Afternoon Inquisition

Afternoon Inquisition 4.6.09

Moose, my son, is just over a year and a half. He is crazy about Spider-Man. He runs around the house all day long talking about Spider-Man. He has Spider-Man clothes, books, toys, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bed sheets, dishes, silverware… get it? The kid loves Spider-Man.bisa-bisa

I thought this was quirky, but then one day I was at the park with Moose and noticed that most of the little boys either had on Spider-Man gear or were impressed that another boy was wearing a Spider-Man sweatshirt or shoes. And the girls seemed pretty impressed with it, too, commenting on the boys’ boots or jackets.

The thing is, I don’t see this with other superheroes. Not even with Batman with all the recent Dark Knight hype. It might be that I just don’t notice, but it seems to me that Spider-Man is THE superhero. In fact, I admit, think I’m falling in love with him, too.

I’ve never been into comics. To be honest, I didn’t even know Iron Man was more than a song by Black Sabbath until maybe a year ago.

So tell me, what is it about Spider-Man that is so appealing over other heroes?


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. i have no idea. when i was much younger i was a spiderman fan. i was never into comics either. maybe it had something to do with the spiderman cartoon that i watched after getting to the babysitters after am kindergarten right before the little rascals and ultraman (or was is inbetween?) i had the web hicky that you attached to your wrists and everything. but, yeah i have no idea wht is so appealing about spiderman.

  2. Because Spiderman (Peter Parker) is like they (the kids) are. They aren’t very strong, can’t climb things very well, etc. but Spiderman CAN. And when they become Spiderman, they can overcome ANYTHING in their way. They can fight evil, aren’t afraid of bugs (Spiderman sure as hell isn’t afraid of ants, worms, etc) on and on. Other superheroes, like Iron Man or Batman (both billionaires), The Thing (some weird rock dude) are totally unlike they are, making them less likely to be that superhero.

    /I read a book about this subject a couple of years ago

  3. Peter Parker is a more appealing alter ego than that of any other superhero. He’s more like a real person: he has real problems, he has real relationships. He’s not just a plot tool for the superhero side of things. I think that’s what makes Spider Man more appealing to t(w)eens and adults.

    As for little kids, the Spider Man movies were more kid friendly and sold to kids more than the latest Batman movies. I think they’re just reacting to that.

  4. Spiders are AWESOME, for one. Plus, Spider-Man climbs walls and shoots webs from his wrists. Come on, that’s just cool. Maybe not as cool as adamantium claws, but pretty darn cool.

    (Disclaimer: I’m not really into comics, either. Ditto on Iron Man. But I can see the appeal of spiders over other possibilities.)

  5. I agree that Peter Parker is the alter-ego with the most “that’s just like me!” appeal.

    But to be honest, I’ve never thought of Spider-man as THE hero. For me, it’s always been (in this order) Superman, Batman, Spider-man.

    Too bad that Batman is the only one of those three with any significant character depth….at least since Frank Miller stepped in during the 1980’s. Superman is such a difficult character to make interesting, and Spider-man is the Twilight of the costumed hero world (as far as I’m concerned)

  6. @andyinsdca: I agree, it’s because people can relate to him in a lot of ways. Almost everyone’s played on a jungle gym, or done a ropes course or something at some time. We know the thrill we get out of it. Spiderman does that but like x100. We think jumping really high on a trampoline is fun, but Spiderman can jump really high all the time. We think playing on a swing is fun, but Spiderman can swing from things whenever he wants. We think climbing a rock wall or something is fun, but Spiderman can climb anything.

    Other heroes have cool powers and stuff, but most of them are things that we have less experiences with. I can’t really say what it’s like to fly outside of an airplane.

    Plus, his costume is just really cool looking. And his stance his very unique compared to most other heroes.

    Finally, his villains. The only other comic book character with villains that are as colorful and unique as Spiderman’s is Batman. To make a good hero you’ve gotta have good villains.

  7. For kids, Marvel superheros are cooler than DC superheros. They tend to be regular people who accidentally acquired powers. This appeals to kids because, “This could happen to me!”

    Spider-Man is especially appealing because:
    1. SPIDERS!
    2. No cape. Capes are lame.
    3. He’s a teenager.
    4. He’s frequently misunderstood.
    5. His outfit is a perfect design for sleeper pajamas.

