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Amazing Memorabilia! Fifty Years of Spider-Man Toys and Collectibles

by James Burrell (07/23/12).

Amazing Fantasy #15 (Aug. 1962) featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man came out 50 years ago. Originally retailing for 12 cents, a near-mint copy sold last year for $1.1 million.

Though it may be hard to believe, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of everyone’s favorite web-spinning, wall-crawling, wise-cracking superhero—the Amazing Spider-Man. One of the world’s most iconic comic book figures, the character—created by Marvel Comics writer/editor Stan Lee and artist/writer Steve Ditko—was introduced within the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15, issued in August 1962.

Beneath Spider-Man’s red and blue bodysuit is Peter Parker, a meek high-school student who was bitten by a radioactive spider while attending a science exhibit, and in turn gains increased strength, agility and the ability to climb walls and other surfaces. In addition to these powers, Peter has developed a “spider-sense,” which warns him of impending danger, and his keen interest in chemistry has prompted him to develop a “web fluid” which can be ejected from “web shooters” that he wears on his wrists and is strong enough for him to swing from it or use as a restraint.

The origin story says that while attempting to cash in on his spider-like powers, the orphaned Peter—who lives with his elderly uncle and aunt, Ben and May—decides to embark on a career as a television personality. Those plans soon change, however, after he fails to assist the police in capturing a robber, who later shoots and kills his uncle. The young man then realizes he must use his newfound abilities responsibly—for the purpose of crime-fighting, not profit.

Spider-Man proved to be an immense hit with readers (with Amazing Fantasy #15 being one of Marvel Comics’ highest-selling issues) and the character received his own comic book series, The Amazing Spider-Man, early the following year. Markedly different than previously created comic book crusaders, Spider-Man was the first teenaged superhero who was not a sidekick to an older, more experienced mentor (such as the case was with Robin to Batman). And unlike Batman (whose alter-ego, wealthy playboy Bruce Wayne, never needed to worry about money) or Superman (who was an alien being with near god-like powers), Peter Parker not only struggled with problems like money issues and trying to help out his elderly Aunt May, he was also incredibly shy and awkward around girls and was taunted by more popular schoolmates like star athlete, Flash Thompson.

On top of the job of saving the citizens of New York from a host of criminals, such as Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, the Lizard, the Vulture, Electro, Mysterio, the Scorpion, the Chameleon, the Rhino, the Sandman and the Kingpin, Peter—who works as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle newspaper—also has to frequently put up with acerbic comments made his gruff, demanding boss, editor/publisher J. Jonah Jameson, who often painted Spider-Man in the publication as being a menace to society.

A 12-inch Amazing Spider-Man figure, released by Mego Corp. in 1977. The value for this Canadian-edition figure can range from $150 to $300, depending on condition.

An eight-inch Amazing Spider-Man figure (on French card), released by Mego Corp. in 1979. Earlier releases of the figure came in boxes. Value: $125-$200, approx.

Arguably Marvel Comics’ most popular creation, Spider-Man would come to be featured in several spin-off comic book lines, numerous television series (both animated and live-action), TV commercials, public service announcements, four big-budget motion pictures (the latest of which, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is currently at cinemas) and a Broadway musical. The character would also be consistently marketed throughout the decades, with a staggering array of merchandise—model kits, board games, puzzles, Halloween costumes, book-and-record sets, tableware, candy dispensers, paperback novels, “magic slates,” Viewmaster reels, kites, coloring books, rubber “jiggler” figures, sleepwear, bubble bath containers, action figures, plush dolls, high-end statues and much, much more being produced.

A four-inch Spider-Man action figure, released by Mego Corp. in 1975. Loose examples like this routinely sell for $10-$20, while carded specimens can fetch between $100 and $125.

An Amazing Spider-Man Viewmaster reel set, manufactured by GAF Corporation in 1977. Value: $12-$20, approx.

A Corgi Junior Amazing Spider-Man Helicopter, released by Mettoy Co. Ltd. in 1978. Value: $25-$35, approx.

A Spider-Man Klik candy dispenser released by Au’some Candies Inc., in 2002.

