In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT!. We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
Being Spider-Man can be a curse for Peter Parker. His uncle told him that with great power there must also come great responsibility, and when Peter gains the power of Spider-Man he doesn’t just feel as if he must use that power responsibly, he feels a responsibility to use that power for the good of others.
In the 1970 manga Spider-Man, Yu Komori didn’t have an Uncle Ben to dole out words of wisdom, so when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider he doesn’t see his powers as a responsibility. Rather, he sees them as a curse, as something deep inside him that may one day turn him into a monster.
Though the comic consists of just fourteen stories, there are three distinct phases to the Spider-Man manga. In the early chapters Spider-Man fights classic super-villains like Electro and Mysterio. Though these are mostly straight superhero stories, they all have an aspect of body horror. Paralleling Spider-Man’s origin, the villains are mostly portrayed as normal people who find themselves cursed with powers they can’t control.
Spider-Man generally ends up killing these villains, usually accidentally, and the encounters leave him wondering when he himself will lose control of his powers and become a monster. While the American comics had explored the idea that being Spider-Man was a burden for Peter Parker, for Yu Komori it felt like a time-bomb that would eventually corrupt him.
The second phase of the manga saw Spider-Man faced with the evil of normal humans in a somewhat topical manner. These stories start with Yu being accused of raping a woman who had actually been assaulted by his school’s championship kendo club. After that, Yu is assumed to be a delinquent by his classmates and ends up befriending a drug dealer. Later stories in this vein involve a soldier with what we’d now call PTSD on leave from Vietnam, a serial killer committing vehicular homicide, and a hostage-taking “liberation army.”
Stan Lee himself was still writing The Amazing Spider-Man at this point with artist John Romita. It was around this time, in 1971, that Stan wrote the infamous “no code” arc in The Amazing Spider-Man issues 96-98. The basic story is that Peter Parker went around telling kids not to do drugs, and this had to be published without the approval of the Comics Code Authority as a “don’t do drugs” message violated that body’s “no mentioning drugs” policy.
The manga Spider-Man also provides a commentary on contemporary issues, but in contrast to the squeaky-clean Amazing Spider-Man, Yu Komori was smoking pot, helping his drug-dealing friend with his problems with the Yakuza, and romantically involved with not one, not two, but three different prostitutes. Even in the late ’90s, when Marvel printed these comics in English during the first manga boom, they made a good number of edits to remove nudity and graphic violence in addition to skipping some stories altogether.
At the end of the run there’s a return to the body horror of the early issues, although with the exception of an evil Spider-Man the antagonists of these stories aren’t villains but women cursed with supernatural powers they can’t control. It’s an interesting direction and it brings a new perspective to the series as we watch Komori try and generally fail to help these unfortunate souls. These later stories feel the most Japanese, being reminiscent of yokai stories.
It’s unfortunate that the Spider-Man manga never amounted to much more that a footnote in the history of either Spider-Man or manga. Artist Ryoichi Ikegami would go on to some substantial successes in the 1980s and ’90s, notably Sanctuary, Strain and Heat with writer Buronson, who had created Fist of the North Star. Ikegami’s popularity in the west and his realistic art style is almost certainly the reason this comic saw an English release at all. Original writer Kosei Ono was best known as an expert on and translator of America comics and his replacement Kazumasa Hirai was best known for his earlier creation 8 Man.
Even during the Spider-Verse event, which brought all almost all of the existing alternate versions of Spider-Man together with a number of new versions, Yu Komori’s existence was little more than a throwaway joke. The dark tone of his stories likely wouldn’t play well with the wisecracking, fun-loving nature of Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, but it’s a shame we never really explored that world more.
Spider-Man has always been a bright and colorful superhero, and despite the numerous problems and complications it causes Peter and the Parker luck, being Spider-Man always seems fun for him, especially during Stan Lee’s tenure on the book. It is never fun for Yu Komori. Yu has a relatively normal life until he’s bitten by that radioactive spider, and from that moment onward his life is a descent into madness and misery. It’s a dark take on the character that was way ahead of its time, and though it may be hard to find today it’s also worth the effort if you can track it down.
Thank you for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!