There’s no doubt about it, the world loves Spider-Man is one of the most popular superhero’s to come swinging out of comic-lore. Having inspired movies, TV series, video games, and other merchandise, the web-slinger has become a household name. The question remains however, what makes Spidey so popular?
The creation of legendary comic-book writer, Stan Lee, and artist, Steve Ditko, Spiderman first made his appearance in 1962. A post World War 2 period, of economic and technological advancement. Which possibly lends a lot of weight to the popularity of the character, as the comic book world was shifting from god-like characters with power enough to banish whole armies with a blink, to more flawed characters, who face struggles. Reflecting the times.
As the narrative goes, awkward adolescent, Peter Parker is bitten by a radio active spider, which kickstarts a physiological transformation that imbues young Parker with spider-like abilities. He sticks to walls, he swings from webs, he has more than his fair share of strength and agility, but there’s more to why the character is so lovable.
He doesn’t quickly take to super heroing though, but initially begins by using his newly obtained abilities for his own personal gain. It isn’t until he loses his Uncle Ben in a tragic accident, that he dedicates himself to righting the wrong in the world.
Parker spends his life awkwardly juggling his private crusade for good and messy personal life. He often makes mistakes and alienates himself from those he loves, despite his good intentions. The personal sacrifice for a greater good is, very much, unlike the pre WW2 comic book characters who seemed to have it all worked out.
Peter Parker is an average Joe who happened to get the abilities of a spider. He has an awkward personal life that he struggles to hold together, while secretly holding down a masked vigilantly gig. Despite his powers, he is still very vulnerable, having no special protection aside from a spider sense. What’s not to like?
The Spider-Man is just a good guy doing his best under tough circumstances, he doesn’t always have the answers but gives it everything he has. These, very human, traits go a long way towards connecting him with his audience on a deeper level than other superheroes could accomplish. One may never see the Batman having emotional breakdowns or having a personal battle affect his combat performance.
Ever The Underdog
Revisiting the fact the Spidey’s attire offers him nothing more than personal branding, Spiderman remains just about as vulnerable as any human – no Wolverine-like healing factor to speak of. Going into battles against powerful – usually armed to the teeth – enemies with little else aside from agility and well-timed web slinging requires courage, and a lot of strategic thinking. Peter seems to have both attributes, in spades.
Spider-Man is a character that, in a way, mirrors the human day-to-day struggle. Facing off against astronomical odds and, somehow, always making the best of a tough break.
“because he’s become the most famous. He’s the one who’s most like me – nothing ever turns out 100 percent OK; he’s got a lot of problems, and he does things wrong, and I can relate to that.” – Creator, Stan Lee, in Chicago Tribune interview, dated 1996, when asked what Spider-Man was so popular among fans.
He’s A Spider
He has the powers of a freaking spider. Who would pit a spider against pitbulls? His powers almost set him up to be the underdog. He wasn’t born on a different planet, he didn’t have his powers bestowed upon him by fate or an otherworldly being. He’s not even venomous, his powers have no offensive value. As a result, he joins the pantheon of superheroes purely on merit.
Sure, Parker has his difficulties, but he seems to always have a wise crack, or slick perspective on any given matter at the ready. His enduring positivity in the face of near insurmountable obstacles appears to have hold inspirational appeal for audiences. The Spider-Man’s attitude lends itself to his relatability.
“Before Marvel started, any Super Hero might be walking down the street and see a 12-foot-tall monster coming toward him with purple skin and eight arms breathing fire, and the character would have said something like, ‘Oh! There’s a monster from another world! I better catch him before he destroys the city.’ Now, if one of our Marvel characters saw the same monster, I’d like to think Spider-Man would say, ‘Who’s the nut in the Halloween get-up? I wonder what he’s advertising?” Lee, in a 1998 interview with Beth Accomando
This is likely why the legend of Spider-Man endures, he stands as the best candidate for a modern day Robin Hood. Having captivated audiences for decades with his web-suspended acrobatics, Spider-Man remains one of the most merchandised, and recognized fictional characters of our time. A big money spinner for parent company, Marvel.