This issue of Marvel Tales (Mar.1986) is a re-print of The Amazing Spider-Man #45 (Feb. 1967). Depicted on the cover is The Lizard, a villain which is featured in the new film.

A six-inch Spider-Man rubber “jiggler” figure. This Ben Cooper-styled jiggler was released in the early-mid 1980s. Manufacturer unknown.

One of the very first pieces of Spider-Man (non-comic book) merchandise was a 1963 Halloween mask and costume set manufactured by costume specialists Ben Cooper. Released only a year after the character’s comic book introduction, the brightly colored suit did not look exactly like Spidey’s costume, but the plastic mask was spot-on. Now incredibly rare (as many Halloween costumes became damaged during use and were later discarded), it is worth several thousand dollars when found complete and in undamaged/unworn condition in its original window box.

It was in 1966 that Spider-Man really began to be heavily marketed, with a number of items released that year. Among those was a plastic model kit from Aurora Plastics Corporation, a company that had previously released kits based on Universal Monsters characters like Dracula and the Frankenstein monster, as well as superheroes like Superman and Batman. Featuring a “web-spinning” Spidey perched atop a broken staircase base, the kit also featured another figure—the villainous Kraven the Hunter. Original issue kits in boxed, unbuilt condition can fetch several hundred dollars, but more recent re-releases (by hobby company Polar Lights) can be found for as little as $20 to $25. Also released was a hand puppet (featuring a hard plastic head and vinyl body) from the Ideal Toy Corporation; and a 6-inch hard plastic figurine manufactured by Marx Co. One of six Marvel Comics characters that were offered by Marx (the others consisting of Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Daredevil and the Mighty Thor), the solid-colored figure resembled a statue and could be painted like a model kit.

A “Spider-Man 2” movie-release plush doll, manufactured by Toy Network in 2004.

A Spider-Man rubber luggage tag (with raised image), released in 2006.

A 6-disc DVD box set for the classic Spider-Man 1967-70 animated TV series, released by Buena Vista Home Ent. in 2004.

The following year, your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler would receive his own animated television series when “Spider-Man” made its debut on the ABC network in September 1967, and millions of kids (and no doubt quite a few adults, too) would soon end up singing the show’s catchy theme song (“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can. . .”), composed by Bob Harris, with lyrics by Academy Award-winner lyricist Paul Francis Webster. Though its original run only lasted three seasons, the show’s voice talent (featuring respected performers Paul Soles, Peg Dixon, Paul Kilgman and Bernard Cowan), fantastic music score (much of it courtesy of the KPM music library) and incredibly psychedelic imagery in seasons two and three (by famed animator Ralph Bakshi) have earned it a large cult following that lasts to this day.

Around the time of the cartoon’s release, Ideal put out a Spider-Man costume and accessory set for its popular Captain Action line. A 12-inch action figure that could be changed into numerous popular comic book and television characters like Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Captain America, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger and the Phantom through the use of separately sold costume and mask sets, Captain Action is now one of the most highly revered toy lines of the 1960s, with original costume sets now selling for hundreds (or in the case of the Spider-Men release) even thousands of dollars apiece. Other items released in 1967 include a board game and puzzle (featuring other Marvel heroes like Captain America and Iron Man), both manufactured by Milton Bradley.

The 1970s would see a multitude of Spider-Man toys released to store shelves, courtesy of such companies as Mego Corporation, Azrak-Hamway International, Inc. (AHI), Mettoy Co. Ltd. and Remco. Mego Corporation, which produced figures and other toys based on numerous popular movie, TV show and comic books properties in the 1970s, began to put out 8-inch-tall superhero figures in their “World’s Greatest Super Heroes!” line in 1972. Initial offerings consisted of Superman, Batman, Robin and Aquaman (all sporting highly detailed, colorful cloth costumes), with Spider-Man being introduced in the fall of 1973. The figures (which were initially available boxed, before moving to cards with plastic bubbles) were an instant hit worldwide, and Mego would go onto manufacture figures for more than two dozen more superhero and villain characters (including foes like the Green Goblin and Lizard) before the end of the decade. The company would also go on to release other Spidey figures in the mid-to-late 1970s, including a larger, 12-inch doll and smaller, 3¾- and 4-inch offerings. Vehicles and playsets were also made for use with the figures, with coin banks, bendable rubber figures and 24-inch tall “talking” plush dolls also being released. Mego toys are now highly collectible, and many of items can fetch hundreds of dollars apiece when found in mint, packaged condition.

