"The burden of proof is on the person who makes the assertion, claim, charge. Some clippings, et cetera, are not rational proof of anything but some clippings, etcetera."
When first designing the character of Spider-Man, Marvel icon Stan Lee turned
to his frequent collaborator and legendary artist Jack Kirby to draw up the costume. But Kirby's design of the character was too strong and heroic. Spider-Man needed to look different from the stereotypical superheroes of the past. Stan then turned to another legendary artist Steve Ditko to take a crack at it. Ditko's design of Spider-Man was sleek, it was bold, it made sense for an acrobatic, wall-crawling superhero and it might have been stolen. This controversy was written about a few years back in a New York Post article titled The Billion-Dollar Spider-Man 'Cover-Up'.
This Spider-Man costume debuted with the character in the Marvel Comics from 1962, but then there's this little oddity a literal spiderman costume created by Halloween company Ben Cooper that hit store shelves in 1954. That's eight years before Peter Parker would make his first appearance as the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler.
While the company went bankrupt in the 80s and the 90s and really isn't around in full force today, Ben Cooper was one of the largest Halloween costume manufacturers between the 1950s and 70s. Their cheap costumes were iconic, they were everywhere, and they dominated the Halloween market for decades. So, is it possible that when designing Spider-Man's costume, Steve Ditko drew inspiration from this spider man that existed in the public for nearly a decade at that point? If that was the case, then you might expect Ben Cooper to approach Marvel and say something like, "hey, that's our idea could you stop making money off of our idea, please!".
But here's a weird thing. Just a few months after Spider-Man's comic book debut, Ben Cooper and Marvel struck a licensing deal for the character. Ben Cooper would make an official Spider-Man costume in place of their initial, yellow one. Well, actually this is a version of the costume sold in the 70s, but it's the same basic design as the one that hit store shelves in 1963. It's almost a hybrid of the Spider-Man comic costume and the original Ben Cooper costume. It incorporates a lot of yellow and has more webbing patterns printed over it, with a creepy, hairy spider emblem on the chest, and the mask is pretty okay.
But Spider-Man just made his first appearance by the end of 1962, and by 1963 he already had official merch? Granted, that on its own might not sound that weird, considering today where we slap logos on everything but as far as we know, this Ben Cooper Spider-Man costume was the first ever piece of Marvel merchandise, period. That's a little strange because, again, Ben Cooper was a huge company and they were all about licensing characters from pop culture
to make their cheap costumes, but they got a hold of this brand new Spider-Man character before they tried for other, more popular, superheroes like Batman who'd have been out for ages at that point. It's just a little suspicious. And there's one more twist to this story.
Hypothetically, if Steve Ditko was inspired by the Ben Cooper spiderman when he drafted up the design of the Marvel character, then credit should really go to the artist who created that yellow mess.
Jack Kirby may have been working at Ben Cooper, possibly designing costumes, theoretically drawing up this specific spider man idea. Years later when Jack Kirby was asked about his involvement with creating Marvel's Spider-Man, he has said things like,
- [Jack] "I created Spider-Man. We decided to give it to Steve Ditko. I drew the first Spider-Man cover. I created the character. I created the costume."
So, the full idea, to wrap your head around it, is this, Stan Lee approached Jack Kirby to design the costume for their new character Spider-Man, Jack drew the idea that Stan didn't like, so he passed the project off to Steve Ditko who drew inspiration from the Ben Cooper costume that was designed nearly a decade prior by Jack Kirby, and Marvel kept the whole thing under wraps for decades, all this time, for reasons.
When Steve Ditko, himself, was asked point blank if he stole the design of Spider-Man from the Ben Cooper costume, he wrote back, rather ominously,
- [Steve] "The burden of proof is on the person who makes the assertion, claim, charge. Some clippings, et cetera, are not rational proof of anything but some clippings, et cetera."
The author of the New York Post article that covered this whole costume conspiracy thing wasn't just some random person on the internets, it was Reed Tucker, author of Slugfest, a book about the history of Marvel and DC's rivalry.
As thrilling and sensational as a secret Marvel cover-up would be, I'd wager the explanation behind this is a lot simpler. Like for example, it's totally possible that when designing the costume for Spider-Man, Steve Ditko was inspired by the Ben Cooper spiderman costume, and that's why they both have lots of web imagery.
However, when you're designing the costume of a character with a spider motif, doesn't it just kind of make sense to incorporate web imagery in there? just look at The Spider, a pulp-magazine and serial hero from the 1930s and 1940s, decades before all this Ben Cooper-Marvel stuff.
And other than that one detail, the costumes just don't look that similar to me. The painfully yellow fabric looks nothing like the cherry-red and cobalt blue color scheme of Spidey's classic costume. The similarities are webs and the label spiderman, which wasn't even Ditko's idea, Stan Lee came up with that name.
However, there is one part of the article's conclusion that I do actually agree with. When Spidey made his big comic book debut, Ben Cooper probably saw a character with the same name and a vaguely similar costume, so they approached Marvel and struck up some kind of deal. You know, like, you have a spiderman, we have a spiderman. Let's work together on this one.
So, the following year, a new Ben Cooper Spider-Man costume hit the shelves that more closely resembled the webhead, and became the first known piece of official Marvel merch. So, that just leaves the plot threads with Jack Kirby. Right, like what could Jack Kirby mean when he said that he created Spider-Man and his costume? Isn't that what Steve Ditko did? Well, honestly, that is a huge can of worms that deserves its own video. There's a lot of controversy surrounding
who exactly created which elements of Spider-Man.
Scott isn't the only person discussing the fascinating history of Spider-Man's costume this week, and also wearing kind of ugly shirts while doing it. In fact, while the Ben Cooper costume may have played a role in Steve Ditko's original design for Spider-Man, Jack Kirby has a lot to answer for himself.
Another comic book creation of Jack Kirby's, one that predates Spider-Man, and may have played a role in bringing our favorite wall-crawler to life. Yeah, you know, a lot of this comic book history stuff is based on hearsay. Like, was Jack Kirby really working at Ben Cooper designing costumes between jobs as the article posts? Did he create this yellow spiderman costume?
The article cites no source for this info. They say rumor has it, but like whose rumor? What rumor? You can't just say that with nothing to back it up. I mean, theoretically, the answer might be found in Ben Cooper's records, but their factory burned down in 1989 destroying everything.