Alright, so you know “With great power comes great responsibility”, “I was in the neighborhood”, “He’s just a kid, no older than my son” and you think you know Spider-Man. Well, you’re getting close, but if you really want to know what makes him special I think the line you need is from a whole different movie. “What are you prepared to do?!”
He’s a young man with a little bit of power, and a lot of responsibility, trying to do the right thing in the face of almost always impossible odds. Just in his city alone there are people with billions of dollars, bleeding edge technology and super powers of their own. Floating above his and other cities lives a huge global espionage and law enforcement team led by a one eyed quasi immortal with limitless resources and a huge roster of superheroes to call in any emergency. Even at his own street level there are men and women with impervious skin, and martial artists who are rich enough to hire the best legal help, or even act as their own lawyer.
Peter Parker has none of this. In his most basic stripped down sense he is a person on the cusp of maturity, who is strong, quick, has a danger sense, and some admittedly cool web shooters, no matter how they work. But most importantly he has a desire to do the right thing, the moral thing, the best of things. Time and time again he saves the school bus full of kids even if they hate him. He picks to save the group of strangers instead of his friends or family. And he gets beat up. A lot. Beaten, bloody, broken and with only half a mask is one of the most common ways to draw poor Spider-Man. And yet even halfway dead, Spiderman picks himself up, throws a well timed quip at the bad guy, and leaps again into the fray.
Let’s compare risk factors; how hurt and how much trouble can the average superhero get into? Superman is a nigh invulnerable super alien who can punch out gods. Nothing really threatens him in any meaningful way. Batman and Iron Man are fantastically wealthy men with guilty consciences or massively needy egos that drive them to greatness, but they can always buy their way out of trouble, or purchase a new research company to develop a piece of equipment to solve the problem. True, they can get hurt, but Iron Man is wearing a billion dollar piece of technology designed to prevent him coming to harm, and Batman has trained with the world’s greatest fighters in order to avoid injury. Wonder Woman is a bred for battle demi-god with diplomatic immunity. Wolverine is so invulnerable that he can come back from a scrap of flesh left on an enemy’s jacket, or punch his way out of a monster’s stomach. Spider-Man on the other hand can and does get his butt handed to him on a regular basis, and has no legal recourse if he gets caught. He’s bright, and might be able to design a new device to help him, but after trying to pay off student loan debts and rent he’s lucky if he’s got enough money for food.
Spider-Man doesn’t do it for vengeance or money or to try to clear his family name, he does it because it is the right thing to do. He steps up to the plate again and again, even after being thrown out. No flying away to supercharge behind the sun, no calling in army of power suits or the rest of a team, be they Justice League, X Men, Avengers or Incorporated. He does it by himself and he is prepared to do whatever it takes to finish the job.
All of this leads to what makes Spider-Man the greatest superhero: his impact on the young people reading his comics and seeing his movies. When children read tales of heroes, they want to be heroes. When they see a movie about being a good guy, they want to be good guys. Spider-Man is a simple teenager taken to extremes. He is what the people who are reading about him and watching him are: awkward, nervous, and feeling like they are all alone against the world. But he still does the right thing. He doesn’t hide, doesn’t shirk his duties; he rises to meet all of his challenges. When a kid reads about Green Lantern or The Fantastic Four fighting off an alien menace, they might think that’s cool, sure. When that same kid reads about Spider-Man standing up to a bully in his high school, and then saving the day in his city, that kid starts thinking about doing the right thing. They can’t stop a hurtling asteroid, but they can take time to start helping people in their school, in their home, and in their friendly neighborhood. Just what are you prepared to do? Don’t you hear that call to adventure, that call to action? “Go get ‘em Tiger.”
Davey posts about music (almost) every day at http://1001daysofmusic.