This time around in the assessment of cultural and historical impacts on comics, we look at the impact of scientific experimentation, and the fears of this, on the early stories of everyone’s friendly neighbourhood hero, Spiderman.
The origins of this classic Marvel hero are well known, the geeky Peter Parker obtains his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. In this simple summation, however, shows the key aspect from the contemporary culture that impacted severely on the early storylines, radioactivity and scientific engineering, and fears of the potential implications these advances in science could have.
Obviously the first assessment of this is shown in the creation of Spiderman himself. The concept that the bite of a genetically mutated spider would transfer similar abilities to a human, while seeming far-fetched, was considered a genuine concern. It should not be forgotten that when Spiderman first appeared in the 1960’s, the public would still have had rather vivid memories of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and similarly were still seeing the after effects of the use of the first atomic weapon. Therefore the concept of radioactivity and its possible effects were at the forefront of many reader’s minds when reading the first comic.
However Spiderman, while drastically changed by the bite from the radioactive spider, used his powers for good, showing the potential reward of such experimentation. However, there are far more examples in the Spiderman comics of villains emerging from encounters with scientific experimentation and atomic radiation. While both Doctor Octopus and Sandman had encounters with atomic radiation that drastically changed them, bonding them to machines or sand respectively, other villains were born from general scientific human experimentation, most notably Lizard and Green Goblin. That the repercussions of scientific experimentation were more commonly shown to be a negative influence shows the beliefs of the public at the time, being more fearful than fascinated by the potential issues these tests could cause.
What is more notable is that in all these scenarios, the people who have been drastically changed or altered by science and radiation become far more powerful than any standard human. As such in their roles as villains these characters become an unstoppable force for anyone but Spiderman to oppose. Through this, the fears of potential consequences of scientific experimentation are evident, showing a distinctive fear that these experiments could make anyone a force to be reckoned with, and there is a clear suggestion that more people would be likely to turn towards abuse of their power and villainy than to protect those with lesser abilities than themselves.
It is important to remember that Spiderman was not the only superhero that originated from scientific experiments gone wrong, and even the weaponisation of these scientific principles, as these ideas helped to create characters such as Captain America, Wolverine and the Incredible Hulk, but these are ideas that will be discussed in greater lengths in the future.