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Pulp Culture
Catch up on Spider-Man
before you see the movie

May 2, 2002
By Franklin Harris

Some things just take time.

Forty years ago, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created one of the most enduring comic-book characters ever, Spider-Man. On Friday, the wall-crawling superhero finally gets his shot at the silver screen.

How Spider-Man got from there to here is the subject of the new book "Spider-Man Confidential: From Comic Icon to Hollywood Hero" by Edward Gross (Hyperion, $16.95).

Tobey Maguire stars in Sam Raimi's big-screen adaptation of ''Spider-Man.''
Spider-Man © and TM Marvel Comics
Tobey Maguire stars in Sam Raimi's big-screen adaptation of ''Spider-Man.''
There is almost no part of Spider-Man lore that Gross, a former senior editor at Cinescape magazine, doesn't at least touch upon.

Spider-Man's road to the big screen was anything but smooth. The film rights spent years trapped in a legal web more tangled than any Spider-Man has spun. Potential filmmakers, including James Cameron, came and went. For a while, it seemed the one supervillain Spider-Man couldn't beat was Hollywood.

In fact, Spider-Man almost didn't make it as a comic-book hero, either.

As Gross recounts, Lee's boss at Marvel Comics, Martin Goodman, wanted nothing to do with Spider-Man. For one thing, the hero was a teen-ager, and Goodman said teen-agers could only be sidekicks. For another, people hate spiders. 'Nuff said.

So, Lee resorted to publishing his and Ditko's first Spider-Man tale in "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15, the last issue of a canceled anthology title.

Much to Goodman's surprise, "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15 was a hit, and a few months later, Spider-Man had his own book, "The Amazing Spider-Man."

With Lee writing dialogue and Ditko handling plotting and art chores, Spider-Man quickly became Marvel's most popular character, surpassing earlier creations like the Fantastic Four and the Hulk.

Gross provides checklists for 40 years of "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Marvel Team-Up" comics. If Gross' book has a shortcoming, it's that he doesn't do the same for all of the other Spider-Man titles, like "Web of Spider-Man," "Peter Parker, Spider Man" and "Spectacular Spider-Man."

He does, however, include exhaustive listings of Spider-Man's television appearances.

First came the classic 1967 cartoon series, the one that gave birth to the infectious Spider-Man theme song. Then came live-action appearances on the PBS educational series "The Electric Company."

In 1977, fans got a short-lived (and disappointing) live-action series starring Nicholas Hammond, best known as one of the Von Trapp children in "The Sound of Music."

Japan had more success with its own version of Spider-Man, a cross between the original and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Forty-one episodes aired on Japanese television.

Since then, Spider-Man's TV appearances have been limited to Saturday-morning cartoons.

In the '80s, NBC aired the popular "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends," which teamed Spidey with two other heroes, Iceman and Firestar. And in the '90s, Fox's "The Amazing Spider-Man" proved to be the most faithful adaptation to date of Spider-Man's comic-book adventures.

Ultimately, director Sam Raimi undertook the task of bringing Spider-Man to theaters while remaining faithful enough to the source material to keep legions of fans from calling for his blood.

If the trailers are any indication, Raimi has succeeded, and if nothing else, Raimi has assembled the perfect cast, including Tobey Maguire ("Ride With the Devil") as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Willem Dafoe as Spider-Man's nemesis, the Green Goblin.

Throw in Kirsten Dunst as love interest Mary Jane Watson and J.K. Simmons as Peter's ill-tempered boss, J. Jonah Jameson, and it's hard to go wrong.

If the movie awakens your interest in Spider-Man, Gross' book will bring you up to speed and point you in the direction of more web-headed adventures.

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