WARNING: This article contains minor spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which opened Friday nationwide.
In recent years, Marvel Studios has gotten a lot of attention based on how respectful they are, in many ways, to their source material. They certainly change things at times, as well, but overall they treat the comics that they are adopting with a lot more respect than other companies, who seem to look at the original comics as vague suggestions as to what the movie about those characters should be like. There are also a number of film moments that are literal adaptations of iconic comic book moments. We see this in Spider-Man: Homecoming with the sequence where Peter has to hold a secret lair up after a Vulture attack, with water pouring down on Spidey as he valiantly keeps on lifting.
This, of course, is a reference to one of the most beloved Spider-Man stories of all-time, the final part of the “Master Planner” arc, in Amazing Spider-Man #33 (by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee). Spider-Man was trying to get a hold of a special serum to cure Aunt May (who is suffering from a blood transfusion that she had received from Peter in the past that was messing her up due to the radioactivity in Peter’s blood), but Doctor Octopus wanted the serum for one of his nefarious schemes, as well. After a fight in Octopus’ underwater base, the lab machinery collapsed around Spider-Man as Doctor Octopus escaped. As water begins to leak in to the damaged lab, Spider-Man laid there completely pinned down under the rubble, the precious serum just a few feet from the trapped hero.
At first, Spider-Man figures it is time to give up, but then he is visited by visions of his Aunt May and his beloved dead Uncle Ben (who did not show up that often as an inspiration to Peter back in those days) and they compel him to push back what he believed his upper limits to be, to do anything he could to break free. It’s a breathtaking series of panels, just a master class in sequential storytelling by Steve Ditko (while Stan Lee delivers some compelling dialogue by Peter as he forces himself through the pain to achieve his goal).
This was the kind of thing that was clearly historic as it happened, so it comes as no surprise that it has been homaged repeatedly over the years. However, here’s the interesting thing about comic books – the very notion of homaging earlier classic stories is a relatively recent idea. Oh, sure, comic books openly re-used ideas, but that was just working under the theory that the audience for any given comic book would turn over in five years’ time, so the audience wouldn’t know that the story that they were reading had been done six years earlier. That sort of recycled one-off story concept was finished by Marvel Comics’ more serialized adventures, which proved to be so popular that DC Comics ultimately adopted the same approach. Still, until the 1980s rolled around, direct homages of older stories were still relatively rare occurrences in comics. By the end of the 1980s, that would no longer be the case.
Gerry Conway had the distinction of being the first regular writer on Amazing Spider-Man following Stan Lee’s departure from the book (Roy Thomas took over after Lee left the first time, but it seemed as though Lee was always intending on returning at the time. When Conway took over, it was clear that Lee was finished with the series). After leaving the series after roughly four years, he returned to the Spider-Man titles in the late 1980s, taking over as the writer on both Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man.
In Spectacular Spider-Man #168 (by Conway and artist Sal Buscema), Spider-Man thinks he is helping She-Hulk on a mission to lift some heavy lid off of a dark hole in some otherwise abandoned building. “She-Hulk,” though, turned out to be a Space Phantom and once the lid was removed and the entity being trapped in the hole was released, the Space Phantom knocked Spider-Man into the hole and dropped the lid on it. The lid was so heavy that only Spider-Man working with She-Hulk could lift it (Space Phantoms take on the powers of the people that they impersonate), and now he had to lift it by himself while pinned down by the rubble. Spider-Man looked to his wife, Mary Jane, for inspiration in pushing himself to escape…
A few years later, Amazing Spider-Man #365 celebrated the 30th anniversary of Spider-Man’s debut with a story where Curt Conners tried to cure himself of the Lizard but Spidey knows that the equipment he plans on using is booby-trapped. Connors attacks him as the Lizard and pins him under a pile of machinery. Spidey debates whether he should just let Connors use the rigged equipment, figuring maybe the world would be better off if Connors (and the Lizard) were dead. He quickly puts those thoughts out of his mind…
At the end of the second “Clone Saga,” Tom DeFalco, Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz took the homage to a whole other level in Spectacular Spider-Man #229 where Peter and his clone (who they both thought was the “real” Peter Parker at the time, with Peter being the clone), Ben Reilly, teamed up to get a serum to save the pregnant Mary Jane. They had to fight the new Doctor Octopus. Peter is once again buried under a pile of machinery in a leaking lab, but this time he is aided by Ben Reilly…
At the end of the issue, Peter officially passes the Spider-Man name on to Ben.
Of course, within a year, Peter returned to the title when Ben was killed (and in death, he was revealed to be the real clone all along). After a couple of years, Marvel decided to pare down their Spider-Man line of comics from four comics to two (with just one writer, Howard Mackie, for both titles) and end all of the titles before relaunching with just Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Before the relaunch, the final issue of the old run saw Spider-Man lift the entire Daily Bugle building in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #98 (by Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna)…
Back in 2009, Mark Waid, Marcos Martin and Javier Rodriguez did a brilliant two-parter in Amazing Spider-Man #578-579 that saw Peter traveling on the subway along with a jury on a trial. The Shocker was hired to kill everyone in the jury. He blasted the train and Spider-Man made like Amazing Spider-Man #33 in holding everything up until everyone could evacuate from the train…
Later, with the tunnel now collapsed, they had to escape through other means (with the Shocker now in tow, sans his power gauntlets), and Spider-Man had to lift everyone to safety through a hole in the ceiling of the tunnel through a pulley system, in the second Amazing Spider-Man #33 homage in the two-parter. Check out how awesome this Martin drawing is!
The moment was also adapted into the Spectacular Spider-Man TV series in 2009…
It’s definitely an awesome moment, and it is great to see it appear in the latest Spider-Man movie.
Can you think of any other times Spider-Man homaged this moment? Let us know in the comments section!
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