Need a primer on Marvel’s friendly neighbourhood web-slinger? We’ve got you covered!
Spider-Man: A Brief Overview
While other superheroes are often beloved due to their immense levels of power, Peter Parker (Spider-Man) is often considered the most relatable superhero.
Cursed (or gifted, depending on your point of view) with spider-related powers as a teen, Spider-Man uses his abilities to fight crime, usually while making jokes at his foes expense. Although he’s arguably the most popular superhero in the world, he tends to concentrate on local events and leave the global events to superheroes like Iron Man or Captain America.
Whether worrying about paying his rent or trying to figure out how to defeat a foe using his spider-like abilities, the genius-level intellect of Peter Parker is always trying to solve some kind of problem.
Peter Parker, an orphan who lived with his Aunt May and his Uncle Ben, was the kind of geek that took everything too seriously.
This led him to an interest in science, which in turn led him to a scientific exhibition. While at the exhibition, Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider, which gave him certain spider-related abilities: He was far stronger, quicker, and tougher than the average human.
Using his new-found powers, he signed up for a wrestling match to make some quick cash. He won, but the organiser refused to pay him the promised amount of money. Sometime later that night, a robber stole the organisers money. Peter saw this, but refused to get involved, having no sympathy for the organiser which had underpaid him.
A little later, that same robber – the one that Peter had let escape – would kill Uncle Ben.
Peter would never forgive himself for this, and would honour Uncle Ben’s memory with a phrase that Uncle Ben would often say: With great power comes great responsibility.
Spider-Man is far stronger, faster and more durable than the average human.
Due to how quickly his mind works, he also has what he affectionately calls his ‘Spidey Sense’ – an almost-precognitive ability to sense incoming harm.
Certain modern versions of Spider-Man also often give him the ability to naturally produce organic webbing from his wrists, and allow him to climb walls using small talons on his fingers and feet. These abilities were first seen in the Miguel O’Hara version of Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099. This is notable because the earlier versions of Spider-Man used technology to achieve those same goals.
In the first Spider-Man stories, he invented his webbing, along with specialised suction cups in order to cling to walls.
Although the different versions of Spider-Man throughout the years have relied on gadgets to a varying level of degrees, there are certain pieces of kit that Spider-Man often uses.
The foremost of these is probably his iconic blue-and-red suit, which is made from a material known as Unstable Molecule Fabric (UMF). In fact, most heroes in the Marvel Universe use UMF, as it was created by Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic of the Fantastic Four) in order to solve the problem of wear-and-tear for active heroes.
Spider-Man has also used other suits, most notably the black suit. The black suit was, unknown to Peter, a sentient alien entity (known as a Symbiote) from another dimension. The black suit entity feeds on dark emotions such as anger, pride, and the need for revenge. Peter eventually worked this out, and cast the suit from him. The black suit entity, feeling rejected by Peter, found another (less ethical) host named Eddie Brock – they both bonded to form the anti-hero named Venom.
Peter has also used a suit called the Iron Spider suit, which was created for him by Tony Stark (Iron Man).
Another common piece of gear that Peter uses is the Spider-Signal – a bright red light in the form of the Spider-Man mask, which is activated by his belt buckle.
Spider-Man, as one of the friendliest and most socially active Marvel superheroes, has a lot of allies and affiliations.
Being a teen when he first got his powers, a lot of his allies are simply his friend group, such as (his former bully) Flash Thompson. His best friend is Harry Osborn, who happens to be the son of Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin).
He has an on-again off-again relationship with Felicity Blake (the anti-hero Black Cat), and his life has often been defined by his love for Mary Jane Watson or Gwen Stacy.
He’s been on many Marvel teams: Multiple versions of The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, Defenders, Jean Grey School for Higher Learning (i.e. Wolverine’s X-Men) and S.H.I.E.L.D.
He has, on occasion, also teamed up with Venom.
His most treasured ally, however, is his Aunt May.
Spider-Man: Rogues Gallery
Over his many years as a crime-fighter, Spider-Man has collected a large amount of foes.
The Sinister Six is a team of villains, which has a constantly-changing roster. The original team was formed by Doctor Octopus and featured Vulture, Electro, Mysterio, Sandman and Kraven the Hunter.
Spider-Man regularly faces many people involved with organised crime, from the henchmen (Tombstone) all the way to the top (Kingpin).
There are also quite a few Symbiote-bonded villains (and anti-heroes), such as Venom and Carnage (a Symbiote bonded to a psychotic convicted killer), whose attacks cannot be detected by Peter’s Spidey Sense.
However, the insane genius Harry Osborn’s creation of the Green Goblin persona would arguably prove to be Peter’s greatest nemesis. Not only did he use his wealth and intelligence to create a powersuit capable of adapting to Spider-Man’s combat techniques (such as blades that can cut through Peter’s webbing), his legacy was passed on to his son, Harry – thus creating a villain and corrupting Peter’s emotional support network in one fell swoop.
Spider-Man: Common Themes
Spider-Man deals not only with fantastical themes such as superpowers and cosmic entities, but also with more down-to-earth topics such as poverty, discrimination, the power of the media, the meaning of duty, the importance of family, and the price of personal sacrifice.
Similar to DC’s Batman, Spider-Man’s cast of enemies are often inversions (or perversions) of aspects of Spider-Man’s powerset or personality.
Venom’s stories, for instance, examine the idea that the ‘great responsibility that comes with great power’ can – and should – be ignored in certain circumstances. Carnage stories double down on this and show us that enjoying violence just for the sake of it isn’t a healthy mindset.
Doctor Octopus and The Lizard both show how a love of science should be tempered with reasoning and compassion, or it becomes a destructive force. The hunt-obsessed master tracker Kraven The Hunter shows us that pride and a love of tradition are healthy in moderation, but unhealthy when overdone.
Even the Vulture, an old man who knows he’s past his prime, serves to juxtapose the experience of old age with the excitement and vivacity of Peter’s youth.
Spider-Man: Cultural Impact
Spider-Man is considered the most popular superhero for a reason, even if it may not technically be true.
While Superman is more recognisable, some fans find him boring due to his basically god-like powers. While Batman is considered a more stylish and bad-ass character, some fans dislike the way he solves problems (with his fists, thereby creating more problems).
Spider-Man, however, is most often portrayed as ‘one of the little guys’, often dealing with smaller problems such as what to buy his love for their anniversary, or not being able to make his rent this month.
Modern versions of Spiderman, such as the various live-film adaptions, often show him while he’s still at school (whether it be high school, college, or university). Unlike many other superheroes, most of us can relate to that because it’s something that we either have experienced or are experiencing right now.
The current swathe of Spider-Man films are also enjoyable to watch by people that aren’t traditionally into comics (or even the other Marvel films), because their mostly-self-contained stories don’t rely on knowledge from other films. This also serves to create more Spider-Man fans, as he’s often the first superhero that people relate to overall.
Spider-Man can also be considered a legacy title, in that others can be Spider-Man. This is seen with Miguel O’Hara in Marvel’s 2099 universe, and also the Marvel Ultimate universe (or the Into the Spiderverse film) with Miles Morales. Both of these versions of Spider-Man are mixed-race characters, which also allows them to be more relatable to certain demographics,
It should also be mentioned that, before superhero games were common, Spider-Man had a few beloved games on home consoles. This kept the way open for other superhero games, such as the critically-acclaimed Batman: Arkham series.