You know what the stupidest thing about the whole ‘Spider-Man is about youth’ thing is?
Most people who have gotten into Spider-Man first discovered him through some form of media or merchandise outside of the comic books.
Toys, a t-shirt, TV shows and the movies of course.
And therein lies the utter nonsense of Spider-Man needing to be a high schooler in order to be relatable and appealing to mass audiences.
If your first exposure to Spidey is seeing him on a t-shirt, or on a lunchbox, or as an action figure line chances are you haven’t the first inkling as to his age.
In fact between the 1960s and the 1990s (maybe early 1980s) the dominant rendition of Spider-Man used in all merchandise was Romita Senior’s rendition which was based upon a college aged (we’re talking 19-20, 21 at a push) Spider-Man.
And that was used to sell Spider-Man in merchandise regardless of the fact that the character from the mid 1970s-the late 1980s was no longer in that age range. in fact come the mid-late 1980s Peter Parker wasn’t even in full time education anymore so using a college aged Spider-Man in merchandise didn’t make sense. Or I guess having him NOT be college aged like the merchandise really didn’t make sense.
Except it did because shockingly seeing this image on a t-shirt…
Doesn’t pin the character down as either 19-21 nor 22-25 nor 35+ because the costume if effing ageless.
AH but when they get to consuming actual STORIES about Spider-Man then his age WILL become a factor because they WILL be able to clearly tell if he is a teen, a college student or a fully grown married adult right?
Yes, but putting aside how by that point they’ve already tuned into or purchased a Spider-Man story anyway it still puts to bed the lie that he NEEDS to be a kid to attract an audience.
But lets run with the idea of consuming actual stories.
Lets consider how most people alive today who LIKE Spider-Man (regardless of whether they follow the comics or not) got into the character.
The answer is through the movies or the TV shows.
In fact whatever you might say about it’s quality overall, the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon was influential enough that it’s still seen as the defining piece of music related to Spider-Man.
For children (and maybe some teens) of the 1980s Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends WAS Spider-Man.
For folks of my generation there can simply never be a truer rendition of Spider-Man than Chris Barnes in the 1990s television series.
And I’m sure for better or worse at least some people got greater expisure and maybe interest in Spider-Man due to the Shoddy as fuck Spider-Man Unlimited cartoon and the CGI MTV series.
But by leaps and bounds the original Sam Raimi trilogy takes the cake. Those movies, especially the first one, shot Spider-Man up to new heightes of pop cultural awareness.
Before the 2002 film people who’d never seen or read any Spidey stories (we’re not counting the poor parents of kids who watched the cartoons) could clearly identify him if they saw his costume and knew he could stick to walls and swing from webs and hey maybe they knew he was Peter Parker and (at a big push) could MAYBE identity Doc Ock and Venom. After the 2002 film EVERYONE knew Spider-Man was Peter Parker, that his Dad was Uncle Ben, that his mother was Aunt May, that he loved Mary jane, that his best friend was Harry, that Harry’s Dad was his enemy, that he worked for the J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle taking selfies and that he got his powers from a spider bite, those powers including super strength and agility.
Come the sequels everyone now knew who Doc Ock and Venom were too and that Harry followed in his Daddy’s footsteps.
And what might we ask do all those adaptations barring the 1960s show (but including the forgotten 1970s Nick Hammond experiment) have in common?
None of them are about a high school aged Spider-Man.
Oh, the 2002 film starts with a high school Spider-Man. But when we say he was in high school we mean for like the first half of the first movie where he was months away from graduating.
In fact even in the 1960s show Peter might have been in high school but it boiled down to more of a point of background trivia than anything. Peter sounded like a grown man in the show and precious little time was shown depicting him in school or going through typically teenage experiences. Mostly the show relied upon the Bugle as the main place for Peter to hang out wen not in costume and relied upon him getting into costume ASAP so the action (such as it was) could start.
So yes that did present a teenaged high school version of Spider-Man but not one for whom that was particularly emphasized. he was more or less a generic superhero except he lacked a batcave but did instead have an elderly aunt.
Hardly a life situation that a teenager, or a 8-12 year old (who allegedly Marvel actually want a their core readership) would relate to beyond perhaps the parent/child relationship with Aunt May but even that’s tenuous, a 12 year old wouldn’t have the same relationship with their mother as Peter had with May in the show).
The idea of an 8-12 year old relating to all those other Spider-Man adaptations becomes even more ridiculous once you realize that in half of them Peter is living away from home (either on his own or with roommates) and is clearly over 18, i.e. an adult. And he does adult things like go out on dates (or tries to), tries to earn money, worries about his sick mother, and goes to college which just in the way it’s talked about and looks on screen and how the classes play out is clearly giving off a different vibe to a high school setting.
Yes some adaptations still had him living at home but again, his relationship and dynamic with Aunt May was simply not the same as what the dynamic between an 8-12 year old kid’s would be with their parents. When you are that age your parents are the dominate authority figures in your life (whether you kick back against it or not). For a college aged man, even a young one of 18-19, Aunt May isn’t an authority figure and the shows clearly conveyed that.
