Mr. Parker first became a hero to a nation of comic fans in 1962, discovering his superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. The original story, which introduced into the lexicon the phrase “with great power, comes great responsibility,” has served as the foundation for dozens of comic-book titles, television shows, movie franchises, and a Broadway musical featuring songs by members of the rock bandU2.
Yet Parker takes his last breath in issue 700 of the original series title, which arrived in stores Wednesday – a decision meant both to deliver a sales kick to end-of-year revenue and to refresh a character who remains a flagship for the media powerhouse. Marvel Entertainment is owned by Walt Disney Co., which purchased the 73-year-old comics giant in 2009.
Rob Salkowitz, a Seattle-based author of “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture,” says Marvel probably knew Parker’s demise would become headline news this week because the character is an icon well known “outside the bubble of comic fans.” Comics publishers routinely look for ways to catch readers off guard in an effort to show that they are not neglecting their creative duties, adds Mr. Salkowitz.
“To keep those characters fresh, [publishers] have to churn through new ideas pretty quickly, and they have to give readers the impression [that] big changes are happening … [so] every so often they drop a boulder in the pond and create waves just to keep people interested,” he says.