Why Spider-Man Is Popular

Life changes for Peter when he goes on a school trip to a laboratory and is bitten by a radioactive spider. He finds that he has super strength and the abilities and senses of a spider. He soon embarks — secretly — on a part-time career in entertainment as "The Spider-Man," making appearances on shows after school.

However, after one of his appearances, "The Spider-Man" refuses to stop a robber eluding a police officer. This thief would later kill Peter's Uncle Ben in a burglary, prompting the grief-stricken teenager to devote his life and his powers to the fight for justice. Spider-Man learned a lesson that his Uncle Ben tried to teach him shortly before Ben's death: With great power comes great responsibility.

The ‘Peter Parker’ in All of Us

From the beginning, readers clearly saw Spider-Man's humanity and vulnerability. Even with his powers, he could not protect his loved ones from harm and was not immune from the hardships of daily life — two long-running themes of the Spider-Man comic books. Readers saw a bit of themselves in Spider-Man.

"With Batman and Superman, both characters made a conscious choice to use their powers for good, to devote their lives to fighting evil," said M. Thomas Inge, professor of English and the Humanities at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. "Superman was born with his powers and Batman devoted his life toward avenging the murder of his parents. Peter Parker became a superhero by accident. He's 15 to 16 years old, unpopular in high school, he has acne, he's got a lot of problems. To a certain extent, he had no choice in that his powers were a gift thrust upon him.

"We can all be Peter Parkers," Inge added. "It feeds into our typical fantasy of wanting to escape our characters. We'd all like to escape our characters sometime and be someone else."

Heroes in Need of Shrinks

After Spider-Man, more heroes in Marvel Comics and elsewhere encountered "everyman"-type situations. While The Fantastic Four's Invisible Womanl worried about Dr. Doom and saving the world, her Susan Richards side worried that she was really invisible to husband Reed Richards, also known as "Mr. Fantastic," the workaholic leader of The Fantastic Four.

Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark, battled alcoholism in the 1970s. Bruce Banner was not only the victim of a gamma ray explosion who happened to always find himself in situations where his enemies would anger him and trigger his transformation into The Incredible Hulk. In stories written in the late 1990s and 2001, it was revealed that Banner was the victim of child abuse and had a lot of suppressed anger.

"Marvel Comics really gave birth to the idea of heroes with personal problems," Inge said. "It became a signature of the characters who came out of Marvel — The Fantastic Four, The Hulk … they all had personal problems."

Even longtime characters became more human. In D.C. Comics, more stories found Clark Kent wondering whether Lois Lane loved the mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter or his Man of Steel secret identity.

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