By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Spider-Man: Homecoming absolutely nails the Spidey that most fans fell in love with. The movie lifts from various sources to put together a cohesive launch for the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Spider-Man that isn’t exactly like the comics, but feels reassuringly familiar.
So where did it all come from? For the answer, here’s the Captain Comics Guide to ‘Homecoming’ Source Material.
HIGH SCHOOL HI-JINKS
One of the things this movie got right is putting Peter Parker back in high school, where he started – and where many say he works best.
The original stories of Parker’s days at Midtown High School began in his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), and continued in Amazing Spider-Man #1-28 (1963-65). That last issue is where he graduated, with none other than J. Jonah Jameson as the commencement speaker.
(And, as you’d expect, it was a painful experience for the students. “I’m gonna be sick!” says one. “Is that a smile, or is he wearing a fright mask?” says another.)
These issues contain Spidey’s first battles with most of his major foes, and The Vulture – of interest to Homecoming fans – appears twice, in Amazing Spider-Man #2 and 7.
There’s a third book that appeared in this same time period that’s pretty important, too: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, in which a sextet of Spidey’s worst foes take him on all at once, as the first iteration of the Sinister Six. That includes Spidey battling Vulture for a third time, this time without his webbing – but spurred by the knowledge that Dr. Octopus is holding his girlfriend Betty Brant and his Aunt May hostage.
(Aunt May, bless her heart, never realized she was a hostage. She thought she was just having tea with that “charming, soft-spoken gentleman,” Otto Octavius, who seemed to have some sort of disability. “We mustn’t be prejudiced against the poor man,” she tells Betty, “just because he seems to have some trouble with his arms.”)
You don’t have to follow the whole run to get a sense of pre-college Pete, but it does read as one long soap opera, so it’s recommended. Besides, those 30 issues set the foundation for all the web-swinging wonder of the ensuing 50-plus years.
And if you continue through Amazing Spider-Man #33 – most collections do – you’ll also read perhaps the most famous Spider-story of all, from Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 (1966). This story finds Spidey trapped under tons of machinery in a hidden undersea base as it slowly fills with water, searching for the inner strength to escape. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it was adapted (in truncated form) in Homecoming.
To read these stories: The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1; Marvel Masterworks Presents The Amazing Spider-Man Vols. 1, 5, 10; Spider-Man vs. Vulture trade paperback; comiXology (digital).
The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 is a huge book containing the first three years of Spider-Stories, and is adorned with the cover to Spidey’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15. Art by Steve Ditko.
ALTERNATE HIGH SCHOOL
That’s understandable. They were written more than 50 years ago by a guy then in his 40s (Lee), and co-plotted and illustrated by a guy who, to this day, still draws cars and clothes as if they were from the 1950s (Ditko). They were set in a high school before smartphones, before the Internet, before Friends and Seinfeld, before disco, punk, grunge, hip-hop and rap.
So for those who find it hard to relate to a web-swinger who isn’t a Web-surfer, there’s Ultimate Spider-Man, by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley, which launched in 2000. Set on an alternate Earth (in the “Ultimate Universe”), it features a more modern Spider-Man, still in high school, but one populated by people the original Spider-Man didn’t meet until college or later, like Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson.
Bonus: The Ultimate version of The Prowler appears in Ultimate Spider-Man #8, a fellow named Aaron Davis, who appears in Spider-Man: Homecoming (played by Donald Glover). Davis mentions his nephew in the movie, who in the “Ultimate” comics is Miles Morales, destined to take over from “alternate” Peter Parker as the Ultimate Spider-Man, and then move to our Earth, where he becomes buds with “real” Peter Parker.
To read these stories: Ultimate Spider-Man collections; comiXology.
But suppose you don’t want to read about another version of Spider-Man, but the “real” one from our universe. And you still want him in high school.
That’s where Untold Tales of Spider-Man comes in. Written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Pat Olliffe, Untold was a critically well-received, 25-issue series that launched in 1995 to fill in the gaps in the early issues of Amazing Spider-Man contained in the omnibus above.
It makes a fine companion piece to the Amazing omnibus. But even better, Untold retroactively adds three new characters to the cast, all three of whom appear in Homecoming. Their stories are worth reading, especially if the movies pick up on what happens to them.
To read these stories: Untold Tales of Spider-Man collections; comiXology.
The first three appearances of The Vulture above are among his best, but two more should be mentioned.
Amazing Spider-Man #48-49 and #63-64 relate the story of Blackie Drago, who swipes The Vulture’s technology and leaves Adrian Toomes to die in jail. There’s a lot to be said for the power of revenge, as Toomes rallies, escapes jail and teaches Drago that there’s more to being The Vulture than just dressing up like a bird.
And it took until 1983 for Marvel to give Toomes an origin, but that finally came along in Amazing Spider-Man #240-241, courtesy of writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita Jr. Vulture’s comics origin isn’t the same as in the movie, but both characters are equally embittered and slightly sympathetic.
To read these stories: Spider-Man vs. Vulture TPB; The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 2; Marvel Masterworks Presents The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 22; Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 7; comiXology.
The Vulture on this cover to Amazing Spider-Man #48 isn’t Adrian Toomes – it’s Blackie Drago, the first (of many) to try to replace the original. Art by John Romita Sr.
The “real” Shocker – as opposed to the Ultimate Universe one mentioned above – first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #46, and again in Amazing Spider-Man #72, and in both appearances was treated as a serious threat, albeit one that was more interested in money than really hurting anyone.
But Herman Schultz has evolved over the years into a more sympathetic (and super-funny) super-loser. He’s irrationally afraid of a lot of things – Spider-Man among them – and is usually found as a henchman these days.
His latest foray was as a member of the latest Sinister Six, a group which has fallen on hard times. There are only five of them – they couldn’t get anyone else to join – and consist of The Beetle (a gal in an armored beetle suit), Boomerang (a guy who throws gimmicked boomerangs), Overdrive (who has some sort of influence over cars), Speed Demon (who runs fast) and poor ol’ Herman “Shocker” Schultz. If you want to know what incompetent villains do when they’re not getting nabbed by super-doers, the Superior Foes of Spider-Man is the book for you.
To read these stories: The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 2, Marvel Masterworks Presents The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 22, Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 8, Superior Foes of Spider-Man collections; comiXology.
The Shocker was still being treated like a contender in his second appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #72. It wouldn’t be long before he became something of a sad sack. Art by John Romita Sr.
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