Why the Web-Slinger?

It’s no secret that Spiderman is well, kinda big. Popular. Huge even. Last month, The Superior Spiderman issues 1 and 2 raked in a total of over 300,000 sales  (According to comichron.com). Let’s not even talk about the popularity of the movies that were produced just over a decade ago, and the TV series lovingly sprinkled between his appearance in the 60’s and the 80’s. Here we have a character that showed up, (if comicvine.com feeds me the correct information) almost 25 years after Batman, and is only tailing him by about 1,000 appearances. Even the Man of Steel tails Batman at 9,300 or appearances since his debut. What is it about good ol’ web-head that we like so much?

Perusing through internet forums and asking folks that have at least some knowledge of Spiderman’s facets (from video games, movies, comics, and other appearances), the loudest opinion is that Spiderman is the most relatable superhero character out there. When he first gets his spider-powers, he goes out and uses them to have some fun and make some money. It sounds reasonable that many of us would do the same — I sure as hell would.

Spidey’s first cover, also seen in Aunt May’s scrapbook. She’s just so darn proud.

Personal fantasies aside, Spiderman came swinging out of Stan Lee’s brain as a teenage character in 1962, and Stan Lee put a considerable amount of effort in ensuring that a teenage boy stayed a part of his character. Spiderman and Peter Parker are, to the extent of my knowledge, the most intertwined superhero-secret-identities out there. Even with his suit on Spiderman still acts like a wisecracking, arrogant kid while he’s fighting the forces of villany, and even when he’s Peter Parke, he’s thinking in terms of the ‘right thing to do’. In both forms he tends to make mistakes, and yet continually tries to set things right to the best of his abilities knowledge. This sets the bar of heroism at something attainable and thus more admirable to his fans. He only bests us by his superhuman strength that lets him keep taking swings from the Hulk until he deems he’s done the right thing (see Spiderman Annual #3 for this scene loved by Spidey fans and un-fans alike).  For the man of Steel, it sounds like just another day at the office, but for Spidey the effect resonates as he is a character that displays his flaws to fans. Considering too that this teenage, somewhat rebellious and yet fundamentally good character showed up the 60’s, we could perhaps even attribute his early survival to an appeal to the counter-culture of the time.

Bombastic Bag Man a.k.a. Spiderman on his way home to change

Now, Spiderman is like any other superhero in that he’s iconic and recognizable. Whether or not Luke Skywalker is a superhero, we can still argue we recognize him, but with many different costumes? Going through archives Spiderman has a wardrobe so expansive Lady Gaga would be jealous. However, despite the variation in his costumes, they are still clearly and Spiderman costumes that any Spider-fan would recognize. (The the possible exception of the Bombastic Bag Man outfit after the Symbiote Saga, but it was primarily a gag piece.)

So that all said, we love Spiderman because he’s more like us than alien Superman and super-rich-super-ripped Batman have ever or will ever be, even with his penchant for slinging hammocks out of webs to relax in. In the Golden and Silver ages of comics, there was a mountain of superheroes being thrown through the presses, but it’s the unique ones like Spidey, the ones that did something different, that have enjoyed our admiration.

(Notes: All research was done thanks to the great wide web not made by Spiderman, the internet. Particularly comichron.com for sales figures and comicvine.com for overviews and summaries of the many superhero characters out there. Aside from knowledge from Jean-Paul Gabillet’s text required for this class, research was primarily word-of-mouth and forum-based, and I totally and completely welcome comments regarding why you absolutely agree or disagree or are indifferent to my piece! I’d most definitely love to hear from people that find Spiderman super-annoying. As for the referenced issue, it’s most easily found in the recently printed Spiderman: Am I an Avenger?, which is a fairly interesting cross-section of Spidey’s adventures.)

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5 Responses to Why the Web-Slinger?