A vintage 1965 ad for Spider-Man, Hulk and Captain America model kits, manufactured by Aurora Plastics Corp. An original, unbuilt, boxed kit can now sell for several hundred dollars.

Azrak-Hamway released numerous bargain-priced Spider-Man “rack toys,” including a friction powered “stunt” cycle, spidercar and boat set, parachuting figure and a helicopter that could be whisked into the sky via a launcher—all on flimsy bubble packaging. Remco (which was a subsidiary of AHI) manufactured several memorable items, including an “official” utility belt set (complete with a communicator, watch, “decoder” glasses, handcuffs and more) and battery-operated “Energized” climbing figures of both Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Mettoy (which released products under its well-known Corgi Toys brand name) put out several Spider-Man-oriented die-cast cars and vehicles like a Spiderbike and Spidercopter.

In the mid-1980s, a number of Spider-Man toys were created to tie-in with Marvel’s 12-issue Secret Wars comic book series, which was published in 1984-85. The series is well-known for the introduction of the character’s black colored costume (later revealed in comics to be a parasitic alien life form), which he wore for a temporary period of time. Action figures of both Spider-Man’s new black costume and his iconic red and blue suit were manufactured by Mattel, as well as vehicles and playsets. Other companies, like Buddy L, also released items, including a Spider-Man car, van, motorcycle and helicopter.

Come 1990, Toy Biz, a company who had experienced success with its then-recently released “Batman” movie toys and DC Comics superhero figures, put out numerous Marvel-themed items, including both a Spider-Man figure and a Spider-Man Dragster vehicle. With the debut of a new cartoon, “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” in 1994, Toy Biz was to go to release an long list of items, including 5-inch figures of Spider-Man, a non-costumed Peter Parker, his love interest, Mary Jane Watson, villains such as Venom, Shocker, Carnage and Hobgoblin, as well as various hero character who had made guest appearances on the show like Captain America and the Punisher. Numerous larger-sized 10-inch figures were also made, as were 12-inch dolls with changeable cloth costumes.

Various examples of Spider-Man on home video. Included here is the 2002 film, 1994 animated TV series and late-1970s live-action television program.

Over the past decade, a good deal of the Spider-Man merchandise made available (consisting of action figures, playsets, plush dolls, fast-food restaurant premiums, highly-detailed resin statues, reproduction film props and costumes and more) has been produced to tie-in with the three big-budget, Sam Raimi-directed films starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. Interestingly, prior to this, the only time the character had really been portrayed in a live-action setting had been for the 1970s educational children’s program, “The Electric Company” and for a late ’70s prime-time Spider-Man TV series featuring Nicholas Hammond. With the recent release of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” starring Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man and Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Conners/The Lizard, a new assortment of toys and merchandise has been made available, including bobble-head dolls (from Funko), child-sized masks (from Hasbro) and of course, numerous action figures (courtesy, again, of Hasbro).

Since his introduction 50 years ago in Amazing Fantasy #15 (a near-mint copy of which sold to an unnamed collector for $1.1 million last year), Spider-Man has thrilled generations of fans with his web-swinging, crime-fighting adventures. Through his appearances in comics, on television, in motion pictures (and on the packaging of many, many toys), the wall-crawling wonder has become a truly endearing figure, loved by millions around the world. Spidey’s flagship comic book series, The Amazing Spider-Man, will be coming up on its 700th issue later this year. May there be 700 more.

James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.

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One Response to “Amazing Memorabilia! Fifty Years of Spider-Man Toys and Collectibles”

  1. Spidey1977 says:

    What a great article, as it happens I am selling my entire private collection of live-action Spider-Man memorabilia and collectables from the 70s and 80s.

    Most of it is from the late 70′s TV series (and overseas films) The Amazing Spider-Man starring Nicholas Hammond but there are also items from Cannon’s failed 1985 film project and Toei’s Japanese tokusatsu series called Supaidāman. Please take a look: http://www.liveactionspiderman.co.uk

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