Back in the lead up to Episode 2 of the Superheroes for Dummies podcast, we received a curious question from our friend Dave Horrocks; ‘Who really created Spider-Man’. This had a lot of people scratching their heads, everyone knows it was Stan Lee, right?
With the help of Matt B Lloyd, who joined us in Episode 3, we were able to pick this apart and get to the truth. Although I have done some extra research myself, I must give most the credit to him, as most of the below is a summary of what I learnt from him.
All is not as simple as it first seemed.
In the early 1950s, Joe Simon was working for Crestwood Publications, through which he and Jack Kirby launched Black Magic, a non-gory horror series. In one of Simons character pitches to Crestwood, he came up with the idea of a Swashbuckling, hard-fisted, athletic hero. Crestwood rejected this idea, but Simon filed it away for later use. This character was named The Spiderman.
A couple of years after the failed pitch, Joe Simon was visited by C. C. Beck, co-creator of the original Captain Marvel. Beck was running a bar and grill at the time but was often thinking about a return to comics. He posed a challenge to Simon; If Simon could come up with a character idea that would interest him, Beck would draw it.
Enter the Spiderman Script. They adapt the name to Silver Spider, and Beck draws a full origin story. An orphan named Tommy Troy finds a powerful ring and on wearing it gains special powers. At this point, they hadn’t decided what the powers should be but believed they had a promising start.
And so, they pitched the idea to Harvey Comics. The editor the time, Sid Jacobson, saw potential but made some requests. He suggested Silver Spider should be a thin, scrawny character who could be more athletic. Maybe they could have silken ropes to swing on, like Tarzan or Batman.
Unfortunately, the idea again gets filed away, unpublished.
In the late 1950s, Simon and Kirby start working for Archie Comics and Simon again takes out his Spiderman and Silver Spider scripts. This time things start moving a lot quicker; Kirby again redraws the character, taking inspiration from the additions Beck made with Simon, he fills in the blanks of the origin stories. Adventures of The Fly #1 debuts with Tommy Troy, a young orphan, finding a magical ring and becoming The Fly. He gains special powers such as being able to walk on walls and having an insect-like sixth sense. But despite the name, in early issues he never actually flies, although at times he can be seen swinging from a rope.
Ultimately Simon becomes less involved, leading the Archie editorial team to adapt The Fly. He does start to actually fly, and less is made of his extra senses.
Into The Spider-verse
The similarities between the early issues of The Fly and the character we now know as Spider-Man are undeniable. So we return to Dave’s question ‘Who really created Spider-man?’ did Stan Lee copy the idea?
As will inevitably happen when more people get involved and years go past, the stories begin to vary considerably. Stan Lee himself said in his autobiography that he’d told his story so many times, he no longer remembered if it was entirely true.
Lee cited his main influence as the Pulp Magazine crime fighter ‘Spider’, a non-superpowered crime fighter, and watching a real spider climb up walls. However, this doesn’t explain the other events in the creation of Spidey.
By most accounts, Stan Lee wanted to create a new superhero for a rising teenage audience and wanted Kirby to do the art.
Most players seem to agree the original Spider-Man got his powers from a magical ring. This strongly suggests that Kirby either showed Lee the ‘Silver Spider’ backstory or at least made him aware of it.
Enter Steve Ditko
When Kirby started to draw his vision for the character, everything came to a halt. Steve Ditko was suddenly brought in and the Spider-Man we know today was born; Without the magical ring.
The story goes that Lee disliked the heroic nature of the character Kirby was drawing, wanting a simpler innocence for his teenage hero. In later life, Kirby would say he was simply ‘too busy’ to spend the time recreating the character as Lee wanted it. Others have postured that the similarity to The Fly was just too much of a risk for Marvel.
Whatever the real reason behind the change, it gave us the character we know today. There is no denying the talent that went behind not only Spider-Mans creation but the 60(+) years of success that continues to this day. The family resemblance is clear and family is exactly how we should see it. Whether it was one creator inspiring another, or simply an accident, we give credit to all those involved at every step of the way. Maybe one-day Spider-Man will meet his Fly family, and we will all be flocking to read it.