While the comic book industry is no stranger to the notion of ‘borrowing’ ideas from competitor companies, one extremely perplexing case comes from DC Comics’ attempt to replicate Marvel Comics most popular superhero, Spider-Man. What is more perplexing is that this was attempted four times, with two of these copycats actually written as supervillains instead of heroes.
At first these ‘copycats’ could be viewed as humorous tongue-and-cheek parody’s from DC in jest to their competition. However, DC Comics’ later copies of Spider-Man seemed to be genuine attempts to try and replicate the Webbed Warrior’s success. But regardless of intent, fans must question whether any of these characters hold any value beyond simply being Spider-Man clones.
Black-Spider Was A Serious Character Turned Into A Parody
The first and most obvious of these DC Spider-Man iterations came in the form of the deadly assassin Black-Spider. During Black-Spider’s initial appearances as part of Gerry Conway’s Detective Comics run, his connection to Spider-Man was a lot less obvious aside from an arachnid theme. Black-Spider was originally an assassin who targeted drug dealers within Gotham City and murdered them. This caught the attention of both Batman and numerous powerful drug lords, while Batman was merciful in his crusade against Black-Spider, the drug lords were less inclined to play nice. Thus, in Batman: Shadow of the Bat #5 (by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, and Adrienne Roy) the drug cartel spiked Black-Spider’s wife and son with incredibly potent drugs, killing both of them as pay back against the Spider.
Despite the incredibly dark introduction, DC Comics later decided to embrace the skewed connection between the violent vigilante and Spider-Man, making Black-Spider more comical and light-hearted. This started with a far more Spider-Man inspired costume for Batman #518 (by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, John Beatty, and Adrienne Roy). But the concept became fully realized through the Black-Spider within the 2011 Young Justice comic series written by Grey Weisman and Kevin Hopps. This version came equipped with genuine web-slingers and hundreds of quips and jokes he told at the expense of the teenage superheroes he fought within the comic. This satirical take on the once serious character largely became the default for the assassin, and milds will vary if this comedic version was worth sacrificing his originally darker persona.
The Bugg is a Forgotten Spider-Man Copy
The Bugg was a lesser-known attempt at replicating Spider-Man by acting as a dark ‘what if?’ version for the Web Slinger, showing what the Marvel superhero’s life might have been if he used his intellect for nefarious purposes. The Bugg was an intelligence operative for an organization known as the ‘Network’, who specialize in sabotage and corporate espionage. The Bugg used his ability to attach himself to walls and turn invisible to spy on people and set up surveillance cameras for the Network. The Bugg’s obsession in surveillance turned him into something of a voyeur, constantly evading peoples privacy to watch their lives’ like it were a movie. It was revealed that the insect-themed spy turned to his life of crime because he was adopted by the Network after he witnessed his parents gunned-down similarly to how Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben died, showing the importance of role models.
However, after his appearance in the eight-issue Batman: Family miniseries (by John Francis Moore, Rick Hoberg, and Stefano Guadiano), the Bugg was left completely unused by DC Comics and thus forgotten by fans. This in large part was due to the fact that the Bugg was a rather one-note antagonist who was only interesting as a member of the Network. Without his team to complement him, the Bugg had little to no future as a Batman rouge, especially when the Caped Crusader already had a Spider-Man rip-off to fight.
Sideways Was An Attempt To Co-Opt Spider-Man’s Fame
DC Comics’ The New Age of Heroes era displayed the comic company’s attempts to copy Marvel Comics formula and use it to boost sales after a period of disenchantment among DC fans. The most egregious of DC’s replications was Sideways, who boasted a nigh identical costume and personality as Spider-Man. Much like his Marvel counterpart, Sideways was a normal –if not wimpy– high school student who received immense power by accident and had to learn the importance of responsibility after losing a close parental figure.
Granted despite heavily similar character traits, Sideways had a remarkably different set of powers. Instead of sticking to walls or shooting webs, this blue-and-white hero had the ability to open dimensional gateways and manipulate gravity. These powers allowed the teen hero to go on interdimensional adventures within his own thirteen-issue solo series, teaming up with the likes of Superman and Zatanna along the way. Sideways’ unique powers had the potential to allow the character to stand on his own with various unique character traits or quirks picked up from his bizarre adventures. But unlike characters like The Bugg and Young Justice’s Black-Spider, Sideways was neither a satirical parody nor an exploration into an evil Spider-Man archetype, he simply was just Spider-Man with different powers.
Blue Beetle Became More Than Just A Spider-Man Copycat
After the first Blue Beetle, aka Dan Garrett, was unable to gain an audience for Charlton Comics, Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko was hired by the comic book company to revamp Blue Beetle into a character more reminiscent to his popular arachnid hero. Thus, the second Blue Beetle, aka Ted Kord, was created. Ted bore many loose resemblances to Steve Ditko’s more famous creation, displaying similar athleticism and a passively inspired costume. Ted was even motivated by his uncle to become a hero, but in a very different manner to Spider-Man. Ted’s uncle Jarvis was the CEO of a massive technology company and the supervillain responsible for the murder of the original Blue Beetle. This motivated his successor to develop a different responsibility, insuring that his family is never again responsible for such evil.
In his battle to ensure the Kord Family fortune does no evil, Ted developed a drastically different personality to his arachnid inspiration. He was highly critical of others and even self-centered in his goals. But he still had a great sense of duty and not above having fun with fellow superhero Booster Gold. Ted truly distinguished himself as his own kind of hero during Countdown to Infinite Crisis (by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Judd Winck, Ed Benes, Phil Jemenez, Rags Morales, Ivan Reis, and Jesús Saíz). Within the 2006 special, Blue Beetle found out that the Kord fortune was being siphoned by an anti-meta-human organization run by Maxwell Lord; the former Justice League International manager. After tracking Maxwell down, Ted was given the opportunity to join him or face death. Blue Beetle stoutly refused and sabotaged Maxwell’s operations, so Batman could discover what the villain was planning, though Ted Kord would die in the process.
DC Comics repetition of replicating Marvel’s Spider-Man is certainly an odd phenomenon, and while there have certainly been some mixed results, some spectacular characters were created as a result. This could just go to show just how great of a hero Spider-Man is in order to be the template for some of these characters. Or perhaps credit should be given to the talented DC writers who were able to succeed in making good characters where others failed.