He is quite possible Stan Lee’s greatest creation. Lee along with artist Steve Ditko first introduced Spider-Man to the masses in the fifteenth issue of the failing Amazing Fantasy comic book. In fact, Lee’s publisher didn’t like the idea of a hero based on a spider because he thought spiders creep people out. So, when it was apparent that Amazing Fantasy was going to fail and Lee needed a story to fill the comic out, he stuck Spidey in there. All was forgotten, then the sales figures came back. Spider-Man was a hit. So, he got his own book. From then, Spider-Man grew in popularity and became a staple of American culture.
Spider-Man is a great superhero not only because of his powers, but because he is a great character. His witty banter and snappy comebacks always make his battles with the baddies so much fun to read. His unwavering bad luck adds a touch of drama and sympathy for the character. His deep sense of responsibility brought on by tragedy often brings more conflict into his life than any super villain.
Spider-Man is endowed with the proportionate strength, speed,and agility of a spider. His sharp reflexes and acrobatic ability allow him to fearlessly swing high among the skyscrapers of downtown New York on webs eminating from webshooters that Peter Parker designed. His strength allows him to pull of some remarkable rescues and hold his own against some pretty tough villains. His spider sense is an early warning system in his head that alerts him to danger. (Wish I had that.) He is still as vulnerable to pain and physical harm as any human though, so when he’s in the middle of a fight,the danger to Spidey is very real.
His powers aren’t really the appeal for Spider-Man though. Spidey has to be one of the funnest characters in comics to read when he’s written well. His one liners, snappy comebacks, and generally sarcastic and funny attitude make for one entertaining friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Nicknames given to supervillains from fat jokes about Kingpin to quips about the Shocker’s costume tend to be quite hilarious. It helps the reader know that even when Spidey is in danger, he enjoys the super hero biz.
Then, there’s Peter Parker’s constant bad luck. If things are every going good for Petey, just hold on, it’s about to get ugly. When he was sucked away to Battleworld in the Secret Wars, his costume was ripped to pieces, his web shooters were empty, and he got a crazy cool new black suit that responded to his thoughts and provided him with unlimited webbing.
It seemed great for a little while, but then we find out that it’s really a parasitic symbiote feeding off of Peter’s power and fueling is rage and aggression. When Peter was finally able to get rid of it, it wasn’t easy. Then it escapes it’s prison at the Four Freedom’s Plaza and comes back bonded with Eddie Brock as Venom. Talk about a good thing gone bad. Web shooters are always running out of web fluid. There is always something wrong at work. And don’t even get me started on the lady troubles. (Culminating in a deal with the devil that ended Peter’s marriage and brings us right back to the lady trouble.) Pete’s bad luck though only makes us sympathize with him more. Even when it’s Peter’s fault that things have gone wrong, we still feel for him, because we can all relate. We’ve all had days that go terribly wrong and one bad decision only makes the day worse. So, as we read the adventures of Spider-Man, we find ourselves rooting for the character because we know how it feels and it would be nice to someone get the upper hand on bad luck for once.
Ultimately what makes Spider-Man one of my top ten (and top five) superheroes is his sense of responsibility. Peter Parker’s mantra ever since the death of his Uncle Ben on that fateful night has been “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I have always bought into that. I love the idea of a hero so burdened with doing the right thing, that which right thing is best becomes the conflict for him. That’s a hero. Peter Parker, with all his powers (as I’ve said) is not invulnerable. His bones break, his skin can be easily pierced, he gets tired, and it is dangerous business every time he goes out. Yet, because he has the power to do something. Because the ability is his to stand in the gap. Because someone must help the helpless, and he can….he does. That’s a hero. Peter Parker could easily be a villain. He could (and did) only use his powers for personal gain, but due to a tragic and painful lesson he goes out and fights the good fight. That puts him pretty high on my list.
So, that’s number five, what do you think. Anyone missing so far? Predictions? Agree? Disagree? Let me know.
If you need to catch up on your Spidey, check out some of the stuff below…