Spider-Man’s Web-Shooters: Untangling Their History

In 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko introduced a superhero who would redefine the genre for a new generation. Peter Parker, the sensational Spider-Man, was an unassuming nerd who fate would gift with the powers of a human spider: proportionate strength, speed, agility, and even the uncanny ability to move out of the way of oncoming danger.

But one key spider-like attribute has historically not come naturally to Spider-Man: the ability to create webs. Instead, Spider-Man comes equipped with what are known as web-shooters, artificial devices that allow him to spin a web, any size.

The original trilogy of “Spider-Man” movies abandoned this concept in favor of giving Peter the ability to generate webs biologically. But the latest entry in the storied superhero’s big-screen adventures, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” reimagines the character and restores the artificial web-shooters, as many fans had long clamored for, citing the web-shooters as evidence of one of Peter Parker’s greatest assets—his keen intellect.

With that in mind, we’re going to take a look back at the history of his web-shooters in the comics — how they developed and changed over the years, and where they stand now in his arsenal of abilities.

Spider-Man’s web-shooters are fairly ingenious devices of his own invention; as a brilliant but socially isolated student with a particular talent for science, Peter Parker came up with them to complement his newly-acquired spider powers.

Typically hidden under the sleeves of his costume, they encircle Spider-Man’s wrists with slots for cartridges that contain the “web fluid” which solidifies into sticky webbing on contact with air (spare cartridges are kept on his belt). Protruding from these bracelets are the nozzle which the webbing is fired from, and trigger mechanisms which rest in the palms of his hands; manipulating the triggers with his middle and ring fingers allows him to control the size and shape of the resulting webs.

Behind the scenes, it’s entirely possible that Spider-Man may never have had web-shooters at all. In 1953, Captain America co-creator Joe Simon developed a character called The Silver Spider, who fired his webs from a handheld web-gun. In the early ’60s, when Stan Lee was searching for new characters to develop, Simon’s partner, Jack Kirby brought sketches of the Silver Spider for Lee to look at. Lee showed them to artist Steve Ditko, who felt they were too similar to a later Simon & Kirby character, Archie Comics’ The Fly. Ditko redesigned the character from the ground-up, keeping only the spider theme, and creating the web-shooters in the process, which he felt were less clunky than his hero carrying around a gun.

The web-shooters endured for many years, often providing fodder for dramatic situations when Spider-Man would run out of web fluid during a fight, or further experimented with his webbing formula to try to improve on it. Sometimes these improvements worked, and sometimes they didn’t; after developing a stronger web formula, Spider-Man discovered to his chagrin that the new webbing was nearly useless in practice, as the web-shooters themselves were not strong enough to cut through the webbing, leaving him tethered to whatever he attached his webs to.

He did eventually discover a use for the stronger web formula however, at one point creating a “web-armor” to protect himself in battle against some particularly tough foes. His clone counterpart, Ben Reilly, also came up with new uses for the web-shooters in the form of “impact webbing” and “stingers.” The former allowed the web-shooters to fire small pellets that would rapidly expand on contact to completely envelop a foe in webbing, while the stingers, tipped with tranquilizers, could be used to sedate his opponents.

Perhaps in response to the move towards organic webbing in the Raimi films, Spider-Man eventually acquired the ability to generate webs naturally in the comics, after recovering from his mutation into a giant spider at the hands of the villainous Queen, during 2004’s “Avengers Disassembled” crossover. But things came full circle in the wake of 2007’s “One More Day” storyline, which saw several aspects of the Spider-Man mythos rebooted, including the restoration of his artificial web-shooters and the disappearance of the organic webbing.

Now the movies are set to follow the comics once again, as evidenced by Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker return to the web-shooters. Are they here to stay? It’s possible not even the people behind the movies and the comics know for sure.

Which do you prefer—the artificial web-shooters, or organic webbing? Let us know what you think in the comment section or on Twitter!