Spider-Man’s red and blue costume is one of the most iconic superhero suits of all-time. The thick black spiderwebs that crisscross the vibrant colors make it instantly recognizable, and like many of the most brilliant comic creations, it’s credited to Steve Ditko. In the recent animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Stan Lee makes a posthumous cameo as a cashier in a costume shop where Miles buys his first Spidey outfits. But this seemingly sweet and innocuous appearance actually references one of comics’ most interesting and oft-forgotten controversies.
In 1962, Marvel introduced a character who would define their catalog and mission statement for decades, Peter Parker. The nerdy teen who gets bitten by a radioactive spider was widely relatable and stood out from the super strong alpha males of the time, and it also helped that he had an instantly iconic suit. But over the years there’s been much made of the fact that there was another Spider Man (note that missing hyphen) almost a decade before the one Marvel introduced, which could’ve either intentionally or subconsciously been utilized in creating Peter Parker’s beloved super-suit.
Ben Cooper Costumes is well known for making many of the classic kids’ Halloween outfits that children in North America grow up with, and in 1954 they released a costume called Spider Man. It was a yellow jumpsuit with black legs and arms, and a similarly colored mask covered with thick black spiderwebs. When you see it, it’s clear how similar the two versions of Spider(-)Man are. The mystery deepens after Marvel trademarked Spider-Man in 1962 and Ben Cooper stopped making their version of the costume. Though they quickly began to make an official Marvel red and blue Spidey-costume based on, at the time, a virtually unknown character, it would soon become their biggest selling costume ever.
The history of Spider-Man’s creation is muddy as it is, since the comic book production process at the time was rushed and rarely documented. We know that Jack Kirby designed a version of the costume that bears some similarities to the finished suit, though all we definitively have is the finished costume by Steve Ditko, which appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15. Even Stan Lee’s version of the creation of Spider-Man changed over the years, with his original account including the inspiration he took from a pulp character known as The Spider.
The filmmakers behind Into the Spider-Verse would seem to know their comic book history, as Lee’s cameo also nods to his reputation as a man who sometimes struggled to show generosity to his collaborators and co-creators, with the icon pointing at sign which states “No Refunds or Returns” when Miles buys his suit. This is also likely a reference to the fact that comic books are notoriously non-refundable for comic shop owners who must purchase them directly from the distributor, which has long played a part in the instability of the market.
As Ben Cooper went bankrupt in 1991 and was bought out, and the creators of Spider-Man are now both dead, the true origin of Spider-Man’s costume shall remain another bit of comic book mythology which will have to live on through fan speculation and will likely never be solved one way or another. But it’s easy to see the massive similarities between the two costumes, and the fact that the Into the Spider-Verse decided to place Stan Lee in a costume shop will surely spark another round of conversation amongst those who’ve heard about the Ben Cooper duds.
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