Some weapons become more iconic than the fictional characters that use them. Others are a vital aspect of a character’s personality. In this column, we take a look at some of the greatest fictional weapons of all time.
Spider-Man has possibly more iconic aspects than any other character: the costume, the motto, the powers, the villains, the list goes on and on. But his web-shooters may be the most instantly recognizable of them all.
Take away Spidey’s webs and he just wouldn’t be the same. They are a perfect encapsulation of what makes Peter Parker special and are a weapon that would be the ultimate wish fulfilment for people of any age.
Like any iconic weapon, Spider-Man’s web-shooters have been around since the character’s beginning and have gone largely unchanged in the 50 years that he has been around. When Spider-Man first debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 in August 1962, his web-shooters debuted alongside him. While the irradiated spider that bit Peter gave him superhuman strength, lightning-fast reflexes, the ability to crawl up walls, and his spider-sense, it didn’t give him webs. Instead, he invented these weapons as a way to complement his newfound powers.
That’s a vital aspect of who Spider-Man is. Peter is a legitimate genius. He’s not as smart as someone like Mr. Fantastic or Iron Man, but he one of the most intelligent characters in the Marvel Universe. While Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies decided to uncomplicated the character’s origins by make his web-shooters organic, they also took away an important piece of the character, and Peter was less intelligent as a result. One of the things that Mark Webb’s reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, got right was making the web-shooters a piece of technology, although they still lessened Peter’s intelligence by making them a modification of pre-existing tech, instead of a complete invention like the comics.
No matter what medium the character is in, comics, movies, or TV, The Web Head’s web-shooters are so engrained in the character that they can be overlooked at times.
The Power of the Web-Shooters
Peter’s web-shooters are wrist-mounted mechanical devices that fire an adhesive nylon fluid through a nozzle that spins it into webs. Spider-Man double-taps a trigger resting in his palm with his ring and middle finger in order to activate the weapon, creating his iconic hand pose. In some cases, only someone as strong as Peter can apply enough pressure to depress the gadget’s firing mechanism. Depending on how he activates the web-shooter, the fluid can be made into ropes of varying sizes, giant webs, web balls, and many other objects.
Of course, Spider-Man’s greatest use of his webs is to swing from building to building. This allows him to cover miles in mere minutes – an ability that comes in handy when patrolling all of Manhattan. Spider-Man will fire a string to a building and use his lightning-fast reflexes to grab the end of the chord that is passing through his hand just as he cuts it with the spinneret in his shooter. Swinging from this and firing another at just the right time allows him to gain maximum momentum, speed, and distance. Peter’s scientific knowledge helps him to determine parabolic equations and speed on the fly, making each swing as powerful as possible. He can also create a slingshot effect by firing two lines at once and flinging himself through the air.
Of course, no normal human would be able to swing like Spidey. His superhuman strength allows him to hold on even when swinging at high speeds and his clinging ability lets his hand stick to the web, no matter what. That means that even if you invented these gizmos, you’d most likely be flung off shortly after reaching the bottom of your swing’s arc when g-forces became too great for your hand strength.
Spider-Man also uses it to great effectiveness in combat. He can use it to bridge gaps between himself and enemies in seconds flat and can yank weapons out of enemies’ hands before they can use them. While he has the strength to lift multiple tons, Spider-Man’s combat relies on his speed, agility, and reflexes. The use of webbing allows him to use these attributes to maximum effectiveness, becoming a whirlwind when fighting his enemies.
This adhesive fluid has been shown to be incredibly strong, especially when it completely dries. It has been stated that the web’s tensile strength is equal to 120 pounds per square millimeter and can shoot 60 feet in a straight line, farther in an arc. Enough webbing can slow down The Hulk and entrap other characters that are far more powerful than Spider-Man. After approximately one hour, the webbing will dissolve into dust, allowing captured criminals to be taken into custody after being apprehended by Spider-Man.
However, these weapons are not perfect. They rely on cartridges, meaning that Spider-Man has to constantly refill them and may run out of fluid, leaving him stranded, possibly in mid-air. They also require maintenance and care, allowing them to be broken by powerful and strong enemies. Of course, this is ripe for sudden dramatic tension in any story.
Organic web-shooters became such a part of the mainstream image of Spider-Man that Marvel decided to incorporate them into the comic books in 2007. Through a strange series of events that involved stages of evolution and a temporary transformation into a giant spider (it’s as ludicrous as it sounds), Peter eventually gained these organic versions. The development was met with mixed reactions, but they stayed for years. Eventually, these organic web-shooters, along with a large swath of Spider-Man’s history in the comic books, were erased in a makeshift continuity reboot called “One More Day.” It was one of the only things that happened in the storyline that wasn’t met with deafening boos from hordes of fanboys.
Modifying a Classic Weapon
Like all things in comic books, years and years of stories mean that even the most classic aspect of a character will be tinkered with from time to time in order to stay fresh. The web-shooters are no exemption.
When Peter Parker was temporarily replaced by his clone, Ben Reilly, as Spider-Man (again, Spidey’s history is crazy-convoluted) his replacement decided to do a few modifications. This time, Spider-Man’s web-shooters were turned into wrist gauntlets, with the cartridges visible on the outside. Ben also added impact webbing, which involved balls of webbing shot out that enveloped the target upon impact.
Peter himself has created a variety of alternative web fluids in order to face specific challenges. Over the years, this has included insulated webbing to halt Electro, ice webbing to cool down the Human Torch, acid webbing to melt the Rhino’s armor, and others like magnetic, flame, and taser variants. But these are rarely used. Most often, Spidey is able to overcome his enemies through a combination of quick thinking and tenacity.
Recently, Spider-Man’s foe Dr. Octopus was able to swap minds with the Wall-Crawler when his body was on the brink of death. With Peter dying in Doc Ock’s body, the villain is now living the life of the hero as The Superior Spider-Man. Now, he is dedicated to making himself into a better hero than Peter ever was. While he has upgraded his suit and added more technology than ever, Peter’s web-shooters have been barely modified; they are a perfect complement for Spider-Man, no matter who he may be at the moment. But don’t worry, Peter will be back soon enough.
One of the most difficult things for an artist drawing Spider-Man has to be illustrating all of those webs. While Steve Ditko was able to draw convincing enough webbing with just a few crosshatched lines, they were never very elaborate. This style of drawing was fine for the time, but as comic art progressed, so did the style in which Spidey’s webs were drawn. Each artist had a different way of drawing the webs, but they all kept them somewhat simple in order to cut down on time and meet deadlines.
Then came Todd McFarlane. The future Spider-Man artist actually loved drawing the webs and put extra time and effort into illustrating them. Gone were the simple lines and crosshatching. Instead, the future Spawn artist decided to fill each panel with highly-detailed twisting webs. Each chord looked like think ropes, made up of strands of varying sizes, shooting forward and twisting around one another. Along with the artist’s predilection for drawing Spider-Man in all sorts of dynamic poses, his approaching to the webbing made the hero look unlike any other previous version.
Of course, this set the bar for every artist afterward that was put on Spider-Man duty. In the decades since, every artist has been put to the test when it comes to illustrating this vital part of the Web-Slinger. Some may love it like McFarlane, but plenty more loathe the time spent solely illustrating webbing. In either case, it has made the hero into one of the most dynamic-looking characters in comics.
And like every other important aspect of the hero, the time and focus spent on the web-shooters is what has made Spider-Man one of the most iconic heroes of modern times