Bitten by a radioactive spider, and taught from a young age that with great power comes great responsibility, there are few comic book heroes that are better known than the amazing Spider-Man. With Spidey now entering the MCU in Captain America: Civil War (and due for his own solo adventure next year), one of the most enduring comic book characters is returning to the big screen for a third reimagining of his classic tale.
Yet, while Spider-Man is one of the most popular of the Marvel superheroes, not every aspect of the character is well known by fans. The history behind one of the wall-crawler’s most famous powers – his ability to shoot webs – is filled with interesting bits of trivia and facts that aren’t common knowledge.
Here are 12 Things You Didn't Know About Spider-Man's Web.
One of the most iconic scenes in comic books is the death of Gwen Stacey, killed during a fight between Spider-Man and his nemesis, the Green Goblin, when Gwen is hurled off the top of the Brooklyn Bridge. While the Goblin may have thrown Gwen off the bridge, it’s a web from Spider-Man that’s been given as her cause of death in subsequent analysis of the event.
In the original comic, Spidey shoots a web down after Gwen to try to stop her fall, but the sudden stop from the web causes a ‘Swik’ sound in the comic, which has been interpreted as Gwen’s neck snapping – it’s been portrayed as such in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as well, and in subsequent retellings of the story where Peter has revealed his guilt at the event and how he wishes he could redo that moment to avoid using a web and save Gwen’s life by catching her instead.
Considering the frequency with which Spidey webs up not only criminals, but also his longtime detractor J. Jonah Jameson, some fans of the character may wonder how people deal with the fallout from his webbing. The webs are hard to clear away in the moment, so a shot of webbing to the mouth could potentially lead to disaster if it can’t be removed.
Thankfully, in creating the character, Stan Lee thought of this. According to the comics, Spider-Man’s webbing is designed to dissolve entirely after an hour, leaving no permanent damage to the buildings or people who’ve been caught in their way. It’s just as well, otherwise every neighborhood Spidey visits would be left permanently sticky.
At the time of its release, the first Spider-Man movie directed by Sam Raimi was praised for adhering closely to its comic book inspiration in almost every way. The one concept that didn’t come straight from the comics, though, was the idea of organic webbing: in the movie, instead of inventing webs himself as in the comics, Spider-Man is simply blessed with webs as one of his many powers.
This idea came courtesy of Avatar director James Cameron. In the years before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie was put into production, Cameron was attached to the project and at one point produced a script for his vision of the film. Cameron’s plans for the character deviated more than a little from its source material, one element of which was the idea of organic webshooters.
While the movie went through almost a complete overhaul after Cameron left the project, one element that stuck to the eventual finished film was the organic, rather than mechanical, webbing. Other elements, such as Spider-Man’s fight with the villainous ‘Professor Octopus,’ didn’t make it into the finished movie.
The Spider-Man comics series, and the movies that are based on it, often read like a textbook on bad scientific practice. There’s a high rate of brilliant scientists forgoing standard rules on performing tests to put themselves or others in harm’s way, leading to the creation of many superhumans, including Spider-Man himself. Some have come to see the message of Spider-Man as a warning about trusting scientific progress.
At least there’s one scientist in the series who produces something decent: in the original comics, young Peter Parker experiments with a variety of chemicals to create his own synthetic webbing. Stan Lee has explained that the reason he wanted Peter to invent his webs rather than simply being gifted with them was because he wanted to show Peter’s capability as an intelligent and scientific hero – in a series about the responsibility of using power wisely, Lee felt that it was important to show how Peter uses not just his spider abilities, but also his intellect, for the protection of others.
Comic book continuity isn’t always fixed, especially when it comes to science fiction elements like the properties of synthetic spider webs. Spider-Man’s webbing, though, has been given a quantifiable strength.
According to Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide, Spider-Man’s webs possess a tensile strength of 120lb per square millimeter, and enable him to web swing at over 120 miles per hour. In practice, the comics have shown Spider-Man using his webs to bind the strength of the Hulk, and the webs are also fireproof enough to withstand the Human Torch’s flames under normal conditions.
With future movie incarnations of Spider-Man ignoring James Cameron’s organic webbing idea, it’s easy to look at the stories of the Sam Raimi movies and smirk at the changes made to Spidey’s power set compared with the comics. In reality, though, Spider-Man did also have organic webs in the official comic book canon, if only for a few years.
In a 2004 comic book crossover between Spider-Man and Captain America, Spidey gets kidnapped by a woman from Cap’s past known as ‘The Queen’ who has a series of spider powers similar to Peter’s. At one point, The Queen kisses Spider-Man, which causes him to mutate into a giant spider. Eventually, the back of the spider cracks open and Peter emerges unharmed from inside, but with brand new, organic webs.
