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.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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