Spider-Man’s Symbiote & the Early AIDS Epidemic


Sharon Packer, MD
sharonpacker@msn.com

ABSTRACT:

Spider-Man’s “symbiote” can be read as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic that emerged in the early 1980s—although the word “AIDS” never appears in print. The Spider-Man character was “born” in Marvel Comics in 1962. In 1984, he was overtaken by a parasite-born, blood-spread “symbiote” that darkened his costume, covered him in webbing, changed his behavior, (and enhanced his superpowers). The symbiote appeared in the year that HIV was implicated in the immune system-destroying disease that brought opportunistic infections (OI), infection-spread cancers and behavior changes. OIs such as Kaposi’s sarcoma caused prominent dermatological changes, such as dark skin discolorations. This can be compared to symbiote’s dark-colored costume. The symbiote mutated into “Venom,” “Carnage” and “Toxin,” which were blood-borne and spread in prisons, like HIV itself. Later comics introduced “Anti-Venom,” who binds with WBCs of infected hosts to cure injection drug users of hepatitis (which often co-exists with HIV.). The timing of this symbiote story arc, plus descriptions of changes induced by the “parasite” and modes of transmission and mutation, show striking parallels with the clinical course of AIDS, and HIV’s discovery, which dates to 1981, when the yet-unnamed AIDS was first observed among gay men, then drug injectors. It soon became known that MWM sex, blood transfusions, needle sharing, and organ transplants spread the still-fatal disease. Early treatments for AIDS emerged in 1989, at which time the symbiote left Spider-Man, found new hosts, and became known as “Venom.” Anti-Venom appeared about a decade later, after HAART treatment became available and proved effective against the disease, turning it into a chronic illness instead of a death sentence. Anti-Venom’s emergence mirrors rising hopes, not just for AIDS, but for other deadly or debilitating infections. Spider-Man symbiote comics may “speak” to younger at-risk individuals, to teach life-saving lessons about public health and prevention.

 

 

INTRODUCTION


Spider-Man is a remarkably popular comics character that has since appeared in many media. His fifth film is currently in production as of Spring 2013. Spider-Man the musical made headlines throughout 2011 (Roberts, 2011). The Broadway premiere that was scheduled for the fall of 2010 was postponed because of a record number of orthopedic casualties and concussions suffered during previews and rehearsals. A catalogue of those injuries may be important to the history of medicine in the future.
For now, it is Spider-Man’s “symbiote” that appeared in comic books in late 1984 that has special significance for the history of medicine. For the symbiote and its spawns can be read as metaphors for the AIDS epidemic that emerged in America in the early 1980s. The AIDS epidemic humbled health care practitioners in the post-penicillin era of medicine, when it was believed that the war against infectious disease had already been in won (at least in the Western world). The yet unnamed AIDs caused widespread panic in the population, and spread fear among hospital personnel in particular, at the same time that it claimed the lives of young gay men, hemophiliacs, Haitians, intravenous drug users, and even female sexual partners of infected men, along with their unborn babies.

Spider-Man himself was “born” in Marvel Comics in 1962, soon after Marvel Comics started. In 1984, Spider-Man was overtaken by a parasite-born “symbiote” that acted as a living costume, spreading over him with webbing, and covering him in mottled black. The symbiote also changed his behavior and enhanced his superpowers. The symbiote subsequently mutated into characters known as “Venom,” “Carnage,” “Toxin,” “Anti-Venom,” and a few more manifestations, to boot. New forms are still appearing, and new story arcs are being devised as this article is being written DeFalco, 2007), Fingeroth et al, 2010), (Simons 2004), (Slott et al, 2009), (Slott et al, 2010), (Youngquist et al, 2010).
The original symbiote “came from outer space,” and was acquired during the “Secret Wars” that Spider-Man and cronies fought. Subsequent mutations of the symbiote were blood-borne and were spread in prisons. In some versions, they could be acquired via brain eating (like the kuru virus that is spread through cannibalistic rites in New Guinea). Because symbiotes mutate (like viruses), each new character has a unique appearance, as well as a special back-story that explains its origins, its evolution, and its exploits.