In the 1994 cartoon Peter briefly moved out in the first season and was shown to look after Aunt May more than once (including in the first episode). in the iconic Alien Costume three parter he even shoots down May’s suggestion to stop taking Spidey pix.
No little kid seeing that saw themselves in Peter and their relationship with their parents in Peter’s relationship with Aunt May.
Perhaps the most adaptation where Peter’s life as an independent adult was clearly conveyed was Spider-Man 2. The whole movie is the aggressively NOT a coming of age story. That was the first movie.
Spider-Man 2 isn’t a coming of age story it’s about learning how to manage and come to terms with the push and pull of adult life and who you are within that.
Honestly the only thing that a kid could even possibly relate to in that movie is when Curt Connors gives Peter a dressing down and when Harry is upset with him. Kids have teachers and authority figures who take them to task and they fall out with their friends too. MAYBE they could relate to his falling out with MJ for the same reasons but it’s devoid of the actual point of those scenes, the romantic emotions that underpin them.
Beyond that Spider-Man the superhero that Marvel desperately want 8-12 year olds to love and follow deals with rent, romance, crappy accommodations, and rather complex emotions related to his dead Dad and his grieving mother. All whilst he battles a guy who he used to look up to but ho’s wife just died.
You know, all the stuff kids and teens could obviously relate to.
Except they couldn’t because no kid or teen deals with that kind of stuff.
And yet…kids and teens fucking LOVED Spider-Man 2.
Much the same way kids and teens in 1980 fucking loved SUPERMAN II which was another super hero movie about another character dealing with another set of adult romantic issues that involved him also forsaking his role as a hero only to readopt it later…And he was clearly even older than Spider-Man. Shit, you straight up see Superman and Lois Lane in bed together in that movie, which (hopefully…dear God hopefully) no kid would relate to. An adult man and an adult woman sleeping together in the same bed? That’s not them being represented on screen, that’s their parents.
But they still loved it. Much as they still loved MOST Spider-Man adaptations that didn’t portray him in a lifestyle that close to their much at all.
In fact if we really, really ,really cut the shit to an 8-12 year old kid watching 18+ year old college student Peter Parker (who usually lives away from his mother figure), who is clearly interested in romance and also has to earn money…Spider-Man is an adult.
MAYBE they recognize he’s not AS much of an adult as Superman or Batman.
But he’s an adult all the same.
Because to an 8-12 year old once you are tall enough and are interested in romance and a job and going to college and not living with your parents anymore your an adult.
Hell when I was like 3-8 years old I could tell the Power Rangers were going to school but I didn’t relate to them because of that. Because just from how they looked and what they did besides going to school they were adults to me, like older brothers and sisters or something.
The same was true of Spider-Man.
He might literally have been a YOUNG adult but to a child there is precious little difference between him going to college, the Power Rangers going to high school, Superman going to work at the Planet and Batman having Robin as his ward.
They are all essentially characters who fall under the banner of ‘adult’ in the mind of a child.
And yet despite essentially seeing Spider-Man as an adult they couldn’t relate to children of multiple generations have continued to love Spider-Man and become interested enough to sometimes follow him into the comic book pages.
Because Spider-Man’s appeal is partially a thing of magic maybe nobody can fully understand and partially because yes he is relatable but because of his PERSONALITY not because of the specifics of his life situation.
Hell, the success of characters like James Bond, Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Wolverine and Daredevil rather eviscerates the notion of characters needing to even BE relatable to most people to be popular and successful.
I personally relate to Superman more than Spider-Man in many ways but as a character Superman is…well it’s in his name. The central idea and appeal is for him to be a powerful human who is stronger and faster than anybody else, impervious to pain and can even defy gravity.
James Bond/Wolverine and Wonder Woman are quintessential male and female power fantasy figures, the latter two (especially Bond) being indulgent about that.
Daredevil is blind and that fact is integral to his whole set up despite most audience members reading or watching his stories obviously NOT being blind people.
By and large Batman is a wish fulfilment fantasy character who is at least AS popular as the more relatable Spider-Man and WAY more popular than Robin who was literally created to be the audience surrogate figure.
Long story short:
Spider-Man can and has repeatedly been able to appeal to mass audiences to immense critical and financial success regardless of what age he happens to be and what his life status quo in regards to his age might be.
So insisting his gimmick and purpose is to be young and a high schooler and that is the best way to optimize his success is profoundly idiotic.
Egged on by precisely no one, @avidreadr2004 and I consigned ourselves to the lot of the eternally traumatised and tormented. On Wednesday night, armed with tea, ginger ale, and what I’m told is quite good vodka, we watched Basic Instinct 2.
We barely escaped with our lives.
As it turns out, if you want to venture into Hell, using the buddy system is a quite good tactic.
Highlight reel below the cut:
(NOTE: It is long. Very long. Because this film is so terrible that the only way I could cope was by continually typing out sarcastic comments of decreasing coherence and increasing capitalisation. On the other hand, ow, my fingers.)
therockJust stoppin’ by to deliver some early CHRISTMAS joy. And by joy, I mean the the hangry crocodile is seconds away from devouring his bite size chocolate snack named Kevin Hart. Yum. Our new @jumanjimovie poster. Love, Dwanta Claus 🎅🏾