Happy Birthday! Spider-Man Turns 50
Peter Parker is looking spry for a baby boomer. Buzzfeed interviews Marvel editor Stephen Wacker about what's in store for the Spider-Man as he heads towards his 700th issue. Plus: Exclusive alternate covers celebrating 50 years of Spider-Man.
Spider-Man made his first appearance in the August 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 -- his popularity was instant, and less than a year later he was given his own series. The fascination with the wise-cracking web-slinger has never abated; on August 22nd, The Amazing Spider-Man will mark 50 years with Issue #692.
Buzzfeed talked with Marvel Senior Editor Stephen Wacker to talk about Peter Parker, his place in pop culture and what to expect going into 2013 and beyond.
BuzzFeed: Movie Spider-Man: Tobey McGuire or Andrew Garfield?
Stephen Wacker: I’m a Nicolas Hammond man myself.
I’ll tell you though, I thought Garfield was terrific in the new movie, but right now when I read Spidey lately, I’ve been hearing Drake Bell, the guy that does the voice on the animated series. I love his high school Spidey.
BF: Being continuously published for 50 years is a huge accomplishment. What draws generation after generation of people to Spider-Man?
Wacker: What Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and later John Romita did 50 years ago was the same thing the Beatles did 50 years ago: They elevated their medium through the tastes of young people. For the most part there simply weren’t young super heroes in comics to any great degree. The ones you did see were usually sidekicks, and as friendly and harmless looking (and let’s face it: white bread) a group that you could find.
As a culture, the early 1960s were still the beginning of the time where teens were recognized as a separate demographic. Teen-agers run popular culture now, but it wasn’t always so. The Spidey creators dared to make Peter Parker more-or-less resemble a kid you’d find in the real world, struggling with adolescence, responsibility and identity.
I also think you can’t overstate the power of the decision to cover Spidey’s face entirely. That was practically unheard of in comics. Even a character as mysterious as Batman showed half his face. You knew Batman was a white adult (with great skin!). Spider-Man, however, could be just about anyone under that mask. To me that’s where the real power of the character’s ability to draw in new generations resides.
I see Spidey as the character that brings people in, the gateway drug so to speak. Peter Parker’s struggles have become internalized into American culture so handily that just about anyone can associate with some aspect of the character’s life. I’m not sure that’s true of any other super hero…at least not to the degree that it is with Spidey.
BF: With such a long history, how do you keep track of all the various characters and relationships floating around? I imagine lots of Post-It Notes connected by yarn.
Wacker: Exactly. Also lots of notes scribbled on my hands…and other assorted body parts.
In the case of the current run, our writer Dan Slott is about as big of a Spidey fan as you can find. I’ve also had two great assistants on the book in Ellie Pyle and Tom Brennan, who at the very least know where to find answers we might need.
And look, I’ll be honest, the fan sites help a ton. Great resources like the folks at spiderfan.org help keep straight all things Spidey.
Mistakes do happen though — they have since the book began — but that’s just part of working on any long running character. For the most part I think we have a pretty good batting average. I’m sure there several fans who think differently!
BF: Writers and artists get most of the attention from non-hardcore comic fans. Is being an editor for a comic book the same as for a novel or is it a completely different beast?
Wacker: It’s very different than editing a novel or any kind of prose. I think the best way to look at the job is as an amalgamation of several editorial jobs.
On one hand, like a book editor, you’re there to help the writers tell their stories in the most exciting way possible and to advocate for your project within the larger publishing plan.
On another hand, you have to have some skill in art direction and design. The ability to match the right artists to the right story is tantamount.
And on another hand it is a relentless schedule. Spider-Man currently comes anywhere from 2-3 times per month (and that’s just one of almost two dozen books I oversee), so like a magazine editor you have to keep an eye on a lot of moving parts and lot of freelancers.
BF: For those not familiar with Spidey outside of his movies or cartoon appearances, what are some things you'd like them to know about him and his universe?
Wacker: Basically, all you need to know about him is that while he’s been given these amazing powers, he is still just a regular person making mistakes, trying to use them to help people and make each day better than the day before.
BF: To anyone thinking of getting into reading comics, but afraid of the daunting long and complex histories of established superheroes, do you have any advice?
Wacker: I’d say the history is just seasoning. Feel free to look past it if it doesn’t interest you.
If you try a Marvel Comic and aren’t drawn into the ongoing story –and given enough information to at least keep up with the action—then we’ve failed at our jobs and you shouldn’t feel bad about trying something else.
Sure there might be history you don’t know, but that shouldn’t stop you from understanding and enjoying the comic you’re reading. You pay your money, you deserve to be entertained.
BF: Bring us up to speed on what to expect in the anniversary issue.
Wacker: An extra-sized story that brings something brand new into Peter Parker’s life for his 50th birthday. It’s the introduction of a new young “hero” named Alpha who promises to change a lot about Spidey’s world. This story is the latest seed we’re planting for our big blowout 700th issue later in the year and I expect Spidey fans to be pretty ticked off when everything is said and done. Alpha will be a sort of mirror for Peter to look into — and he might not like what he finds there
Plus two great extra Spidey stories by Dean Haspiel, Josh Fialkov and Nuno Plati, and a few other extras. Maybe a maze or a Sudoku.
BF: Dan Slott spoke to Comic Book Resources in May about how Spider-Man #700 will radically change the Spider-Man universe irrevocably. Are there any clues in the anniversary issue #692 to look for or is it heavily shrouded in secrecy to blow fans minds?
Wacker: There are lots of clues in #692 that won’t be readily apparent until #700 comes out. Dan has paced the next few months extremely tightly with burning reveals in almost every issue. I can safely say though that Amazing Spider-Man will be a very different book a year from now and it’s been quite fun to be a part of this the past few years.
BF: What else can you tell us about Alpha and Issue #692?
Wacker: I don’t know that I can put it any better than what Dan wrote in the opening pages of the issue:
A teen outcast.
All the elements of a modern day myth in the making, right?
Well, think again, True Believer. Because this is an all-new tale for the telling.
And while this may be Midtown High, THIS young man is NO Peter Parker.
His name’s ANDY MAGUIRE. And, for the moment, this is HIS story.
Things you should know about him:
His mom, ALICE? Not the most hands-on parent.
His dad, RAY? Not much better.
And the Faculty at Midtown High… didn’t really know what to do with him either.
Andy Maguire isn’t REALLY the kind of kid who stands out that much.
And there’s a reason for that.
Standing out means taking a risk. Leaving yourself open to fail.
You see, for Andy, though he’d never admit it, NOT failing is good enough.
And THAT’S why he’s no Peter Parker.
Why he’s not a nerd. Jock. Band geek. Poser. Stoner. Or much of ANYTHING, good or bad. He’s just… THERE.
But all that’s about to change…