  8. @Brian’s A Wild Downer: I agree that being able to play Spiderman made him more appealing. We had a rather spiderweb like structure in our school playground and we used it as that – the web where we put the other kids we captured.

    Also, the fascination with spiders applied to me as a child and somewhat as an adult.

    I adored Spiderman both as a child and as an adult. Although as an adult it is partly b/c of Tobey Maguire.

  9. Oh and Spiderman was on the Electric Company. (Yeah, I’m old.) So he was really cool – he had his own show and a segment on another show.

  10. Familial loss and underlying family dysfunction, unrequited angst filled attraction and lust for a hot neighbor girl, good grades but isolated and bullied at school, everything gets changed with an application of fantastic and accidental science.

    Why wouldn’t hordes of sticky faced semi verbal toddlers and their besotted and doting Wal-Mart shopping parents be drawn into the web. ;-)

  11. Who isn’t afraid of the big jock guys that look like they could beat you for your lunch money? Spiderman is a friendly geek hero, not an intimidating jock hero.

  12. I suspect the climbing is significant. I was visiting friends a few weeks ago who have an 18 month old boy and he climbs up everything — me, the sofa, the bookcase in the hall.
    Not just male. A colleague at work has a daughter now 4. After endless admonishments from the parentals, her first words were ‘get down’!

  13. Spider-Man makes the ASL sign for I love you when he shoots his web. I think that was the reason Moose fell for Spider-Man in the first place.

    But I could not have prepared myself for the obsession that followed.

  14. I don’t get the fascination. I never like Spiderman. I was always a Batman fan. I always liked the darkness of Batman and the fact that anyone could be Batman (with enough money). I mean Spiderman had to be bitten by a radio active spider. There aren’t many of those running around….

  15. If my parents were killed in front of me, I wouldn’t put on pointy ears and fight crime.

    If I was bitten by a radioactive spider, however, I would dress in a body sock and punch goblins.

    In the word’s of one of our finest Alaskan poets, Spider-Man is pieces of me.

  16. I loved Spiderman as a kid, too. I think there’s a geek factor. Peter Parker was a geek; he was the 98-lb weakling who was transformed into an ass-kicker. And yet, he stayed a geek at heart – he’s a scientist. In the original Sunday afternoon cartoons, he invented the web fluid – it wasn’t a side effect of the bite.

    Spidey rocks.

  17. @Spatula: Well, Superman IS a jerk, but he came first….in a way. When I was getting into comics as a kid, the big thing was the 50th anniversary of Action Comics #1, so a part of that comic culture has been imprinted on me from childhood.

    I’ve always thought that Superman, for all the mythos of him being the great American hero, is actually the consummate Canadian hero (and no, I’m not referring to the Canadian origins of his creators). Superman’s M.O. is to be a great citizen: Yeah, he fights crime and Solomon Grundy, but he works well with the police and the government, and fights for a stable society…he doesn’t fight for freedom as much as he fights for peace and order.

    On the other hand, Batman is the ultimate American hero: someone who takes the power away from the state and puts it into his own hands and wits…..his M.O. is freedom, liberty and protection from oppression….he’s often at odds with the police, who view him as a vigilante, which just strengthens his legitimacy: the oppressive gov’t apparatus (also corrupt) can’t do their jobs, and they vilify the one guy who takes the law into his own hands, and does it right.

    Spider-man? Meh. I think a better allegory of the misunderstood teenager can be found in the pages of the X-Men. There you get a diverse collection of people feared and persecuted by their friends and family just for having the courage of being themselves (sort of sounds like coming out of the closet).

    Peter Parker is just a whiny twerp who hides behind a mask….yeah, I suppose he gets a bit of a free pass for hiding because he’s protecting his xenophobic Aunt May, but still….

