Spidey Doesn’t Play Well With Others is a monthly column by Paul DeKams, looking at stories showcasing that while Spider-Man might have many “Amazing Friends,” they don’t always get along.
With many heroes, there’s usually a direct escape from the troubles of their personal lives when they put on the mask/cape/underwear outside their pants. For Peter Parker, when he puts on the mask of Spider-Man, he goes from one set of troubles to another. Half the public doesn’t like him, J. Jonah Jameson hates him, the police aren’t a fan, and even his fellow heroes don’t know what to make of him. He’s an outcast. He feels alone. While those feelings could lead many down a path of super-villainy (and they do in the case of most Marvel villains), Peter Parker instead works to be better, putting incredible pressure on himself to succeed. It’s led to tense moments with other heroes, and often ended with him remaining a loner.
This loneliness is a key aspect of why the character is so relatable, even these days when it seems he’s on nearly every super-team. There’s still things about Spider-Man that separate him from his teammates, which has led to a lot of friction and bickering while trying to save the world.
In The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, published in 1964, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko craft a tale in which Spider-Man’s foes band together against him, while Spider-Man stands (mostly) alone in the Marvel Universe. As the story unfolds, other denizens of the Marvel Universe make cameos, but in ways that make Peter feel inadequate or misunderstood.
Midway through the story, Spider-Man is feeling extreme guilt over having not stopped the burglar that killed Uncle Ben. This leads to a temporary power loss, stranding him on a flag pole. It just so happens that this flag pole is right by the Baxter Building, home of the Fantastic Four! They’ll help ol’ Spidey out of this situation.
It doesn’t end there, though. Aunt May and Betty Brant get kidnapped by the newly formed Sinister Six (Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, The Vulture, Kraven the Hunter, Sandman, and Electro), and a ransom message is delivered by The Vulture to J. Jonah Jameson for Spidey. When called upon by Jonah to pass the message to the wall-crawler, Reed Richards continues to not be “Mr. Fantastic,” as far as general helpfulness is concerned. First, he doesn’t even think to ask “Hey, Spidey, you okay on that flagpole that you’re hanging off of precariously?” Then, when asked about Spider-Man’s whereabouts, he responds with “Spider-kids these days, hanging out on flagpoles, I don’t know!”
Spider-Man could have died because the Fantastic Four thought he was a lone-wolf kid showboating for the cameras. Seriously. They’ll shrink down to a microscopic level to save the mailman (“See Fantastic Four #606” – Powerful Paul!), but can’t swing a brief right turn to see if someone dangling off a high-rise is okay. The shabby treatment isn’t limited to the stars of the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine,” though. He doesn’t get much love from The Avengers or The X-Men either.
Captain America says “I don’t even know the guy!”
And Professor Xavier explodes at the X-Men for even thinking about helping Spider-Man.
Its no wonder that when the Human Torch comes around to actually offer help, that Spider-Man doesn’t want anything to do with him. He reacts like so many of us do when we’ve felt isolated and ostracized. He has six different villains to take on, he can’t even consider that the Torch is there to help. He has to save the day, and he has to do it himself.
Its interesting to consider that while Lee and Ditko imply that Spider-Man’s life might be easier if he could find acceptance within the super hero community (or accept help when offered), he manages to defeat the Sinister Six on his own. He does so because while this team of super villains have formed an alliance, they don’t actually work together. Each has their own deathtrap or method of fighting Spider-Man that they believe will be successful, and each of them fails. Spider-Man even mentions as he defeats Doctor Octopus “If you each hadn’t been so anxious to get the credit for beating me on alone, and teamed up against me, you might have had a chance!” Et tu, Spidey?
Lee and Ditko craft a complex tale with this annual, reminding the reader who Peter Parker is, and where exactly he fits into this burgeoning universe of heroes (who are all at the center of their own problems as well).
Spidey Doesn’t Play Well With Others Bonus Panels!
Tying into this theme of misunderstandings and awkward pairings, I bring you: Betty Brant and Aunty May. As Spidey struggles against the Sinister Six, we get a great “B” story in which Aunt May appears to be completely oblivious to the danger that she and Betty are in. Look at Betty’s face in this panel as she tries to fathom the tea party she’s “enjoying” with May and Doc Ock. Betty and May are a great comedic team, and there are some seeds planted for the May/Otto romance down the line.
Then, her dialogue as Aunt May reveals that she’s upset, not at being held captive by super villains for the better part of a day, but that she missed the “Beverly Hillbillies.”