and probably better alongside friends) but hardly worth choosing over the likes of Final Fight or even Double Dragon. Put it this way: X-Men (Konami, 1992) released the very next year and is everything Spider-Man: The Video Game wishes it could be; hell, even Captain America and the Avengers (Data East, 1991) offers more in terms of gameplay variety and character abilities despite being graphically less impressive and that’s really saying something.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you ever play Spider-Man: The Video Game out in the wild? Which character did you pick, or get lumbered with, and which did you think was the best or the worst? What did you think of the game’s unique incorporation of platforming elements and the way it handled Spidey’s villains? Which characters do you think would have been more suitable to play in place of Namor and Hawkeye? Which Spider-Man videogame, or arcade beat-’em-up, is your favourite? Whatever you think, feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to pop back for more Spider-Man content next Wednesday.

Back Issues [Spider-Man Day]: Amazing Fantasy #15

Easily Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Wednesday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Story Title: Spider-Man!
Published: August 1962
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
The year was 1962 and Marvel Comics had seen incredible success with the Fantastic Four; wishing to capitalise on this, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee wanted to create a teenaged superhero for his younger readers to identify with. After being inspired by a fly climbing his office wall, Lee experimented with different insect names before settling on Spider-Man (eventually placing emphasis on the hyphen to avoid associations with Clark Kent/Superman) and, after being dissatisfied with Jack Kirby’s interpretation of his new young superhero, Lee turned to artist Steve Ditko to finalise Spider-Man’s costume and accessories.

Spider-Man was an incredible success and has gone on to become a mainstream pop culture icon.

Stan Lee purposely set out to make Spider-Man a troubled young teenager rather than a flawless character or the sidekick to an older hero, one who was constantly struggling with relatable issues such as money, love, and the health of his family. Despite the success of the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee also still needed the approval of Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, who disliked the character and the concept and only allowed Lee to feature Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy as the comic was scheduled to be cancelled with its fifteenth issue. Despite this, Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of the company’s best selling titles and the character’s popularity led to him not only getting his own solo title, The Amazing Spider-Man, in 1963 barely a year after his debut but also catapulting Spider-Man into mainstream popularity that endures to this day.

The Review:
“Spider-Man!” immediately begins with Stan Lee’s peerless narration setting up just how different the concept is and the art delivers on this promise by introducing us to Peter Parker, a bespectacled teenager who is the subject of much abuse and ridicule from his peers who ostracise him and see him as nothing more than a bookworm and a wallflower.

Peter has a loving home life and excels in his studies but is relentlessly teased at school.

Peter lives with his aged and doting Uncle Ben and Aunt May, who shower him with love and affection, and excels in his studies, particularly in science (which his aunt and uncle actively encourage), but is incredibly shy and awkward around his fellow students. When he ineptly attempts to ask Sally out, she rudely rebuffs him and his efforts to impress her, and the others, with an invitation to a science exhibit are drowned out by the braying taunting and arrogance of Flash Thompson, the most popular guy in school.

The dying radioactive spider bites Peter’s hand and he immediately feels its effects.

Though upset at the mockery of his classmates, Peter joins a number of other attendees in witnessing a demonstration of the latest in cutting edge atomic science, specifically the mysterious power of radioactive rays. As the head scientist begins the experiment, though, an unassuming spider, unseen and unnoticed by all, is bathed in a full blast of radiation and, with its dying breath, bites the back of Peter’s hand and immediately sends him a bit queasy (to the mockery of those in attendance because it’s not just teenagers who take the piss out of poor old Peter!)

Peter is startled to discover he has all the strength and abilities of a spider!

Distracted by the sudden charge of energy that flows through his body, Peter narrowly avoids being run down in the street but leaping up a nearby building! Astounded, Peter finds he can cling to the wall as easily as…well, a spider…and that he can crush a steel pipe as though it were mere paper! As if that wasn’t enough, he suddenly has superhuman dexterity and balance, which allows him to easily and fearlessly traverse a cable as effortlessly as a spider would crawl along a web.

Proto-Spidey easily overpowers and humiliates Crusher Hogan.

Excited at his newfound powers, Peter does the first thing anyone would in this situation and throws on a makeshift disguise to test his abilities in the ring against Crusher Hogan (and earn a cushy $100 in the process). Though initially dismissive of the proto-Spider-Man’s slight physical stature, Hogan is almost immediately left flustered and humbled when Peter effortlessly dodges his attack, hoists him up, and holds him precariously over the ring.

Peter puts his skills to use creating a spider-themed costume and accessories.