Although the word AIDS is not mentioned directly in Spider-Man, more recent Spider-Man comics from 2008 introduced another symbiote mutation known as “Anti-Venom” that comes closer to telling medical truths directly. Anti-Venom binds with white blood cells of previously infected hosts. It then cures injection drug users of hepatitis (which often accompanies HIV in actuality). It also rids opiate addicts of urges to use drugs, and cures some other illnesses as well, including radiation poisoning. Radiation poisoning is important in its own right, but is particularly important for Spider-Man, who reportedly mutated in response to a bite by a radioactive spider.
It is not surprising that the word “AIDS” does not appear in the early stories, for this name was not yet coined when the symbiote story went into production. The disease that would become known as AIDS was still described as “KSOI” (Kaposi’s sarcoma/opportunistic infections). Before it was appreciated that a retrovirus destroyed the immune system and permitted overgrowth of otherwise innocuous parasites and certain cancers, AIDS was identified by the systemic parasitic infections that appeared in unlikely hosts, or by the presence of the easy-to-identify, dark-spotted Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The timing of this symbiote story arc, plus descriptions of physical and mental changes brought about by the “parasite,” along with the specified modes of transmission and mutations, bear too many similarities to the history of AIDS and HIV to ignore. In the section below, we will integrate developments in the symbiote story arc with discoveries about AIDS and HIV, its epidemiology, and its symptomatology.

 

CONJOINT HISTORIES OF AIDS AND THE SYMBIOTES

 

Since 1981, the illness that would come to be known as AIDS was observed among gay men, and then among intravenous drug injectors. The following year, 1982, the symptom-complex appeared in hemophiliacs and Haitians. In intervening years, it became known that gay sex, blood transfusions, needle sharing, and organ transplantation spread the disease. By 1983, AIDS was also found in women and in children born to infected females. In 1984, it was learned that breastfeeding spread AIDS. The exact mode of transmission was unclear in the first few years, yet it was clearly that there was a nearly 100% case fatality rate, and so AIDS caused widespread panic in the general population, as well as in high-risk groups (CDC.gov, 2013), (acthiv.org, 2011), (aids.gov, 2013).

In 1984, the HIV virus was definitively linked to AIDS. (HIV had previously been known as HTLV-III or LAV.) AIDS destroyed the immune system and made the host susceptible to opportunistic parasites that rarely attack healthy people. It also increased the risk for, and virulence of, certain infection-related cancers, some of which were rarely seen before AIDS emerged.

