Welcome to Comic-Con Returns, our column celebrating San Diego’s mightiest comic convention and its revival after three long desolate years. In this entry, we walk through the Comic-Con Museum’s Spider-Man exhibit, exploring the goodies along its endless halls.
When you enter the San Diego Comic-Con Museum, you are barraged with kinetic energy. A generic but triumphant superhero-ish score is blaring. Chaotically choreographed lights cast in bright red, the visage of our fave, friendly-neighborhood vigilante on the concrete floor, and excited fans clump into cues for their photo-op with action posed statues of Doc Ock and, obviously, Spider-Man. Overblown, floor-to-ceiling panels of Spidey envelop you, invite you – get in here, kid, be part of the action.
San Diego Comic-Con is arguably the largest, most extravagant pop culture event of the year, but it started in 1970 as a comic book convention where the fans share a room with the people who make the thing they like. The creators who spend their time hunched over a drawing table, wrangling their unruly ideas on a white rectangle as they sweat the deadline, finally get the heroic adulation they earned. That specific interaction is what the San Diego Comic-Con Museum celebrates and archives – the convergence of pop culture creators and devotees. It is lightning in a bottle, and they’re swiping at it.
On Wednesday, July 20th, the San Diego Comic-Con Museum inducted Spider-Man into the Superhero Hall of Fame. So we seized the opportunity to pay homage at the Beyond Amazing – Spider–Man: The Exhibition, an interactive walk-through of our favorite web-slinging supe from when Spidey was nary an apple in Marvel’s eye to the underoo icon he is today.
Once you’ve snapped a selfie tussling with those titanium tentacles in the bustling foyer, you filter past an “as seen in” Green Goblin helmet from Spider–Man (2002) into the exhibit proper. There the atmosphere is more reverent and contemplative. Breathless, patrons take photos of a grade-1.5 slabbed copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963), and all do the same gag of pretending to break the glass and abscond. Ironically, if they turned around and took four paces, they would be nose-to-nose with the real precious loot, actual Steve Ditko pages complete with their glue stains, eraser smudges, and white out. Spider-Man duking it out with Sandman and making a timely Khrushchev joke (The Amazing Spider-Man #18, 1964) or J. Jonah Jameson furrowing his brow explaining his animosity toward the Spider-Menace, “If a man like him is good – – is a hero – – then what am I?? I can never respect myself while he lives!” (The Amazing Spider-Man #10, 1964)
There is something for every iteration of Spider-Fan, from the bag-and-boarding Wednesday Warrior to the strictly cinematic, to even little kiddos. Being a comic book nerd, I was all about the pages. They have all the greats represented, from Ditko, Romita, McFarlane, and Bagley. My favorite treat was a rare, spared page of Stan Lee’s original outline displayed next to the John Romita page it spawned. The sparsest white page that lists Peter’s concerns about life, love, and the secret identity turned into an image of a young man, wracked with dread, while the webbed mask looms (The Amazing Spider–Man #82, 1963). Stan-the-Man does include a note to the letterer about not overusing the exclamation point, “I want to try using PERIODS from now on, and see if this’ll give the mags a classier look.”
For the film fiends, there are replicas and screen relics. I dug the collages of different objects collected throughout production that made up the Spider-Man: Far From Home’s title sequence, including the jester mask used by Tom Holland in Venice, painted with the signature red with black webbing. The little ones at the Comic-Con Museum are encouraged to give the exhibits a closer look by participating in a scavenger hunt. Watching them wander around with clipboards and examining the artifacts like little national treasures was adorable.
By investing in the Spider-Man story – whether he is Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or Dr. Otto Octavious (Superior Spider–Man, 2013-2014) – we are participating in the conversation of what we consider a hero. With the Beyond Amazing exhibit, we can see the building blocks of that narrative and the collaborative effort of artists who set that example.
The good people at the Comic-Con Museum get it. They are true fans, and nothing made me more sure of it than the one thing I did not see—an annoying camera symbol with a line through it. You can take all the pictures you want. You can even share them for all they care. Because liking an Instagram post or whatever is not sufficient. Once you know the cache they’ve curated, you will have to go. It’s about communing with the object – the prop, the sketch, the page – that tangible connection to the real heroes, the imaginations that chiseled away until our pop culture took shape.