Spider-Man’s 8 Boldest Moments

Spider-Man is the most important comic book superhero of the past 50 years – and the main reason is because he’s always been daring. Even when he was introduced in 1962, by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, he was a brave concept: a superhero motivated not by altruism (like Superman and most others), or even by revenge (like Batman), but by guilt. (While he selfishly uses his powers for a showbiz career, he fails to stop a burglar. As a result, the burglar goes on to kill his uncle.) In 1971, Spider-Man tackled drugs, in a story that fell foul of the censors – and though that one belongs here, it’s already covered in a previous article, 5 Memorable Moments in Comic Book Censorship.

He is still daring today – and not just in comics, as we can see from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, one of the most ambitious musicals in Broadway history. But here are the boldest moments of the past 50 years. Some have been successes; others have backfired terribly. That’s what boldness is all about…

1. The Night Gwen Died (1973)

As teenager Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s high-school sweetheart was the lovely Gwen Stacy, a popular supporting character. By 1973, it was becoming a little too cozy, so artist John Romita suggested that they kill her. In one comic, the Green Goblin (aware that Parker was Spider-Man) kidnapped Gwen and threw her from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge.

As anyone who saw the movie Spider-Man (2002) would recall, this is exactly what he did to Mary Jane Watson, but Spider-Man saved her. In the comics, Gwen was not so lucky. Spidey swept down to catch her, only to discover that she was dead. In case this wasn’t shocking enough, writer Gerry Conway included a snapping sound effect when he caught her, implying that her death was caused by the shock of being caught while falling at a great speed (meaning that it was Spider-Man’s fault). Whatever the case, it was truly shocking for a children’s comic (as it was in those days). But despite many complaints from readers, she never returned to life, unlike many comic book characters.

Did it work? It wasn’t exactly a feelgood comic, but The Night Gwen Stacy Died is now considered a classic story. It also showed one of the most startling things about Spidey: sometimes the good guys lose.

2. Spider-Man in Black and White (1984)

When a superhero is famous, not just with comic book readers but also with the public, you don’t go changing his costume. However, in 1984, Marvel Comics gave Spider-Man a new, black-and-white one. It was a controversial decision, leading to the theory that it was introduced so the artists wouldn’t need to draw so many webs. To make it even more useful, the costume was an alien lifeform, which Spidey could transform at will into regular clothing. Though he wore the costume for some time, it eventually went evil, and they parted ways. With a new “host”, it later became the monstrous super-villain Venom.

Did it work? The black costume eventually grew on readers – until it was removed, as the familiar red-and-blue jumpsuit had been licensed to too many merchandisers. Spider-Man still occasionally wears a black suit – a duplicate of the alien one – most recently when he was in a particularly dark mood.

3. The Clone Saga (1994-95)

To combat falling sales, Spider-Man’s writers and editors agreed that he had become too happy, married to his sweetheart Mary Jane Watson. The solution – worthy of any soap opera writing team – was to hearken back to a 1975 story, in which the hero had been cloned, and the clone had supposedly died. The clone returned in The Clone Saga, an epic story that lasted two years. In the end, it was revealed that, for 20 years (of our time), Spider-Man had been a clone. The real Spider-Man had been hiding for all those years, thinking that he was the clone. (Got that?) Now that this was revealed, the real clone was allowed to lose his powers and retire gracefully to his life of marital bliss, while the original Spider-Man took over again, with all his life issues intact.

Did it work? Not at all. An email group, The Spider-Man Expatriates, promoted a boycott of any comics that suggested their hero was an impostor. They weren't simply a vocal minority; subscriptions fell to 235,000—a 30-year low and a 60 percent drop from 1993. Eventually, Marvel did a desperate about-face, restoring the clone's powers and revealing that, whatever they said, he wasn't really a clone after all. (Still got that?) “Somewhere, the 'Clone Saga' became the catchphrase for all that is wrong in everything, not only comics,” said Howard Mackie, the only Spider-Man writer who didn't lose his job in the process. “World War III will be caused by the ‘Clone Saga.’”

