Your Complete Guide to the Spider-Man High School Years!
With Spider-Man: Homecoming hitting theaters, there’s more interest than ever in Peter Parker’s earliest years as the friendly neighborhood webslinger. That’s why we’ve pulled together a massive recap that looks at every single Spider-Man high school story set in Marvel’s central continuity (the 616, as it has come to be known). There are plenty of rebooted and updated tellings of Spider-Man’s origins, including Ultimate Spider-Man (set fully in high school) and out-of-continuity series like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane and the recent Spidey. This guide focuses on two major titles: the first 28 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man and a later series, Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Although Untold Tales was published three decades after Spidey’s high school years, the stories were designed to fit in between original Spider-Man adventures and are presented here in the order they are meant to have occurred. Naturally, there are also a few surprise entries along the way. You can also scroll down to the bottom of this page for a cover gallery.
Spider-Man’s story began in August 1962 when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s final issue of Amazing Fantasy hit the newsstands. The book, which began publication as Amazing Adventures, served as a monthly anthology of sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories. While superhero characters had been around for decades, it was only a few years prior that the Distinguished Competition rebooted The Flash, introducing the Barry Allen version of the Scarlet Speedster in 1956’s Showcase #4. Discovering a growing readership for superhero stories, DC Comics then introduced their iconic superhero team, the Justice League of America, in the pages of 1960’s The Brave and the Bold #28. Marvel responded soon thereafter with the introduction of their own “first family.” When Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands in 1961, what became known as the Silver Age of comic books was fully underway.
Amazing Adventures had, starting with issue 7, been retitled Amazing Adult Fantasy. In fact, the only issue to actually be titled Amazing Fantasy was Spidey’s debut in issue 15.
“A number of our teen-age readers have written to say that it makes them feel a bit awkward to buy a magazine which seems to be written exclusively for older readers,” reads a note from the editor in the original issue.
The origin of Spider-Man (or Spiderman as he’s referred to in his first appearance) has had more than a few alternate takes over the years, but in just eleven pages, Amazing Fantasy introduces timid high school outcast Peter Parker, his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, bully Flash Thompson and, unnamed until the fourth issue of Spidey’s eponymous book, Midtown High beauty queen Liz Allan.
Seemingly despised by everyone in the world except his aunt and uncle (even the adult scientists mock him), Peter Parker pays a visit to an “Experiments in Radio-Activity” demonstration. There, as fate would have it, a spider passes through a radioactive beam and immediately bites the teen, granting him power and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
Seeking to profit from his abilities, Parker enters a wrestling competition, instantly finding acclaim as a mysterious masked figure. After his first bout with a wrestler by the name of Crusher Hogan, Peter designs the Spidey costume we’re all familiar with and, using his science skills, invents his powerful web shooters. Naturally, they’re a hit and the “Spiderman” immediately becomes a national tv wrestling sensation.
It’s not long, however, before Spider-Man learns the hardest lesson of his life. A few days after he willingly lets a thief escape, Peter comes home to find that his uncle has been shot. Donning his Spider-Man costume, Peter confronts the killer at the docks, discovering that it’s the very same man he let escape.
“And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness,” reads Amazing Fantasy’s final panel, “Aware that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility! And so a legend is born and a new name is added to the roster of those who make the world of fantasy the most exciting realm of all!”
It would be seven months later that Amazing Fantasy would relaunch as The Amazing Spider-Man, but here’s where we take our first detour. Thirty-three years later, Marvel Comics would return to Spider-Man’s earliest days with a three-issue continuation, written by Kurt Busiek with painted artwork by Paul Lee. Picking up right from where #15 ended, Amazing Fantasy #16, 17 and 18 finds Peter Parker just beginning to learn his place in a rapidly dawning age of marvels.
As Peter watches a popular television program, “It’s Amazing!” Spider-Man’s story is framed against the debut of other ’60’s Marvel heroes. The program reminds us that the Fantastic Four have only been around for a few months (events from the team’s sixth issue are shown as having just occurred) while the Marvel Universe is also beginning to get their first glimpses at the mighty Thor, the incredible Hulk and the X-Men.
One of the central characters in the Amazing Fantasy continuation is Max Shiffman, the talent agent that helped Spider-Man get his big TV break. Down on his luck, Shiffman is desperate to get in touch with Spider-Man, although he has no idea how to do so. Parker, meanwhile, blames his brief television career for Uncle Ben’s death, even during the funeral (which is, sadly, seemingly attended by no one outside of Peter and May).
No sooner is Ben in the ground when Peter Parker comes face to face with a non-superpowered, but nonetheless monstrous foe: a con artist has come to Aunt May with a lie about Ben having ordered some furniture as a surprise. Now, Ben’s “final gift” needs to be paid for. Initially duped and furious that he can’t help May with finances, Peter, as Spider-Man, soon learns not only of the scam but finds that it’s playing out on a massive scale, defrauding innocent widows and widowers all over the city. It’s all the work of an older gentleman in a suit, Conrad Eisenstadt, aka The Undertaker. Spidey makes short work of their base of operations and has soon caught his first gang of thieves!
In issue #17, Spidey meets his first super-powered individual in Joey Pulaski, a sick teen who, after being treated with radiation, developed the power to create psionic force fields, also allowing her the power of flight. Meeting in the middle of the city, Spider-Man and Joey develop an immediate rapport. Joey is so open about who she is that Peter even considers revealing his own identity. It’s not long, however, before their thoughts on morality clash. Joey has started working as a heavy for a mobster revealed to be the Kingpin. Given the choice to either do the same or die, Spider-Man is forced to battle Joey and, as the mobsters escape, Joey winds up getting arrested, deeply hating Spider-Man.
Having done some good in the world, Peter begins to wonder if he’s not wrong in blaming television for Uncle Ben’s death. He finally gets in touch with Shiffman, who immediately lines up an appearance on “It’s Amazing!” (Preempted from the lineup that night is Astronaut John Jameson, causing his father, the Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson, to fly into his first anti-Spider-Man rage).
Unfortunately, Spidey winds up getting booked alongside another costumed “hero,” Supercharger. Supercharger began his life as the son of a superhero-obsessed scientist. Trying to get powers for himself, the scientist died in an explosion that turned his boy into a living battery, capable of absorb and channel energy. Supercharger doesn’t share his father’s love of superheroes, however, and is furious at their exponential expansion. Although he plans to kill the entire audience of “It’s Amazing!” in the hopes of having the world turn on superheroes, Spider-Man saves the day and ultimately decides that his path as a hero is far more important than becoming a TV celebrity.
In March 1963, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 hit the stands with two…