I have the comics. I have the toys. I have the movies. I have the shirts. I have the bed sheets. I have the trading cards. I have the lunch boxes. I have the Slurpee cups. I have the Mary Jane limited edition fashion Barbie. Mint in box. Suffice it to say, I like Spider-Man. And when I say I like Spider-Man, what I mean is, I love Spider-Man. And when I say I love Spider-Man, I mean I humbly consider myself to be the biggest Spider-Man fanatic in the history of ever. Anyone who has ever met me knows this. But for over a decade, I have been asked this question:
Why do you love Spider-Man?
After years of wanting to write this, I felt it was appropriate, given the time. If you weren’t aware, 2012 is a big year for the Wall-Crawler. There are some major events happening in his life these days, including, as I’m sure you all know, the new summer blockbuster “The Amazing Spider-Man.” 2012 also marks the 50th anniversary of the iconic “Amazing Fantasy #15,” the first-ever Spider-Man comic book. On top of that, “Amazing Spider-Man” (the comic series, not the movie) #700 is just around the corner. What a year.
By the early 1960s, comic books had established themselves as big business. Hundreds of colorful publications were released each month, so it was no surprise that companies were trying to cash in on the extreme popularity of the genre. Enter Stan Lee. He and a partner had created the idea for a superhero that would break the traditional mold. What if, instead of being a handsome, successful adult, if he was just a geeky high school kid? This idea appealed to the younger audience, and Spider-Man became an overnight sensation.
For almost half a century, Spider-Man has been the flagship character of Marvel Comics. He is arguably the most popular superhero of all time, and has been seen in everything from comics to vinyl records.
So why do I love him? Why is it that, some 50 years later, he is still recognized and adored all across the world?
It’s hard for me to be unbiased, but I’ll do my best. I think Spider-Man is so popular because he is so relatable. In high school, he was picked on relentlessly. He has relationship problems. He is no stranger to death, betrayal, and psychological torment. He has been shot. He has had friends struggle with drug addiction. He has been fired from jobs. He has difficulty balancing his personal and vigilante lives. He catches colds. He misses rent payments. In other words, he is human.
Can’t you relate? Don’t we all feel like we have this “Parker luck” sometimes? Spider-Man is a wonderful character because we all have a bit of him in us. When Peter Parker dons his costume, he is no longer Peter Parker. He is you and he is me. The person under that mask could be male, female, black, white, gay, straight… he is all of us. Despite his best efforts to use his great power responsibly, he is constantly criticized. Tell me you can’t relate to that.
There is more to it, though. Spider-Man is clearly a tortured soul, but he is also just a great character. If you’ve never read his comics, I strongly encourage it. The writing is top notch, if not a little on the campy side. Spider-Man’s adventures take us deep into his complex psyche. He is constantly struggling to do what is right, but when justice is not black and white, we get a window into his inner self. He often finds himself questioning spirituality, and questioning his own purpose. How real.
Furthermore, Spider-Man doesn’t always win. He fails, and how powerful it is to see him fail. No matter how hard he tries, sometimes he just doesn’t win. We all love to root for the underdog, but what an interesting juxtaposition it is to have the superhero often be the underdog. It definitely makes for some great stories.
As with any superhero, Spider-Man serves as a sort of escape from the harsh realities of life. We like to imagine selfless heroes who exist to keep us safe. Spider-Man should not be dismissed as childish for his family friendliness, or the nature of his comic literature. He is a developed character to whom we can all relate. If you’re unfamiliar with the character, I suggest picking up a comic or ten. You might be surprised.