Perhaps the biggest news in the spider-verse these days is John Byrne's revamp of the character in the pages of Spider-Man: Chapter One. Byrne has made some controversial changes. In his version, Peter Parker and Otto Octavius are caught in the same accident, which simultaneously creates Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. The Burglar specifically targets Uncle Ben in order to steal his recently purchased PC and, spying Spidey leaving the house, thinks the webhead is casing the joint for himself. And, Spidey appears to let the Burglar escape not because he thinks stopping a crook is beneath a bigshot like him but because he seems to be temporarily thinking unclearly.
The new origin has taken potshots and not just from fans. In The Comics Buyer's Guide #1303 (November 6, 1998), writer Peter David lambasts Chapter One #1 for everything from its cover to its overkill of information. To Byrne's desire to connect the "apparently random coincidence" of the same Burglar running by Spidey and later killing Uncle Ben, David says, "It was that awful randomness, the incredible unpredictibility that underscored the terrible lesson that Spider-Man learned." and determines that "A once-elegantly simple morality tale has become needlessly involved and convoluted, basically because Byrne overthought it."
In CBG #1315 (January 29, 1999), Fred Hembeck lampoons the devastating explosion that now creates Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus while apparently killing dozens of people. "Where's the survivor's guilt?", Hembeck has Spidey say. "Why, after weeks in the hospital, are my first thoughts upon release about joining the football team just to impress girls?"
With all the fuss that Byrne's Spidey has kicked up, I started wondering about the way Spidey's origin has been presented in the past. First of all, if you're not intimately acquainted with it, go and read our detailed review of Amazing Fantasy #15.
All done? Great, now let's sneak a peek at some of the other renditions of the oft-told origin, starting with Peter's own recollections as made in ASM #50.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus #1|
|Reprinted In:||John Romita's The Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition (IDW)|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #22|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #190|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Visionaries, John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #8|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #3|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man #50 (Sony DVD Mini-Comic)|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man 2: The Official Movie Adaption (TPB)|
|Reprinted In:||The Very Best Of Spider-Man (TPB)|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man: Visionaries - John Romita, Sr. (TPB)|
In Amazing 50, Spidey briefly remembers his origin. While it is very brief and provides little information, what it does provide...
Uncle Ben and Aunt May bought Peter his first microscope. This seems to be the same scene from Amazing Fantasy 15, yet this happens before he became Spidey.
Spidey can be seen counting cash when the burglar runs off. This (1) isn't what he was doing in the original, and (2) makes you wonder if Maxie's "have to give you a check" spiel was a load of baloney.
Finally, Pete strongly hints that he became Spider-Man to revenge Ben's death, stopping crooks, and that he just happened to find an armed robber early in his career (who happened to be the Burglar).
This story is a ten page back-up which follows the "Lo, This Monster" tale. It is in black and white with an interesting artist combination... Stan's brother embellished by the creator of the Sub-Mariner.
This version begins at Uncle Ben's graveside ceremony. It is raining and the only attendees are Peter, Aunt May, and the minister. Throughout and after the service, Peter cannot forget that he was the cause of his Uncle's death and these thoughts bring on the flashback to the origin of Spidey.
Forget all that stuff about the kids at school or the wheatcakes or wrestling with Uncle Ben. This story starts right at the radioactivity experiment. The spider descends, bites Peter, dies... all in four panels. Peter staggers outside and is so pre-occupied that he doesn't see two toughs looking over the latest Racing Form. He bumps into one and that bully gives Pete a sock in the jaw. "Watch where yer walkin', ya four-eyed foul-up!" Peter realizes that he hardly felt the blow. He takes a swing of his own and misses his opponent. Good thing, too. He hits a lamppost instead and snaps it in two.
Things pretty much conform to the original after that, from the leap away from the speeding car to the creation of his web-shooters and costume. But in this version, Peter never goes to the wrestling match and never meets the TV producer. Instead, he decides to head to the TV studio himself and it is while he is swinging in through a window that the burglar runs by pursued by the police officer. He gives the cop the predictable brush-off and then goes to audition, eventually becoming a big TV star.
