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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #364: Spider-Man

This is why you don't play with alien machines unless Tony Stark or Reed Richards is right there.

Spider-Man is a tragic hero, pure and simple. His beginnings are steeped in the death of his father-figure uncle, a man whose oft-quoted and still-resonant advice about great power and great responsibility should be forwarded to certain orange would-be dictators. Uncle Ben's murder, which Spider-Man could easily have prevented were he not so callow and self-involved, is the character's original sin, the stain he will never wash free of his hands no matter how many super-baddies he apprehends. And as if that wasn't enough, he fails to save the love of his life Gwen Stacy, in one of the most heart-wrenching sequences in comic history. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go read Amazing Spider-Man #121 and come back when you're done. Oh, and if you want to make an argument for redheaded underwear model Mary Jane Watson as the love of web-head's life, I'll listen.

Spidey hides his bitterness and rage and shame under two masks. The first is red cloth (I was never a black-suit guy, despite the iconic panels posted here from Secret Wars #8, and Venom...I lump him into the fall of Marvel comics that began in the late 1980s). The second is a running jocose patter of insults, jokes, and false bonhomie. Putting on the suit liberates Peter Parker from his earthbound nerd, making him both beloved and distrusted (thanks for Jameson's vendetta). Probably one of the three most recognized super heroes in the world (Superman and Batman being the others), Spidey has been with us for almost sixty years, giving rise to some very memorable cartoon series (the ones from the 1960s are a riot and the Amazing Friends show with Iceman and Firestar a total classic), and some forgettable feature films (though the second Tobey Maguire movie is actually pretty good). Now that Marvel has their cinematic hands on the web-slinger again, I expect some awesome things, especially if his Civil War cameo is any indication. Homecoming, indeed.

What I like most about Spider-Man is that he's flawed. He's wracked with doubt. He never seems to catch a break (aside from the parade of beautiful women in his life...Gwen, MJ, Felicia, Aunt May), he never really finds a true home with a super-team (I put little stock in the post-2010 "everybody's an Avenger" cattle call), and he never really escapes the darkness of those early tragedies. And yet, all that said, he never slides into that blood-soaked carnival that would be so easy for him. He's no Punisher or Deadpool, not even a Wolverine. He might be no Superman, but he's also not a killer, at least not intentionally. He's trying, always trying. And that's all we can ask of our heroes.

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