For all the storytelling improvements that have been made to comics during the modern age, there are ways in which the classics still hold plenty of charm. Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, was the first superhero I ever saw–at least, we go back far enough that that’s how I remember it. Spider-Man was introduced into the world of comics back when they were still primarily intended for children, and while he did grow up with the rest of them to a certain degree, he managed to hang onto most, if not all, of the intangible qualities that always made him a terrific role model.
Superman was always a great role model as well, but he seemed unattainable. Spider-Man is number one on this list because he was as close to normal as a superhero gets, and to my knowledge, was the first and still is one of a very few heroes who had actual, relatable, real-world problems to deal with. He began his superhero career as a bright, geeky sort of a kid with an affinity for science class who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. When he got his superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, the problems that came with a normal life didn’t go away. He still had to help take care of Aunt May, he still had to find money for the rent, he still had to hold a job that didn’t pay much to make ends meet, and he still wasn’t sure how to talk to the girl next door. Believe me when I tell you that no one had to put up with more bullshit than Spider-Man. Having a secret identity was harder for him than it was for anyone else. While guys like Superman and Batman could go sort out their issues and think things over in a “Fortress of Solitude” or a “Bat Cave,” Pete only had his bedroom, with Aunt May right down the hall. Aunt May, who prattled on and on relentlessly about how she hoped the police would catch Spider-Man someday and throw him in jail where he belonged. Don’t get me wrong, she was a nice lady, she just found the idea of a superpowered crime fighter an uncomfortable one. It didn’t help that the news coverage of him was always negative. Pete’s boss, J. Jonah Jameson, was a classic case of pride and ego combining to create a walking, talking smear campaign of Spider-Man for no other reason than that he couldn’t admit to being wrong about him from the outset. Jameson was the sort that liked to have his prejudices confirmed, and given that he was the editor of the biggest newspaper in the city, he was pretty good at confirming them. He was also pretty good at pinching pennies, and almost never gave Pete the full value for the pictures he took as a freelance photographer working for the Daily Bugle. Pete’s best friend, Harry Osborne, hated Spider-Man on the grounds that he (incorrectly) thought the wall-crawler had murdered his father, unaware that his father had become a deluded homicidal maniac and had tried to kill Spider-Man on multiple occasions. In the earlier days, when Pete and Mary Jane (the girl next door) were still trying to find their footing in their fledgling relationship, MJ, an aspiring actress, would always invite Pete to attend her auditions. Pete would promise to be there at 8:00 sharp, but of course wouldn’t make it. Pete never made it. Pete was too busy getting his ass kicked by whatever diabolical, superpowered madman had decided to cause a ruckus in a highly populated area at 7:55. Pete would usually save about a dozen lives and get a couple of cracked ribs, but he would miss the audition and MJ would be ticked. Every time.
All Spider-Man ever did was save the day, but his boss would ruin his reputation, his aunt would call for his head, his teachers would call him lazy, his girlfriend would call him unreliable, his best friend would call him a murderer, his landlord would threaten to have him evicted, and I’d like to point out that we haven’t even mentioned an actual super villain, which means that was only where Spider-Man’s problems began. Later on in life, Pete and MJ would eventually get married, and Harry would eventually follow in his maniacal father’s footsteps, only to be killed in similar fashion. So, some of the daily grind might have settled down, but whatever issues resolved themselves would inevitably be replaced by more serious threats.
Despite all this, Peter Parker remained a relentlessly positive, tolerant person. His is an example that any child would benefit from having, as I did. It was on the pages of a Spider-Man comic that I first saw printed the famous words, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Pete had to learn a lot of things the hard way, as do we all. One of the many reasons that Spider-Man still resonates with me today, though, is that his example is something for all of us to realistically strive for, even as adults. No matter what the world threw at him (and it threw a lot), he didn’t lose his cool. I know we all fall short of that ideal at some time or another, but that’s what makes a super hero great. Not the strength, not the speed, not the authority, not the wit. A hero, in comics as well as in life, is defined by character, and pound for pound, Spider-Man had the strongest character of all.
Well, I hope this has been as much fun for all of you as it has been for me. I have to admit that I surprised even myself with some of the selections and reasons for them, but that’s what putting some actual thought into something can get you, I guess. I’d like to give honorable mentions to both The Boss, from the Metal Gear Solid series, and V, from the graphic novel V for Vendetta, both of whom I thought would make the final cut, but didn’t.
With that said, go forth and have at the day, my fellow do-gooders!