Why Spider-Man is the Only True Hero of the Marvel Silver Age
Journey Into Marvel is nearing the turning of 1963/64; so I thought, in this article, I’d take a moment to make a couple conclusions about how the superheroes of the Marvel Silver Age are shaping up.
Being about 90 issues in to Marveldom, I have become grossly familiar with the Fantastic Four, Thor and Ant-Man; begun to crack the iron shell of Tony Stark; witnessed the limping survival of the Hulk and been introduced to the X-Men. Some of these heroes, namely Ant-Man and the Fantastic Four, have become tiresome to discuss on an issue to issue basis, some still manage to surprise me, like Thor, with their evolution. Tony Stark had a terrible haphazard debut but has recently become one of the best reads.
There is one character, however, that exists on a different plain of quality. One character that is not a mishmash of tired stereotypes and B-Movie sensibilities. That character is our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man: Peter Parker.
Spider-Man’s stories read so differently. They are extraordinarily rich in character development, heart, and political commentary. It is no wonder that today when you say ‘Marvel,’ most will reply ‘Spider-Man.’
Why is this?
Why is this outlaw, sardonic, teen nerd so clearly the best Marvel superhero?
This issue sheds some light into that.
In that issue, Torch sacrificed himself by flying astoundingly high to allow for the safe detonation of a nuclear weapon. This was so astronomically hight an altitude, that his flame would be snuffed out and thereby send him plummeting to his death. Torch sacrificed himself for the good of an hospital of orphans. So far this is the most truly heroic thing I have witnessed in my Journey Into Marvel.
Most of Marvel’s issues are match ups; where the hero faces off with an antagonist of the month. The issues are little more then wrestling tournaments.
Spider-Man’s early issues followed that theme, but as time went on, his stories became more varied. Often they are centered around Pete learning some lesson that shapes how a hero should act.
This is unusual in a world of brash creatures like Thor and the Fantastic Four that just destroy threats.
In this issue, Stan goes one step further and has Pete leave New York to help a supposed villain.
The Lizard is one of the quintessential Spider-Man villains. He’s not really a villain in the standard sense. More similar to corrupted force. He’s corrupted by his own scientific genius. Lizard is a an accidental creation, not unlike Bruce Banner/Hulk.
Having lost his arm, Dr. Curt Connors used his scientific skill to distill the essence that gives some reptiles the ability to respawn a lost limb. When he uses this reptile concoction on himself, it works, but it goes too far turning Curt into a reptile human hybrid. Being a mutation, Curt escapes into the tropical environment of the Everglades to hide from all the world. The reptilian corruption slowly morphs him into a more and more animalistic monster.
Peter, hearing of this creature, convinces J. Jonah Jamieson to pay his way down to the Orange State. Parker’s goal is to defeat the monster. When he gets there, and after some research, he discovers the Curt is just the victim of an experiment gone awry. So after meeting the abandoned Connors family, Spider-Man devotes his time to finding an antidote to cure Curt of his malady. That is the major point of the story. It chronicles Spider-Man’s attempts as he makes the antidote.
Spider-Man sacrifices his own life to help another. Curt is not thinking clearly, as the Lizard side is corrupting his human thoughts, making him extraordinarily dangerous. Peter decides to put himself in harm’s way.
There are many moments in this story when Spider-Man is nearly defeated.
Pete doesn’t need to do this. He doesn’t need to help this forlorn Doctor. But he does.
There is no return here for Spider-Man. He just does this because it is what a hero should do. His actions embody that old Uncle Ben mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
What makes this an even greater act then what the Torch did, is the actuality that Torch’s action still came from a selfish place. He caused the Eel to threaten the orphan hospital with boastful claims about his being better then that criminal. So really, Johnny had to clean up his own mess when he challenged a clearly unhinged criminal.
Pete didn’t have go to Florida to interfere with the Lizard. After his first encounter with the Lizard, he also didn’t have use restraint in an effort to research why the Lizard exists. Furthermore, Spider-Man doesn’t have to spend his time finding a cure. These are all selfless acts.
Spider-Man, through all his sardonicism and teenage arrogance, is actually a altruistic hero.
Why does Stan draw the distinction between this character and the other heroes of Marvel?
Perhaps, it is because in Pete’s life he is victimized and is very much not the bully.
He is able to see the motivations behind the victimization of the marginalized, which as I mentioned two days ago in my discussion of the Porcupine, is a major trait of supervillains. Perhaps, Spider-Man is what good guidance could do to a supervillain.
Human Torch is, at the end of the day, a bully. Just examine how he treats Ben Grimm.
Story I Read: “Face to Face with the Lizard!” (The Amazing Spider-Man #6 Nov. 1963)
Rating: 5 out 5
Pros: Just a wonderful adventure. All the characters are fully fleshed out. Curt Connors is wonderfully sympathetic and compelling. Pete’s final battle with Curt, as tries to force The Lizard to take his antidote is very well thought out.
Cons: Some of the art is rudimentary and the Lizard’s visage changes a lot. J. Jonah Jamieson is a jerk (not really a criticism, just a statement. It needs to be said.)
Preceding Review: “The Porcupine” (Tales to Astonish #48 Oct. 1963)
Upcoming Review: “Human Torch Meets… Captain America” (Strange Tales #114 Nov. 1963)
- Spider-Man #1 review (marvelreviewstheharwellway.wordpress.com)
- Early Lizard Designs For THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (comicbookmovie.com)
- The Many Costumes of Spider-Man and Batman (costumesupercenter.com)
- Your First Look at INHUMANITY: SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1 (comicsrefueled.wordpress.com)
- Expanded Spider-man Universe Films? Working with Disney and Marvel? …Do Tell! (bwdull.wordpress.com)
- Spider-Man’s greatest foe isn’t Green Goblin or Venom, it’s this (io9.com)
- “Spider-Man” for the Game Boy Color (gaming.answers.com)