Poor Peter Parker. Orphaned as a boy and raised by his elderly aunt and uncle, he was a frail science geek who was bullied at school. When a freak accident involving a radioactive spider-bite granted him he proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider, he did what anyone would do: he went on television to get rich and famous.
The world had taught Peter the hard lesson that he should always look out for himself first, which is why he failed to stop an escaping robber, something well within his ability to do without much risk to himself. Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben paid the price for Peter’s arrogance when the robber shot and killed Ben that very night. After bringing the crook to justice Peter Parker- now and forever the Amazing Spider-Man- remembered the more important lesson Ben had taught him: with great power comes great responsibility.
That was the story Stan Lee and Steve Ditko told in fourteen pages in AMAZING FANTASY #15 in 1962. The story has changed very little in the retelling over the years, and that core guilt- that Peter could have helped and did not- has driven the character ever since.
Spider-Man was revolutionary for a number of reasons. He was a teenager, but not a sidekick, who called himself a man, as almost any almost-grown boy would do. He had problems, usually very serious ones, that usually came less from his adventures as Spider-Man as from his own poverty, need to care for his elderly Aunt May (the revelation that Peter was Spider-Man would, he feared, give her a fatal heart attack), and his own awkward adolescence. Now able to easily beat high school bully Flash Thompson, Peter needed to restrain himself and continue playing the meek bookworm he no longer was
But far from a dark, melancholy character, Spider-Man was exuberant as he swung over Manhattan and bounced around his foes, wisecracking and attaching a note “Compliments of your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” to defeated criminals. It was as if being Spider-Man was the only time Peter could be who he really wanted to be without consequence.
Peter failed almost as often as he succeeded. His victories were usually temporary. He chose to be good when being selfish would be so much easier. Ditko’s design for Spider-Man is one of the most iconic in all of comics. His own masked face is his emblem, a face that could hide anyone, that could be any one of us.
Be here for tomorrow’s MIGHTY MARVEL MAY because it’s gonna rock.