Amen to that

Posted by Mister Mets 10 March 2012

Chris Sims of Comics Alliance has a new column up explaining why Spider-Man is "objectively the single greatest comic book character ever created."

I am in complete agreement with him. And he has an interesting take on Amazing Fantasy #15, that I hadn't considered before.

It doesn't really read like a super-hero origin, or at least, not one that you would've expected in 1962. There's no triumph, no Batman posing on the rooftop, no Superman performing herculean feats, not even a vow to use his powers to benefit mankind like you got with the Fantastic Four. Instead, the last panel of Spider-Man's first appearance is a teenager walking alone down a dark street, crying because his uncle died and it's all his fault. 
It's actually structured less like a super-hero story and more like a horror comic, right down to the ironic twist ending and the fact that it has a moral. The only thing that really separates it from the kind of story you would've found ten years earlier in Tales From the Crypt is that Peter Parker comes back for more stories. 
But he never really loses that edge of tragedy, and a big piece of that comes from the fact that Spider-Man's story doesn't romanticize the death of his parents in the ways that other heroes' stories do. Superman, for example, is an orphan, but the death of Jor-El and Lara doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things; he even gets a second set. The death of Batman's parents is a tragedy, and it has to be horrible in order to be the catalyst for what sends him on the path to spending his entire life fighting crime, but it's also something that frees him. It's what gives him his fortune, and gets him out of school so that he can travel the world learning to be awesome. It frees him from family responsibilities, at least until he's ready to start building his own family as an adult. 

Batman's family dies, but he bounces back. There was nothing he could've done to stop them from being killed -- again, because he was a kid -- so he makes himself into someone that could, and does it for others instead.

Spider-Man never gets over it. He never goes back to life as it was before Uncle Ben died. There was something he could've done to stop it, but he chose not to. Now, he does anything and everything he can to keep it from happening to anyone else. It's an atonement, but no matter what he does, it'll never be enough. He's not determined, he's driven.
And he an effective perspective on the Spider-Man VS Peter Parker dynamic.

So he has to be Spider-Man, because he knows for a fact that he can help people, and that fact makes the decision for him. It's another piece of that sacrifice, that atonement, but it's also an incredible illustration of the pressure that he's under, and how he just has to carry on, dealing with the things that he can control.
And how does he do it? By creating a better version of himself.
He's vain. He's shallow. He only wants to benefit himself, so he uses these phenomenal abilities he's gotten to go on TV and do tricks for an audience. 
When Uncle Ben dies, he pays for all that and sets off on a mission to do better -- and part of that is that he basically starts pretending to be this quick-witted, fast-talking hero who was the complete opposite of his own personality. It's worth noting that one of the very first plot points in the series was that Flash Thompson, the bully who hated Peter Parker, was literally the president of Spider-Man's fan club. Even today, there's a recurring idea among Peter's friends that you can't rely on him for anything, but Spider-Man's always there to save someone who needs it. 
Peter Parker has too much guilt, too much responsibility, too much to worry about with Aunt May's health, no money and a scholarship that he's hanging onto by a thread. Peter couldn't handle the pressure that he was under, so he created someone who could. He creates the kind of person who would've stopped that robber before he killed Uncle Ben. The kind of person who can crack jokes under pressure, because he's so confident that he can conquer his problems that they're just something to make fun of. He creates Spider-Man to be the person he wants to be.
Finally, he explores Spider-Man as a metaphor for the teenage experience, noting that in this title, the adults are adversaries.
Those first 200 issues of Amazing Spider-Man -- a run that's downright shocking in how good it is -- are essentially teenager problems on a super-heroic scale, both literally and translated into the metaphor of the super-hero adventure story. It was done so well that it was a blueprint for virtually everything that came after, in the same way that Fantastic Four #50 was a blueprint for the Big Event. If you've read Invincible, or Nova, or Blue Beetle or Darkhawk, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or any of a hundred others, then you've seen that blueprint dusted off and adapted. Those things exist because of Spider-Man.
The entire piece is certainly worth reading. There's also some stuff on Batman, who happens to be Chris Sims's favorite character.

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