With everyone’s favorite webslinger swinging back into theaters this July, ComicsVerse is taking a look back at SPIDER-MAN’s greatest adventures. From the big screen to the small screen to a simple comic panel, we will find out how this ol’ Web Head has evolved since he first webbed his way into our imagination. Today, we will be looking back on the earliest incarnations of Spider-Man as the Everyhero and how his double life has remained integral to the character from his comic book inception to his latest film adaptation.

Secret identities serve a dual purpose in superhero stories. They explain how a superhero can live a normal life and allow us to connect to a character that may seem otherworldly emotionally. The reader can imagine themselves shedding their regular clothes or persona to become a crimefighting badass, just like Superman or the Hulk.

Spider-Man is no exception. However, unlike Kent or Banner, Peter Parker is not just a smokescreen to hide the true superhero underneath. Peter Parker’s personality is integral to his red and blue alter ego. It is this balancing act between the two identities that makes Spider-Man stories interesting after over fifty years of the character’s existence.

Can’t A Guy Catch A Break?

Before his encounter with a particular radioactive spider, Peter Parker was the archetypal high school nerd. He was shy, often bullied, but kind-hearted. Immediately after that fateful field trip, he becomes cocky and self-absorbed. I imagine anyone would be if they were suddenly blessed with incredible powers. Spider-Man’s cockiness quickly dissolved when he let a robber run away from him, out of sheer apathy. The very same robber paid Uncle Ben a visit that night, and the rest is history.

Since then, Peter’s confidence has improved, and he has learned a thing or two about responsibility. Most interpretations of him have retained an element of that lonely teenager “nothing ever goes my way” attitude. Even as his superhero self. My favorite example of Spider-Man being completely unable to catch a break comes from one of his earliest appearances way back in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 in 1963.

Spider-Man tries to cash a check for a performance he does on TV, and, of course, the check is written out to “Spider-Man.” He goes to the bank in costume, but the teller cannot take a check from someone without identification. So, Spider-Man leaves with his pockets (does his suit have pockets?) empty. Not only is Peter relatable as an average Joe. But, even as a superhero, he has just as many problems as the rest of us.

Spider-Man: The Everyhero
Courtesy of Blastoff Comics

The Secret Is Out

If the harsh reality of life itself wasn’t a big enough enemy for Spider-Man, the coming decades provided him with a plethora of awesome supervillains, many of which had some connection to both sides of our hero. 1978 reintroduced the Green Goblin with Harry Osborn, Peter’s closest friend, behind the mask.

Both Harry and his father, the last Goblin, were armed with the knowledge of Spider-Man’s true identity. Unlike Norman, Harry’s willingness to reveal this secret to the world, and his past friendship with Peter, makes this Goblin a much more personal and threatening villain for the Wall-Crawler.

READ: Need more reasons to love Spider-Man? Here are six things we love about our favorite Web-Slinger!

Spider-Man has no Batcave or Fortress of Solitude to retreat to. If his identity were to be revealed, he would be destroyed. This story forces Spider-Man to become more mature, figure out what is truly important in his life, and punch a whole lot of bad guys. Did I mention that Aunt May is deathly ill during this arc?

Spider-Man: The Everyhero

This story arc proved to be physically and emotionally taxing for our hero. However, as with all tales of superhero struggle, good triumphed over evil, a friend was redeemed, and Aunt May made a full recovery. Of course, this wasn’t the end of Peter’s troubles. In 1988, a new villain threatened Spider-Man’s existence once again, when a familiar costume found its way to a very pissed-off reporter…

Spider-Man: The Everyhero

Nowhere to Run

Introduced a year after Peter Parker and Mary Jane were wed, Venom promised to wreck Spider-Man’s life just as it was finally starting to take a positive turn. His power stemmed from the same symbiotic suit that Spider-Man used to wear. The black gooey outfit of doom was more than happy to share its power, and its secrets of Spider-Man’s true identity. Now, Spider-Man truly had nowhere to hide.

Unlike Green Goblin II, Venom didn’t plan on revealing this knowledge to the public. Instead, he used it to destroy Peter’s life from the inside. Stalking him through the New York streets, threatening his new wife, and generally being a parasite for our hero. Venom was an unhinged force of destruction against the fragile, content life Spider-Man worked so hard to build. Like other villains before him, Venom was eventually defeated, but he did what few villains could; make the hero vulnerable both outside and inside their suit.

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Since their connection as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, these villains would go on to share the title of “arch-nemesis” for our hero. It is no surprise that Green Goblin II and Venom were chosen to be major villains in SPIDERMAN 3. This was supposed to challenge all aspects of Spider-Man’s character. However, including both of them in a single film was a mistake.

