Spider-Man's youth may have been part of his appeal to many young readers in the turbulent 1960s. The civil rights movement was in full swing, and television screens were bringing the horrors of the Vietnam War into America's living rooms. Comic book readers both found an escape in — and empathized with — the web-slinger as he cracked jokes and talked trash while battling villains and worrying about how he could keep his extracurricular activities hidden from Aunt May.
"When Spider-Man came along in the '60s, there were a lot of kids entering college who had a hard time finding their identities, what cause to get involved in," said Inge. "There were a lot of internal problems in this country, with the civil rights movement going on. A lot of kids continued reading comics after entering college, which is unusual since most teens stop at that time."
But doesn't angst take something away from a hero? Perhaps too much angst and humanity can turn a superhero into a super wimp.
"I think it makes them into bigger heroes," said Feliu. "We live in a world where cynicism runs wild. You wouldn't think a fireman was less of a hero because you see him going home to his wife and kids. It gives you a sense of what he's fighting for when he's out there."
The Gameboy: Spidey's Greatest Opponent?
It's uncertain whether Spider-Man the movie will give a boost to the comic book industry or bring kids back to the comics. Places like New York's Midtown Comics tend to be filled businessmen with briefcases and aspiring artists and writers in their 20s, not children or teenagers.
"In this age of video games and the computer, I just don't think it will," said Inge. "Most comics are not written for children. They're written by full-grown adults who have adults in mind who want to write compelling stories without dumbing it down."
However, the industry hopes the movie's release will at least bring some attention to comic books and promote reading. On the day after the movie's opening, Marvel, D.C., Image Comics, and Dark Horse Comics, among other publishers, will unite to sponsor Free Comic Book Day, where 2,000 comic specialty shops will give away selected books.
"I hope that with Spider-Man, people remember that a comic book is where it came from," Gabriel said. "With the X-Men [movie], I don't think many people remembered it came from a comic book. With Blade, I don't think people were aware at all it came from a comic book."
Comic book awareness or not, the anticipation for Spider-Man is high.
"Oh hell yeah! I can't wait," said Feliu. "I just saw a trailer where they showed him, perched on a pole, looking over the city. I thought to myself, 'That's him. That's Spider-Man. That's the way he supposed to be.' "
At the Magic Johnson Movie Theater in Harlem, an 8-year-old boy on his way to see E.T.: The 20th Anniversary Edition pointed to a banner promoting the movie's upcoming release, yelling, "Spider-Man! Spider-Man! I want to see Spider-Man!"
His excitement did not ebb even after he sat down for his movie. When the trailer for Spider-Man showed before E.T, the boy started cheering again, his feet swinging back and forth and not hitting the ground once. Like any "true believer," he was doing his best to stay tuned.