    I’ve always been a fan of the Hulk. A super-smart scientist who risked his life to safe an ignorant little crap of a kid who can’t read the obvious “STAY THE CRAZY OUT OF THIS AREA! YOU WILL BE GAMMA’D THE CRAP OUT OF!” signs everywhere. Then he spends his life on the road trying to cure himself and prevent his technology from falling into the wrong hands…

  18. I think the appeal has changed over time. I’m old and have read comics since I was a kid until about 5 years ago. When I was little – early 1950s – Superman and Batman were the kings, there were others around, Hawkman, Green Lantern, but if you were a boy scout type, you went for Supes and if you were a darker loner type, you went for Bats. I was a fan of the Batman, until TV destroyed him almost forever. Then in the early 1960s, Marvel reinvented superheroes. Spider-man was one of the best because of the reasons many have mentioned – the geek factor, the 98 pound weakling, a zero with girls, but then the spider bites him and he has all sorts of options.

    He is a striking character, one of the few where costume re-designs have been ditched because the original was so good. Not like anything that was around at the time – Steve Ditko was a genius that way. I think that is part of the appeal. He has no mouth that is visible, only the stylized eyes. And he is a wise-cracker – he is always teasing and chiding the villains (which used to be the villains role). So he is like the class clown inside the kids. And he IS a scientist, though in the Marvel universe, it was unusual for a superhero to NOT be a scientist. He invents his own webbing, as Masala Skeptic said, and the web shooters for it.

    While the new Batman franchise aims toward the older audience (thank goodness because I always liked the Batman that I remembered – the Dark Knight), Spider-man still appeals to many. And he is superhero you can “strike a pose” and capture the character. Not many heroes you can do that to. ;)


    You broke my face. I cannot stop laughing. I blame you. COTW …or sentence within a comment, anyway.

  20. As an adult, I’ve recently been buying mass quantites of Spiderman graphic novels (you can get them cheaply, new, if you know where to look). Like others have mentioned, Spiderman appears to adults ’cause he has real problems, and he’s a science geek, and a nerdy little guy (and has a hot wife).

    To a kid, though…Spiderman seems to have the most imitatable powers: you can climb and swing and jump, pretending to be Spiderman. It’s hard (and hard is no fun) to play at instantly healing like Wolverine, having a metal suit like Iron Man, being able to fly like superman, or spending hours darkly brooding like Batman. Playing Spiderman, though, is totally doable. Swing, climb, jump, and sense danger, and you’re Spidey.

  21. I am probably somewhat older than most commenters. Growing up in the 60s and early 70s I loved Peter Parker because he loved science, and he had real problems. Superman, even Clark Kent were always too perfect.

  22. He was in high school when he got his powers. He used to be bullied by the jocks. He was a sad little nerd until he left and went to college. In college the jocks weren’t the popular ones anymore. The nerd had a small group of college friends and dated a small group of beautiful women. He accidently killed the love of his life in such a horrible way that I still flinch a little when I re-read the sequence. He was always on the verge of being homeless and even had to sleep on the streets from time to time when he did lose his apartment. Except for the superhero part this could have been a series of novels. All that said batman rules and always will.

  23. Spidey has got the best theme song.

    “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can,
    Spins a web, any size, catches thieves just like flies…”

    Oh, that takes me back.

  24. I think there’s a few factors at play. Bear in mind that I am not a comic book fan, so I’m going on a kind of general pop culture understanding rather than anything specific.
    I think the Superman mythos is seen by a lot of people as somewhat dated. When was the last time there was a major Superman movie or video game? Yes, there’s Smallville, but that’s aimed at adults rather than children.
    Batman, like a lot of people has said above, is kind of dark and complicated and appeals more to people over twelve. Also, he’s hard for kids to identify with. He’s a millionaire with a tragic past, so he’s both removed from everyday experience and someone you don’t especially want to be. Lastly, Batman is Batman because of his cool toys. I think a lot of kids are more drawn to the fantastic elements.
    Spiderman, however, has mutant powers, a cool outfit, and an everyman backstory. You don’t need tons of props to play Spiderman, since your average playground will provide plenty of swinging opportunities. And kids are familiar with him in a way they’re not with Superman. Thus, Spidey wins out with the little ones.

  25. Well I stopped reading comic books when I was 10 or 11 but as I remember it Spiderman was an f’ing transgressive anti-authority figure. Real smartass to Dr. Doom and such. He was always taking the piss out of them guys. Cops hated him, papers hated him and all the while he was only trying to take out a homicidal maniac w/ a death ray or something.

