In-Depth: Why Spider-Man is Marvel’s Most Balanced Hero

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Spider-Man has long been the flagship, iconic character associated with Marvel. In terms of being a household name, as far as superheroes go, I would place him in a tier alongside Batman and Superman. And although Marvel seems to have made a push towards Iron Man becoming the most prominent character in the comics/MCU (as seen in the statement given by Marvel’s Senior Vice President Tom Brevoort in a summer interview with Newsrama) there is no doubt that Spidey still holds the position of Marvel’s “de facto mascot.”

Spider-Man amazing fantasy
Spider-Man amazing fantasy /

There are many reasons for Spider-Man’s popularity: his positive reception and rise to fame since his introduction in

Amazing Fantasy #15

, his status as a highly relatable hero, and his ubiquity in all forms of media such as video games, movies, and cartoons –not to mention the tons of Spider-Man related merchandise that has been (and continues to be) sold. Yes, there is no doubt that Spider-Man has achieved the pinnacle of what a superhero can be to the real world, but that is not the focus here. What I’d instead like to focus on is what Spider-Man (Peter Parker) brings to the comic world of Marvel:

balance

.

In a roster of all powerful beings, ideological symbols, and technocratic billionaires, Peter Parker offers a more down-to-Earth, relatable hero. This fact has always been a part of his appeal to readers. We’ve watched Peter since he was a teenager, struggling to balance high school and crime fighting, as well as relationships. He’s taken on a variety of jobs to make ends meet, unable to pay rent on time, struggling to succeed in his civilian aspirations due to his heroic acts. He’s been a photographer, a teacher, a scientist wunderkind, maturing in both his working life as well as progressing in heroism. Like many others, he has to balance heroism with his non-costumed life.

Spidey has also had his fair share of failures, very costly failures that humanized him and were a catalyst for improvement. Uncle Ben’s death set the foundation for his heroics since his origins, and Gwen Stacy’s death further developed his necessity for growth. It’s his experiences both good and bad that balance him, coupled with his willingness to learn from his mistakes and never give up even with the odds stacked against him.

Spider-Man Quote
Spider-Man Quote /

And even with all of the struggles, he never surrenders his core philosophy, one that oozes with the concept of balance:

with great power comes great responsibility

. This is why Peter is always called upon by other teams; asked to join the Fantastic 4, to teach at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning while on a secret mission assigned by Wolverine, to be an Avenger. His heroic peers trust him, as a person and as a hero, to make the right decisions. He understands what it’s like to be young and have powers, and also what it’s like to face insurmountable odds, and this is why he is able to guide others like Miles Morales, or Hope. Spider-Man constant representation of Uncle Ben’s famous words is the epitome of heroic balance.

Next there’s the Wall-Crawler’s power set and abilities. Many Marvel heroes other than Spider-Man have fairly balanced power sets such as Luke Cage, the teenage X-Men from the past, certain members of the Runaways, and Spider-Woman to name a few, but Peter’s specs have a certain equilibrium. . Yes, Peter is blessed with the proportional strength and agility of a spider, but while he is a physically strong hero, there are many who are faster and stronger than him. He also has his Spider Sense which I consider an S-tier skill, a slightly precognitive ability that allows him to sense and avoid danger. Now this is probably one of the best and most effective super powers in the Marvel Universe but there are some situations where sensing the danger isn’t enough to avoid the danger/attack.

What’s important is that his strength isn’t defined solely by these “super’ abilities; he also has his high intelligence, and creativity, leading him to create useful gadgets such as his web-shooters or tracers. He, previously, didn’t have the resources of Iron Man or the ability to pump out new tech whenever he wanted, but he still got by with what he had and through creative applications of his powers and gear. Even when he lost his spider sense for a while, he learned kung fu from Shang Chi, balancing out what he lost.