Regardless, both villains provide the perfect physical challenge to Spider-Man’s strength, and their knowledge of his secret identity further puts him in a vulnerable state. After all, even with all of his gifts, Spider-Man is just a regular person.

Here Comes the Money

Fast-forward to 2014. Peter was plopped into the CEO chair of a multi-million dollar company created by Doctor Octopus during his run as the Superior Spider-Man. The writers then took the BATMAN, INC. Route by having Peter Parker openly assume the role as Spider-Man’s technology provider.

I was initially disappointed that Spider-Man joined the massive conglomerate of millionaires/superheroes, á la Batman, Iron Man, Black Panther, Green Arrow, and others when his status quo as a down-on-his-luck photographer was such a classic part of his character. Imagine my relief when I saw this panel from the rebooted AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 in 2015.

Spider-Man: The Everyhero

Although the circumstances around Peter Parker have changed, his character, thankfully, has not. The conflict of keeping his secret identity hidden is still alive and well. It has just taken a very different turn. Although, I still believe that this slightly takes away from the relatability factor that is so integral to the familiar narrative. Luckily, we live in a world where multiple Spider-Man are being told all at once. This is including an upcoming film with a classic-yet-different take on the Wall-Crawler.

Where Have All the Alter Egos Gone?

Now that he has his own stand-alone MCU film this July. Spider-Man is about to become one of the few superheroes with a secret identity as part of their central conflict. While the drama of living a double life has once been commonplace in superhero films, it is now seemingly absent. At least as a central plot point. Perhaps some filmmakers thought this trope became stale, as many comic book characters were written without a hidden identity for their film interpretations.

Before his first film in 2008, the fact that Iron Man and Tony Stark were the same was originally a secret in his comic series. Thor has (almost) completely abandoned his Donald Blake persona in the films, and every other Avenger simply has no need for a secret identity. Spider-Man, for the sake of the story, cannot just do away with that part of himself. Peter Parker has a family, goes to school, and has an outside (of his costume) life he lives.

The original CIVIL WAR comic storyline had an adult Parker unmasking himself on live TV. However, such a plot point has no place in the story that SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING wants to tell. This appears to involve the classic Spider-Man/Peter Parker duality we are all familiar with. However, the movie industry is once again taking another shot at a teenage Spider-Man (sorry, Marc Webb). The Wall-Crawler seems to be genuinely going back to his roots. Despite a high-tech costume change and an unusually attractive Aunt May.

Spider-Man: The Everyhero
Tom Holland as Spider-Man in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

The Spider…

Let’s face it, Spider-Man’s origin as a teenage science nerd is no accident. He represents the average comic book enthusiast, even with all of his powers. His struggles as Peter Parker are a fundamental part of his mythos. Some superhero stories can get by just fine if they decide to focus exclusively on the costumed side of the character.

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Take Batman, for example. While Batman is a very compelling hero, Bruce Wayne is quite clearly a disguise to hide his true self as a black-clad vigilante. Some of the best Batman stories, such as THE KILLING JOKE, HUSH, or the COURT OF OWLS arc have almost nothing to do with his dichotomy as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. While Batman can carry a story without Bruce, a Spider-Man story without Peter would feel empty.

…And The Man

Hell, even the video games tried to incorporate some elements of his normal life along with the action. SPIDER-MAN 2 for the PS2 had pizza delivery missions. As frustrating as they were, they did add some humor and humility for the character. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 video game from 2014 even had a significant portion of RPG-like segments where you play as Peter Parker and take pictures of your surroundings.

It was painfully boring, and it felt completely separated from the main game. I did appreciate the attempt by the developers to add a new element to the endless sea of SPIDER-MAN games. Perhaps Telltale will take their “choose your own adventure” style of games and give ol’ Web Head a try.

They already did GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, so I imagine their next target is whatever franchise Marvel is putting their focus into. Granted, a PS4 Spider-Man game was already announced some time ago, but we’ll have to wait and see if the world is ready for a “hide your costume from Aunt May” mini-game.

“The Everyhero”

Whether he is a teenage wallflower, a multi-millionaire, or a web-slinging hero — Spider-Man will always have to struggle with his secret identity. As a character built on relating to the average Joe, maintaining the factor of relatability is paramount to his narrative. That is important because his other big screen heroes have abandoned their mild-mannered personas.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING looks like it is about to recapture that classic “normal person by day, hero by night” dynamic. That is something that seems to have been lost in recent years. It will be exciting to see how such a tried and true character dilemma will still bring something new into an already amazing cinematic universe. Just remember: don’t tell Aunt May.

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