There are a few reasons why I have no issues admitting to haphazardly launching my body into the walls of my bedroom, hands clenched in the all too familiar hang loose position while wearing my Spider-Man underroos.
For starters, this behavior took place quite some time ago – last weekend – and more importantly this is THE web-slinger we are talking about. Spider-Man needs no introduction, but I will provide a brief ‘Spidey for Dummies’ summary for those that never really swung around their house half-naked, making ‘thwip’ noises with their imaginary web-shooters.
The legend began back in 1962 from the creative mind of Stan Lee (with the assistance of writer artist Steve Ditko). After successfully launching the Fantastic Four to fame, Lee was asked to create another hero hit by then Marvel executive publisher, Martin Goodman. (History buffs can check out more details here.)
What resulted is one of the most beloved and cherished unitard-wearing crime fighters the world has ever had the pleasure of following. Including his 32 different comic book universes, Spidey has spun his web into all aspects of entertainment such as cartoons, live TV shows, video games, lunchboxes, novels and movies (including the recently re-rebooted Amazing Spider-Man, which I reluctantly panned, err… reviewed last month). To put it bluntly, Spider-Man didn’t just put Marvel on the map, he weaved them a whole new one.
Heck, your friendly-neighborhood wall-crawler just made his thespian debut on Broadway earlier this year setting records to the ‘tune’ of 2.9 million during its opening week.
The question remains, just how has Spidey managed to sustain such iconic popularity for over 50 years in an arachnophobic world that would prefer smashing the eight-legged creepy crawlers rather than share the same 1000 square foot area with them? (Under the policy of full disclosure, I personally wiped out two of the speedy bastards today already, and the day is far from over.)
In honor of the web-crawler’s half-century celebration, I decided to re-read my old Spidey comics, and purchase the 50th anniversary issues. When I say issues, I’m referring to all 207 alternative covers released with the same exact story (Amazing Spider-Man #692).
I also took it upon myself to rewatch the entire Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy on Blu-Ray over the weekend, which only further solidified my opinion – and fact – the new Amazing Spider-Man was unfunny, un-Peter Parker, unentertaining and unnecessary. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 6,432 times, Spider-Man 2 still remains one of the best super-hero movies since the invention of nerds. (THE best if you ask this unbiased outlaw.)
Alas, everyone will have their own opinions in explaining the phenomenon of Spider-Man’s popularity, but here are my top five – fairly valid – reasons to help explain why Spider-Man has hit 50 at full steam with no hints of slowing-down:
1) He’s the imperfect flawed everyday person… he is you!
In creating Peter Parker, Stan Lee wanted to create a teenager with issues and problems that every teenager – and anyone who has ever been one – could relate to. Just like you and I, Peter’s got problems. Be it money (he doesn’t have), girls (he has problems talking to) and bullies (that won’t stop giving him wedgies), Peter deals with actual things we all do in life. Of course there are also the eight-limbed and scale skinned super-villains that tend to take up a decent chunk of his calendar.
Everything mentioned above really drew me to the Parker / Spider-Man character. Even though I wasn’t kicked around and laughed at quite as harshly as Peter while growing up, I was one of those guys that fell in more with the nerd crowd. A major difference being I flew a little more under the radar then Mr. Parker… as in I’m pretty sure I was left out of the yearbook three of my four years in high school.
In hindsight it wasn’t an awful thing, but on occasion – every 15 minutes - I would daydream about being a hero behind a mask, keeping anonymity while struggling internally about whom I could share my identity without putting the ones I loved in harm’s way.
I also thought it would kick major ass to swing from web-vines whenever I needed to get somewhere. (Seniors with cars be damned!) In general, it was that type of daydreaming that kept me girlfriend-less until college.
2) He’s a nerdy nice guy that gets the (gorgeous) girls.
On the topic of girlfriends, before his life-altering insect bite, Peter Parker was the really smart, nice, respectful guy that the hot girls always liked… to copy homework off of. That was a significant aspect of Peter’s back story I really connected with. Women, pfft!
It wasn’t like girls never talked to me, but it was rare – as in never – that the conversation wandered outside of the typical, “Can you leave your test paper open where I can see your answers” cry for educational assistance. Knowing this was immoral behavior, I didn’t leave my test sheets open to views from the Hubble telescope like some even more desperate nerds did. Granted, I didn’t completely cover my paper with Fort Knox type security either.