  1. courtneycharnock says:

    When we were in class yesterday breaking down Coogan’s definition of a superhero and finding that his definition is very inconsistent and exclusive in the world of what we perceive of “superheros”, it seems that perhaps Spiderman is a success in fitting his narrow ideals!

    He has a prosocial mission.

    He has extraordinary abilities and highly developed skills.

    His superhero identity codename is “Spiderman”

    His costume is iconic.

    There you go. And while I in no means think that Spiderman is a simple, static superhero, perhaps this is what Coogan views as an “ideal” superhero.

    Bart Beaty, who is Coogan’s favourite superhero?

    –Courtney Charnock

  2. gsbeatty says:

    If you read Spider-Man comics from the 60’s you’ll see that Peter Parker is essentially the least rebellious teen imaginable. I think the appeal of his character to a 1960’s comic-reading audience stems not from him appealing to any kind of counter-culture, but rather to the way that he was the everyman of comic books. He was never depicted as particularly attractive, he had bad luck with the ladies, he was beat up, but he was also incredibly intelligent and very compassionate. Peter Parker had no designs to overthrow “the man,” he just wanted to make it through a day without getting a wedgie. Basically he was exactly like every nerdy kid reading comic books.

    With regards to Spider-Man’s changing costumes, his costume went through very few changes up until 1985 when he received the black symbiote costume during the Secret Wars. In fact I would suggest that most of Spider-Man’s variant costumes are products of the 90’s-now and are more often than not (though there are a couple exceptions: Ben Reilly Spider-Man; Iron Spider-Man; Future Foundation uniform) directly related to story arcs with a return to the status quo of the tried and true red and blue by the end. Basically when it comes to Spidey’s costume, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    • Andrea Madsen says:

      Wow Garret, I hadn’t actually had time to find many comics from that era to go off off Petey-boy’s behavior on, so thank you for the info. I was mostly going off of the Peter Parker I saw in the cartoons from ’67 as a wee tot and noticing how he kind of had a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards J Jonah “The Man” Jameson (at least that’s what I’ll call him), and the same thing I saw in the Big Little Book Spiderman Zaps Mr. Zodiac. I was rolling with that personal impression at least.

      Also good to know on the costume front! I got that impression from the comicvine article I read as well, but it really did seem to explode after that. I agree that with his costume it’s “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” because they’re all stylistically very similar. I brought it up because I found it very neat that such tweaks can be made to his costume (even the all-black one) and we’ll still figure out that it’s Spiderman. I suppose there’s got to be a pile of other Supers that have a spiffy wardrobe too though.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Travis White says:

    For me it’s simple, Spiderman has fun. Whether he’s kicking ass or even getting roughed up Peter Parker has a sharp wit and he knows how to use it. I don’t constantly need all of my superheroes to be dark and brooding. Don’t get me wrong, I love Batman as much as the next guy(in fact I collect every current Batman title) but sometimes it’s nice to see a superhero who embraces his powers and has fun while doing it. Sure he’s faced a lot of tragedy from Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy, but he moves on. He doesn’t forget but he still manages to find some sense of balance between remorse and everyday life. Plus Spidey gets tons of ladies, how can you not be impressed with that? Also I’d like to add that Tobey Maguire was a terrible Spiderman – had was completely monotone, had no charisma whatsoever, and he is completely inept at delivering a classic Spidey one-liner.

  4. deharris says:

    I think you pretty much answered your own question there. Of all the mainstream comics I’ve come across, Spider-Man is the most human, and therefore, the most relatable. I enjoy Superman for example, but at the same time, I find him incredibly frustrating because he never makes a mistake and has an annoyingly black-and-white view of the world. Whenever I complain about that he isn’t human enough, I get the reply, “Well duh, he’s an alien.” That, to me, is not an excuse.

    Making Peter an awkward, geeky teenaged boy was a brilliant idea since many of the readers at the time it first came out were in fact just that. This, combined with his desire to do good, while at the same time struggling the whole way there, makes him a breath of fresh air.

    – Diana Harrison

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