And so he comes home one day to get the awful news of Ben's death (and the cop this time is clearly not the same man from the TV studio), goes to the warehouse (this time, violently ripping the boards off a blocked-off window) and stops the man who is the fugitive that he allowed to escape... discovering yet again that "with great power there must also always be great responsibility!"
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
Much of this issue is devoted to Spidey's battle with the Beetle but there is enough of a flashback to proclaim on the cover that the story features "a super-special bonus... Spidey's origin re-told!" The issue begins with a bummed-out Peter trying to cope with the fact that Gwen Stacy has left him, and gone to London... presumably because, in the wake of her father's death, she wants to get far away from Spider-Man. This anguish calls the origin back to Peter's mind. In this version, again, we begin right at the radioactivity demonstration. This time, after the bite, the story leaps right to the fight with the two toughs. Now, however, they are "local creeps" who pick a fight and they know Peter by name. ("Here's somethin' for ya, Puny Parker", says the one that socks Pete in the jaw.) The lamppost snaps, the car arrives, and Pete leaps to safety. But, this time there are three witnesses to the leap, not counting whoever may be in the car.
Peter goes home and makes his webbing and costume but, now, the angry need to show others has been wiped away, making the young man much more even-tempered. When he creates his gear, he "can't remember what made me do it". When he fails to stop the burglar, he simply says, "Sorry, pal. You're paid for it, I'm not. Besides, I've something more important to do." which turns the "I'm through being pushed around" cockiness into something more like apathy. (Also, in this version, the burglar comes through as Spidey swings into the studio but, this time, he was already "signed for a TV variety show". Again, there's no wrestling match and no TV producer.)
The cop who tells Pete the bad news is still a different one from the TV studio, only this time the warehouse is not given a specific name. (How does Pete find it?) He bursts through the boarded-up window and the burglar actually takes a shot at him. Spidey pulls the gun away with a spray of webbing. He punches the burglar as he swings down on a web and wishes the bad guy "had super-human powers... so I could punish him more". He discovers who the killer is, as usual, then this version takes us, for one panel, to the graveside, showing us the rain and the umbrellas again, just as Spectacular Spider-Man #1 did.
This is hardly mainstream continuity, but let's take a look at the Spidey Super Stories version, written by Jean Thomas (with a little help from Bill Effros).
Peter is a big fan of plants (not chemistry), and so he didn't have many friends. His Aunt May loved him (no mention of Uncle Ben). Peter went to a science fair. The sign said "RADIOACTIVITY DANGER!" He got bitten by a radioactive spider. A car came along (purple, not blue). Peter jumped high. He climbed the wall. He snapped a metal pipe (not crushed).
Peter finds a car parked by a fire hydrant. He lifts it up and moves it. A big metal safe falls on Peter. He jumps out of the way, using something that warns him of danger. He calls it his Spider-Sense. He goes home, and decides to use his power to help others. He makes a costume and some web-shooters. "The kids laughed and called me a leaf lover! But look out, world! Here comes Spider-Man!"
(Not the end, friend - The Beginning!)
So, there's a couple of subtle differences there if you look close enough.
|Cover Art:||Gil Kane|
Now, an origin version not written by Stan Lee. This issue, a fill-in which comes between Len Wein's and Marv Wolfman's runs on Amazing, is Bill Mantlo's only writing credit on the flagship title. It is a seventeen page recap of the entire series, beginning with Spidey's origin and going through a rundown of major villains, friends, romances, and tragedies. (Check out page 17, page 11 of the story, for the Stacy-haters special. George and Gwen Stacy killed off on the same page!) Again, our only interest here is the origin section.
The story begins with Spidey sitting up in a tree by the gate to a cemetary. A huge full moon fills the sky. He is there for one special reason. It is the anniversary of the day Uncle Ben died. He swings down to Ben's grave, gets down on one knee, and bows his head as the anguishing memories wash over him.