OIs (opportunistic infections) associated with AIDS eventually included 21 different “AIDS-defining” diseases, many of which had both mental and physical manifestations. Early on, the CDC referred to the disease as KSOI (Kaposi’s sarcoma opportunistic infections), in recognition of the black-spotted KS and the parasite-spread PCP pneumonia that offered the earliest clues about the existence of the epidemic. , ,
In the same year that HIV was implicated in AIDS—1984--the symbiote appeared in print. However, stories about the symbiote were in preparation well before printed versions were published. The idea for a black Spider-Man costume was first proposed by Spider-Man fan Randy Schueller, who was then a 22-year old chemistry student at University of Illinois. He since earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. He also earned a mere $220 for the idea that was purchased by Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter. Schuller has gone on record as saying that he wanted “something darker, scarier, and sexier” that was more befitting “a character based on a creepy arachnid.” (Howe, 2012), (Cronin, 2007), (Zjawinski, 2009).
The basic idea for the black costume was extensively embellished by Marvel comic writer Tony de Falco and editor Danny Fingeroth. Artists, including inkers, colorists, letterers, and pencilers, contributed to the shaping of the final product (Biersdorfer, 2012), (DeFalco, 2004).
The original symbiote is connected to other adventures from Spider-Man. It was said to have “come from outer space.” This expression also directly references the “Space Wars” story arc that introduced the Symbiote, and is befitting a science fiction story, where adventures in “outer space” are commonplace. This terminology can also be read as a metaphor for something that “came from out of nowhere” or “fell from the [proverbial] sky” and was unprecedented on earth. The same could be said for “gay-related immune deficiency” that surfaced in 1981 and became known as AIDS as of 1982. For AIDS’ origins were equally enigmatic, and are still incompletely understood, although it is now generally accepted that HIV started in primates in African jungles.
However, epidemiologists, virologists and medical historians proposed many compelling and contradictory theories to explain AIDS’ origins in its earliest days. Theologians and political conspiracy proponents were as vocal as scientists and physicians, and added their slanted opinions to the scattershot scientific theories that surfaced. Given the plethora of theories, none of them provable, it would have been nearly as compelling to claim that the virus did indeed come from “outer space.”
To date, there is no textual mention of MWM sexual transmission of symbiotes in Spider-Man stories. Schuller’s simple idea about a black-costumed Spider-Man was no more elaborate than that. According to recent interviews with Schuller that appear online, Marvel did not accept his drafts of story arcs, and purchased only the costume concept (Howe, 2012), (Cronin, 2007), (Zjawinski, 2009). Still, later comics show suggestive physical confrontations between Eddie Brock and his prison cellmate, Cletus Kassidy, who becomes infected via Eddie Brock. It was Eddie Brock who acquired the Symbiote after it left Spider-Man, as will be explained below. Likewise, prisons became a breeding ground for AIDS, not just because of male-male sexual assaults, but because of needle sharing among drug-using inmates.
Even later-appearing comics include images of a well-built, nearly naked symbiote-infected Eddie Brock wrestling with his equally unclothed Cletus Kassidy. Note that Cletus Kassidy is said to have acquired his symbiote-infection via a skin cut that was exposed to Eddie’s recently spilled symbiote-positive blood. Like HIV itself, this symbiote needs a host to survive. It cannot live outside bodies for long and so seeks new hosts. Like the HIV virus, the symbiote constantly mutates into more virulent forms. The risks of acquiring an HIV infection via open wounds that come into contact with fresh infected blood were recognized at the time that this particular story arc surfaced.

By 1984, it was already well known that a similar disease called “slim” occurred in Africa. But slim affected heterosexuals, particularly those with many sexual partners or other STDs that broke the skin’s surface and made the host more susceptible to infection. Researchers brainstormed about possible causes and connections between the African slim, the Haitian AIDS epidemic, and the disease that struck gay men in America, Europe and elsewhere. Speculation ran the gamut.

Articles about other exotic illnesses with unexpected modes of transmission appeared in the scientific literature of the era. Kuru, an infectious neurodegenerative disease, was mentioned. Kuru caused epidemics in Papua New Guinea, where it spread among brain-eating cannibals who honor their dead by consuming their remains so as to return the deceased’s life force to the community. Curiously, some later symbiotes also became cannibals and eat brains, so as to acquire neurochemicals needed to sustain them.

The year 1985 became a watershed year for AIDS awareness. A laboratory test that proved the presence of the HIV virus was licensed in 1985, and would soon be used to ensure the safety of the blood supply, and to confirm AIDS diagnoses as well. Blood banks, hospital staff and transplant centers were finally able to identify infected blood and donor organs. The public was aware of the evolving epidemic that now affected not just gay men and IV drug users, but also recipients of tainted blood transfusions or organ transplants, including corneas. Heated debates about ways to control the spread of the yet untreatable disease took place in many arenas.

In 1985, thirteen-year-old hemophiliac named Ryan White was banned from his local school once officials learned that he had contracted AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion. Ryan became a symbol of AIDS’ victims. He gave a sympathetic face to an illness that was associated with more marginalized members of society. The still-youthful Ryan White subsequently died. American public health clinics devoted to AIDS patients still bear his name, and thereby memorialize his plight to this day.

