Hi. I’m going to be your host here. I moved up to New York City about three months ago, I’m in my twenties, and I read a shit-load of comics. This is where I’m going to be writing about basically whatever the hell I want. I’ve got a few “essays” on the back burner that aren’t about comics*… but a lot the stuff here is going to be about comics because that’s what I’m obsessed with right now. Soon I might be obsessed with Clive Barker (again) or maybe find a new show that captures me but for right now, comics is where I’m at.
Particularly Spider-Man. Right now I’m at issue 219** of the Amazing Spider-Man (which I haven’t read yet; which has an amazing, beautiful cover of Peter Parker, scowling, behind bars, while a silhouette of Spider-Man rages in the background, trapped here, unable to help anything) . I’m always fascinated by the duplicity of Peter Parker versus Spider-Man. Unlike, say, Clark Kent and Superman — where I can imagine them being friends, even as separate entities, — I can’t imagine Parker and Spidey getting along, if they were to take tea together.
For one thing Parker is moody, scowling, morose, whining, weepy and altogether… kind of a bummer. Whereas Spider-Man is hip, happy, jumpy, cocky, sure of himself, and smiley. However, unlike some other comics — say Moon Knight, where Marc Spector has legitimate different personalities, or Matt Murdock and Daredevil, where he seems to identify himself differently in the roles (for a weirder and less extreme example also see Batman v. Bruce Wayne… but I’ll get to them in a later essay) — Spidey and Peter aren’t “separate” people.
Peter clearly identifies with Spider-Man as just what he’s like when he gets onstage. A different persona but not a different personality.
So what explains the difference between the two? Well, for one thing, Spider-Man seems to be more than happy to leave people to fend for themselves — in his first issue (Amazing Fantasy 15) he just lets a robber go away (and despite what the movies may have lead you to believe, he does this for absolutely no reason — no ironic echoes, no chocolate milk — just, “I’m an asshole”). He does this on and off through the series, ignoring people and cries for help for absolutely no good reason.
Peter Parker however is always trying to help. And more than that, the important distinction to me between the two, is that Parker seems to think of himself as a loser. Whereas he calls Spider-Man (who is him) the Amazing Spider-Man. He literally calls himself that. He seems to think of dressing up as Spider-Man makes him a different person. Of course he never goes as far as Batman, where he uses weird and different voices, or Superman (who has given up his “alter-ego” in more than a few issues). He recognizes that Spider-Man is himself but… also different.
The truth is that Spider-Man is the true Peter Parker. If we hop over to the Elseworld Bullet Points (by the always excellent Tommy Lee Edwards and J. M. Straczynski) we can see a vision of Peter Parker beholden to nothing, including guilt. He’s a teenage anarchist, a rebel, a dirtbag, a douchebag (and later — spoiler alert — the Hulk). And why? All because his Uncle Ben died before he was born. And so when his aunt took him in, he rode all over her.
Peter Parker is the guise that he steps out of. It’s like when you wake up in the morning, fresh minded and smiling, before you remember everything you have to do, all the stresses you have put on yourself. It’s you free of social parameters. That’s Spider-Man.
Is it any wonder that new-Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield, said that when he was in the suit he channeled anonymous nerds on the internet? That he thinks of Spidey as a troll?
And it’s true. Spider-Man is a troll. He’s a douchebag. Both in the first appearance in Amazing Fantasy and the new adaptation, Amazing Spider-Man (where the aforementioned Garfield plays the role of Parker stunningly), his vigilante-esque revenge driven fantasies are pushed to the forefront. He doesn’t do good because he’s a good person. He does good because he feels guilty. If all of that shit were shrugged off his shoulders, he would turn into the true anti-hero he is, as seen in JMS’ Bullet Points.
He’s the asshole who’ll marry a girl because he knocked her up, knowing it’ll make both of their lives miserable, ruin them. He’s the one who pays a cab driver a lot of extra money not to help but just because he feels guilty. He’s the douchebag who does charity, so he can turn up smiling and say he does charity.
And on the surface none of that is bad — because like Rachel Dawes says in Batman Begins, it’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you. And I’m not arguing that Parker isn’t courageous, isn’t a hero — I’m not. I’m just arguing that his good deeds are motivated purely by petty, selfish, guilt-ridden reasons and if he were a “fully-actualized” person then he wouldn’t be fighting crime anymore***. Because he’s not exactly a hero, but an anti-hero in all senses of the word. He’s a proto-typical jerk hero who wants to look out only for himself but his conscious won’t let him.
That’s why he acts so differently as Spider-Man versus Peter Parker. Because as Spider-Man he is the id set free (filtered through Peter’s guilt-ridden ego but still). His ego has set him on a path and he’ll stay on it but in there he’ll do whatever the hell he wants. His web swinging powers are a metaphor for his ethics: sure, gravity does exist, and he needs these buildings to hold him up — so he can’t “fly” exactly but he can basically fly, as long as he stays within these parameters.
That’s what makes him different than Superman (who is both Clark Kent and Superman) or even different than Batman (who uses Bruce Wayne as a mask) — because he is both in the same way we’re all id and ego, trying to find a balance between what we’re told to do and what we want to do, what we’re supposed to do and what’s right. But as Spider-Man, behind a mask, he doesn’t have to worry about any of those things. He doesn’t have to worry about what society will think of Peter Parker, because he’s not Peter Parker — he’s Spider-Man. He’s anonymous. Spider-Man is Peter Parker, hiding behind and using a mask, never letting anyone know who he really is and showing everyone who he is.
As Spider-Man, Peter Parker is free.
* And one that I’ve been attempting to write for like five days that like a bad metaphor just keeps growing and growing and growing.
** This bit was written two days ago. As of now I’m on… (checks CBR) Issue 236 – Deathknell. Pretty fucking cool.
*** BTW, if you don’t believe the Bullet Points era Parker is accurate, check out what Petey’s life is like in House of M where all he does is manipulate the mutant-biased media and make money, while lying to everyone he knows and loves. (Hell, his characterization seems to be heading that way if you take Slott’s Parker-as-a-scientist to heart or even Tom DeWolfe’s Spider-Man-grew-up-and-had-a-kid MC2 version.)
**** I consider getting into weird magickal ritual stuff and invoking different gods wherein all you’re doing is giving yourself a means to express what is already inside of yourself but I decided not to because, like, I don’t want to look weird or nothing.