Before Spider-Man, most superhero’s didn’t have much in the way of personal lives. And even if they did, it was far from the focus of the comics. They would just get up, but on a mask, and spend the day fighting evil. Sure, Clark Kent had a job at the paper, and Bruce Wayne would actually go to an opera or something, but the secret identity just existed to support the hero. Can you honesty look me in the eye and tell me that you give a shit about what Superman and Batman do when they’re not being Superman and Batman? About their social lives? Of course you can’t. And it’s the same thing for Wolverine, and Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four. In fact, it’s true for every single well known golden age and silver age comicbook superhero. Except for Spider-Man.
When Stan Lee originally conceived of the character, his idea wasn’t to make him a nerd, or a sap. It wasn’t about making him young, or weak. All of those were just products of the central theme, the point of the character; that he’s just a regular guy like us, and he has all the same problems as we do. Suddenly instead of just having a hero who you root for because you’re told he’s a good guy, you have someone who you genuinely like. You see Peter struggle with his job, and be doted on by his Aunt May, and get rejected by girls. And you feel for him, and you grow to like him, and you root for him. And then when he does put on a mask and fight guys with Octopus Tentacles, you’re more invested in the fight, because you care about the character.
I think this wasn’t just a revolutionary approach to a comicbook character, I think it changed the whole way heroes were written in media. Before Spider-Man, heroes were always big burly men who have perfect lives, but after Spider-Man, heroes are depicted as normal, down on their luck guys trying to fix their problems. The whole concept of the relatable protagonist entered into the mainstream because of Spider-Man. I legitimately think he changed the whole game.
But aside from the impact in our world, let’s look at what makes role in his own universe so unique. While the Avengers and X-Men are spending days at a time out in space, and saving the universe from giant planet eating aliens, Spider-Man is down on the street beating up muggers on his way between school and his job. He deals with the smaller, and the weirder. He’s in the sewers fighting lizard monsters while the Fantastic Four travel to other dimensions. And I think that’s the other thing that makes Spider-Man so great; his villains.
I think a superhero can only ever really be as great as the villains the come up against. Iron Man’s a really cool hero, but at the end of the day I can’t think of a single one of his villains who are at all memorable, and that means his character can only be interesting up to a certain point. But Spider-Man has a great gallery of rogues. In fact, I would say every cool villain in the marvel universe except for Doctor Doom and Magneto come from Spider-Man comics. You got Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Venom, Lizard, Electro, Carnage, Sandman, Rhino; I could go on and on and on. Now, try naming me that many Hulk villains. Even if you can, how many of them are at all interesting? How many of them don’t just have a variation of the Hulk’s own abilities?
It’s almost as if while The Avengers are off dealing with the big threats, Spider-Man’s just cleaning up the streets. If the Avengers were the cops, he would be the ten year old kid getting an honorary badge for tripping a mugger. And while that may seem like an insult, it’s really great for two reasons: one, it makes things more believable and down to earth if they happen in familiar settings and without getting too ridiculous, and two, makes for much more interesting characters. All powerful alien overlords are fine, but there’s something way cooler and more interesting about guys getting into these weird genetic experiments and turning themselves into freaks. You know, just crazy people who stumbled upon powers. People with different motives than to simply take over the universe. The kind of things you see on a late night sci-fi horror show. That’s why a character like Doctor Octopus will always be more interesting that one like Thanos.
And, by proxy, why a character like Spider-Man will always be more interesting than one like Captain America. This is the exact same reason why Batman is so much more popular than any other DC character. You can compare Batman and Superman themselves for days, but just take a look at their villains. How many Superman villains do you think the average person can name? Lex Luthor, General Zod. Maybe Braniac. What about memorable story lines? Meanwhile, everyone under thirty can list every single goddamn Batman villain ever put to paper. It’s not just because we’ve seen more of them in movies, it’s because they’re legitimately more interesting. And that, in turn, makes Batman more interesting. Which is why everyone loves him so much.
But what Batman doesn’t have that Spider-Man does is that reliability. And don’t any of you fanboys tell me that we see a lot of Bruce Wayne’s character in the Chris Nolan movies, because even though we saw him out of the mask a lot, literally everything he did was entirely related to him being Batman. Spider-Man’s the only one with a life outside of the costume. And that’s why he’s not like any other superhero, and that’s why he’s my favourite, and that’s why I’m so upset about Sony fucking up those movies so bad. Because whether you realize it or not, he’s the heart of the marvel world, and without him, the marvel cinematic universe really feels empty.