Spider-Man: The Amazing Arachnerd



Spider-Man shooting his web from the web shooters.

Image via Wikipedia

This is the third in my series taking about superhero characters. In my kickoff post I explained how in some ways they are the modern Gods – created in our image to put into stories to help us understand ourselves better. This time I’m looking at Spider-Man, the wall clinging misfit who has bigger struggles outside his mask than inside it.


The Hero

Young, unpopular, picked-on science student Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider while on a field-trip. He discovers he has gained incredible strength, lightning reflexes, and the power to climb walls. He basically does whatever a spider can. He even builds web-shooters so he can spin a web, any size. Hiding under a mask, he enters a local wrestling show where he easily wins the cash prize. Cocky and no longer wanting to be pushed around, he doesn’t intervene when a robber rushes past him. The robber then kills Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben, the man who raised him. Stricken with grief, Peter vows to use his power to help people and dons the mask of Spider-Man.

Why we love him

Spider-Man is every geeky, awkward student who struggled to fit in and pay his bills, forever knowing he had something more amazing and wonderful inside him than anyone realized.

Peter Parker is a great character apart from his powers. He is brilliant, designing web shooters (in the comics, anyway) that fill in a missing power, and working with some leading scientists and researchers (even thought they have an odd habit of turning into Spider-Man’s enemies). He is also a talented photographer, selling pictures to one of the largest newspapers in New York. Count the number of pages where you see Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent versus their spandex alter-egos, then compare it to how often you see Peter Parker. He is an honest, interesting character by himself and as a result can get more page time than Spider-Man.

Going further, Spider-Man’s powers are almost irrelevant to what makes him such a compelling character. There are no spider traits that infuse his personality. It’s not his ability to stick to walls that makes him special, it’s that he has an incredible secret and it’s hard for him to handle. If he could fly or shoot fire out of his eyes, he would still be the quiet nerd, never quite winning the battle but always struggling.

As A Character

Spider-Man Loved by Katie Grace

Image by Travis Seitler via Flickr

Spider-Man is every kid who felt out of place or picked on in school, but knew deep inside that he was something better than everyone else suspected. Which is probably almost every kid at one time or another. It is this combination of awkwardness and amazing that Sam Raimi captured so well in his movie. Spider-Man broke open superhero movies to the mainstream exactly because it focused on the character, and made Peter so personable, so human.

In some ways Peter Parker was every comic book loving fanboy as they were growing up – quasi-loners peeking into this amazing world of heroes and battles that they couldn’t share with others. It gave those young nerds a connection that they we shared this inner struggle and self-doubt, and that it was only a chance encounter with a radioactive arachnid that separated them from their friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Superheroes: The Character of the Gods

The Legion of Super-Heroes during the 1970s. A...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been a fan of comics and superheroes most of my life, but it wasn’t until I was an adult (or ‘adultish’) that I began to appreciate their roots are much deeper than just fueling the imaginings of geek kids. In some ways, the superhero is the reincarnation of the classical Gods – powerful yet flawed beings that populated incredible tales to show what it means to be human.

Gods as Humans

The Greek Gods were fallible beings created by the people of the time to help explain their world. They had incredible power, but also had human weakness exaggerated to the extreme. Hera was majestic but insanely jealous, Zeus was powerful but insatiably lustful, and Poseidon was both protector and tempestuous earth-shaker. They contained everything it meant to be human, yet rose above it in epic battles and tales that helped people understand their own lives and gave them an escape.

Superheroes as Gods

Comic book superheroes, with their own ability to hurl thunderbolts and shake the earth, are the modern equivalent. Batman struggles with internal rage and frustration, while Spider-Man fights his own insecurities and guilt. Their biggest difference to the Gods of old may only be their colorful costumes and masks. The best of them are more than just shallow cartoons, but have traits that embeds them deeply in our minds and resonant with parts of our own lives. You can see their connection beautifully and amusingly captured in the blog Growing Up Heroes.

I’m going to crack open some of these modern pulp heroes (and in some cases movie-stars) and look at what makes them work as characters and archetypes. What do their origin stories say about them? How have they changed over time? And what do the most enduring of these heroes say about us and our values?

My first hero-focused post in this series will cover the nearly archetypal Superman, but I plan to cross the Marvel and DC Universes to visit some of my favorite heroes and some of the ones I’ve struggled to understand. If you have a favorite, let me know and I’ll share my thoughts.

These imaginary characters have captured our imaginations for decades now, and I think they are worth stopping to pay homage.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]