Peter Parker gets no respect.
This should come as no surprise to people who are familiar with Spider-Man and his alter ego–whether it’s the original Marvel comics, Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy, or the myriad of animated series that have popped up on television from time to time. In every iteration, Peter’s constantly having problems with bullies, bosses, and potential paramours. So, yes, within the fictional world of the Marvel Universe, Peter Parker gets no respect. However, I was somewhat shocked to find out that poor Pete doesn’t get much respect among comic fans, either.
Maybe it’s just the inevitable backlash from almost fifty years of marketing Peter Parker as the “everyman” of the Marvel Universe. I get that comic fans might be turned off by the notion that the publisher equates them with a socially awkward, pathetic mess. I understand why a reader would rather identify with someone flashy like Tony Stark, take-charge like Hal Jordan, or majestic like Wonder Woman. I’ve heard people say things along the lines of “Marvel thinks that Peter Parker reflects who their readers are, well that’s not me.” I understand. I do.
I’ll get the obvious projection-y stuff out of the way. When Spider-Man first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter Parker was a shy teenager who was more comfortable with his chemistry set than he was with his classmates. The powers he gained from the bite of that radioactive spider not only allowed Peter to swing through the concrete canyons of New York City fighting crime, but they also gave him a boost in confidence, especially while in costume. Out of his mask and booties (yes, he calls them “booties”…what would you call them?), Peter still retained a bit of the shy, socially awkward science geek that he had been in high school. Confession Warning! Yes, I was the shy, quiet kid. I was the kid who got good grades but was (was?) always too shy to ask a girl out. And, like Peter, I was a closet smart-ass. So, on the most basic level, I identify with who Peter Parker is as a person. But, the reason I respect him has more to do with the oft-repeated power-and-responsibility shtick.
Yes, Peter’s life is crap, but it’s crap because he willingly sacrifices the private side of his life to help others. I think this is a very important part of who Peter Parker is, even if it often gets overshadowed by “Uh-oh…Peter’s late with the rent again” and “Oops, Peter missed his date with MJ.” But, these unfortunate things don’t just happen to Peter, he makes the conscious decision to put his life on hold for others. Guys like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark have an army of employees to handle the day-to-day business of running their multi-million dollar corporations while they’re off fighting crime. Clark Kent can fly to Tokyo, pound a giant killer robot into a pile of used pinball machine parts and still have time to finish that article for the evening edition (and meet Lois for dinner–guess they don’t call him Superman for nothing). But Peter Parker? He can’t do it all. He has to choose. He has to make sacrifices. He has to decide what’s more important: his social life or saving complete strangers from a burning building. And, almost without fail, he’ll choose the latter.
I don’t know about you, but I wish I had that kind of compassion, that kind of unwavering dedication to total strangers. For that reason, more than any other, I respect Peter Benjamin Parker.