    I don’t know anything about the current Spiderman but the old one was way funnier than Ironman or the Fantastic Four. The entire DC stockade was for the goody-two-shoes of the pre-teen set. C’mon Aquaman? I’d rather spend a week at grandma’s house than read an Aquaman comic book. Sheeaash. Ptah. Aquaman.

  26. @John Ellis: According to family lore, my aunt thought her name was “Get Down” for the longest time, and my father thought his first name was “Dammit” as he was forever hearing “Dammit, David!”

  27. I’d add that Spider-man’s villains are more of an even match than super-man’s. Spider-man can’t over power his foes. He’s got to out think them as well.

    I guess that’s why I like Bat-man as well. Though he always seems to have some device to help him. No matter what the situation.

  28. Same reason they like Elmo. He is red. Most small children love the color red. Seriously. An 18 month old just sees those cool colors. He does not think about the Spidey Sense or that he can swing on a thread. Kids are pretty simple at that age.

  29. @Summer: &@“Other” Amanda: I have to say that you both have hit the nail on the head. Most young children aren’t going to pick up on the angst or, “just like me” attitude that is the back story.

    Also, he’s always displayed in a dynamic pose. I remember one of my drawing teachers who worked “for the industry” told us that one of the rules any artist drawing Spidey in the comics had to follow, was that he had to be be in some other position than standing, sitting or running. You had to draw him crouching, swinging, or even hanging from the ceiling… As long as it looked like he was always ready to go.

    My $.02

  30. Spider-man was my favorite superhero growing up too. I loved watching the cartoons. Peter Parker is just my kind of guy, so I think that’s why I was totally in love with spidey. A nerd. Oh yes *drool*.

    Not like in the movies…Peter Parker MAKES his own webbing according to canon. That’s hot.

  31. While Spider-Man may not be my favourite superhero, I can easily see what makes him so appealing. Here is a scrawny guy that was brilliant and shy and never seemed to get a break his way. He cared deeply for a girl but never seemed to know the right words to say. Those are all qualities of a normal person (Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne was the equivalent of a comic-book James Bond, the wealthy cold person that had everything but was also a complete dick), and because of Peter Parker being written as a normal person with normal problems, we can relate more with him. When he finally got his spidey powers, and his confidence grew, we rooted for him to win the girl and save the day. As a child, who didn’t want to be able to swing between sky-scrapers, or climb walls? That is what makes him THE superhero, in my opinion. ~

  32. @Summer & @“Other” Amanda:

    Yeah, I’m sure that’s the case for kids Moose’s age. For Moose I think it started as 85% color and 15% he says “I love you” with his hands.

    But the obsession is not fading. And it seems to stick around for older kids too… elementary school and up. I see way more Spidey merchandise than other heroes. And most of the Spidey clothing I find is for elementary school kids. Kids 5 and up are not still into him because he’s red. They’re into him because he’s cool.

    But I know nothing about comics, so I was curious about the appeal across the board. Some pretty interesting answers.

  33. Hi there.

    For me, the main thing is that the Spider-Man comic book is more about Peter Parker than Spider-Man. In most of the other comic books (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, etc.) it is the hero that is the main focus. With Spider-Man it is the “secret identity” that is the main focus. Even when he is dressed up and fighting as Spider-Man he is usually thinking about his Aunt May, or Mary Jane, or his job/school and he wants to save the day so that he can protect his family.

    Because of this (in the books) he is very protective of his identity and many other heroes don’t know that he is Peter Parker. This is why it was such a huge deal when he revealed his identity in last year’s (or the year before) Civil War mini-series.

    And a large part of it is that he was one of the first superheroes to have his own weekly television show with an amazingly fun theme song.


  34. @Elyse:

    “I see way more Spidey merchandise than other heroes.”

    You hit one of the main reasons why Spidey is so appealing over other heroes right now. It boils down to one key point, Merchandising!

    Spidey is everywhere. He’s still fresh off a pretty popular movie run with a new sequel in the works. He has had at least 3 or 4 different cartoon series in the past 10 years or so. 2 or 3 different Spider-Man action figure lines can be found in your local toy departments right now. Spider-Man t-shirts, shorts, hats & other clothes are all over Targets & Wall-Marts. He has at least 3 or 4 different current comic titles on the rack at the moment. He is one of the main characters of the wildly popular New Avengers title. And finally, he has had a major involvement in all of the recent Marvel cross-over story lines in the past 2 or more years.