This time, the "wheatcakes" and "can hardly out-wrestle him" incidents are tied together with the gift of the microscope as Ben tussles Pete's hair with one hand while he hides the gift behind his back with the other. "Besides, he won't feel much like eating, once he sees the present we've bought him!", Ben says. After presenting the gift, Ben tells Pete that "You're a son to your Aunt and I!", while May says, "And your grades in school have made us very proud of you!" But the kids in school don't think much of him. Yes, Flash and the gang are back in this version and it even looks like Sal may have snuck Harry Osborn into the group, though it's hard to tell. As usual, no one wants to go with Pete to the science hall. So, he goes by himself.
The experiment, the spider, and the bite are much the same as the original, though the scientists conducting the experiment no longer have any resemblance to Mr. Warren. (Still, they certainly know Peter. A grey-haired man with a grey mustache utters the familiar line, "Looks as though our experiment unnerved young Parker!")
In a dizzying montage that covers two pages, most of the rest of the story is told. The street punks and the punch that hits the lamppost are gone. Instead, we are back to the car that almost hits Pete and the climb up the wall and the crushed steel pipe. The incident with Crusher Hogan and the TV appearances just whip right by (though Bill is finally the first writer to say that Peter put "a stocking over his head" when he wrestled the Crusher). As in the original, the Burglar runs by, and Spidey tells the cop "I look out for number one!" (Eventually, the policeman is portrayed as a security guard, but not yet. Here, as in Amazing Fantasy, he is still threatening Pete with, "I oughtta run you in!")
In the following panel, designated as "a few days later", Peter comes home to find the patrol car in front of his house. He is told about the murder and the Acme Warehouse. He rushes up to his room to change into his Spidey suit (on the wall is a pennant that says "Marvel") We do not see Spidey enter the warehouse. Instead, we see him confront the Burglar. (This time, he is up in a corner of the room, with his feet adhered to the wall and his right hand adhered to the ceiling.) The Burglar immediately runs but Spidey leaps down and takes him out with one punch. And, sure enough, look who the Burglar is.
At the gravesite, the webhead's spider-sense starts to tingle. It is a warning that Aunt May is coming to pay her respects to her husband. (Why do these two do this in the middle of the night?) Spidey leaps up into the tree and watches her while his memories continue to overwhelm him (and us). Finally, May puts flowers on Ben's grave and leaves.
Only then, does Spidey leap back down and put his own tribute on the grave. "I'm returning your gift to you, Uncle Ben!", he says, "It's the only way I can express my gratitude!...You didn't die in vain, Uncle Ben! You died that Spider-Man might be born! It's not the way I would have chosen it to happen, but if your death is to have meaning, then I must rededicate myself to your faith that one day Peter Parker will do something to change this world for the better!"
Spidey swings away and minutes later the night watchman makes his rounds. He is troubled that it is his son's birthday ("He's a smart one but the other kids pick on him 'cause he ain't a fighter!") and he has no gift for him. But, then he notices something sitting in front of a tombstone. It is Pete's old microscope and the watchman takes it willingly. "Sometimes you can profit by other folks memories", he says... a nice finish that was completely ignored in ASM #290 (July 1987) in which Aunt May accidentally gives the microscope away to the church bazaar and Pete goes through all sorts of shenanigans to get it back.
This issue begins by reprinting the origin story as given in the first nine pages of ASM #94. The last panel two panels of the origin in #94 then lead into the main story, but in this ALL Detergent reprints, we get a single panel where Peter says how much he misses Gwen.
This comic then reprints the "Secrets of Spider-Man" featurette from ASM Annual #1. Then we get a reprint of the Beetle/Human Torch story from ASM #21. Heck, there's nothing new in here at all!
|Writer:||Marv Wolfman, Stan Lee|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
This story has the Burglar returning to Peter's life, and Spider-Man's final confrontation with the criminal who ruined his world. The origin is retold in a colorful one-page flashback on page 6 (excluding ads). The story is covered faithfully (not surprisingly, since Stan Lee was involved in writing ASM #200). Basically we see a lonely student, an experiment, a spider-bite, a leap to evade a car, Spider-Man ignoring a burgler, the tragic revealing of Uncle Ben's death, the chase, the fight, and the discovery that the killer was the one and the same whom Spider-Man let go. Not bad for a single page, huh?
