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The Amateur Edition

by Faith Hayden
June 4, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 23

Credit: Courtesy of Randy Schueller
Schueller: Professional chemist, amateur comic book writer.
Credit: Courtesy of Randy Schueller
Schueller: Professional chemist, amateur comic book writer.

Credit: Dreamstime
Elgar: Professional composer, amateur chemist.
Credit: Dreamstime
Elgar: Professional composer, amateur chemist.

The Amateur Edition

With the "SPIDER-MAN" movie trilogy busting worldwide box-office records over the past seven years, by now you may be familiar with the geniuses behind the creation and evolution of our favorite wall crawler: Stan Lee, Todd McFarlene, and Randy Schueller.

Wait, who was that last guy?

In 1982, that last guy was a 22-year-old Spider-Man fan with a multi-million-dollar question: Why was Spider-Man, this character based on a creepy arachnid that freaks most people out, swinging around town in a peppy red and blue suit? Why not create something darker, scarier, and sexier? Why not make it black?

"I thought of the costume as a way of increasing his powers," says Schueller, now 47. "It helped him stick to things better and shoot stronger webbing."

Schueller concocted the idea after Marvel, the publisher, requested fan submissions for new story lines. Over two weeks, he drafted and detailed a three-page outline and mailed it in.

"In my original version, the costume was made of unstable molecules that could flow into Peter's body," Schueller says. "But the idea of making the costume into an alien creature was entirely Marvel's."

That alien creature turned out to be Venom, the main villain in "Spider-Man 3."

A few months after Schueller mailed in the pitch, he received a letter from then-editor-in-chief James Shooter asking to purchase the idea for—brace yourselves—220 bucks. Shooter did sweeten the pot though; he offered to let the amateur comic writer work on the story with Editor Tom DeFalco, which was enough for Schueller.

"Tom and I worked up two or three revisions over the course of a few months," he says. "I was happy with the $220. It wasn't about the money for me, it was just a great experience to get to work on a part of a character I had loved my entire life."

Good thing, too. As of press time, "Spider-Man 3" has grossed more than $750 million worldwide. For those mathematicians out there, that's well over 3 million times what Schueller was paid.

Although that might leave some people bitter, Schueller holds nothing against Marvel or the franchise. "I've seen the movie three times," he says. "Overall, I found it very enjoyable. It was fun to see how they brought my costume idea to life."

So what is he up to now? Schueller followed in his hero Peter Parker's footsteps and became a chemist. He works in the field of cosmetic science and has cowritten several textbooks, including "Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry," and articles in the field.

"I went into chemistry at least in part because Peter Parker was a chemist in the Spider-Man books," he says. "I guess you could say he was my inspiration."

The Newscripts gang would like to wish a very happy 150th birthday to SIR EDWARD ELGAR. Elgar, who was born in England on June 2, 1857, was a major composer of works such as the "Pomp and Circumstance Marches," which can be heard resonating through college auditoriums during graduation season.

Elgar's ambitions, however, didn't stop at composing music. He was also an amateur chemist with a small lab called "The Ark," which was constructed out of an old outhouse at his English home. And according to the Elgar Society, the sometime-scientist got a kick out of using his chemistry knowledge to make things spontaneously combust.

When Elgar wasn't making a mess of his backyard, he also found time to invent the Elgar Sulfurated Hydrogen Apparatus, a device that produced hydrogen sulfide.

For more information on Elgar and his explosive life, check out

This week's column was written by Faith Hayden. Please send comments and suggestions to


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