Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at email@example.com).
Reader Tony M. wrote in to ask how Spider-Man's Spider-Sense lets him know what direction danger is coming from. I figure that that should really first be CAN Spider-Man's Spider-Sense tell what direction danger is coming from?
The first thing we should address right off the bat is that Spider-Man's Spider-Sense doesn't make any sense (pun not intended). It's really one of the most nonsense superpowers in comic books and there are a whole ton of nonsense superpowers in comic books. Unlike some of Spider-Man's other powers which have a sort of consistency to them, his Spider-Sense is essentially magic. That's really what it is. It is a magical power that allows him to sense danger before it occurs. There is no rhyme or reason to how it works as writers over the years have constantly contradicted each other.
Therefore, what it all really boils down to whenever there is a question about how his Spider-Sense works is that we don't know, it just does. That's not a very good answer, however, so let's get the best answer that we can from the actual comic books.
The very first really good explanation of Spider-Man's Spider-Sense came in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, where Steve Ditko and Stan Lee explained the basics of Spidey's powers to new readers (remember, this was at a time when there were no real back issues, so this was hard-to-come-by information)...
The key point here is the "radar" part of it all. Ditko is a bit vague on it, but roughly 29 years later, Tom DeFalco (who was the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel at the time, so this is especially official) and Mark Bagley are more explicit in their demonstration of the abilities of Spider-Man's Spider-Sense in a back-up story in Spider-Man #26 (and yes, that Spider-Man's Spider-Sense warns him of Mary Jane hitting him with a pillow directly contradicts stuff like Gerry Conway having Aunt May sneak up on Spider-Man with a vase, but I think it's pretty evident by now that Conway's example there was the exception and not the rule)...
As you can see, Spider-Man can maneuver through a room without paying attention, thereby there must be a directional aspect of the Spider-Sense, or else how could he do that? So it is like Daredevil's radar sense, only it doesn't literally emit like radar.
Still, it is pretty evident that it is this radar function of the Spider-Sense that allows Spider-Man to know which direction the danger is coming from.
So there ya go, Tony!
Thanks for the question, Tony! If anyone else has a comic book question, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!