As we sit towards the beginning of December, we have Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse hot and ready to see in cinemas come December 14th. The prospect of seeing the famed Spider-Man across multiple dimensions with fan favorites such as Spider-Ham and Spider-Gwen will truly be a treat to see. Not to mention Homecoming last year, the Venom movie and the video game this year, this is the Year of the Spider. There is a certain appeal that the character of Spider-Man has had on readers everywhere that we can’t ignore. He’s one of the most relatable characters in all of comic book history because he was unlike any other hero to come before him, he deals with the same struggles most regular people deal with, he’s just a genuinely good person, and has never forgotten his roots. So before we see all the different versions of Spider-man in the upcoming film, let’s take a look at the one who started it all and what we can learn from good old Peter Parker.
The History of Spidey
Spider-Man first appeared on paper in the year 1962 in Amazing Fantasy #15. He was created by the late Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Stan Lee stated that after the success of the Fantastic Four in the ’60s, and the rise of the teenage demand for comic books he strove to create a character that teenagers could identify with. The pulp magazine character known as The Spider was Stan Lee’s inspiration for what would grow to become Spider-Man. Stan Lee got the greenlight to write for the character in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy. He approached Jack Kirby to do the art, but consequently didn’t like how he visualized the character, he was “too heroic” as Stan Lee said. Lee envisioned Peter Parker as the average young man. So he turned to Steve Ditko, originally the inker for the project, who drew his own take on the character with boots and gloves, web shooters instead of a web gun, and a mask to add to the mystery of the character and hide his boyish features. There has been a lot of debate between the three comic book kings as to who came up with what aspect of the character (since all seem to remember the story differently), but in the end, Stan Lee had Jack Kirby pencil Ditko’s design, and Ditko inked the cover and thus was born one of the most iconic covers of a comic book and one of the most expensive comic book issues to date.
A New Kind Of Hero
The thing that set Spider-Man apart from a lot of other superheros at the time was that he wasn’t a bored billionaire who decided to become a vigilante. Even before there was Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, a lot of the comic book characters that Stan Lee himself grew up with like The Spirit, The Shadow and The Spider, were very much just rich boys with nothing else to do. The Fantastic Four were written as a relatable family who had their ups and downs, yet they still lived padded lives in the Baxter Building. From square one we see Peter Parker as a struggling student trying to make ends meet and just living week to week in New York. This new concept for a hero emanated throughout the community of comic book readers and left a lasting impression on everybody, not just the teenage audience they were seeking. Everyone wanted to read about the amazing adventures of a plucky teen in New York who doubled as a masked hero swinging through the streets at night.
He’s Just Like Us
What really stuck with audiences back then and today about Spider-Man is how similar he is to us. He deals with a lot of the problems that we ourselves struggle with. Gotta make rent, need to get a job, try to win the heart of the girl; these are things we all can relate to. On top of Peter Parker having to fight crime on a nightly basis, he has to worry about these things as well. Spider-Man became a way for readers to project themselves onto the character and see Spidey’s life through the lens of their own. A typical Spider-Man story is Peter juggling his academic life, his love life, his social life, work and his crime fighting career; and more than likely having to sacrifice one for the other. He gets bullied and yelled at by his boss and has to exercise immense self control not to snap back. Who has not had to do this in their own life? We are constantly faced with these challenges and it is very comforting to have a hero that is dealing with much of the same problems. And it’s inspirational to know that, like Spidey, we will turn out okay. This is one reason why he resonates within us and why he is so relatable.
A Golden Personality
Also unlike many of the heroes before, Spider-Man didn’t have an overly damning tragic weakness. He wasn’t an alcoholic, he wasn’t addicted to drugs, and he didn’t have the death of any parents to not get over (he has dead parents, but he is dealing with it in a healthy way). Whenever he makes a mistake, or trouble strikes his life, he seems to be able to deal with it and turn himself into a better person. We’ve all heard the amazing quote “with great power comes great responsibility“. Spider-Man would not have really learned this without being able to overcome the death of his uncle. His desire to protect his city and the ones that he loves fuels him to become a better hero, and he does it all with tremendous humility. Despite all the odds that are thrown at him, he always continues with a smile on his face. Batman is lauded for never killing, but Spider-Man holds himself to much of the same standard. His respect for human life is just as important to him, yet it seems like such a natural part of who Spider-Man is that most people don’t seem to notice as much. At the core of Spider-Man’s psyche, he just want to do what is right; like most of us.
He Never Forgets His Roots
Perhaps one of the most compelling things we can learn from the character of Peter Parker is that he never forgets where he came from. In the end he’s still the wide eyed boy from Queens. He will always have Aunt May to rely on. Mary Jane will always be there to cheer him on. These people drive him to be a better person and a more stellar crime-fighter. In many stories, Spider-Man is faced with insurmountable odds; a building has fallen on him, he has to lift a big thing, or he has to quickly swing across the city or somebody will die. There is always a moment where he remembers those he fights for, he remembers why he became Spider-Man, and digs deep to find the power within him to finish the task given him. We would do well to learn from this example. To never forget who we are, and remember what compels us in times of great trial. I think this is the crowning characteristic of Spider-Man, the things that links him to us. For this reason, Spider-Man is one of the best representations of ourselves in comics and in fiction.
If Captain America represents the entire country and what it stands for, I’d say that it is Spider-Man that best embodies the spirit of those who live within it, the very best parts of us. There is a reason Spider-Man sells the most merchandise, there is a reason he is one of the most recognizable Marvel characters, even before the MCU popularized the genre. It’s because he was a new hero that the world had never seen before, because he had human struggles like the rest of us, and because he simply and modestly remembered the very foundations of who he was and what he is here to do. And there is something profoundly impactful about that.