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With Great Power and Great Responsibility: The Representation of America’s Social Anxieties and Historical Events in The Amazing Spider-Man, 1962-1979

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Shaeffer, Mathew Todd. “With Great Power and Great Responsibility: The Representation of America’s Social Anxieties and Historical Events in The Amazing Spider-Man, 1962-1979.” (Under the direction of Dr. David Zonderman).

This thesis examines The Amazing Spider-Man comic series as a means to explore historical events and social anxieties during the 1960s and 1970s. Recently, superheroes have reclaimed a prominent place in American culture as superhero films are surging in popularity. Using The Amazing Spider-Man, I hope to highlight how superhero comic books are a valuable source for American cultural history and warrant serious scholarly research. To conduct my research, I looked at the scholarship on superhero comics, which has expanded greatly over the last few years, and conducted a close examination of Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), which first introduces Spider-Man, and nearly 200 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man published from 1963 until 1979. I found that The Amazing Spider-Man comic series offers insight into American society and American values during the time period. I examine how The Amazing Spider-Man advocates the responsible use of science during the new Nuclear Age while also reflecting the dangers of new and unconstrained science. I study how the main character, Peter Parker, deals with social acceptance, general social anxieties, and finding his place in the world. I look at how the hero struggles with Cold War tensions, losing loved ones, seeing friends shipped off to war, social unrest, civil rights issues, student protests, political corruption, and much more. Finally, I look at how the perception of gender changes during the 1960s and 1970s by examining the evolution of both male and female gender values portrayed in the comic and how those values evolve over time.

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