In September of 1985, President Reagan made public mention of AIDS for the first time, while at a press conference, when asked about AIDS funding. The actor Rock Hudson died of AIDS the following month, in October. Rock Hudson became America’s first major public figure linked to AIDS. The news that Rock Hudson was gay was as shocking as the cause of his death. The fact that Rock Hudson was known for his romantic leads, and that the words “Rock Hudson” were used synonymously for “handsome” or “ladies’ man” made it clear that AIDS could strike many people who were previously deemed to be immune to the “gay plague.”
AIDS garnered more press in December of 1985, when the French Pasteur Institute filed suit against America’s National Cancer Institute to stake claim for royalties from NCI's patented AIDS test. Bitter professional rivalries ensued between these two major players, and ensured that AIDS awareness campaigns would be unwittingly waged in business publications as well as in medical journals and public health forums.

Until the lab test for HIV became available and affordable, and until it was proved that HIV always accompanied AIDS (as per Koch’s principles), this strange syndrome was diagnosed by the presence of certain opportunistic infections alone. Early in the epidemic, medical experts and political activists disagreed about defining characteristics of AIDS. Diagnosing AIDS in women caused extra contention, after it became clear that women were also subject to the syndrome. Diagnostic criteria were revised again in 2001.

Dermatological manifestations of AIDS received immediate attention, partly because they were so visible to both medical staff and to onlookers, and partly because of their historic importance in the identification of this emerging epidemic. Suspicions were aroused when an unusual variant of KS appeared in six gay men in New York City.

Kaposi’s sarcoma’s produced dark skin discolorations that can be compared to symbiote’s dark-colored costume. Kaposi’s sarcoma brought AIDS to medical attention for several reasons: it now attacked young patients that it usually bypassed; it appeared in unlikely anatomical areas; it was uncharacteristically aggressive; and—last but hardly least--it clustered in self-identified gay men (MSM). When affecting its usual hosts—who are fiftyish year old men of Jewish or Italian ancestry--Kaposi’s sarcoma is indolent and confined to the ankle area. It is rare that it becomes a cause for medical concern.

Another parasite—PCP pneumonia--was prominent in early cases of AIDS. This opportunistic infection, pneumocyctitis carnii or PCP for short, hardly attacked healthy hosts. When PCP did appear, those who survived initial attacks after receiving treatment rarely needed extra treatment. An astute CDC pharmacy technician noted an unexpected shift in prescribing patterns for PCP medications in 1981. She alerted the agency, instigating further investigation into this unprecedented demand for PCP treatments, and sometimes for repeat PCP treatments, at that.

The skin was not the only organ that was visibly affected by AIDS. Some secondary infections, as well as the HIV virus itself, could attack the CNS directly and cause behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual changes. Psychodynamic reactions to the debilitating and deadly illness, and to social isolation, stigmatization and sense of hopelessness that followed, amplified behavioral responses of AIDS patients. Anger and aggression were not uncommon reactions among the victims, sometimes in response to the societal anger directed against those who contracted the disease, sometimes in response to the medical systems’ inability to thwart the disease and its spread, and often in response to the political system’s perceived indifference to the plight of AIDS patients.

Aggression against the self soared in PWA, and was manifested by a greater than ninety-fold increase in completed suicides. Curiously, the symbiote and its successors also showed severe anger and aggression issues—although it should be noted that anger and aggression issues are common among the superheroes and the villains they combat.

Early treatments for AIDS emerged in 1987, but the earliest treatment, AZT, was proven to be ineffective for early AIDS by 1993. However, AZT proved effective in reducing mother-to-child transmission in utero. In 1996, the development of HAART treatment turned AIDS into a chronic disease, instead of one with a nearly 100% case fatality rate. Since HAART, AIDS has been compared to 19th century “consumption,” which also had a lingering but not necessarily terminal course.

Shortly after the first treatment for AIDS was approved, and after hopes had risen, Spider-Man’s symbiote had acquired a new host and a new name and a new mutation. By 1988, Spider-Man successfully shed himself of the symbiote, through the aid of fictional scientist Reed Richards. Reed Richards’s name was well known to comics’ fans though his starring role in another comics’ series, the Fantastic Four. Richards told Spider-Man that the symbiote was sound and heat sensitive. (Many infections can be stopped via ultrasound or autoclave.) Like Spider-Man and his symbiotes, Dr. Reed Richards and cohorts exist exclusively in Marvel’s universe, rather than in the real world science lab.