The main story in this issue is Beetle vs. Spider-Man and the Gibbon. But it seems like they had some space to fill, and Roger Stern must have figured that it was about time that he had a go at re-working the origin of Spider-Man. To assist, Greg LaRocque and Bob Wiacek do the art honors in this seventeen page full re-worked version.
Now, most of the basic plot elements are retained, but there's just something funny in the flavour of the scripting. Instead of a couple of panels of Peter being rejected by his classmates, we get the full 11-panel version - basically the same concepts, but instead of Stan and Steve's pacy and succinct 60's story-telling style, we get just more of everything.
Example: When the spider falls on Peter's hand, Stan gives us one panel, saying: "A spider! It bit me! But, why is burning so? Why is it glowing that way??"
By contrast: Roger gives us two panels: "That spider bit me! But why is it glowing that way? And why is the byte burning so?! Better brush it off before it bites again! After all, there's no telling where it's been!" And we get a shot of Peter squashing the spider (which kind of ruins Tangled Web #1, but that's another matter).
Moving on, we get Peter walking home through a bad neigbourhood and getting hassled by two gratuitous tough guys. That's not Roger's addition, it was added to the story some time ago. We get Peter figuring out that his shoes interfere with his wall-crawling, and a few other more new self-discovery bits.
The rest of the story is pretty much standard, except with Peter being just a little more vindictive and unkind. Basically, it's the Origin of Spider-Man, with any subtle bits replaced by the obvious and less gentle 80's equivalent. As you can probably tell, I really don't think it's an improvement by any description.
It's a bit surprising that Roger Stern made such a mess of the origin story in Spectacular #60. He otherwise has a pretty good track record. Perhaps his most famous (and deservedly so) is this short backup story from ASM #248. Spider-Man visits a very sick child, and reveals his origin and eventually his secret identity.
The story is told in fragments. First we get three panels showing the bite, the near miss by the car, and the leap to the roof-top and crushing the drainpipe. Later we get two panels showing Spidey letting the Burglar escape, and subsequently the Burglar killing Ben as Aunt May watches on. Note that the relative locations of Ben and May at the time of Ben's death is a detail which varies greatly from telling to telling.
This is a very brief and truncated version, but in five panels it manages to tell many of the key elements of the story. Other than showing May present at Ben's killing where AF #15 is vague about May's whereabouts, this is a true telling in what it does show.
As part of revealing his identity to the Black Cat, Peter relates to her an abbreviated version of his origin story. We get six panels, with a narrative. We see Peter, beloved by May and Ben. Peter, bookworm with no friends. Peter bitten by radioactive spider. Peter leaping away from blue sedan. Then Peter letting Burglar escape, and a sixth panel with Spider-Man telling Black Cat how he did catch the Burglar, but not before he killed Uncle Ben.
Actually, that last bit is worth noting... if you didn't know the story, you might think that Spidey actually had a change of heart and decided to go track down the Burglar, but then the Burglar killed Uncle Ben. It's not completely clear that chasing the Burglar began only when Ben was killed. Subtle difference, but quite an important one.
This 62 page Graphic Novel explores the pasts of both Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson-Parker, but let's stick with the Spidey origin (in which Mary Jane makes one fateful appearance) rather than breakdown the whole book.
The story begins with Richard and Mary Parker dropping their infant son Peter off at Ben and May's house. Peter confesses that, because his parents never came back, "I was sure their leaving had something to do with me" but that's pretty much all the prelude we get before the fateful spider bite. In this version, the radioactivity experiment takes place at the "Midtown High science hall" and Peter gives his age. He is fifteen.
Peter staggers out of school, passing by Flash Thompson and Liz Allan on the street. Flash takes the opportunity to heckle him. The car then arrives, causing Peter's leap. The witnesses are gone and the little boy (who I didn't mention in the AF #15 rundown) is back.
Other things are back, too. The crushed steel pipe on the roof, the $100 wrestling match with Crusher Hogan, the white turtleneck, the fishnet mask. After Pete defeats Crusher, he is approached by "Maxie... a booking agent for concerts, TV shows, personal appearances". Pete takes Maxie's business card.
