The Many Faces and Masks of Your Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man

As Marvel brings the youngest Spider-Man in film, here’s a look at the evolution of the superhero in pop-culture.

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Cinema
5 min read
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...
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Spider-Man is possibly the most relatable among Marvel’s superheroes. A meek nerd who’s bullied, and unpopular with the girls to top it off. His alter-ego Peter Parker’s layman struggles as opposed to the loaded Tony Stark’s escapades appealed more to the plebeian fanbase or, in a manner of speaking, everyday Peter Parkers.

And it’s making a comeback with the youngest ever Spider-Man, post the Civil War timeline. So *fingers crossed*, it hopefully will steer clear of the repetitive origin story. Spider-Man’s fandom is a little conflicted. The comic books have definitely much more to offer in content than the films, but its geeky base is limited. What really whipped up overnight global popularity were the first two Spider-Man films.

I mean, it started with the silliest of all comic jingles “Spider-Man Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can”. Next thing you know, everybody in the world was quoting “With great power comes great responsibility” with their eyes shut. But what it made up with Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, it knocked down with Andrew Garfield’s repetition of the origin story.

As you can see, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man (Left) came a long way from Nicholas Hammond’s tacky Spider-Man.
As you can see, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man (Left) came a long way from Nicholas Hammond’s tacky Spider-Man.

The number of times the character got a fashion revamp stands testament to its popularity among its fans or to quote Stan Lee (Spider-Man’s creator), “true believers”. The (almost) kohl eyes got thinner and wider, the spider crest got smaller, even the colour changed from black and red to blue and red, back to black and red, in the comic-verse.

But funnily enough, the prototype designed by Jack Kirby in 1962 was a completely different looking ripped superhero with a half-mask and a web gun. But Stan Lee, the Chairman Emeritus of Marvel Comics, had the character redrawn by Steve Dikto, who gave Spider-Man his iconic look in the first ever Amazing Fantasy #15.
Steve Dikto’s Spiderman (left) and Jack Kirby’s prototype (right)
Steve Dikto’s Spiderman (left) and Jack Kirby’s prototype (right)
(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

FACT: The classiest costume (in my opinion) was designed by Sara Pichelli, the first woman to design a Spider-Man costume, and Miles Morales who donned the chic black and red costume became the first black Spider-Man.

Sara Pichelli was the first woman to sketch Spider Man.
Sara Pichelli was the first woman to sketch Spider Man.

The First Appearance On-Screen

To quickly gloss over his evolution in pop-culture through decades, one has to start with the infamous 1967 animated series when the makers didn’t even bother to complete the lines of the web of his costume. But it took fans by storm, who were just glad to have their beloved superhero on screen, when Marvel was only in its infancy with perhaps just Hulk and Iron Man to its name.

Spider-Man appeared on TV for the first time in a 1967 animated series.
Spider-Man appeared on TV for the first time in a 1967 animated series.

Live Action: Spider-Man in a Faux Pas Suit

Then came the (embarrassing much?) “Spidey Super Stories”; a live-action, original skit of the CTW series The Electric Company, in a faux pas suit.

Japan Being Japan

In 1978, a deal between Marvel and Japanese company, Toei, produced a super weird Spider-Man. The Alter Ego: #Version Japanese, Takuya Yamashiro and his (hold on to your chairs) giant robot named Leopard birthed the idea for the Sentai (literally meaning “squadron”) genre which finally threw up the massive hit Power Rangers. So in a manner of speaking, Spider-Man is like a dad to Power Rangers. Didn’t see that coming, right?

The Japanese obsession for the uber popular American superhero also manifested in the Manga, and how could it not? So came Kosei Ono’s Tokyo teenager Yu Komori as the part-time brooding, borderline depressed Spider-Man.



Kosei Ono’s Tokyo teenager Yu Komori as Spider-Man in a Japanese Manga.
Kosei Ono’s Tokyo teenager Yu Komori as Spider-Man in a Japanese Manga.

Turkish Spider-Man Unleashes Guinea Pig Horror

Definitely worth a quick mention is 1973’s Turkish cult action film 3 Dev Adam (aka Captain America and Santo vs Spider-Man) where Spider-Man landed the role of a gangster, where umm...cute fluffy guinea pigs were used as a torture method. Don’t ask!

Ispiderman from the Punjab: Bled Your Ears Yet?

Although only regionally popular, I believe we cannot ignore Punjab’s barf-inducing adaption ‘Ispiderman’ running through green pastures in a yellow suit. And even if the world could live in blissful ignorance, it deserves fame just for being the cringest of cringe.

Bled your ears yet?

Holy Redemption in 1994

The 90s got a chance at redemption for the sins of the past with its mind blowing title track to the refreshed animated series. The action went in sync to the detective-ish metal music and shortly after its premiere, it became the highest rated show on TV.

Many believe that Tobey Maguire is the first non-animated Spider-Man, but actually it was Nicholas Hammond who featured in a two-hour-long pilot on CBS TV Network in 1977 with a tacky belt. The production quality was abysmal if we have to compare it with today’s world and thirteen episodes later the show was dropped due to an unaffordable budget.

Macguire’s Gloom, Garfield’s Rancour and Holland’s Jejune

The previously little-known director Samy Raimi and Tobey Maguire fashionably resurrected Spider-Man on screen and brought him to the fore with a $100 million opening weekend. It was a long time coming with the Marvel superheroes giving tough competition to DC’s Batman in the popularity contest.

(From left to right): Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield playing the role of Spider-Man.
(From left to right): Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield playing the role of Spider-Man.

The way Raimi refashioned the character in cinema made him popular globally, beyond the geeky world of comics. Although he didn’t take the Nolan formula of realism and painting everything five shades darker, Tobey Maguire as Spiderman was a nutty, colourful, optimistic superhero. Some may call it childish but its earnings grossed at $400 million and helped get a bankrupt Marvel back on its feet. Yet, people still daydream about what James Cameron could have made of the webbed superhero. But I supposed some films are best left Duned.

This popularity fest ended with the snarky Andrew Garfield who ended up being dumped for teenaged Spider-Man in Civil Wars.

Coming back to Spider-Man: Homecoming, the fanboy from Civil Wars has been the sunshine to Maguire’s gloom and the cherub innocence to Garfield’s rancour. The amateur attempts at superheroic action in many ways bears a dash of the all-time favourite Kickass, perhaps making it closer to wannabe superhero dilettante reader more than ever.

There is enough reason to believe that this film will bait Spider-Man fans back.

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