Heading the advice of Professor Richards, Spider-Man went to a church, intending to cleave off the symbiote through the clanging of the church bells. At the very same time, a known Spider-Man enemy was attending the same church: the disgraced journalist, Eddie Brock. Brock sought spiritual solace as he contemplated suicide. Eddie Brock had been fired from his newspaper and abandoned by his wife after Spider-Man discredited his investigative report about the identity of the criminal, Sin Eater.

While in church, Eddie decided against suicide. Instead, he merges with the roaming symbiote, which presumably sensed his vulnerable mental state and perhaps expected easier entrée. Spider-Man was freed from his parasitic infestation, now that he passed it on to another. This new creature that merged with Eddie Brock was called Venom. Venom had a gooey, oozing form that reminds readers of semen, which was a known vector for the spread of the HIV virus as of the year 1988. Because Eddie Brock was an amateur weight lifter as well as a professional reporter, Venom looks exactly like a bulked-out bodybuilder, except that he is covered in thick oozing liquid. Again, the symbolism is suggestive, and easily acts as a double-entendre in this fantasy universe.

In 1988, public health efforts were underway in the US, having been started a year earlier in the UK. The AMA directed to doctors to warn partners of AIDS patients. ACT-UP staged public protests about government policies, and novels about AIDS appeared. IN 1990, basketball star Magic Johnson retired, after announcing that he had contracted AIDS via excessive heterosexual contact. Singer Freddy Mercury died that same year, also of AIDS. High profile members of the fashion community and art world succumbed.

Venom was still popular in comics, his symbolism having progressed far beyond the original parasite-spread symbiote. By 1991, a new symbiote with an even more obvious connection to AIDS appeared: Carnage. In 1991, the red AIDS ribbon was introduced. The red ribbon alerted anyone who saw it to the threat of AIDS, not like the bell that lepers rang to forewarn passers-by, but as a means to generate support and compassion and understanding of this uncontrolled illness. AIDS awareness was essentially everywhere by 1991, even if immediate family or friends were not affected.

Like the AIDS ribbon, Carnage was also colored red. The ribbon-like projections from his body further reminded viewers of red AIDS ribbons. Carnage arrived by way of ex-journalist Eddie Brock. Brock had become known as Venom after being infected with the first parasite-spread symbiote. Eddie Brock is a complex character who realizes that he spread evil in his Venom persona, but he has no desire to commit evil intentionally. He wants to rid himself of the parasite that wreaks damage. However, he finds himself in prison, sharing a cell with serial killer Cletus Kassidy. In contrast, Kassidy is an inherently evil man who plans to commit even more evil. After a skin cut exposes Kassidy to Eddie Brock/Venom’s blood, Kassidy gets infected and becomes a new character named Carnage. Carnage is a more deadly mutation of the early symbiote.

The text makes it clear that the symbiote is blood-borne, and that Eddie’s fresh blood remained on broken iron bar of his jail cell, and that this blood then entered an open cut in Kassidy’s skin. In spite of this text-based information, later comics will show images of the bulked-out, scantily clad Brock/Venom oozing viscous fluid while wrestling with former cellmate, Cletus Kassidy, who is also unclothed. It is said that the two cellmates are fighting, as often happens in prison. A picture says a thousand words, without saying one word. By 1991, readers fill in the blanks with their own imaginations.

Carnage’s appearance is telling. Horns made of blood sprout from his head. Bloody tendrils jut out from his skin. A serial killer from the get-go, Carnage’s body could be construed as a weapon, given that his bloody, pointy tendrils could pierce and infect those who come into direct contact. His long, phallic-like tongue also attacks. Because the Kassidy/Carnage symbiote started out as a sociopathic murderer who had no regard for human life, his motives are very different from the misguided Brock/Venom symbiote that accidentally infected him.