4. Sins Past (2004)

In one of the more alarming stories, Spider-Man met a woman who looked exactly like his tragic sweetheart, Gwen Stacy. He later discovered the truth: she was one of a pair of twin siblings who had been secretly born to Gwen after an affair with… Norman Osborn—the Green Goblin! Using his scientific genius, he had now aged them prematurely, in an attempt to defeat Spider-Man. The idea that sweet Gwen would have an affair with Osborn was not taken well by some fans…

Did it work? The story, besmirching Gwen’s memory, was so badly received by fans that its writer, J. Michael Straczynski (better known as the creator of the TV series Babylon 5), later asked his editors if he could “retcon” the story so that it never happened. As far as future writers (and most fans) are concerned, it never did.

5. Unmasked! (2006)

In the mini-series Civil War, Spider-Man revealed his secret identity to a large media throng. As the press corps went wild, his friend Tony Stark (alias Iron Man) congratulated him: “Soak it up, Peter. You’re bigger than Elvis now.” It was promoted as “the most shocking event in comic book history,” and sure enough, fans reacted strongly. However, they had to get used to it. “There is no going back after Civil War,” said Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada at a comic-book convention. “We use these events to modernize our characters.”

Did it work? It was perhaps the most talked-about story of the year—and some people were angry. In one blog, US comic-book retailer Ryan Higgins called it “the biggest mistake in the history of modern comic books.” Within days, the internet chat rooms were filled with stunned comments like “Spidey sold out!” But whatever Quesada had said, it wasn’t intended to last. Instead, everything was back to normal after a year, in an even more controversial story…

6. Brand New Day (2007-08)

Spider-Man’s happy marriage was still bothering the folks at Marvel, leading to perhaps the most daring move in Spider-Man history. To save the life of his Aunt May, who was dying in hospital, Spider-Man made a deal with Mephisto, lord of the underworld, to save her. The price: his marriage to Mary Jane would not only be over, but it would never have happened, and their memories would also be wiped.

Did it work? Like the Clone Saga, it angered many fans, again not happy with history being changed. However, while many boycotted Spider-Man comics, the sales were as strong as ever, with a revitalized (and newly single) Spider-Man.

7. Spider-Man is… Andrew Garfield? (2010)

Sure, it might not seem as daring as many of the other things on this list, but Hollywood casting can often be a gamble – especially as superhero fans can be violently opposed to casting decisions they don’t like. When a certain actor is strongly connected with a role, it can be even worse. So in the next Spider-Man movie, the very popular Tobey Maguire will be replaced by… some English guy nobody’s heard of? When this was revealed, the chatrooms were abuzz – and many people weren’t happy.

Did it work? It’s too early to tell, but since Andrew Garfield has a major role in The Social Network, the gamble might have paid off. In that film, he played a badly-treated geek – perfect training for Peter Parker! (Oh, and he proved that he can do an American accent.)

8. Turn Off the Dark (2010-11)

Even before the onstage accidents and delays, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark seemed like a dangerous idea. The most expensive (costing twice as much as the previous record-holder) and logistically challenging show ever staged on Broadway? A score by Bono and The Edge? (Great rock musicians, sure, but they’d never written a musical. Nor did they make their reputation with light and breezy show-stoppers.) A book co-written by the divisive Broadway director Julie Taymor? A little-known cast forced to learn trapeze along with the singing and dancing? Broadway shows are always a gamble, but never more than this one.

Did it work? Not so far. Opening night was delayed due to safety issues, three of the cast were injured (including one of the main cast, who quit soon afterwards), and critics were unimpressed by the previews. We await opening night on March 15 (subject to change)…

Mark Juddery is an author and historian based in Australia. His latest book, Overrated: The 50 Most Overhyped Things in History (Perigree), is already causing a stir. You can order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can see a slideshow excerpt from the book, and you can argue with Mark's choices (or suggest new ones) on his blog. Mark offers one tip: If you want to say "This book is overrated"... it's been done.

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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