Peter Parker was just an average teenager. Well, not exactly. His intelligence was above average. He liked science and because of his dedication to his studies, the “cool” kids called him a bookworm. It all changed when he was bit by a radioactive spider and became Spider-Man, but it also didn’t. His life was fundamentally different – but only to himself. The people around him didn’t see a change except maybe Parker walking and talking with a little more confidence.
I saw the notes on the covers of the early issues touting the crazy success of Spider-Man. I have no idea if numbers actually back up these claims or if it was just overenthusiastic marketing, but I can understand why it was popular. Who doesn’t love a story about a scrawny, nice guy gaining superpowers? I bet a lot of readers can relate to being the subject of high school insults. Peter Parker has Flash Thompson – many of us had a Flash Thompson. Someone who seemed to only take happiness from making you miserable. We love seeing someone like Peter Parker win. But the thing is, his classmates still see him as Puny Parker.
It has to be maddening to be the only one who knows you’ve changed. I’d have a hard time not telling those who pick on me. Peter Parker continuing to be the subject of taunting is like Barry Allen having to put up with his annoying girlfriend calling him slow all the time. You can’t convince me that her attitude doesn’t drive him nuts.
Even though Peter Parker always laughs off the jeers and thinks to himself, “if they only knew I was Spider-Man,” he takes it in stride. Sometimes he’ll quip back, but mostly? He has to deal with it. It’s a superhero side effect I hadn’t thought a lot about until Spider-Man. Yeah, you’re out there saving citizens and occasionally the world, but you still have to put up with people calling you names? Really? It’s a particular kind of horrible.
Even if Peter Parker has gotten to a point where he’s beyond caring about Flash Thompson’s words, he has to be over it. Every time he’s insulted I’m just waiting for him to lose his patience. I don’t often think about it, but to survive in the every day, mundane world as a superhero, you’ve got to possess damn near infinite self control. You’d have the powers to hurt regular humans by accident. (In fact, I think superheroes with extraordinary strength should test and fortify their patience with humanity by working at the returns department of a big box store one day. Or in customer service at a theme park. If you can survive those situations without taking people out, you’re probably set.)
Even if I’m not in love with Spider-Man just yet, I respect him for handling his situation with such maturity. I doubt that I could do the same.