Toxin follows Carnage in 2004, through a rather odd course of events. Carnage is clearly male, but he nevertheless learns that he is pregnant with a baby symbiote. Carnage is both confused and distressed by this gender-dysmorphic condition, in somewhat the same way that some PWAs who preferred same-sex sex (or who sought out female companions who turned out to be cross-dressed males) were confused by their situations. Carnage plans to kill his offspring, but Venom, the would-be grandfather of the unborn baby, tries to protect the expectant “mother.” In contrast, Carnage awaits an opportunity to kill both the expectant mother (who becomes a cop named Mulligan) and baby Toxin.
We can speculate that this emphasis on maternal-fetal transmission of symbiote infections references the growing body of literature about trans-placental transmission of HIV by HIV-infected mothers, as well as the recognition that AZT could prevent in utero HIV infections if pregnant woman received timely treatments. The fluid gender shifts in the character in the story may also reflect changes in social and sexual mores as the epidemic encouraged greater openness in revealing sexual/gender preferences.
The symbiote story goes on and on, but the story comes to its most important climax with the birth of Anti-Venom in 2008. By 2008, AIDS has become a chronic disease, having been controlled by HAART treatment. The distribution of the AIDS epidemic has shifted dramatically since the early days. Young gay men are no longer the prime target, unless they are methamphetamine users or people of color. Most new converters are black or Hispanic, and IV drug users bear the brunt of the epidemic. By now, concomitant hepatitis infection is more likely to cause death in people with AIDS than AIDS itself. Treatments for Hepatitis C had improved over time, but successful hepatitis treatment remains more a wish than a fact, particularly since strains that are prevalent in America are more resistant than strains that predominate elsewhere.

The AIDS vaccine had failed by the time Anti-Venom appears in print, but hopes are not dashed completely, not in Spider-Man, at least. For Anti-Venom has bound with the white blood cells of Eddie Brock, as he was nearly cleansed of the disease. This combination can cleanse addicts of hepatitis. It can even rid addicts of drug cravings, and can cure some other diseases as well, including radiation poisoning, which gave Spider-Man his superpowers in the first place. It proves problematic when Spidey loses his web-making abilities, but that loss is just another story, in the seemingly endless story arc.

DISCUSSION
The parallels between the symbiote and the emerging AIDS epidemic are striking, even though they are somewhat inexact, as would be expected of a science fiction story that is not a documentary and that is not specifically intended to fictionalize actual events. It is unclear if the symbiote story, as it was developed by Marvel, was consciously meant to mirror the great public health menace of the 1980s at the very start. It is even less clear how much readers read into these stories. However, it is likely that science fiction fans were better able to “suspend disbelief” because so many elements of the fantastic symbiote story echoed the truths of the times.

Danny Fingeroth, who was editor of the Spider-Man series and the symbiote story arc, has since acknowledged that “everyone was concerned about AIDS” [at the time of writing]. Fingeroth stresses that later symbiote mutations, Carnage specifically, were blood-spread, like HIV (Fingeroth, 2010).

Younger Marvel staff and interns who spoke at Comic-Con 2010, New York, pointed out that the Marvel Comics office was located in Lower Manhattan, in the 20s, to the East of New York’s West Village. The West Village was one of the two epicenters of the early AIDS epidemic (the other being San Francisco). Some said that this geographical proximity to “point zero” made them more attuned to AIDS than the average person. Interestingly, in the story arc, Venom (Eddie Brock) actually moves to San Francisco, leaving his New York home base behind.

In those years, the Village Voice chronicled the AIDS outbreak as it evolved from the enigmatic “gay men’s wasting disease” to the deadly HIV-spread epidemic. Cover stories of the Voice headlined the latest breaking news about AIDS. Since the Village Voice was sold through newsstands and street corner kiosks in Lower Manhattan, virtually anyone who walked through Downtown Manhattan saw headlines about AIDS, how it spread, whom it infected, and what was or was not being done by medicine at the moment. Those who did not live in New York City, or near Marvel headquarters, heard TV broadcasts, radio shows, and read local newspapers and public health bulletins.