These organic webs, believed to be a very deliberate tie-in to the Spider-Man movies then in production, lasted a few years before being quietly removed from continuity without explanation. For a time, though, Spider-Man had organic webbing both in the movies and in the comics.
As a scientist, Peter Parker often makes it his job to create new and interesting gadgets to help him fight his adversaries. Along the way, this has meant creating a series of different types of webbing.
Spider-Man once used ice webbing as a weapon to fight against his longtime friend The Human Torch, whose ability to flame up created a pretty serious problem for Spidey. In his time in comics, he has also used flame webbing, acid webbing, and a special lead-lined webbing for use when handling radioactive material. These different types of webs typically only turn up when the story requires it.
Another alteration Spider-Man has made to his webs at times is making his web-shooters voice activated. When Peter says the words ‘web barrage’, his shooters fire off a quick succession of web bullets, saying ‘wide net’ causes his shooters to drop a large sheet of webbing, and ‘recoil strand’ tells his shooters to retract the strand of webbing they’re releasing.
In addition to this, Spider-Man’s added a variety of added weapons and abilities to his web shooters at different times, including sedative ‘stinger’ missiles, and ‘impact webbing’ balls which explode upon hitting a target, covering them in webs. In some alternate universes, darker versions of Spider-Man have even equipped their web shooters to fire bullets, although this is hardly standard issue for most iterations of the character.
One welcome change that the Amazing Spider-Man films made over the early trilogy of films was the inclusion of mechanical web shooters, removing James Cameron's influence on the character and returning to a set of powers more in line with the comics. Fans were thrilled to see this more accurate portrayal of the wall crawler’s webs, but according to some sources it was an issue of intense negotiation for the creative team at Sony.
Brian Michael Bendis, one of the most celebrated writers of Spider-Man comics in recent years, tells the story of a time that he was brought in to consult on the Amazing Spider-Man movie. In looking through their concept art and initial direction for the movie, Bendis was asked by the team whether he thought they should go with mechanical or organic webs for the reboot. Bendis voted for mechanical webs, and found that this was an issue of real contention between various members of the team who were having trouble deciding on which direction to go in. Bendis’ advice was taken, and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man was equipped with homemade mechanical webshooters.
While it’s not often that comics or movies pause to explain Spidey’s webs, in various different scenarios, Spider-Man has utilized his webs in many different ways, creating either a sheet of webbing or a single strand depending on the circumstance. In official canon, Spider-Man’s web shooters can produce three kinds of webs: a web line, a web sheet, or a sticky goo or web sludge, depending on Spider-Man’s needs.
These webs all come from web cartridges within Spidey’s shooters, and the webs expand and harden from their liquid form when they come in contact with air. In one comic, in order to stop a rampaging Blob (who’s a lot more difficult to defeat in the comics than in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Spider-Man removes a web cartridge from his shooter and cracks it open – the resultant mess of webs completely engulf Blob and a fair amount of the buildings around him.
Considering the popularity of Spider-Man, it’s no surprise that a large number of fans of the character have attempted to recreate his signature weapon. These attempts have ranged from net guns for police use in apprehending criminals, to less traditional approaches featuring wrist-mounted weapons.
One ‘web shooter’, created by German lab technician Patrick Priebe, works like a traditional web shooter, but instead fires small pellets and a tiny harpoon attached to the web shooter with a line of fishing wire. Priebe’s creation even comes with a guide laser to aim with which, considering his invention fires projectiles, is probably a good way to avoid accidentally hitting his own palm or fingers.
While the idea of amazing spider powers sounds like a lot of fun, biologists have taken issue with the way in which Spider-Man shoots his webs; specifically, the place that his webs come from. While Spider-Man using mechanical web shooters means his webs don’t have to be scientifically accurate, if a radioactive spider bite granted him truly organic web shooters, his webs wouldn’t fire from his wrists.
In reality, most spiders release their webs from four openings in their abdomen, meaning that if Peter Parker were to really gain organic web powers, he’d shoot them from his lower torso – a sight which probably wouldn’t be quite as impressive when catching thieves just like flies.
Spider-Man without his webs would be like Captain America without his shield, or Batman without his utility belt. Whether organic or mechanical, Spidey’s webs are responsible for a lot of the most visually impressive and enjoyable moments in Spider-Man history.
Are any interesting pieces of trivia about Spider-Man’s webs missing from this list? Feel free to leave your own facts and secrets in the comments section below.