Back home, May and Ben bring in cookies and milk (instead of the original "crackers") and Pete proceeds to create his costume. (His webbing and shooters are an "old science project [that] might just do the trick". And this science project was exactly... what?)
This time, we don't see Spider-Man's stage act but the rest is very close to the original. He is besieged by the press for photo spreads and interviews (Life Magazine has morphed into People Magazine) and he steps out into the hallway in time to see the burglar run past. (This time he has a garment bag over his arm rather than blue pants.) Now the cop is a security guard but Peter is in original form. "From now on I just look out for number one", he says again, "That means me."
At home, Peter receives his microscope. This time, a nice scene is added by Gerry. Pete and Uncle Ben are out on the front porch at night and Ben asks his nephew if he has a girl-friend. He has noticed that Pete is "more cheerful" these days. He whistles at breakfast, hums in the shower. Peter doesn't tell him the reason why.
Spidey's TV career continues. Again, the newspaper headlines are shown, but this time the Daily Bugle is included with "Spider-Man... or menace?". Other new details are related. "People Magazine was planning a cover story for their special Thanksgiving issue... CBS wanted me for a prime-time Christmas special with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway... and Maxie was projecting a six-figure income by the end of the year". But Peter goes home to find that police car and the bad news. He dashes into the house to change to Spidey. Meanwhile, Aunt May is being looked at by a doctor over at Anna Watson's home. Mary Jane is there as well. And MJ looks out the window in time to see Spider-Man leave from the Parker home. And, in Gerry's biggest change to the whole origin, she realizes that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
Spidey heads off to the Acme Warehouse and the rest of the story goes pretty much according to form.
The 30th anniversary of Spidey brought us double-sized issues with holo-covers and new versions of the origin of our hero. This issue featured a five page back-up told from Aunt May's point of view.
May awakes from a nightmare. Ben's death is replayed in her sleep. She gets up and makes herself a cup of tea, which she drops on the floor, shattering the china. But she doesn't notice. She is too busy seeing the moment that she held Ben in her arms as his life ebbed away. When she learns that the killer is holed up in a "warehouse over on Sutter Street", she runs over there (So, gone now, is the notion that the warehouse is across town or that the Watsons are keeping an eye on May) and sees the burglar lowered on a web. She also sees "white eyes floating in the shadows, boring arrogantly, shamelessly, deep into her soul" and these eyes of Spider-Man seem to say to her, "I'll be back... for everyone else you love and hold dear". Thus, DeMatteis tries to explain Aunt May's loathing of Spider-Man. He then ties this story together with the Vulture tale he presented in the previous issue (Spectacular Spider-Man #188) in which Spidey appears to rescue Peter and May gives the wall-crawler a peck on the cheek in gratitude. Now she finally realizes that Spidey wasn't the monster who killed Ben but "it was 'the monster' who captured Ben's killer". She is finally able to sleep in peace. (Too bad this "Aunt May" was most likely the phony Norman Osborn creation, invalidating all of this growth in characterization.)
The second of the 30th anniversary books features, in my opinion, Howard Mackie's best Spider-Man story. It begins with a six page prelude looking at Spidey's origin from agent Maxie Schiffman's point of view. This is the first time (as far as I can tell) that Maxie gets a last name. In this version, Maxie tells Spidey that he is "booked on the Carson show for tonight and that new kid... Letterman... has expressed some interest". In their limo, Spidey tells Maxie that a crook ran by him in the studio "and get this, the security guard wanted me to stop him!"
Later, for who-knows-what reason, Maxie finds himself at the old Acme Warehouse, in his limo, the night of Spider-Man's capture of the burglar. (Getting to be quite a crowd outside of that warehouse that fateful night.) Only Maxie sees Spidey leave the warehouse (though the web wrapped around the burglar sort of gives it all away). Maxie tries to use his contacts at the Daily Bugle to play the hero angle up but, instead, he gets a headline that reads Spider-Man: Menace! and he knows it's the end of the line. "All our bookings cancelled because of Jameson's editorial", he tells Spidey. The webhead swings off into a new career as a hero and Maxie parlays his success with Spidey into a job as a producer on the west coast.