Medical journals reported on these striking new medical findings. JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) and New England Journal of Medicine are but two of the better-known publications that detailed developments as they occurred. CDC medical bulletins attracted more subscribers and broadcasted alerts. Nevertheless, health care providers and administrators remained almost as perplexed as their patients in those early years of this previously unseen disease.
CONCLUSION
On a more general note, it is worth recalling that superhero stories are a subgenre of science fiction (SF), and the science fiction genre has its own conventions. SF, by definition, fictionalizes scientific fact and embroiders entertaining stories around grains of scientific truth. SF stories typically incorporate science’s most prominent concerns, which, at that time, was the unfolding plague of AIDS. Sometimes, SF functions as “science futurism” as it anticipates upcoming scientific or medical developments.

In fact, Spider-Man’s original superpowers reflected early sixties’ science stories. He gained his strength through a radioactive spider bite. Stories of superpowers acquired through radiation exposure are prominent in American SF and ripple through superhero stories. Such radiation-related “superhero success stories” did not arise immediately after Hiroshima, but emerged a decade or two later. Equally interestingly, the strength gained by mostly male superheroes contrasts with the deadly and debilitating effects endured by the tragic “Radium Girls” who worked at watch factories in the early 20th century.
Given these precedents, plus the chronological and phenomenological parallels, it is worth considering that the history of the early AIDS epidemic is embedded in the pop culture symbiote story. Future generations may not know about the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic, but they may remember those trying times better if they are linked to Spider-Man’s struggle with the symbiote. By strengthening this link, this mass media character can transmit medical history to the masses more effectively, and may even be turned into a useful public health education tool that educates young people about AIDS and its transmission.
In summary, these fanciful stories about Spider-Man’s symbiote may be more serious than they seem to be on the surface. Because they appear so lightweight, they can incorporate heavy-hitting topics without frightening or offending their audiences. They are also a way to revisit the past (while recognizing that artistic freedom does not demand the same adherence to facts as medical reportage). Using these stories from the past in a public health context may also allow us to change the future, for the better.

 

References

 

ACTHIV (2011) http://www.acthiv.org/2011_presentations/hiv_basics_040711/Carlos%20del%20Rio.pdf , Accessed 2/11/13.

AIDS.gov (2013) http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/aids-timeline/ Accessed 2/11/13

CDC.gov (2013) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001104.htm Accessed 2/11/13;

Cronin, Brian (2007) Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed Extra: Randy Schueller’s Brush With Comic History, 5/16/07 http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2007/05/16/randy-schuellers-brush-with-comic-history. Accessed 2/20/13.

DeFalco, Tom, Danny Fingeroth, Mike Carlin, Jim Salicrup, Jim Owsley (ed.) (2007) Spider-Man: Birth of Venom. New York: Marvel Publishing, Inc.

Fingeroth, Danny, Rob Tokar (ed.) (2010) Spider-Man Maximum Carnage. Marvel Worldwide

Marvel Staff (2010), Personal communication provided during discussions at Comic-Con 2010, NYC, NY.

National Library of Medicine, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1290757/ , Accessed 2/11/13; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1292315/, Accessed 2/11/13.
Roberts, Hannah (2011) “Another Spiderman actor injured in latest setback for troubled Broadway show.” MailOnline, 11/11/11, Accessed online 2-20-13.
Simons, Warren, John Miesegaes (2004) Venom vs. Carnage. New York: Marvel Publishing, Inc.

Slott, Dan, Chris Bachalo, Zeb Wells, Paolo Siquiera (2010) The Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Anti-Venom. New York: Marvel Publishing, Inc.

Slott, Dan, John Romita, Jr., Mark Waid, Adi Grandov (2009) The Amazing Spider-Man Presents: New Ways to Die. Marvel Publishing, Inc.

Youngquist, Jeff (ed.) (2010) The Amazing Spider-Man: Official Index to the Marvel Universe. New York: Marvel Worldwide

 

Copyright Priory Lodge Education Ltd. 2014 -

First Published February 2014

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