    If this were the mid 90’s, then we would be talking about the X-Men. Almost all of these exact same reasons would explain the explosion of their popularity back then.

    I’ve seen it happen to many different comic characters in my 2 plus decades of reading & collecting. It all depends on which character has the most exposure and merchandising at the moment.

    But that’s just my two cents.

  35. Also, mainstream popularity of a certain comic character or issue sometimes gets driven up due to a major event or celebrity appearance. Deaths of major characters such as Superman in the 90’s and Captain America just recently come to mind. Also, pop culture appearances such as Obama in Amazing Spider-Man 583. All 3 of the comics in which the above events took place have sold out, gone into multiple printings and were mainly bought by the non comic book collecting majority to try and make a quick and easy buck. For instance, the special “collector’s” Poly-bagged/black armband version of The Death of Superman issue, which was fetching in the hundreds after it’s initial release, is going for around $15-$20 now. When the hype fades the price drops like a stone.

    It’s all about supply and demand.

  36. I agree that the appeal of Peter Parker is that he is able to be related to more easily than most superheroes. I have never seen a two year old sport Peter Parker PJs.

    Peter Parker is an ambitious individual for whom roadblocks always come up that prevent him from realizing his ambition. As Spider Man, Parker has the courage and ability to realize his ambition.

  37. I’m a 30 year-old college professor who still collects and reads Amazing Spider-man, so I feel especially qualified to answer this question.

    A). A lot of it is the design (especially with young kids). It’s just a fantastic costume, that’s somehow really colorful without looking completely stupid. There have also been a ton of great artistic impressions of him (check out Mark Bagley’s, Todd McFarlane’s, and both John Romitas’).

    B). I always say he’s the Charlie Brown of superheroes. He’s really a lovable loser. He’s a geek. He’s always out of money. He has relationship problems. In other words, he’s relatable, even at the same time that he’s an escapist power fantasy.

  38. Spider-man isn’t as bland or devoid of personality as, say, Superman. Also, he’s not invincible; a vulnerable hero. Yet he always comes on top. He’s inspirational.

  39. Allow me to present for your consideration some dialogue from a Spider Man comic book that I used to own when I was young and easy under the apple boughs (or something). I have always remembered this, although I remember little else of the comic book collection of my youth.

    Spidey (and Iron Man for some reason) is being attacked by a large group of gun-weilding bad guys in an alternate dimension. (Who writes this shit?) As Spidey (and Iron Man incidentally) is disposing of the baddies, he is also expostulating to them some life lessons they apparently missed among the misistrations of thier parents. He says:

    “Lesson one: it is rude to try and kill someone.
    Lesson two: when you are rude to someone, they get angry.
    Lesson three: angry people may also become rude.
    Lesson four: remember lesson three.”

    The defence rests.

  40. Spiderman is heavily marketed toward kids. Your son’s spiderman gear didn’t just appear out of his imagination. It was for sale because marketers chose spiderman for the under 10 boy market.

  41. @Ryan F: In addition to what you’ve mentioned, as I’ve gotten older I have more appreciation for Spidey’s complexity. And, as a lesson for kids and adults alike, the intrinsic message of the Spidey comics starting with the origin story is that it’s not his powers but his choices that make him heroic. Peter Parker is often made to make a choice between doing the heroic thing and what is best for Peter. That’s what’s kept him interesting and fun to read for me as I’ve gotten older.

  42. hi.

    i think kids(toddlers) couldn’t care less about the fact that he is more in touch with what it is to have normal, relate-able, down to earth issues to deal with . besides, many super-heroes have got ’em.

    we all know what it’s like to be down in our caves trying to fix the gadget that was trashed the night before, only to be interrupted by your butler telling you about your scheduled meeting with a company looking to go into business with the one you’ve inherited from your father …. you see how i made a joke? it’s because i think i am clever.

    N E Wayz- its spidey’s enormous eyes. the japanese get it. and as some have already mentioned – web from wrists and bouncing off of walls, man!

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