Spider-Man AvX
Spider-Man AvX /

He isn’t invincible, nor does he have a healing factor. Spidey certainly has many strengths but is not invulnerable to danger or damage. Yet he still shows up against the heavy hitters, and he wins. For he isn’t an imbalanced or overpowered hero such as Thor who can simply smash things with his mighty hammer nor can he call down a nuke or fire repulsor blasts like Iron Man; there are times when he needs more than his powers, he needs his wit. The finest example of this is during the

Avengers vs. X-Men

event, where he found himself fighting the Phoenix-Infused siblings Colossus and Magik. In no way did he overpower the duo, in fact, he basically got his butt handed to him and then some the entire time. But he kept on fighting regardless, and in the end managed to use his words to turn them against each other. His style is a balance of strength, speed, intelligence, and heart, set against his weaknesses. Just like Krillin in

Dragon Ball Z

, he’s not the strongest, but boy does he show up for every titanic battle.

(Continued on next page)

Modern day Marvel comics cover a wide spectrum of settings/environments and tiers of threat/danger, and while there are plenty of areas covered in each comic, many elements can be categorized as either “street level,” “globe level,” or “cosmic level.” Street level encompasses any hero that works mostly on the streets of his local area such as Daredevil, Scarlet Spider, and Ms.Marvel. Globe level includes heroes that work globally, such as the Avengers, and Cosmic level hosts the heroes who mainly work across the universe and against higher level threats such as the newly formed Ultimates or the Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course many heroes cross these lines from time to time but they mainly stick to their own categories.

Spider-Man cosmic
Spider-Man cosmic /

In his long history, Spider-Man has been an integral part of all these levels of super heroism. His presence is balanced across all three of these spectrums. Spider-Man operated in the streets during his teenage years, battling the likes of the Chameleon, Vulture, and Doctor Octopus. But in addition to fighting villains he also busted muggers, prevented bank robberies, and helped people avoid falling debris. And while the present day (pre-Secret Wars) Spider-Man has been wrapped up in Spider-Verse and other dimensional craziness he still takes time to patrol his neighborhood and save the citizens of New York from danger. In

Amazing Spider-Man

(pre-Spider-Verse) he saved the city from a rampant Electro, saved the streets from a denizen of Kree alongside Ms. Marvel, and is seen patrolling the city in the pre-Secret Wars run of

Silk

. Though his status as a hero has been elevated over time, he’s maintained the connection to the streets he grew up on.

Spider-Man Silk
Spider-Man Silk /

There are many examples of Spider-Man’s global level heroism, but the standout cases are the

Ends of the Earth

arc of

Amazing Spider-Man

,

, and of course, the

Civil War

. Spider-Man will always be neighborhood friendly, but he’s on deck whenever a threat looms over the world. The Ends of the Earth arc in particular showcased Spider-Man’s importance in the grand scheme of the Marvel world, portraying Spider-Man as the last hope to save the Earth, battling against mind-controlled friends and familiar foes alike. Lastly, Spidey’s participation in cosmic level events is almost tangible. The Web-Slinger constantly finds himself embroiled in the fate of the Earth and its powered inhabitants. Whether it be the original

Secret Wars

, the latest

or his very own

Spider-Verse

, Spider-Man plays a role in each of these universe altering events.

Examining the trajectory of Spider-Man’s involvement in Marvel’s crossover events demonstrates what his presence provides. In Civil War, Peter Parker was one of the most important pieces in the chess match between Captain America and Iron Man. He began on Iron Man’s side, revealing his identity to the world in support of the Superhuman Registration Act. This reveal brought credibility to the SHRA, for if even Spider-Man (a hero who clutched onto his secret identity like no other) was willing to show his face to the world, then maybe it was alright for everyone else to come forward.

Amazing Spider-Man #536 cover
Amazing Spider-Man #536 cover /

But then he had a change of heart. He realized if he was on the other side of Captain America, this hero he admired, then perhaps he was on the wrong side of the war. And so he switched teams, and was brutally punished for it by Iron Man’s villainous goons. Spider-Man is in many ways the heart of Marvel’s heroes, and his presence made whichever side that had him the right side. With a nearly incorruptible, pure-hearted hero like Spidey on their side, whatever they did would be justified. If Pete backing you up, then you had to be doing something right. Spider-Man balanced out the event by acting as a character that really experienced (and showcased for readers) both sides of the war, and Iron Man and Captain America both needed Spider-Man to gain the higher ground in their ideological battlefield.

