The hero who could be you

In December, The Amazing Spider-Man No 700 brought its eponymous hero to the lowest of his innumerable lows, swapping his brain with that of his eight-armed archnemesis Dr Octopus. One of his mightiest foes was now walking around as Peter Parker, long-suffering superhero, while the real Parker's consciousness was trapped in Doc Ock's dying body. Well, not completely trapped — he hovered above his former body as a spectral presence, capable of watching, but not of intervening, while Doc Ock chatted up his supermodel ex-girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson. (She's also his ex-wife, but as ever in superhero lore, that's a long story.)

This all happens in the final issue of Amazing, the flagship Spider-Man title that's appeared monthly (and sometimes biweekly) since 1963. There have been many other regular Spider-Man comics, of course, and the discontinued Amazing was immediately replaced on Marvel Comics' publishing schedule by the first issue of a new title, The Superior Spider-Man, which picks up the story from the same dire place where the Amazing left it. Boosting reader interest in a long-running title by restarting the numbering with a new "first" issue is a gimmick that Marvel and its primary competitor, DC Comics, the home of Superman and Batman, have been milking for decades.

Superheroes were already old news in 1962, when Spider-Man was introduced in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. Over at DC, Superman had been around since 1938; Batman since a year later. Other supernatural characters whose adventures were being published by Marvel — Captain America, The Human Torch, The Sub-Mariner — had all been around since the 1940s. And to us, half a century after his debut, Peter Parker — the kid who acquired "the proportionate strength and speed of an arachnid" instead of just a painful welt after being bitten by a radioactive spider — seems no more or less unusual than any other costumed do-gooder. But he really was radical, once.

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