“Spider-Man 2” slung a solid web around worldwide audiences, but if you’re looking for the true secret behind Spidey’s soul and success, look no further than the colorful pages written by the Shakespeare of superheroes: Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee.
More than 40 years after Spider-Man’s first appearance, Lee shares a “story by” credit in both “Spider-Man” films for having co-created the character with comics artist Steve Ditko. “One of things I’m most proud of,” Lee says, “is that in these two movies, virtually every element is taken from elements in stories that I had written.”
Lee’s tale of Peter Parker quitting his web-slinging gig, which became the sequel’s backbone, originally appeared 37 years ago in “Amazing Spider-Man” No. 50, “Spidey No More!” One of Lee’s favorite stories, it depicted a frustrated Parker dumping his Spidey costume into a trash can and walking away — just as in the film.
“Frankly, I wasn’t thinking of any of these stories ending up on the screen, but if anybody had asked me at that time if we were going to film something that would make a great arc, I would have chosen this story,” Lee says. “It seems to me that when you take something as far-fetched as a superhero and you put him in a realistic situation that anybody can relate to, that’s the best thing you can do in a fantasy story.”
“Spider-Man 2” producer and chairman-CEO of Marvel Studios Avi Arad agrees. “The thing I learned the most from Stan,” he says, “is that it’s all about the characters. His characters are conflicted, yet kind, and his heroes are reluctant and flawed, and that’s why they endure the test of time. They’re human, and there’s a lot of Stan in Peter Parker.”
Many of Lee’s classic villains, like Doc Ock, also have human origins. “I remembered somewhere I had seen a picture of a scientist who was working on some radioactive material and had a big glass between him and the radiation,” Lee says. “And he worked with these tentacles that went through the glass, so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if some accident caused those metal tentacles to be grafted onto the body of the scientist?'”
Over the years the popular Spider-Man character had been adapted a few times as an animated series and once as a live-action TV skein, but Lee insists Spidey wasn’t done right for live action until director Sam Raimi elevated the property by taking it seriously. “Everything depends on how you do it,” Lee says. “I think anything, any kind of a story can be successful when it’s told the right way — and the greatest plot in the world can end up a bomb if it’s told the wrong way. Everything depends on how you do it. How you write it. How you film it.”
There was some creative tension during the early development of “Spider-Man” when Arad and Raimi revived an idea from a previous James Cameron treatment that reimagined Spider-Man’s webbing as organic, rather than manufactured, as it is in the comic.
“We felt that when you get bitten by a spider if you get special powers, they should be complete,” Arad says. They argued that if Parker could invent such web cartridges, he’d probably abandon crimefighting for a CEO position at 3M.
Lee countered that Parker would never get too rich to care, but Lee finally embraced the idea after seeing a rough cut. “It’s one of the rare cases since the world began where I was wrong,” Lee says laughing.
Lee’s creative juices are currently flowing into setting up TV and film projects for his new company, POW! Entertainment.
As for Spidey’s future? “If he’s done right, he’ll go on forever,” Lee says.
“Look at Tarzan, look at James Bond. I learned what I’ve always known: If somebody takes a good property and does it as well as it should be done, it’s going to turn out to be a hit.”