So, after my last post, the cat is out of the bag. I am a big comic book junkie. So, I have no idea if this will be a recurring thing or not, but I really wanna talk some mad crap about Superman at some point in the future, so fingers crossed that it’s a hit. However, I wanted to start off with a superhero who I love: the Ole’ Webhead himself, your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.
Now, as I’m sure you saw in my last post about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I could talk for days about super-heroes. However for the sake of brevity, I want to just highlight certain moments in Peter Parker’s development as both a hero and an “average-Joe” that have created the character we know today, and are continuing to impact his growth today as the most recognized and loved hero on Marvel’s Roster. (He was ranked the #3 comic book hero by IGN, falling behind Superman and Batman).
To understand the immediate adoption of Spider-Man as an icon within the comic book community and popular culture in America, one must also understand the environment in which the hero was born. The 1950’s saw the return of superheroes into the public eye, and newly renamed DC comics owned the game. Not only did they possess the stalwarts of superhero lore in Superman and Batman, they also had introduced characters such as Green Lantern, Flash and other future members of the Justice League of America. They had become the self-appointed regulators of the comic-book community by suing for the rights of many characters who seemed to be copies of Superman. Marvel, no longer content living in the shadow of Marvel made a big push in the early 60’s to level the playing field. Adding to their cast of Namor, the original Human Torch and Sergeant Fury, they introduced a laundry list of future heavyweights from 1961 to 1963 including the Hulk, Iron-Man, Ant-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
The Marvel environment primed for another hit, April 1963 brought the first appearance of The Amazing Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15. Peter Parker was introduced as an orphan living with his aunt and uncle who was a classic high school nerd. He was dedicated to his studies, bullied by his peers, and stricken with an extremely introverted personality. After he was bit by a radioactive spider, he gained super-strength, speed, agility and a spider-sense that allowed him to detect impending danger. Peter was immediately a standout in the realm of super heroes for being the first teenager that was not subjected to the life of a sidekick like Robin was for Batman or Buck for Captain America. Not only did was the main character the same age as the audience at large, he also dealt with many of the problems that plagued that group. Peter was not elevated to a level of deity like many superheroes but instead dealt with an over-bearing aunt, fear of talking to girls, and a desire to make more money at his bum job. Peter was immediately set as one of the most relatable characters that was captured by the pages of monthly comics, and his understandable vulnerabilities are what humanizes and popularizes his tale.
While this initial characterization definitely defined Spider-Man as a truly unique superhero, Peter Parker is simply not complete without his revolutionary transformation in issues #121-122 of The Amazing Spider-Man. In the two issue story that is now known as The Night Gwen Stacy Died, introduced an entirely new concept into the universe of comics — a hero’s tragic and irreversible failure. Stakes had been high before. Significant others had been threatened. But the hero always had saved the day. However, even Spider-Man was not able to protect Gwen Stacy from Spidey’s arch nemesis, the Green Goblin. This singular event has not only shaped Peter Parker as person for the rest of his existence, but it had a massive impact on the comic book community as a whole. The Silver Age of Comic Books came to a sharp conclusion after this story, and the far darker and grittier Bronze Age was introduced where victory could no longer be assumed. This moment defines Peter better than any other is his history. He realizes he can no longer pursue a life of normality. As long as he is the man behind the mask, danger will always be haunting him and those whom he loves. However, this is the burden he must bear. “With great power comes great responsibility,” whispers his uncle, and Spider-Man is defined by this call. He subjects himself to immeasurable tragedy because he is able, and that ability is the only motivator he needs.
With superheroes once again launching an all out invasion on popular culture today, Superhero Fatigue has become a very real issue for many of the beloved characters from comic lore. So, a true testament to a great character is one who is able to constantly change and adapt to new circumstances. No circumstance is more insane — albeit confusing — than the transformation that Peter Parker recently experienced in the new comic series The Superior Spider-Man. Basically, Doctor Octupus, a classic Spidey villain, is dying. He however has found a way to transfer his consciousness into another body. He ends up doing the switcharoo with Peter Parker, and Peter dies in Oc’s body, leaving the brain of Doc Oc to survive in the body of Peter. Oc uses this as a time to redefine his existence, as that of a hero, but one who can protect New York better than Peter ever did. He fights off some of Peter’s most infamous villains, struggles with what it means to be a hero, and even has to fight off the warring subconscious of Peter that has survived. I will be honest in saying it is some of the most gripping writing for a comic that I have ever seen, and the decisions of Oc juxtaposed against everything that you know about the traditional web-slinger makes you understand and appreciate the absolute sacrifice that Peter makes every time he swings into battle. It is an absolute must read, and has revitalized for this hero.
I really did not know which of these three better communicated just how utterly disappointing Spider-Man 3 was, so I gave you all three. YOU HAD VENOM! HOW COULD YOU MESS THIS UP!? Aghh, enjoy while I mourn.
However, I hope it is clear that Spider-Man has a very compelling history that is a truly inspirational tragedy. When examining the complexities of his character, it really is no surprise that he has well over a thousand comics, five movies (with two more guaranteed to be on the way), TV shows, video games, etc. He has become a symbol for personal responsibility and sacrificial love that truly move those familiar with the character.