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Who REALLY Created Spider-Man?

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Derrick McDuff
Written by Derick McDuff Ask the average fan who they think created Spider-Man and they might just say one name, Stan Lee. In reality, the story behind Spider-Man’s creation is a lot more complicated than that.
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Ask the average fan who they think created Spider-Man and they might just say one name, Stan Lee. In reality, the story behind Spider-Man’s creation is a lot more complicated than that.

More often than not, multiple people are involved in the creation of a superhero, but it's not uncommon for one co-creator to be overlooked. Tragically, Batman co-creator Bill Finger, who was responsible for the look and many other vital elements of the character, wasn’t given official recognition until decades after his death. Despite most people’s belief that Lee was Spider-Man’s sole creator, this hero too had multiple creators, with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko credited as co-creators, and Jack Kirby receiving recognition for early concepts. So, who really made Spider-Man the lasting and iconic character we all know and love?

Stan Lee is probably the most famous comic book creator of all time, and anyone who has seen a Marvel movie knows his face thanks to his frequent cameos. In addition to Spider-Man, Lee had created a number of characters alongside either Ditko or Kirby. They weren’t his only partners however and with other writers, he also had a hand in creating many of Marvel’s most iconic characters including; Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Daredevil. Lee was a revolutionary figure in the comics industry and became notable for instilling flaws and humanity into his superheroes and in the '70s was instrumental in overhauling the suppressive Comics Code Authority. Lee is also a savvy businessman, helping to turn the once small-time Marvel into the juggernaut it is today, pun intended.

Quite the opposite of the constantly-in-the-spotlight Stan Lee was comic legend Steve Ditko, famous for his reclusiveness. Ditko and Lee collaborated often in their early careers and Lee would often give the smallest idea or plot to Ditko, and Ditko would flesh out a story. Ditko would use this method to create a number of other characters with Lee like Dr. Strange. Before and after Marvel Ditko also had a long career with Charlton Comics and eventually, DC, where he was known for his diverse range of comics both within and outside of the superhero genre.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention Jack Kirby, who created Captain America for Marvel’s forerunner Atlas Comics. Later on, Kirby would team up with Stan Lee to imagine the likes of; the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Hulk, and Black Panther. Like Ditko, Kirby left Marvel but wasn’t shy about making his reasons known. Fed up with the lack of rights comic creators received and joined the competition at DC. Kirby had such an impact on comics that the comic book Hall of Fame is even named after the late artist.

All three of these storied comic creators had a hand in making Spider-Man, but how exactly did it play out?

Things can be a bit tricky to untangle as all three creators have different accounts of the early influences for the character. Lee claimed he was inspired by pulp hero The Spider, as well as an account of watching a fly climb up a wall. Kirby maintained he had come up with the idea years prior himself, originally calling the character Silver Spider. What is undisputed is that Lee wanted to create an ordinary teen superhero, something unheard of at the time and first approached frequent collaborator Jack Kirby with the concept.

Kirby pitched ideas that he and Captain America co-creator Joe Simon had devised in the 50s for an orphaned teen superhero given powers by a magic ring. Lee was to write, with concepts and story by Kirby, but after Kirby’s initial sketches, which according to Steve Ditko resembled a character Ditko and Simon created in 1959 called The Fly, Lee decided to go in a different direction, saying the character was “too heroic.” Desiring more of an everyman feel for the character Lee turned to Ditko. While some of Kirby’s initial ideas were kept, such as Peter living with an elderly couple, many of these early concepts were abandoned. The magic ring swapped for a bite from a radioactive spider, and he received a radically redesigned costume. Spider-Man as we know him was born.

Despite initially appearing in the final issue of an already canceled anthology comic book series, Spider-Man became an overnight success. As a young and complex hero, Peter Parker was unlike anything readers had seen at the time. Spider-Man was a broke high-schooler with real problems rather than a billionaire playboy, or a billionaire playboy’s ward, as comic characters of his age were almost exclusively sidekicks. Rather than fighting madmen wanting to take on the world, Spider-Man often stopped villains from robbing banks. Lee’s initial decision to make him a teenager, and Ditko’s insistence on giving him ordinary problems made him more relatable than any other hero.

While Kirby drew the cover for the first Spider-Man story, that was the end of his involvement with the character. In a style known as “The Marvel Method,” Ditko would come up with the general plot based on a story idea from Lee and draw the comic in its entirety, and Lee would later come in and write the dialogue. The pair worked together for years on Spider-Man, making some of his best comics ever, including the now iconic “If This Be My Destiny..!” arc, that helped solidify Spider-Man as a character with an unrelenting drive to save those he cared about, creating an image so iconic it was recently replicated in 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Ditko is also responsible for some of Spidey’s most iconic villains, including Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, and more. However, tension grew between writer and artist, and Ditko stopped writing “The Amazing Spider-Man” following Issue #38, passing on his duties to John Romita.

While Stan Lee became a superstar, Steve Ditko withdrew from the world, becoming a recluse and rarely giving interviews. On the rare occasion, he did speak about Spider-Man however, Ditko was keen to set the record straight. He would often dispute claims Lee had made about Spider-Man’s inception and had said that before he came on board the Spider-Man of Lee and Kirby was a more straight-laced character in the vein of Captain America. In 1999, Ditko made his case in the form of a comic strip explaining his involvement in the creation of Spider-Man, the nature of credit, and what the term “creator” really means. That same year, Stan penned an open letter making clear that Steve should be considered the co-creator of the character, but Ditko took issue with Stan’s wording.

It’s impossible to deny that both Ditko and Lee shaped the character of Spider-Man in those early days, but Ditko arguably was more responsible for the qualities that made him into one of the world’s most popular superheroes. Ditko gave Spider-Man his iconic look, but more importantly, he made Peter Parker a tragic and relatable person that readers identified with.
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