Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero. Surely this is in part due to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) which were released at a time when my fixation on superheroes was at its strongest. During this time, my brother and I transferred our focus from creating heros of our own with Legos or Bionicles to those that had already been made. Spider-Man caught my eye. As a kid, I amassed a few toys and action figures. I wore shirts covered in webs as I traversed the house, swinging my arms up, pressing into the palm of my hand, envisioning webs propelling me forward. With the action figures, tables became rooftops and living rooms became the busy streets of New York in which Spider-Man crawled on walls, spun webs, and dismantled the criminal enterprises lurking in the shadows. As a kid, one can see why the Wall-Crawler would be a favorite, but even as I got older, Spider-Man always remained the most interesting and compelling superhero.
In a way, the reason I like Spider-Man is because I was supposed to like him. In response to the growing numbers of teenage comic book readers in the 1960s, Stan Lee sought to create a hero that was relatable. All other superheros were invincible in most respects—poetic lyricists who were morally upright in face of the simple caricature villains. Most villains were as banal in their quests for evil as the superheros were in fighting for the greater good. This new hero had to be special, a true hero, yet he had to remain plagued with the petty, inane, day-to-day ongoings of teenage life. And, thus, Peter Parker was born. As an introverted, shy, or otherwise unassuming high school kid, he was not the conventional hero. But nonetheless he would become a hero through one radioactive spider bite. Stan Lee describes it best in a 1977 article in Quest titled “How I Invented Spider-Man.”
“If you suddenly gained the muscle power of a hundred men and could outwrestle King Kong, it doesn’t mean you still don’t have to worry about acne and dandruff, right?” he wrote.
Spider-Man spoke as much to the escapism that superheros and superhero comics gave to readers as much as it served as a reminder of the inescapability of those more tiresome, daily fights. Whether it’s girls, homework, getting a job, or appeasing Aunt May, Spider-Man has to put up with a lot of bull, as we all do. Spider-Man is seen as a character who takes those things in stride and does great things in spite of them. Great power, responsibility, and such.
And with that kind of mentality, the Web-Slinger offers up two different kinds of identities—the witty, smart-talking Spider-Man and the socially troubled Peter Parker. Two sides of the same coin. In almost all his incarnations, comic book or otherwise, this is explored in one way or another as the power of a mask allows you to become your best self, while hiding the imperfections of your other self.
Spider-Man’s secret identity is more crucial to understanding his character because it means so much to how Peter Parker sees himself as Spider-Man and vise versa.
In the few issues of of The Spectacular Spider-Man I had bought during this time, and even in some of The New Avengers comics, Spider-Man always stood out as different. His stakes were nothing like that of other superheros. Without the mask, he is just a kid, a nobody, really. With the mask, people care what he has to say. He matters. In Spider-Man 2, in the scene in which Spider-Man stops a train and loses his mask, one passenger says “He’s just a kid … no older than my son.”
His story was often more personal and intimate, lending a more inclusive, and thus more relatable, tale of a man turned spider.
That is why he remains my favorite and pulls at the essence of why so many others find him a compelling character. He is like us. He shares in those uninspiring, unextraordinary aspects of everyday life. But in a way, when Stan Lee created Spider-Man, it was not so much to show him like us, but to show us like him—people or heros in a different right.
Featured Image By Marvel Studios