Look at the stack of comics in your room, the long boxes you have in storage or the trades sitting on your bookshelf. Think hard before you answer. Who is the one character you have felt the most genuine emotional connection to since the first time you picked up an issue off the spinner rack all those years ago?
Now we know this isn’t going to apply to everyone. Some readers may have shared a similar tragedy or suffered a similar injustice to a particular character. But, for the most part, a character that has shared more moments with the reader than any other is Spider-Man. But why is that?
For older readers, Peter Parker is one of the most identifiable because we have grown up with him. Whether you started reading Spider-Man in high school days, his Empire State University days, or his young adulthood, writers have given us the chance to see a character grow and mature as he comes of age. Thor has always been an ageless god.
Captain America has always been the guy who was from World War II who just hasn’t physically aged. But not Peter Parker. Peter had to balance a social and scholastic life in addition to being a hero. He had to worry about finding a job and paying rent. He didn’t get to just sit back in a mansion with the Avengers in the early part of his career.
Along with that, Peter Parker has grown from being a stereotype of the nerdy teenager to the everyman. Peter was never an outcast due to race or orientation. He was just, as most of us were whether or not we want to admit it, socially awkward and uncomfortable with himself during his youth. While some were able to hide it better, everyone knows what it is like growing up and feeling like an outcast, whether it was in their own social circle, amongst peers at work, or even within their own family.
Even with the greatest of powers given to him, he still gets ostracized by society. One would think having a publically recognized membership to the Avengers would have eased things up for him but even still, he is one of the few heroes that law enforcement still readily draws their gun upon when he is only doing the right thing.
And it is this familiarity that has made the changes and tragedies in Peter Parker’s life hit so hard upon the readers. Early in his career and then again later, Peter gave up the mantle of Spider-Man for a short time. It is something that has happened in other series like Batman, Iron Man and even Captain America but when Spider-Man wasn’t under the mask, the audience wouldn’t accept it. The last time Peter gave up the mask is still considered a sore spot on the entire run of the character.
The deaths that Spider-Man has dealt with have hit harder than they do for other characters as well. When an X-Men dies, it is a sad moment but there are just so damn many of them, it feels like the team gets over it rather quickly. The only X-Men that people have really cared about the deaths of have been Jean Grey (who seems to come back from the dead more than anyone else in comics) and Nightcrawler (who was replaced by an alternate version of within two years). When Spider-Man lost his uncle, it was for good. While the character is occasionally revisited, Ben stays dead and that has been a defining characteristic of Spider-Man himself.
The death of Gwen Stacy is one that has haunted Peter and his fans for years as well. Gwen became the woman in Peter’s life that no other could measure up to. Whether it was a loss or the one that got away, almost any guy reading Spider-Man has their own Gwen. Even when Peter lands a super model actress (which every guy dreams of), he still can’t make things work in the long run. Something we all deal with is that constant fear that no matter how good things have been going, they can change in an instant. Seeing a character that we identify with going through that and still being able to move on gives many of us the strength to move on ourselves.
Avengers vs. X-Men #9 was the most recent proof that Marvel feels the same way about Spider-Man. While much of the story has been a disaster between too many cooks in the kitchen and inconsistent storytelling, Marvel gave Spider-Man one of the biggest spotlights of the event. (Spoilers) Through the tie-in books and in solicits, there have been hints that Spider-Man would be getting a huge moment. In this issue, it comes when Spider-Man puts himself between two members of the Phoenix Force and the escaping Avengers.
Even Colossus and Magik, two characters corrupted with god-like power, cannot bring themselves to put down Spider-Man despite having the ability to do so. No matter what they hit him with, no matter how battered and broken his is, Spider-Man still gets up. And then, he does the unthinkable. He stops them. In a series where Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and all of the other heavy hitters can’t take down a single member of the force by themselves, Spider-Man takes out two. Regardless of how he does it, that says something special about the character.
While this is only just the start of why Spider-Man is what makes Marvel what it is, please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on the subject or feel free to let us know who you think is your own heart to the Marvel Universe.