On Spiderman

Horror in Long Underwear

By Darren Hudson Hick

With Stan Lee’s signature huckster styling, so began the saga of Spider-Man, back in the summer of 1962. Spider-Man was “different,” indeed, but to truly understand how (and why) first requires a bit of history. . . .

In early 1962 America, the scariest thing on the spinning “Hey Kids Comics!” rack was Millie the Model. This is because, in 1962, while you could write a horror comic, and you could draw one, you certainly couldn’t publish it. The Comics Code Authority and millions of nervous mothers made sure of that.

Established in 1954, the Comics Code Authority was an industry response to the ongoing Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, convened to investigate the effect of sex and violence in mass media on the youth of America. No coincidence, this was also the year that Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, a psychological investigation into the effects of comics on children. Something of a boogeyman for the comics industry, German-born Wertham first caught the public eye as an expert witness in the 1935 trial of notorious serial murderer and cannibal Alfred Fish. His primary interests lay, however, in the effects of an individual’s environment on his psychological state, and in 1941 Wertham published Dark Legend, the novelized case history of a seventeen-year-old murderer. Here, Wertham argued that an unhealthy fascination with movies, radio plays, and comic books drew the otherwise healthy teenager into an unnatural fantasy world, leading to aberrant behavior and eventually the murder of his mother (Wertham  …

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