As I bring this project to a close, I’m left wondering what Spider-Man ultimately means to the world. Most people view the character as a disposable piece of fiction and pays him no mind. Others throw too much weight on a character created as a lark for a dying magazine. Neither view is incorrect, but one has to admire that impact that the character has played on the pop culture canon. As the character begins its second half century, one has to wonder if writers will pick up the call to examine Parker’s origins. There are so many stories left to tell about arrested adolescence developing into informed adulthood.
If that happens, maybe we can pull back from girl trouble and gee shucks to actually investigate the dawn of the super powered working class man. I might be asking a lot there, but someone has to ask it. Marvel Comics excel when they tackle our world through a mutant filter. The powers are nothing more than framing devices to entice young minds into examining literary tropes and branching out from there. Older fans can take solace in the comfort of following along and seeing where these paths end.
Spider-Man is the greatest hero because he chooses to remain unfulfilled. A character so beholden to guilt, that he lets any chance to advance into happiness slip past him. That’s great for periodical entertainment, but it calls into question Parker’s mental welfare. At some point, those tiny mental webs are going to break and the super hero will become villain. Then, he’ll turn hero again. I guess it’s some long term plan to keep pissing off Ditko. I wish I was kidding, but the Spidey co-creator was onto something. The character shouldn’t have lasted this long. Natural developments should’ve closed the chapter on Parker’s story a long time ago.
So, if there was a natural endpoint, why keep it going? Well, why do we keep anything going? A life well lived is hardly ever under control by the living individual. Spider-Man occupies a world that weighs heavy on his heart and mind. The nature of his existence is to continually be a whipping boy for others. How do we call him a hero? Well, it’s because he never gives up. Peter Parker is driven to fill a void by eliminating voids for others. The cyclical nature of this is freaking insane, but it works for me.
Some people will take issue with Stan Lee’s role in the creation of Spider-Man, but I’m not arguing that here. When Spider-Man was created, Marvel was still playing second fiddle to DC. At this point, Marvel had launched Fantastic Four and a few side titles. Spider-Man was more of a last ditch effort to close out Amazing Fantasy. It worked, but it wouldn’t be until 1963 before the character re-appeared. In the character’s 50th anniversary year, we’ve spent the last few months trying to figure out the why. But, there’s more to it than that. Spider-Man exists because of where he was created.
Spider-Man is a very American hero for the latter half of the 20th Century. He is the Baby Boomer hero. He is the privileged American hero. He is the actualized middle class taking power. A journalist, a young man, a working class kid who overcame adversity to become the powerful protector of his society. No matter what happens, Spidey rises above it. How many heroes can you say that about? Even when he doubts himself, Peter comes back. With great power comes great responsibility is the call of his life. Marvel’s New York City should be forever thankful for that.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man is the heart of Marvel Comics. It took sixteen chapters to get to that point, but here we are. Spider-Man exists because there was a moment in time when the world needed to see a kid rise above and save us all. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko actualized the youth culture in print form. Plus, they got to skip out on the ruined hippie movement to show that ideals of love and compassion can be used a powerful utility. The individual is defined by what they contribute to a greater society. In return, they are graced by the comforts that come from that larger entity. In the end, The Spider Project proved that Ditko’s Randian philosophy was correct.