Superhero stories. Love ’em or hate ’em, one can’t deny that today they are all the rage. Whether it’s Robert Downey Jr’s unyielding charisma as Iron Man, or Gal Gadot’s powerful yet elegant portrayal of Wonder Woman, these larger than life characters and stories have become a cornerstone of modern popular culture and it appears that they’re not leaving anytime soon. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about my very own favourite superhero: Spider-Man, or more accurately, the brand new iteration of the character that Insomniac Games has blessed us with.
First of all, why Spider-Man? Why out of all the colorful heroes of Marvel, DC and beyond does Spider-Man appeal to me so much? What stops heavy hitters such as the Dark Knight or the God of Thunder from taking the number one spot? The answer is quite simple actually: relatability. Our favourite wizard, Stan Lee, introduced the web slinger in 1962, an era where superhero comic books were heralded by very large, very masculine figures. Readers wanted to see the exploits of super men triumphing over super villains. These heroes were usually adults with little to no flaws, always knowing what to do, always saving the day with the blatantly moral lesson that ‘Evil will never prevail as long as the superhero is present!’ When Stan Lee pitched the idea of a spider themed teenage superhero, his editor, Martin Goodman, did little to hide his disapproval. His argument was that teenage characters were not meant to take the center stage of these stories, rather they were to be delegated to the role of sidekicks such as Robin and Bucky. Add to this the fact that most people found (and still find) spiders to be quite abhorrent, and it’s not hard to see why he had such a strong reaction against the idea. However after some negotiations and a lot of persuasion, a decision was reached; Spider-Man would be featured in The Amazing Fantasy #15 and any subsequent actions for or against the character would be made after observing the audience response.
Suffice to say, said response was overwhelmingly positive.
But the question is: how? What did Stan Lee and Steve Ditko do that resonated so strongly with the readers? Simple. They made a hero that had flaws. Peter Parker wasn’t a billionaire. He didn’t crash land on earth from a far-away planet and he definitely wasn’t a mythological deity with the powers of a god. No, Peter Parker was just a kid. Under the mask, he was an ordinary teenager with ordinary teenager problems. After the fateful spider bite, he did what most teenagers would do: use those powers for money and fame. And why wouldn’t he? Would any of us have done things differently at that age? We all know where the story goes from there. Peter allows a criminal to get away, leading to the tragic death of his beloved uncle Ben.
This is where the issue ended: Peter Parker, a 15 year old boy contemplating on choice, power and responsibility. He didn’t fly off into the sunset, he didn’t go back home to a fancy mansion or a loving wife. He broke down. He cried. He cried because you and I, in that same situation, would have cried. Spider-Man, no, Peter Parker was you and I. He made the decisions we would make, and he paid the price that we would pay. That’s what drew the audience in. That’s why with just one issue, Spider-Man stole our hearts.
Fast forward almost six decades. 2018. Spider-Man has decades of character development and story. We’ve seen countless cartoons, games and even movie franchises try to tackle the webhead’s mythos with varying degrees of success. And then, out of nowhere comes Insomniac’s Spider-Man for the Play Station 4. Instead of taking place in the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or being an adaptation of one of many famous storylines from the comics, Insomniac Games crafted a whole new universe, taking inspiration and elements from 60 years of the character’s lore. With love, care and time, they did not just make a video game. They told a story. They told a beautiful, well written, heart wrenching story. They made us laugh, cry, and feel everything in between. But above all, they made us fall in love with Spider-Man and his world all over again. If the audience can still care and connect so strongly with Peter Parker after eight cartoon shows, eight movie appearances, and a whole plethora of video game adaptations, then Insomniac must have done something very, very right.
So what happens in the game? Now an adult, Peter Parker has had eight years of experience being the masked vigilante. Cutting out the high school origins we’re all familiar with, Insomniac decided to take a different approach with the character, giving us a veteran hero who has seen and done quite a lot. Spider-Man’s world feels alive and lived in. From character interactions and the way the city reacts to your activities, you can really feel that the past eight years have been quite the experience for Peter. He’s faced a large number of enemies from his colorful rogues gallery, having put most of them behind bars by the time the story begins. What fascinated me is that even after almost a decade of fighting crime, Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, has held onto his moral obligations with an iron grip. He has learnt that it’s difficult, almost impossible to constantly do the right thing and not be selfish. And you know what? He of all people deserves to actually be selfish once in a while. He of all people, after fighting and losing so much, should be allowed to catch a break, and do something for his own benefit at the expense of someone else.
But he doesn’t.
And that is what makes him so special. That is what makes him so endearing and so timeless a character. There is a scene near the end of the game that really encapsulates what I’m trying to say. Peter has to make a choice, and in the few seconds that you watch him grappling with the decision, you can see it tearing him apart from the inside. But he’s Spider-Man. He’s a hero. And a hero, regardless of how difficult it is, has to make the right choice. That is exactly what he does. It is heartbreaking. It is beautiful. It is Spider-Man.
Now what is the point of this essay? So far it has probably sounded like a typical Spidey fanboy gushing about his favourite superhero. I guess, in part that is what it is. But aside from that, this entire process has been a cathartic experience, from watching Peter Parker waking up at the start of the game, to seeing him take everything thrown at him, all the way to me sitting down at a cafe and writing these thoughts down. When I see Spider-Man go up against impossible odds and give it his all, it inspires me to be greater. When I see Peter Parker fall and get back up, it inspires me to be greater. When I see my favourite superhero, time and time again choosing to do what is right, choosing to risk losing everything in service of others, asking nothing in return, it inspires me to be greater.
And that’s the tagline of the game. Be greater. It’s so simple and so eloquent, but it says volumes in just two words. It never claims that the journey is going to be easy. It doesn’t hold your hand and give you reassurance that everything will be okay. It just pushes you into the adventure and tells you that at whatever point in life you are now, you can always strive towards becoming more. You can always become a greater version of yourself.
So, thank you. Thank you Insomniac Games for giving us an unforgettable Spider-Man story. Thank you Peter Parker for continuously inspiring people like me. And finally thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to go through the thoughts of someone who is and will forever be a proud fan of The Amazing Spider-Man!