From The Archives

Spiderman [sic] in Forest Hills

Looking at a local kid making it big


In April of 1965, writer Sally Kempton delved into the Spider-Man phenomenon through a local lens, pointing out, “There are approximately 15 superheroes in the Marvel Group, and nearly all of them live in the New York area. Midtown Manhattan is full of their landmarks.” She initially comes down hard on the burgeoning comic fandom movement: “Reading old comic books is hard work; it is possible to enjoy Batman only if you continually remind yourself that you liked him when you were 12.” But she is impressed with Marvel’s then-new brand of comics, because they are “the first comic books in history in which a post-adolescent escapist can get personally involved. For Marvel Comics are the first comic books to evoke, even metaphorically, the real world.”

One reason, Kempton notes, is because Marvel superheroes are often New Yorkers themselves and have “discernible personalities and relatively complex emotions.” She goes on to add that a “New York cop, exercising his stop-and-frisk prerogative, never knows when he may accidentally rip the dark glasses from the powerful eyes of Cyclops, a benign super-mutant whose refractive lenses hide an X-ray vision which will burn through the sidewalk if exposed.”

If journalism is the first draft of history, Kempton’s reporting, along with ads for art world “Happenings” and an “Emergency Meeting on Vietnam,” opens a window on the early days of one of pop culture’s hugest success stories. (And finally, it should be noted that the Voice copy desk in 1965 was having no truck with hyphens in a comic-book character’s name.)