Peter Parker was, and continues to be, extremely important to me. As a kid growing up, I immediately gravitated to this character. As Peter was being bullied through school and trying to fit in, I was going through the same thing. Peter taught me to stay true to myself, even when I had the urge to fake it in order to fit in. Spider-Man stayed true to himself despite a tragic origin and many trials and tribulations. The key to Spider-Man is that he is just as relatable in and out of the costume. Over my life, there have been multiple versions of Spider-Man that stood out to me throughout the medium. Whether it be comic books, animation or live action films, the one constant is that my love for Spider-Man never dwindled. Below are my 5 favorite iterations of Spider-Man.
August, 1962 Amazing Fantasy #15 was brought into the world. What once seemed like an insane, one-off comic idea by Stan Lee transformed into one of the most popular, impactful and relatable superheroes ever made. In a time where most teenage superheroes played sidekick to an older man, Spider-Man was about a kid who had to balance the life of a teenager, with the responsibilities of a hero. The impact Spider-Man has had on myself and countless other readers is immense. The story and message of Spider-Man is a simple one, no matter what obstacles come in your way, you have the power to overcome them. In the 56 years of Spider-Man in the comics, the character has stayed consistently relevant, consistently “Amazing” and consistently “Spectacular”.
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series is criminally underrated in my opinion. Airing on MTV, following the events after the Spider-Man film, and developed by Brian Michael Bendis, the series primarily focused on Peter and his relationships. I was very intrigued by the unique story, the decision to make the show entirely CGI and the darker themes.
Neil Patrick Harris was great as Spider-Man, and provided an unprecedented depth to the character in animation. Only lasting 13 episodes, it did not reach its full potential. Regardless, Spider-Man: The New Animated Series is a unique, dark, thematically different and ultimately underrated interpretation of Spider-Man that still managed to be one of my favorites.
The Original Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007)
The Spider-Man trilogy directed by Sam Raimi changed the landscape not just for Spidey but for comic book films in general. Swinging from the comic book panels to the big screen was a huge treat for longtime fans like me but also introduced Spider-Man to a global audience in a way it hadn’t before. I was 8 years old when I watched Spider-Man, and I was in absolute awe from start to finish. Tobey Maguire did a magnificent job as Peter. He perfectly displayed the shy, quiet, yet eager characteristics that were needed for Peter to be as believable as he was in the comic pages. His portrayal as Spider-Man was also great, combing the heroics, tragic origin and visually spectacular moments. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy has the perfect balance of seriousness and humor, combined with beautiful action sequence. a fantastic score and overall great performances. This trilogy paved the way for adopting popular comic stories in fresh and unique ways. Overall, I love what these films have done for Spider-Man, telling amazing stories with a clear love and respect for the source material.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998)
Spider-Man: The Animated Series that aired on Fox Kids was one of the strongest interpretations of the webslinger in his 56 year history. The show adhered very closely to some of the best arcs from the comics and translated them beautifully into animation. Christopher Daniel Barnes voiced Peter/Spider-Man through the shows many seasons and did so with a very dry, comical and sometimes dramatic interpretation. To this day, I will never forget from The Alien Costume: Part Two, Spider-Man screaming “SHOCKER!!!!!!” at the top of his lungs while under the influence of the Symbiote. It was equally intense as it was hilarious, encapsulating the entire show in many ways.
In this interpretation, Peter was a college student who had to balance school, his job at The Daily Bugle, and multiple complex relationships with Mary Jane, Felicia Hardy, Aunt May, Harry Osborn and others. This interpretation of Spider-Man had the ultimate luxury of being free of studio rights issues or business competition. The character would frequently team up with heroes from all over the Marvel Universe. The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Daredevil and countless others had appearances in the series. Spider-Man: The Animated Series did not shy away from some of the most mature storylines from the comics, keeping a high level of drama and intensity throughout its 5 seasons.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series was a beautifully animated show that showed the complexities of its multidimensional characters, giving them depth and meaning. Along with entertaining stories throughout all 5 seasons of the show, Spider-Man: The Animated Series is one of the best adaptations of Spider-Man and still is celebrated by fans today.
The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-2009)
The Spectacular Spider-Man is my favorite interpretation of Spider-Man. One of the most acclaimed iterations, The Spectacular Spider-Man is one of the purest adaptations of the character we’ve ever seen in the medium. The series borrowed heavily from the early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko runs of The Amazing Spider-Man, while also incorporating Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. Blending together humorous moments, very dramatic and emotional story themes and taking place during Peter’s high school years, The Spectacular Spider-Man is the most comic accurate version of the Webhead I’ve ever seen. Voiced impeccably by Josh Keaton, who nails both humor and tragedy of the character, this version of the character is the perfect balance of the various types of Spider-Man we’ve seen over the years.
I found myself fully immersed into The Spectacular Spider-Man with its exciting action, great dialogue and well-structured stories that borrowed heavily from the comic pages. The series is something special, bringing together an all-star cast, amazing writers, strong show runners and overall great talent throughout.
The only setback from the series was its very short run. Only 26 episodes were produced, when developer Greg Weisman was aiming for 65. The corporate tension between Disney and Sony led the show’s cancellation and Disney opting for a much more humors and lighthearted interoperation a few years later. The fact that in just 26 episodes, The Spectacular Spider-Man is still my favorite interpretation of the character shows how impactful it was to myself and countless others. While we can all ponder how great the legacy of the show would have been had it reached its complete 65 episode arc, the 26 we did get were quite simply, amazing.
Spider-Man has had an incredible legacy over the last 56 years. My 5 favorite versions don’t even scratch the surface on how impactful the character has been and how many unique versions of the character gave come and gone. Hundreds of writers, artists, actors, directors have had a shot at bringing Spider-Man to life and hundreds more will. One thing that is consistent throughout is that Spider-Man is at his core, a relatable character. Each interpretation has done a great job at bringing the character to life and instilling that relatable characteristic. Whether you are new to the character, or a seasoned veteran in his lore, these 5 interpretations of Spider-Man will always stand the test of time for all of us.