Now let’s take a look at the Avengers & X-Men: AXIS event, where the moral compasses of many heroes and villains were inverted by a spell. Sam Wilson, Iron-Man, even the Mighty Odinson turned evil when affected by the inversion spell. Instead of falling to its effects, Spider-Man avoided inversion throughout the entire event and became an key player in fighting the plans of the inverted heroes. Perhaps he went unaffected because it’d be redundant to invert him after his stint as the Superior Spider-Man, but another way you can take it is that Spider-Man cannot be inverted, because he already has balanced morals. If you take balance and invert it, nothing changes, and thus Spider-Man was spared the shift. Furthermore, if we take a look at all the times Peter seemed to turn to the dark side, it was mainly due to an external influence forcing him to do so –such as the Venom symbiote, Otto, or the near death of a loved one, and no matter the case he always did what it took to re-balance himself and become a hero once more.

sb2
sb2 /

Another small thing of note that is less of a supporting point to my article but more of an observation, is Spider-Man’s role in the beginning of

Secret Wars (2015)

. Before the final incursion happened and Battleworld was formed, a few select heroes escaped the effects of the changes by stowing away in a vessel designed to survive the end of all things. Let’s take a look at those who made it on the craft: Captain Marvel, Cyclops (The Phoenix), Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther, Thor (Jane Foster), Star-Lord, and Spider-Man. Look at that roster! Most, if not all, of these heroes have power levels, abilities, and resources that dwarf Spider-Man’s, but there he is among those deemed worthy to survive the transition. Good on you Pete.

(Continued on next page)

Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Wolverine. In what seems to be the latest creative trend in Marvel comics, these classic, staple identities have been passed on and are now owned by Jane Foster, Sam Wilson, Amadeus Cho, and Laura Kinney, respectively. Thus far, the passing of these mantles has not turned out to be a temporary change, and it is more than a simple rebranding. This isn’t Bucky taking on the shield in Steve’s place for a while, nor is there simply a “female Thor” flying through Asgard. These characters have truly become their namesakes and have their own identities and styles. The former Thor is now Odinson, an older Steve Rogers is still running with his Unity Squad; the old iterations are out there doing their own thing (or encased in Adamantium) and have accepted this paradigm shift as the new status quo.

Spider-Man All-New
Spider-Man All-New /

Yet Spider-Man has survived this sweeping change. And he didn’t simply transition peacefully into the latest phase of the Marvel comics, he fought for it tooth and nail. In what was one of the most unexpected moves in Spider-Man history, Doctor Octopus stole Peter’s body in the stunning conclusion of the Ends of the Earth arc. Marvel advertised this as a permanent change (though many doubted this of course), and Spider-Man writer Dan Slott tried to keep its temporary nature under wraps as long as possible. In the end, as smart and ruthless as the Superior Spider-Man was, he wasn’t able to balance fulfilling his own desires with being the hero. He could not make the split second decisions necessary to save everyone. By the end of the arc he realized that Peter was the true Spider-Man, and he rebalanced everything by returning Pete’s body. Again, Spider-Man always seems to return to his truest form.

Now one can argue for other characters’ balance. Captain America (Steve Rogers) could fit the bill, but he’s too much of an symbol of pure good, and will always be backed up by his history and the Avengers. Cyclops would probably be one of my favorite candidates for a highly balanced hero, but then he became an extremist, infused with the Phoenix Force and pushing his agenda on those who oppose him. A lot of the younger heroes have the chance to match the level of completeness Spider-Man holds, including Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales (who I mention a lot), but they need a little more time to grow and have not participated in as many high level events as Spider-Man. As of now, I believe Spider-Man holds the title as Marvel’s most balanced hero.

Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4 cover
Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4 cover /

Finally there’s the issue of the paradigm shift found in the newest

Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man is now more successful than he’s ever been. Somewhere along the line after the events of

Secret Wars

, he became a Steve Jobs-esque, globally beloved, tech innovator. Money isn’t as much of an issue anymore, and he even has S.H.I.E.L.D backing him up due to the agency’s need of Parker Industries tech. He has tons of new toys, a couple of allies and bodyguards, and a brand new suit. This isn’t a symbiote, a villain inhabiting his body, a surprise clone, nor a villain taking over his mind; rather, this is Peter excelling in life and increasing his resources and power. In a way this is also a manner of unbalancing Spider-Man, but it remains to be seen how Pete’s life will continue to change. Until then, I rest my case on why Spider-Man is Marvel’s most balanced hero. Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments below!