The startling change to Spider-Man's origin story you never knew

Contributed by
Jul 4, 2015, 5:36 PM EDT

We all know how Spider-Man turned from an "I look out for number one" opportunist into a "with great power comes great responsibility" hero, right? (If not, well, after 50 years, I'm not going to slap a spoiler warning here.) But it was all about Spidey letting a crook get away who later killed his Uncle Ben. For quite a few years, though, Marvel might not have wanted you to think that.

I was reading Spider-Man #1 recently when I noticed something ... missing. Namely, the whole "I let the crook get away" pathos part of the origin story.

If you'd missed Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962 and didn't encounter Spider-Man until 1963 via his second appearance in the first issue of his own mag, you'd have learned of a subtly different origin. Because that time, instead of being directly responsible for the fact that the criminal who killed Uncle Ben was on the loose to do the dastardly deed, Peter Parker was only guilty of being "too late to save him" and of being too "busy showing off." (You can compare those alternate origins above.)

Whether a conscious decision was made that Spider-Man's selfish action was too harsh a plot point to be allowed to stand and so was deliberately softened or ignored (only to be reintroduced later), or whether it was simply too complicated to delve into during a brief recap, this makes a big difference in Spidey's superhero motivation, and coming across its absence as the character began adventuring in his own title was startling.

When I first wrote about this, I had no idea how long it took for that original motivation to be restored, because I hadn't realized it had gone away. Luckily, Brian Cronin, of Comic Book Legends Revealed (who obviously has a much better collection of back issues than I do), did a bit of research and discovered that this aspect of the origin we all know today wasn't mentioned again until 1967 in Spider-Man #50 (below). So for quite a few years, comics fans might not have known just why great responsibility came with great power.

Aren't you glad we no longer have to wonder?