Spider-Man: Homecoming debuts in theaters later this week on July 7 (or July 6 if you’re in certain places). Although this is technically a reboot of the film incarnation of the character, Marvel Studios decided not to spend yet another film focused primarily on the hero’s origin. Instead, new web-slinging actor Tom Holland cameoed in Captain America: Civil War as a rookie hero who’s already been using his powers to help people for a couple months by the time we meet him. Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up some months afterwards. It’s a wise decision, as audiences and readers have already seen quite a few origins for him over the decades. But just in case you’re not familiar yourself, or if you know some but are curious about how the others compare, here’s a rundown of the different ways Peter Parker became “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962)
The story that started it all, by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Peter Parker is a teenager living in Forest Hills, Queens with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May Parker. He attends a local high school inexplicably called Midtown High, a gifted science student on the fast track to a full college scholarship. Though confident enough to attempt socializing and dating, his classmates reject him on the grounds that he’s a nerd and over-achiever.
While attending a demonstration on radiation, Peter is bitten by a spider that promptly dies. Peter immediately feels ill, but minutes later discovers he has the “proportionate speed, strength and agility of a spider.” He can also will any part of his body to cling to surfaces, thanks to what scientist hero Mr. Fantastic later calls “bio-magnetism” (an enhanced version of spiders clinging to surfaces by tiny claws and electro-static force).Peter concludes the spider that bit him must have been irradiated, and that its radioactive venom is responsible for these new powers. Later on, he also discovers a “spider-sense” or “danger sense” that warns him of unwanted attention or incoming threats, and realizes his vision is now enhanced.
After testing out his powers by donning a mask and quickly beating pro wrestler Crusher Hogan, Peter is approached by a TV producer (later said to be a TV agent named Max Schiffman) who convinces him to appear on late night TV as a costumed stunt performer. To enhance his act, Peter constructs a flashy costume (he’s a scientist AND he can sew) and builds wrist-worn “web-shooters” that fire a special “liquid cement” of his own design.
Minutes after his first television performance as the amazing “Spider-Man,” the web-spinner sees and thief evading a security guard – and ignores him. The teenager displays newfound arrogance by proclaiming that he is no longer concerned with anyone but himself.
For weeks, Spider-Man continues to impress studio audiences and play to packed rooms. But one night, Peter finds police at the Parker home; his Uncle Ben surprised a burglar who then shot and killed him. Enraged, Peter dons his Spider-Man outfit and confronts the burglar directly. After knocking the killer out, Peter realizes in horror that it’s the same thief from the studio. Guilt-ridden, he turns the burglar over to the police and walks away, realizing that “with great power there must also come — great responsibility.”
So Peter leaves his TV career behind and becomes a hero. His guilt soon evolves into a sense of true altruism and responsibility, and he becomes a wisecracking “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” rather than a cynical vigilante. In his next comic book appearance, Amazing Spider-Man #1, he displays his “spider-sense” for the first time. In the same issue, newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson starts a smear campaign against him, so Peter responds by becoming a freelance (or “stringer”) photographer who makes money by selling Jameson photos of superheroes in action, particularly Spider-Man.
The years go on and more facts are revealed about Spidey’s backstory and origin. In 1968, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 reveals his parents Richard Laurence Parker and Mary Teresa Parker (nee Fitzpatrick) were agents for the CIA who were then killed by enemies of the U.S. Years later, Untold Tales of Spider-Man adds that Richard and Mary worked under Marvel hero Nick Fury, before he became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Spider-Man Animated Series (1967-70)
Starring Paul Soles, this cartoon introduced the now-famous theme song by Bob Harris and Academy Award winner Paul Francis Webster. Although this song revealed that Spidey had “radioactive blood,” the hero’s backstory was not revealed until the second season. The episode “The Origin of Spiderman” (they forgot the hyphen!) revealed a story very similar to the classic tale by Lee and Ditko, with minor differences. Peter is already in college and doesn’t wear glasses before he gets his powers, and the radiation demonstration now occurs in his school lab, conducted by his professor. Peter doesn’t attend a wrestling contest and immediately decides to be a TV performer. When Peter begins working for J. Jonah Jameson, it’s as a copy boy rather than a photographer, and he originally intends to one day be a star reporter before deciding to be a photojournalist instead.
