This week, Marvel Studios released new ads for Spider-Man: Homecoming, a movie that might just become the best live-action adaptation of Marvel’s web-slinging wonder. But did you know that Spider-Man, introduced in 1962, wasn’t the first web-using or arachnid-based hero in comics and related media? There are several who preceded him. Let’s take a look!
The Spider, Master of Men!
In 1933, Popular Publications decided it needed to compete with the pulp prose magazine hero the Shadow. So they created a similarly dressed character, the Spider. This vigilante is Richard Wentworth, an heir to wealth and a veteran of World War I who decides to wage war on criminal gangs and terrorists. Wentworth was easily identified as the Spider by the police in his first several adventures, but lack of evidence along with reasonable doubt kept him out of prison. He then ditched the simple domino mask and started wearing a fright wig, along with fake fangs and occasionally even a hunchback, as if he were meant to be a spider that been twisted into human form.
Other than his chosen name, there was nothing terribly spidery about Wentworth. He used a grappling hook line that he called his “web,” and sometimes branded his enemies with a web-design. That was it. Beyond those little things, he used guns, fighting skills and detective savvy to stop bad guys and kill them.
In 1938, the same year Superman debuted, Richard Wentworth also appeared in Columbia Picture’s movie serial The Spider’s Web. In this incarnation, he wore a full mask that extended into a cape, both decorated by a simple web print. In modern day comics published by Dynamite Entertainment, this same outfit is used Wentworth. This comic book version also wields a gun that fires “laser-webs.”
The Original Black Widow
The Soviet spy who fought Iron Man, romanced Hawkeye and then got a black skintight outfit because she liked how Spider-Man’s suit was skin-tight and practical? Forget her. Years before Natasha Romanova was introduced to the Marvel Universe, the first Black Widow made her debut in 1940’s Mystic Comics #4.
Claire Voyant (yeah, that’s her real name) is possessed by a demon and does awful things before dying herself. In Hell, her spirit makes a pact with Satan. Claire returns to Earth as the Black Widow, with a costume (that changed basic design and color scheme every now and then) and a “death touch,” tasked with bringing death to evil people so they can wind up in Hell sooner rather than later.
Alias the Spider
In 1940, Quality Comics introduced hero Tom Hallaway in Crack Comics #1. Tired of hearing so often about innocent people being terrorized by criminals, Tom decides to put his incredible archery skills to use by fighting crime. He dons no mask, just a bright outfit. He also didn’t shoot to kill. His arrows sometimes had flat disc with a spider seal on them, so it would knock out baddies AND leave a spider impression on their faces. He also had a helpful valet and a car called the Black Widow.
He was gone by the end of the Golden Age. Years later, DC Comics brought him back, changing the name to “Spyder” and sometimes putting him in stories with the tagline “I, Spyder.” He was retroactively put into the team the Seven Soldiers of Victory, to take Green Arrow’s place, and then turned out to be a traitor.
In 1941, Elsa Lesau created Spider-Queen, a hero who debuted in The Eagle #2. This character is Sharon Kane, who decides to fight criminals because hey, criminals need to be fought. To help her do this, she has her detective boyfriend and a pair of high-tech bracelets that shoot a super-glue that can instantly harden into nets or a line to swing on. These bracelets sound a lot like Spider-Man’s web-shooters!
Spider-Queen vanished by the end of the Golden Age of comics and fell into public domain. In the 1990s, Marvel Comics reintroduced her as a character in the Marvel Universe with a slightly different costume and a scalloped cape. This version starts as a hero but then joins the Nazis after her boyfriend was killed by Russian agents, deciding that the enemy of her enemy was a friend. As a result, the now more bloodthirsty Spider-Queen becomes a member of “Battle-Axis” and fight several Marvel WWII heroes such as Captain America and Miss America.
In 1943, Star Spangled Comics #1 introduced mystery novelist John Law who dons a pretty generic costume and fights crime as the Tarantula. With special gloves and boots equipped with high-strength suction cups, Tarantula can scale building walls. With a special gun, he can fire web-like nets at enemies. In some ways, he predicts the later hero Spider-Man, just without the superhuman strength, speed and danger-warning sense. In a couple of stories, a radio commentator even refers to him as a “spider man,” but he prefers his own name Tarantula.
DC Comics later reintroduced the character and gave him a new brown, spider symbol costume so that he didn’t so closely resemble the Golden Age gold and purple outfit worn by Wesley Dodds, the Sandman, during the same era. John Law’s origin was also revised to say that he originally began his superhero activities in order to write a book about it, both through his own experiences and meeting other heroes. He eventually did write and publish that book. Years later, a modern day vigilante named Catalina Flores adopted the Tarantula identity herself.
Spider Man VS The Power of Shazam!
Before Peter Parker adopted the hyphenated alias of Spider-Man, Billy Batson aka Captain Marvel, the boy who becomes a hero by shouting “Shazam,” fought a strange villain simply called the Spider Man in 1947. This character appeared in only one story in Whiz Comics #89. He was part villain, part prankster, and was honestly pretty forgettable.
And that about wraps it up! Join us next time for another Nerd 101!