BY RICHARD SCHACK
The trailers have been teasing television watchers and buses around the borough are featuring the web-slinging super hero, and when “Spider-Man” opens officially next week, what movie goers will learn is the tale of a true Queens legend.
He lived in Forest Hills, numerous scenes for his debut feature film were shot here, his editor-in-chief still hails from Jackson Heights and a Hollis artist offered the Tribune the behind-the-scenes story of the movie everyone will be talking about this week.
ALONG CAME A SPIDER-MAN
In the “Spider-Man” movie, our hero battles bad guys on the Queensboro Bridge and finds himself in Forest Hills. But 40 years before being a movie star, Spider-Man was merely an idea that belonged to comic book writer Stan Lee.
In 1962, Lee introduced the character that revolutionized the comic book genre by taking it to new levels in plotting and character development.
The comic tells the story of how an everyday teenager from Queens was orphaned and teased by his peers for being a “bookworm.”
In the comic, Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider while on a field trip with his high school class and as a result is given superhuman powers – incredible agility, the ability to climb on walls, the proportionate strength of a spider and a “spider-sense,” which alerted him at all times to possible dangers.
The character of Parker is raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben in Forest Hills.
In the comics, Peter Parker’s first intention was to use his powers for fame and fortune but after appearing on a television show in a mask, he stood and watched as a burglar ran right by him. When yelled at by a police officer chasing the criminal, Parker said simply, “not my problem.”
When he returned home later that day he was horrified to find his Uncle Ben had been shot and killed by a burglar … the very same criminal he let run right by him earlier.
And thus Parker learned that, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Following that life-changing moment the character dedicated himself to fighting crime and became … the Spider-Man.
The first issue was a hit and in the years to follow came Spider-Man’s own comic book series, a daily comic strip in newspapers, five different television series and now a full-length feature film.
QUEENS SCENES ON THE BIG SCREEN
Landing in theaters on May 3, the “Spider-Man” movie has been more than a decade in the making – the first script for the movie was written back in the 1980s.
Directed by Sam Raimi, the movie features Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, William DaFoe as his arch nemesis the “Green Goblin” and Kirsten Dunst as Spidey’s girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, with some of the film’s most pivotal scenes taking place in Queens.
To get a real feel for the borough, the film’s producers shot footage in Queens last year on Metropolitan Avenue and Sybilla Street in Forest Hills and in the area around the Queensboro Bridge, where the film’s climactic end takes place.
According to Columbia Pictures, a rooftop in Queens was the location used in the film as the launching pad for Parker’s first attempts at using his newfound powers.
But our borough’s movie stint doesn’t end there. Many of the scenes show footage of Queens locations with computer-generated images of “Spider-Man” added in post-production, according to a local artist who played a role in brining the comic book hero to life on screen.
Hollis’ James George Parris, worked behind the scenes of the movie on storyboards and some of the animation sequences that will drive the film. He told the Tribune that computer-generated effects played a major part in the making of the movie.
“It’s like in ‘Jurassic Park,’” Parris said. “The scene where you see [the actors] running away from the dinosaurs … they really are running away from nothing. The dinosaurs were actually animated and inserted after the scenes were filmed. It’s the same concept here.
He’s in the comics and in the movies, but last year the Tribune stumbled across a case of art imitating life.
Or was it something more?
In an issue of “Spider-Man” from 1989, editors revealed that the character of Peter Parker lived at 20 Ingram Street in Forest Hills Gardens.
The address is real, but the coincidences don’t end there.
The name of the family living in the quaint tudor style home is also Parker.
“We don’t know how it happened,” said Suzanne Parker, a digital artist who has lived there for almost 20 years with her husband Andrew.
Parker said she didn’t know about the similarities until the Tribune contacted her last August to find out who lives in the real version of Spidey’s fictional house.
According to Parker, the revelation helped explain why a number of bizarre occurrences have occurred there over the years, including a Discover card registered in the name of none other than Peter Parker being sent to the home.
Is all this just a bizarre coincidence?
Well, we’re not so sure.
Next to the Parkers at 19 Ingram Street live the Osborns – and Harry Osborn is the name of Spidey’s nemesis in the movie, the Green Goblin.
Thankfully, the neighbors “get along just fine,” said Suzanne Parker.
A ‘KID’ FROM JACKSON HEIGHTS LIVES OUT A DREAM
Queens is not only Spider-Man’s home borough, but it is also home to the man in charge of the comic book’s creative team as well.
Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics’ current editor-in-chief, said that growing up in Jackson Heights, “Spider-Man’s roots were never lost on me as a kid.”
Spidey’s geography was one of the factors that made him a big fan, he said.
“Spider-Man has actual roots. He grew up not far from me, not in an imaginary place like ‘Metropolis’ or ‘Gotham City,’” Quesada said referring to the cities where superheroes “Superman” and “Batman” battle crime. “I think that’s some of what makes the character so appealing.”
Quesada said he often explains to artists and writers of the comic who are out of the Queens loop that his native borough has “lovely areas … the ethnicity is mixed with a wide variety of likable people.”
And Spider-Man’s editor-in-chief isn’t the only creator to share a zip code with the character he chronicles.
Other notable creators from Queens include influential artist John Romita, whose artistic version of Spider-Man set a standard for future interpretations.
John Romita, Jr. has also worked on Spider-Man continuing a tradition his father started.
In the history of the Spider-Man comics, Queens has been portrayed realistically with a healthy dose of fantasy as maniacal super-villains run amok throughout the borough.
In the July 1989 issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” [#317], Spidey’s arch nemesis “Venom” discovers Peter Parker’s secret identity, and visits his Forest Hills home.
The issue was the first to divulge Spidey’s exact address.
But it’s not just Forest Hills that has been immortalized in the comic book series.
In the 40 years of the book, action has taken place all over Queens with criminals using “the warehouse district along Jamaica Bay” as a criminal hideout and Shea Stadium as a place where Spidey checks out a Mets game.
The high-school-aged Parker attends “Midtown High School,” and the comic book high school is a large building with a grassy area in front and fencing on both sides – bearing a similarity to Forest Hills High School.
That might explain why real life Forest Hills High School attendees – members of the punk rock band the Ramones – recorded their own version of the Spider-Man theme as one of their final recordings as a band.
FANS CAUGHT UP IN THE WEB
It’s not just the movie makers that are counting on cashing in on “Spider-Man,” according to comic book store owner Sing Kao, who manages the popular “Hurricane Comics and Collectibles” in Spidey’s home neighborhood of Forest Hills.
“I’m hoping to catch ‘Spider-Man’ fever,” Kao said. “I’m ordering much larger quantities of Spider-Man books than I would have otherwise. We’re very excited about it.”
So are the fans – especially a group of students from Russell Sage Junior High School spotted hanging out at Kao’s store after school one recent afternoon.
For them the Spider-Man movie was a dominant topic of conversation.
“I’m really hyped about it,” said 13-year-old John Angle of Forest Hills.
Angle, who considers himself a big Spider-Man fan, said he plans to see the movie the day it opens at the Midway Theater on Queens Boulevard.
Fifteen-year-old Sage student and comic book collector Adam Nater said he thinks he may be disappointed by the movie. “The books are always better than the movie,” he said adding, “I hope it’s not whack.”
Although die-hard fans may have their concerns about the film, Marvel Comics editor Quesada, who has already seen “Spider-Man,” said he is confident in the quality of this movie – “It remains very reverent to the source material,” he reassured. “It definitely should not disappoint.”