Spider-Man: The Manga (1970-71)
Initially written by Kosei Ono, with art by Ryoichi Ikegami, this manga adaptation gave us Tokyo teenager Yu Komori instead of Peter Parker. Despite his youth, Yu is gifted in science and is allowed to conduct his own private experiment with radioactive materials to help study for a test (?!?). During his experiment, he accidentally irradiates a house spider that then bites him, granting him the familiar Spidey powers. Yu then creates a costume and web-shooters seemingly just because, and then he engages in a battle with new villain Electro. Electro’s death causes Yu to become guilt-ridden and cynical, but he reluctantly finds new reasons to act as a hero time and time again.
Spider-Man Live-Action TV Series (1977-79)
After he made appearances on the live-action educational program The Electric Company, CBS decided to try him out in his own show. A two-hour pilot starring Nicholas Hammond was broadcast in 1977, followed by eleven episodes in ’78-79, and a two-hour special in the summer of 1979.
This Peter Parker is a college student who works part-time as a photographer before he gets his powers. In the college lab, he’s conducting his own experiment when a spider wanders in and is irradiated. Like Yu, Peter is indirectly responsible for his own powers when the spider then bites him. Peter experiments with his new powers at home, then recklessly decides to crawl upthe side of a building in broad daylight. Several people witness this strange “Spider-Man,” but he’s too far away for anyone to see his face.
Later, Peter is at the Daily Bugle and claims he saw the mysterious Spider-Man up close. When asked who the guy he, he explain that he couldn’t see the guy’s face because of a mask. Oddly, he takes the lie further, claiming that the wall-crawler can spin webs and wears a special gymnast-like outfit. Boss J. Jonah Jameson demands proof and Peter, having painted himself in a corner, promises to bring in photographs. It’s a bizarrely overcomplicated way to force the hero into a costume. Instead of just saying “he made it to be a TV performer and then just kept wearing it,” you’ve basically made Peter a teller of tall tales who will then go out of his way to force his story to be at least partially true rather than admit that he, an employee of a newspaper dedicate to truth, just told a big lie for no real reason.
This Spider-Man wears a single web-shooter that actually fires long ropes and web-style nets. Rather than a buzzing or reflexive alarm to oncoming attacks and nearby foes, the show’s spider-sense gives Peter brief psychic visions of nearby threats.
Stan Lee was a consultant on the pilot, but did not care for this interpretation of the wall-crawler.
Toei’s Live-Action Spider-Man TV Series (1978-79)
Though it was broadcast in Tokyo for just under a year, this live-action series included a TV-movie and 41 episodes. Starring Shinji Todo, this show’s hero is Takuya Yamashiro, a popular motorcycle racer in his 20s. Takuya meets the warrior Garia, last survivor of Planet Spider, a world destroyed by Prof. Monster and his evil Iron Cross army. Now, Takuya must continue the fight against the villain, so Garia injects him with his own blood, granting him the super-powers of a man from Planet Spider (or a “Spider-Man,” if you will). With Garia’s high-tech bracelet, Takuya can instantly summon his “Spider-Protector” costume, fire webs, summon the Spider-Machine GP-7 (a flying race car), and control Garia’s spaceship, “Marveller,” which can also transform into the sword-wielding mecha called “Leapardon.”
As a superhero, Spidey (who sometimes introduces himself as a “messenger from Hell”) becomes quite popular among the public and inspires hit songs such as the “Spider-Man Boogie.” To ensure that no one connects him to the hero, Takuya begins acting meek, even cowardly at times. When his heroic activities lead to repeated absences from motorcycle races, he decides to earn some extra cash by assisting his girlfriend Hitomi, a freelance photographer.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-98)
Following the success of the 1990s X-Men cartoon, Fox aired a new Spider-Man cartoon starring Christopher Daniel Barnes in the title role. It was the first adaptation to introduce Mary Jane Watson as Peter’s love interest rather than Betty Brant (Peter’s first girlfriend in the comics).
The new theme song (performed by Joe Perry of Aerosmith) mentioned Peter’s “radioactive spider blood,” but his origin was not addressed initially because the cartoon had been set-up to follow a live-action movie directed by James Cameron that never wound up being produced. When we meet Peter in the show, he’s already in college, has been Spider-Man for a few months, lives with his widowed aunt, and works as a photographer. Many of the show’s stories revolved around a device known as the “neogenic recombinator” (even for superhero stories, that is a ridiculous name for a machine). This device is said to use radiation and experimental technology to accomplish biological engineering and transgenics (transferring traits from one species to another). It is this machine we learn that biologically altered an unsuspecting spider that then bit Peter Parker.
