spider-man is the best superhero, change my mind
the actual headline was “spider-man is more than a movie” (i’m not married to it)
originally published with carlmont journalism
I’ve always loved Spider-Man.
What I fell in love with as a kid reading the comic books and watching the Spider-Man movies were the details: the quirks and the mannerisms of his many versions.
Spider-man retains cultural relevance because the truth is no matter which way you spin it, readers see a part of themselves in him.
That and the fact that Spider-Man is one of the most well-branded superheroes: the formulaic origin story, the iconic theme song, and the premise of being a friendly neighborhood superhero.
That last variable is simultaneously fixed and unfixed—local context and influence from the environment and people are what make up the texture of each Spider-story. They literally depend on this notion of community—on the tacit understandings and inner workings of the streets they walked down and people they interacted with pre-Spider bite.
In the words of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, you can’t have a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man when there’s no neighborhood.
Beyond that, Spider-man appeals to the masses because he’s just like everyone else.
While most other characters are rich, gifted with stronger-than-average brain power, born supernatural, or a combination of all three, Spider-Man is more authentic in the sense that his essence is dependent on the fact that he’s just a normal person who got bit by a radioactive spider.
Anyone can get bitten by a radioactive spider. Any person—or pig—can become Spider-Man. Even if you hit snooze on your alarm 6 times every morning before crawling out of bed, because that’s what makes him relatable.
The secret identity in question is not Spider-Man, it’s his human alter ego.
He’s young. He makes mistakes and admits to not knowing what’s going on. He has relationship problems, has to do homework, and struggles with feeling unpopular.
He’s always outgunned and gets beat up a lot. He doesn’t win every fight, and that’s endearing.
Ironically, it’s these traits that made publisher Martin Goodman skeptical. In an interview with ABC News, co-creator Stan Lee said when he pitched the idea, Goodman responded with “don’t you understand what a hero is?”
The short answer to that question is yes. If anything, Lee uncovered the secret ingredient: in order to make the masked crusader more appealing, you have to focus on their alter ego.
Lee figured out that audiences wanted vulnerability, and ever since then, writers have been running with it. They also took Spider-Man as a cue to introduce younger superheroes; prior to Peter Parker, teenagers were only ever sidekicks.
The supernatural became more, well, human. Even Superman began to question whether Lois Lane loved the reporter or the superhero. Comic readers began to see more losses, even to heroes who had never lost a fight or failed to save a civilian before, but it worked, because it gave these heroes room to grow.
To fall apart, to take a deep breath, and to get back up again.
It made the hero’s journey stronger and raised the stakes of every battle. It made the part about getting back up all the more cathartic and triumphant.
And that’s how Spider-Man saved the world of comics.