Researchers from the University of California, Merced have found that troubled children may find inspiration from superheroes (2015). And not just superheroes, but rather the people underneath their respective mantles. Psychologist Chris Fradkin and his colleagues forwarded a study on children relating more to “pre-cloak” versions of characters such as Spider-Man.
While radioactive spiders that grant superpowers might not exist, kids who experience challenges in the real world may find resolve in the “pre-cloak” version of our favorite web-slinger. After all, before he was ever Spider-Man, Peter Parker was an orphan and a victim of bullying, who needed to learn to cope with the murder of his Uncle Ben.
Fradkin’s paper, in retrospect, can lift the veil and reveal numerous aspects of Parker’s personality. And while many have already explored the various incarnations of Spider-Man since his debut, Tom Holland may finally help new fans see past the veil after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s run.
This piece is by no stretch a proper analytical piece on Holland’s Peter Parker. However, as Spider-Man: Homecoming has officially welcomed Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I wanted to attempt to understand why Holland’s depiction appears to be so appealing to both old and new fans.
Based on his research, Fradkin found that the top 20 comic superheroes of the time – which includes Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman – experienced numerous adversities before donning their mantles. A lot of these superheroes were orphaned or abandoned, had at least one parent murdered, were bullied, or faced economic struggles.
“The parallel may apply most strongly to children orphaned or abandoned by their families,” Fradkin said. “There is a message of shared history, overcoming difficulties and knowing that they share a common plight.” In his blog, Kenny Luck explains how “pre-cloak” superheroes may have donned their mantles as a way to recover from loss (2015). In Parker’s case, he copes by vowing to be responsible for his newly-found powers after Uncle Ben’s death.
It also bears noting that Parker’s cheerful demeanor and positive outlook stems from his Uncle Ben.To face such a loss at such a young age may have totally changed his outlook on life. To view this through the lens of existentialist Carl Rogers: we all have an inherent tendency to grow. Our inability to “accept” all the aspects of our lives can hinder our capacity to mature (Tamburello, n.d.).
His “great responsibility” stretches beyond the recesses of his costume and extends to his personal life.
Parker now needs to balance his work, his relationships, and the budding romance with his romantic partners. He has to juggle all of them at once, with a superhero career in tow. From a Jungian perspective, Parker holds everything together with a strong “Hero” archetype; an archetype is very real in a lot of people.
Some of us may have an inherent desire to save others in whatever way we can. We may not have superpowers, but we do what we can to help. Some people in this situation may have matured quickly out of necessity – gaining life lessons at the cost of “learning from mistakes” as a youngster. In that respect, some of us, like Parker, may use humor to subvert this realization. It’s a consolation of sorts to compensate for a life that demands us to be on top of everything else. But Parker can’t be on top of everything all the time.
A Flaw-ful Spider-Man
Paul Morton explains it best in this 2014 article, revealing to his readers that Peter Parker is no different from an ordinary person; with or without the mask. Parker shines as a character as he goes beyond a “template.” He’s not full of justice like Superman, and he’s no brooder like the Dark Knight. Peter Parker has always highlighted the flaws of human nature, whether we acknowledge these or not.
You cannot fault Parker for feeling “more powerful” than the people around him. He is finally, after all, “better” than his peers, his bullies, and New York’s finest criminals. Holland’s Spider-Man takes pride in hiding his identity, and does an excellent job screwing up lying when put on the spot. His witty banter during fights might be Parker enjoying humiliating his opponents. He is mature, but he is also quite a child. Writers are not afraid to explore these dimensions of Parker, which make him more human than ever.
Despite his flaws, Parker is still a good man. He’s devoted to his Aunt May and to his cause to save others, even as he faces stronger opponents and a New York that actively doubted his intentions. Holland’s Spider-Man is cheerful, optimistic, inherently good, and positively annoying. ANd most importantly, he is just human.
This semblance of normality is a much-needed fresh face in the MCU. Holland’s Spider-Man screams of a desire to return to childhood – where making mistakes is alright, and where learning happens everyday.
Challenging the Landscape
This approach to superheroes is not new in the genre. In fact, challenging a hero’s “version” of ‘heroism” is an ever-present part of their growth.
Writers such as Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns challenged the notion of the “exaggerated” trends on dark superheroes in the 90s through what fans consider “metacommentary” in DC Comics’ Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. In those stories, Superboy-Prime detests the morally-grey areas of the heroes at the time. This speaks of a desire to return to the ultra-powerful superheroes of the Golden Age, where they always upheld “truth and justice”.
To draw parallels: Holland’s arrival as Peter Parker could generate quite a tone shift in the MCU. In the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (2018) alone, Parker will have to face the Mad Titan Thanos alongside heroes in armor, bounty hunters, sorcerers and adventurers. He will become our looking-glass into a world where everyone is destined for greatness.
Consider that within the MCU, in New York, Spider-Man competes with the Defenders. The team, despite their differences, are willing to go the extra mile to rid New York of criminals. As for Peter Parker, he has to fight ne’er-do-wells all in time for curfew, homework, all the while probably worrying about growing pains and crushes.
This does not make Spider-Man any less of an Avenger (any less a superhero) than his more mature colleagues. Cheesy as it sounds, Parker proves we are all capable of being heroes. Well, not superheroes – probably not yet. But if there’s anything Holland’s Peter Parker taught us, there’s always room to grow.
The Spider-Man: Homecoming DVD and Blu-ray release date is set for October 17, 2017. Are you looking forward to it? Hit us up on Twitter with your thoughts!