After the match, as Peter is counting his winnings, a television producer approaches him with an offer to appear on Ed Sullivan’s show. Overwhelmed at his incredible abilities and enthusiastic at appearing on television, Peter sets to work designing a colourful costume for himself; it’s not made clear why he choose red and black/blue but it certainly makes for a colourful, striking appearance. As if Peter’s sewing skills weren’t impressive enough, he also uses his scientific aptitude to construct a pair of mechanical web-shooters so that he can fire off webs just like a spider. Honestly, as much as I like Peter’s practical web-shooters, I always felt like the organic web-shooters made much more sense rather than him being “imparted” with the knowledge of how to make his own web-shooters because…you know, he gets a spider’s strength, speed, agility, well-clinging, and a version of their multiple eyes with the spider-sense but he can’t naturally produce webs?

Spider-Man revels in his newfound fame and refuses to stop a thief from escaping.

Anyway, Spider-Man makes his big television debut, wowing the audience with his many abilities; he becomes an immediate headline sensation and is suddenly inundated with offers for interviews, photo shoots, and even movies (imagine that!) However, as he is making his way back to the changing room, a security guard is in the process of chasing down a thief; Spider-Man allows the thief to escape unhindered to the elevator, rightfully but crucially stating that it’s not his job to stop criminals since he’s a performer, not a cop!

Peter is horrified to find his uncle dead and angrily confronts the man responsible.

Peter revels in his newfound fame but, one fateful evening (not that same evening, it’s interesting to note), he returns home to be told the news that his beloved Uncle Ben has been shot and killed by a house burglar! Overcome with grief and a burning desire for revenge, Peter races to his bedroom and pulls on his Spider-Man costume to confront the burglar after the cops tell him (Peter) where he’s holed up. Thanks to his web-slinging abilities, Spider-Man easily crosses town to reach the warehouse where the thief is hiding out and gets the drop on him.

Peter learns a harsh and humbling lesson to use his great powers selflessly.

Of course, Spider-Man is easily able to corner the thief, disable his gun with his webs, and knock him out with one right hook. However, Peter is devastated when he sees the face of his uncle’s killer and recognises him as the same thief he refused to stop a few days earlier! Peter leaves the thief in the custody of the police and wanders off into the night, distraught with grief and guilt at his selfish ways and learning, as the narrator sombrely informs us, the harsh lesson that “With great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

The Summary:
“Spider-Man!” is a brilliant, almost timeless tale; of course, it’s obviously full of allusions and references to the time period it was created in but none of these elements really overwhelm the general pace, direction, and themes of the story. Spider-Man was the first superhero to be a normal, everyday, awkward teenager; shunned by his peers for being a bookworm, he’s far outside of the popular social circle yet, though he’s clearly affected and upset by the teasing he constantly endures, he never falls into angst or despair and, instead, revels in the love and affection his adoring aunt and uncle constantly show him.

After years of being bullied for being a wallflower, Peter revels in his newfound fame.

Upon being granted his amazing spider abilities, Peter is immediately fascinated and excited and jumps at the chance to flex his newfound muscles in the ring. Finally, after years of persecution for being a wallflower, he has the power to topple even large, muscular wrestlers like Crusher Hogan and quickly becomes a television sensation. It’s clear that Peter is both overwhelmed and enthusiastic by the fame (and, presumably, brief fortune) his celebrity status brings him; there’s a sense that all these opportunists and media moguls are simply using Spider-Man and taking advantage of him but Peter is too distracted by the applause and adulation to even care.

Spidey’s dramatic origin is easily one of the most iconic and memorable in all of comics.

So overcome by this admiration and fame is Peter that his selfish actions cause him to make one fateful error in letting a seemingly harmless thief escape punishment and, of course, pays for it when that same thief kills his beloved Uncle Ben. The sight of Peter staring at the face of his uncle’s killer and realising that he (Peter) could have easily stopped him is a haunting and enduring image, as is the valuable life lesson that would go on to not only define Spider-Man’s superhero career but also become largely synonymous with the character. This origin, one born out of pure, unadulterated grief, is perhaps second only to the traumatic murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in its significance, iconography, and impact on both the character and the comics and subsequent media he appeared in and ensures that Spider-Man’s dramatic debut is both memorable and relatable since Peter’s actions, though selfish, were completely understandable and natural. He didn’t get his powers and immediately become a crimefighter; he used them for fortune and glory and who among us can say we wouldn’t do the same?

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Spider-Man’s iconic debut? Were you a fan of the character at the time or were you introduced to him through some other means and, if so, what were they? How would you rank Spider-Man’s traumatic origin story and how important would you say it is to the character and the comics industry as a whole? What is your favourite Spider-Man storyline, costume, or character and why? Do you prefer mechanical or organic web-shooters? Why do you think Peter chose red and black/blue for his costume? How are you celebrating Spider-Man Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for Spider-Man Month starting this Wednesday!