Character Study: Spider-Man

Spiderman as first created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Both the fictional character and his creators would do other things.

For a long time, one of my favorite heroes ever was Spiderman. In fact, he still might be. I’m nowhere near being alone, either. Created in 1962, Spiderman, if he aged in real time, will be 53 in August. Over the course of these five decades, he has raked in millions (if not billions) of dollars. Hell, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 alone grossed over two hundred million dollars according to IMDB.

This raises a question, though. Why Spider-Man? What about him was it that made him last these fifty-plus years and others like Merlin the mutant (an early Thor villain) fall by the wayside? If you look at a variety of periods in Spidey’s history, you’ll notice a few patterns.

Let’s start with the most superficial one first. His costume. Let’s see if you notice a pattern.

Spidey's first appearance ever.
Spidey’s first appearance ever.
There was a brief blip in the 80's where Spider-Man had a black costume. That was the only significant deviation, though.
There was a brief blip in the 80’s where Spider-Man had a black costume. That was the only significant deviation, though.
Ultimate Spider-Man. My favorite Spider-Man.
Ultimate Spider-Man. My favorite Spider-Man.
Sam Raimi's idea of Spider-Man. We'll talk about those movies later.
Sam Raimi’s idea of Spider-Man. We’ll talk about those movies later.
The reboot. Spot the difference between that and the one above.
The reboot. Spot the difference between that and the one above.
This was Spidey's armor for a few issues during Civil War.
This was Spidey’s armor for a few issues during Civil War. After, he would revert back to his traditional costume.

So, can you spot a pattern? Every so often, like once in a blue moon, Spidey will change his outfit. This will be because of a plot point, and he will inevitably change back. Much as I like the Civil War costume, you could tell that the authors knew this as well. How? That armor had a built-in feature that allowed it to look like his traditional costume. Yeah. They knew that Spider-Man wouldn’t keep this red-and-gold color pattern, but they wanted him to keep his new arm thingys. Shame this tactic didn’t work.

Slightly more core to his character is his snark. I remember watching the first and third Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and thinking Why is the Green Goblin funnier than Spider-Man? Every since day one, Spider-Man has been one of the funniest guys in the room. One of my favorite moments in Ultimate Spider-Man was Spidey crashing through a window window to kick a monstrous Green Goblin in the face singing a song by The Talking Heads. Even back in his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy he was quite the snarker.

However, that’s still pretty superficial. I could talk about his motto, but I assume you know that. Like his costume, that’s one of the most obvious thing about him. No, what I want to talk about is how he shows the cost of being a hero.

First off, let’s talk about his typical relation with the cops. If you’ve only watched the live-action movies, you could be forgiven for thinking that the average person on the street loves and trusts Spider-Man. They don’t.

From Ultimate Spider-Man
From Ultimate Spider-Man

From his very first outing, Spider-Man has lacked the support of the people in power. He has been shot at by police and demonized by the press more regularly than any other hero, as well as all the physical and emotional toll that fighting villains with a relatively weak power can bring.

Yet it takes a lot for him to give up. And even when he does, I think that the word persistence sums up his appeal better than with great power comes great responsibility. Spidey will always attempt to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is.