Post Spider-sense though, Peter was a proverbial ladies man without actually being one. Spidey’s love life included the beautiful stylings of Gwen Stacey, Betty Brant, Black Cat and every geek’s favorite ‘red’ dream, Mary Jane Watson. Despite this incredible amount of hot lady luck, Peter Parker never grew an ego – for the most part – and remained focused on helping those in need. More importantly, he gives guys like me hope that girls like Kirsten Dunst are not out of reach. As you can tell, day-dreaming is still part of my daily routine.
3) He’s the icon of a city… a real city.
There is a reason why the phrase “hits close to home,” well… hits close to home. Location, location, location is what emotional connections – and your home value – are all about. That’s why it’s no coincidence that the local in any type of fictional media can be crucial to the success of that particular piece of entertainment. In most cases, location plays a supporting character all its own.
Unlike The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, Spider-Man resides in a real city with real landmarks where real people live. Call me an uncompassionate shell of a geek, but sometimes I could care less what happens to Gotham City or Metropolis because I know they aren’t actual places. What’s more, even if a Metropolis did exist, I wouldn’t be against it getting wiped off the face of the earth as a redo anyway… who the hell names a city Metropolis?
Even though not every person is originally from New York (for which each living organism on the planet is thankful), knowing that a super-hero could exist in such a real environment that we all know – and sometimes love – helps us relate to the believability factor of the characters and their stories.
4) He’s a one-lining wise-cracker that doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Brooding, dark and macho super-heroes that deliver their token catch phrases are all well and good, but there is something extra special about a leotard-wearing crime fighter that can crack-wise on command during battle.
As noted earlier, Peter has quite a bit of drama in his life, so the fact his spider suit actually helps to bring out the comedic side of Mr. Parker is a breath of fresh air. His cheesy one-liners and delivery help balance out the action and drama of his continuous life-threatening adventures.
As someone with a cheesy, goofy, sarcastic, and witty sense of humor like myself (just play along for now), I was immediately hooked on Spider-Man when I started reading his comics eons ago, which is approximately two decades in geek years.
Director Sam Raimi did a great job translating that humorous side of Spidey in his trilogy, and that lack of humor ended up being one of the major elements that disappointed me with the new, much darker Amazing Spider-Man. Some may disagree, but I say leave the broodiness to The Dark Knight; Spider-Man was meant to be more humorous and fun. (You can read more about my thoughts on the new flick here)
5) “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Arguably – and I will argue it until the day I die – one of the most poetic and incredible phrases to enter into our pop-culture from geek culture is “With great power comes great responsibility”. It’s the building blocks of Spider-Man’s existence and could be for any tight wearing crime-fighter. They are ’amazing’ words to live by, even for those of us inhabiting the real world as well.
The crux of any super do-gooder’s existence is based on the notion of using their special abilities for that of fighting the evils that exist in our world (or others). These days, many heroes rise out of vengeance, revenge or the fact they look good in a pair of spandex. Spider-Man is a tale of the potentially negative consequences that result from not doing ‘the right thing’ when presented with the option.
No, we all don’t have super strength with the ability to swing from webs while pre-sensing incoming danger, however we do have the ability to make decisions and try to do our best given certain circumstances. We always have a choice. (A common theme of Spidey’s as well.)
It’s a selflessness Spidey learned the hard way with the death of his Uncle Ben – who shared the infamous advice with Peter before his passing. Fun Fact: The line didn’t really originate with Ben’s character, but was actually a narrative script in the last panel of Amazing Fantasy #15 (see above), which was Spidey’s first-ever comic book appearance.
I would wager dollars to donuts that most of us would daydream of the cool things we could do with powers like super-speed, super-strength and flight. All of which pose the question, how many of us would actually use those powers for the greater good? That is in contrast to, let’s say, using the power of invisibility to catch a quick peek inside the Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit edition changing room? (Why are you looking at me like that?)
Peter’s continued struggle with this is what makes him so endearing. He is human just like the rest of us, and there is the constant fight within himself to do the right thing with his powers versus his desire to live a normal life despite the gift basket of abilities that fell into his hands, literally.
One of the greatest lines in Spider-Man 2 comes from none other than Peter’s Aunt May, who sums it up best when she states, “I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble… and finally gets us to die with pride. Even though sometimes, to do what’s right, we have to be steady and give up the thing we desire most… even our dreams.” (I mixed a little of Peter’s re-phrase of that quote in there for those doubting my Google quoting skills.)
There are obviously a whole slew of other notable items I’m leaving out that have made Spider-Man an iconic super-hero for over five decades, but I’m pretty sure the list above captures the vast majority of what continues to make Spidey so appealing. All that said, I would love to hear why you all love the webbed-wonder and get your take on why the infamous wall-crawler has withstood the test of time.
On that note, I will open up the discussion to all of you in geek-land. Just remember fellow outlaws, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.