The machine was the creation of Dr. Farley Stillwell, who in the comics was responsible for creating the villain Scorpion. The machine was also used in experiments by Dr. Curt Connors, who in the comics experimented on himself and became the monstrous Lizard. So in this cartoon, the Scorpion, the Lizard and Spider-Man all get their animal traits from the same source. Not a bad idea!
In the show’s third season, Peter’s origin is shown. After realizing his powers, Peter immediately makes a costume and web-shooters to become a TV performer. After his debut, he gets an offer to become a professional wrestler and takes it. Weeks later, a thief robs the wrestling arena and Spidey dismisses a chance to stop him. You know the rest.
There were several other differences from the comics. Here, the lesson “with great power comes great responsibility’ is not one Peter realizes entirely himself but is actually something Ben told him when he was growing up. Another difference is that Peter credits his web-shooters to the spider itself, believing that the dying bug passed on not only super-powers but an instinctive knowledge of how to create his own webs.
The Ultimate Spider-Man Anthology (1996)
In the 1990s, Marvel published a few prose anthologies based on their heroes and villains. The Ultimate Spider-Man Anthology was one such collection and the opening story was a revised version of Spider-Man’s origin by Peter David. Most of the elements were familiar, but this story unites Spidey’s origin with that of his enemy Dr. Octopus. The same radiation experiment that irradiates the spider also winds up fusing the villain to his mechanical arms.
Another change is that Peter develops his web-fluid a few years earlier in the hopes of patenting a super-adhesive, but shelves the design because he can’t prevent it from dissolving after an hour. When he later decides to become Spider-Man, this design flaw suddenly becomes an advantage.
Ultimate Spider-Man Comic Books (2000 – 2016)
Years after Marvel stopped using the word “ultimate” to brand their prose anthologies, and following the success of the new live-action X-Men film, a live-action Spider-Man film was finally in the works. So Marvel decided to create a new fictional universe for folks who might enjoy the movies but be afraid to jump into comic book stories that had decades of history behind them. This new parallel universe would be separate from the mainstream Marvel reality and would update and/or completely revise many characters to make them seem fresh. This was Ultimate Marvel.
In the opening arc of the new Ultimate Spider-Man comic series by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, Peter is a high school nerd attending a class field trip to Osborn Industries. Osborn Industries is attempting to recreate and improve on the bio-engineering project that created Captain America years before. One of their test subjects, a spider labeled 00 that has been injected with the experiment OZ formula, escapes and bites Peter Parker.
After winning an amateur wrestling competition, this Peter becomes a professional wrestler as Spider-Man rather than leaving to become a TV star. Eventually Peter makes web-shooters to complete his set of spider-abilities for his matches. When he’s later accused of stealing from the wrestling arena, he decides to leave, then allows the real thief to escape because he’s in a bad mood and figures screw it.
A subsequent conversation with his uncle leads to an argument and Ben stating that power brings responsibility, a lesson he was told by Peter’s father Richard. Peter ignores this and leaves angrily. When he returns home, Ben is dead, having been killed by a burglar, the same thief from earlier. Peter becomes a hero, and then joins the Daily Bugle as a part time web-site designer and IT guy (Get it? Spidey deals with web-sites).
It is also said that Ultimate Peter Parker’s father Richard was a scientist whose research actually leads to the creation of Venom and to Peter’s own web-shooters.
The Spectacular Spider-Man Animated Series (2008-2009)
Starring Josh Keaton (Green Lantern: The Animated Series), this was the first cartoon series to depict Peter as a teenager in high school when he becomes Spider-Man. The show picks up three months after Uncle Ben’s death, just as Peter is about to enter his junior year. Peter’s high school, Midtown, High is now actually located in Midtown Manhattan rather than Queens. It is also now called Midtown Manhattan Magnet High School, affectionately referred to by the students as “M-cubed.”
In this cartoon, Peter gains his powers while on a class field trip during his sophomore year to a lab run by Dr. Curt Connors. The genetically engineered spider is part of Connors’ research into transgenics, the same research that will later turn him into the Lizard. In this cartoon, Dr. Connors’ research also leads to the villains Electro and Kraven getting superhuman powers. So now Spidey and three of his enemies were created by the same basic science.
The penultimate season one episode “Intervention” revealed the rest of Peter’s backstory through a dream of sorts. It’s very similar to the origin in Raimi’s film, except that Peter makes web-shooters and a costume before he attends the wrestling competition against Crusher Hogan.
As for the movie origins… Well, you can watch those yourself! We can’t do everything for you! And check out Spider-Man: Homecoming this summer!