|Writer:||David Michelinie, Peter Sanderson, Stan Lee, Tom DeFalco|
|Pencils:||Aaron Lopresti, John Romita, Sr., Mark Bagley, Tod Smith|
|Inker:||Aaron Lopresti, Andrew Pepoy, John Romita, Sr., Randy Emberlin|
|Add. Plot:||Tom DeFalco|
This ten-page back-up gives us Spidey's origin as narrated by J. Jonah Jameson. The story gives us JJJ's impressions of the web-slinger in counterpoint with the true story. As Jameson speculates that Spidey must be "quite the ladies' man", the story shows Peter's unpopularity at school. Jonah assumes Spidey "was undoubtedly a troublemaker, a burden to his family" and the story shows Pete's doting Uncle and Aunt. The radioactivity experiment is shown with Jonah guessing that "It could be he's an alien, or one of those blasted mutants! Or for that matter, maybe he was just bitten by some sort of super spider!... Nahh, too bizarre!"
The tale continues in this vein, with Jonah misinterpreting events while the origin is told more faithfully than any other versions since the original. (Maxie Schiffman is even turned back into a "TV producer".) The only mistep is Jonah's comment that Spider-Man "tracked down a common burglar, one who'd shot some poor old guy in Queens". Surely, if Jonah was that interested in investigating Spider-Man, he would know that the "old guy" was the uncle of his best crime photographer!
The story concludes with Jonah believing that his negative editorials forced Spidey to turn to crime-fighting, because "he was blacklisted from show business overnight". And, so, Jameson believes that he is responsible for Spidey's vigilantism, completely missing the implications of his defeat of the burglar. But then, if he figured it all out, he wouldn't be J. Jonah Jameson, would he?
The last of the 30th anniversary books features a two and a half page flashback to the origin. This one begins with the love of Uncle Ben and Aunt May then moves to the kids spurning Peter's invitation to the Science Hall. ("You stick to science, we're party people!", "What a nerd!", they say this time.) In three panels, he gets bitten, leaps away from the car, and crushes the steel pipe. In three more panels, he gets the idea to fight Crusher Hogan, defeats him, and is approached by the man who is, once again, "booking agent Max Schiffman". He appears on television, lets the burglar escape ("I'm only interested in number one!"), goes home to find Uncle Ben is murdered, and then (entirely skipping the fight scene) learns that the defeated burglar is the one he could have stopped. "Who knows the direction my life may have taken?", he tells Mary Jane. "I could have been a rich television star! A respected celebrity!" "Or", Mary Jane rejoins, "an egotistical jerk! I like you just the way you are..." bringing out into the open a point that has been subtext all these years. The death of Uncle Ben was a necessary sacrifice in order to create a hero. Or, as Earl Wells puts it in Comics Journal #181, "with great power there must also come great responsibility, and great sacrifice". (Note how, in all of Stan Lee's Spidey work, deaths of main characters, not counting villains, always are the cause or the effect of heroism. With Stan, Frederick Foswell and George Stacy sacrifice themselves to the greater good. It is not until Stan leaves the writing to Gerry Conway that a dying character, Gwen Stacy, becomes a victim rather than a hero. Uncle Ben's death and Pete's reaction to it are the pinnacle of this theme.)
John Byrne spits in the face of Stan and Steve with his Spider-Man: Chapter One #1 retelling, which screws up pretty much all the details you care to name. The less said about this particular fiasco the better, let's just do what everybody else has done, and just try and forget that Chapter One ever happened, OK?
With all the variations, what we still come down to is this: An unfairly unpopular teen is, while furthering his studies, bitten by a radioactive spider and given amazing powers. (Only Byrne's version, with the explosion and hospital stay, turns Peter's dedication to his studies into something that deserves punishment rather than reward.) He uses those powers selfishly and, in so doing, causes the death of his dearest male relative. He learns a bitter lesson that power confers responsibility, that those chosen to lead must lead no matter how much they want to resist, that the price of commanding the abilities to protect is sacrifice and heartache and loss... and that it's worth it, perhaps not for the individual but for the sake of society at large.