In 1986, during the song “You Can Call Me Al,” Paul Simon lamented, “Who will be my role model, now that my role model is gone, gone, gone?” His dilemma is our dilemma; not many figures stay the way they were when we looked up to them. There is a constant search for a role model that is relatable, morally sound, and reliable, as well as timeless and unchanging. Fortunately for us, a man was born on a cold Manhattan day in 1922 named Stanley Martin Lieber. No, Stanley Martin Lieber is not the role model we are searching for, but he did pioneer the industry that is the answer. More popularly known as Stan Lee, this remarkable man, using creative intuition and an old typewriter, created Spider-Man. People have looked to comic books for role models since the debut of Superman. But never had any superhero been so relatable, morally sound, and reliable, as well as timeless and unchanging. Spider-Man is the superhero role model for young adults.
This point is illustrated beautifully by an overview of The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #248. This issue, entitled, “The Boy Who Collects Spider-Man,” starts off with a newspaper clipping describing a young boy. “Timothy Harrison is one of those special young men. He’s bright, likeable, and nine years old... going on thirty five.
“He collects Spider-Man.” It goes on to show Spider-Man visiting a little boy with a Star Wars poster on his wall. Spider-Man asks Tim to show him his collection, and he pulls out tons of newspaper clippings with Spider-Man as the focus. They talk for a long time, about how our favorite super hero started out, and bits and pieces of fights. Spider-Man tucks the boy into bed. Just before Spider-Man crawls out of the window, the boy timidly asks, “Spider-Man? Will you tell me who you really are?” Spidey freezes, and eases himself back into the room. He tells the boy that his identity is his greatest secret, and if anyone were to find out, then it would cause him a lot of trouble. But Spider-Man takes off his mask and reintroduces himself to the boy as Peter Parker. The boy is ecstatic, and expresses how it will be their secret forever. Spider-Man gives the boy a hug as tears course down his face. The newspaper man from the beginning continues.
“He looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Mr. Conover, I’d like to meet Spider-Man and talk to him... just for a few minutes.’ I hope Tim gets his wish. You see, Tim Harrison has leukemia, and the doctors only give him a few more weeks to live.”
Spider-Man inspires hope in people, and lives up to that hope.
Click 'Read More'
I know many people that would disagree with Tim and I about who is the best superhero role model. They might claim that Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, or others are a better fit.
Captain America is the perfect hero. He always fights for the good. If Captain America makes a decision, then we will see a big part of the world emulate him in similar decisions. Everything he does is the right thing. He makes very few mistakes.
Friend, nobody makes very few mistakes. You and me, even the leader of our church, makes mistakes every day. This is what makes Captain America so unrelatable. Spider-Man, on the other hand, has had many stories written about his struggle with Venom, an alien entity that can be compared to an addiction. Venom is a symbiote; an alien that bonds with a human to give that human extreme power. In addition to the raw power, Venom causes an imbalance of chemicals in Spider-Man’s brain, causing him to lean hard toward choosing the wrong, or serving the dark. Spider-Man struggles to choose between the energy and power or his values and responsibility to help people. In the end, after a series of internal battles, Spider-Man expels the symbiote and chooses to again be what he knows is right. Spider-Man is extremely relatable.
Iron Man is another candidate for the best superhero role model. I often wonder what exactly possesses someone to choose disrespectful and womanizing scum as their hero. Iron Man’s moral compass is bent. Yes, he may be the smartest, the richest, and the smoothest talker of them all, but is that what our role models should be?
Spider-Man has a girlfriend named Mary Jane. There is a point in time where Gwen Stacy moves in with Peter Parker and Aunt May, because her parents had just been killed. Mary Jane confronts Gwen Stacy. Gwen Stacy, now a good friend of Spider-Man’s, said, “Mary Jane! Peter is crazy about you. He won’t even look at me for more than a second. And you know that thing that boys do, where they look at your butt when you walk by? Peter doesn’t, because he loves you, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.” Spider-man is a great example of respect and virtue.
The Hulk is many people’s role model. A pillar of strength and dedication, nothing can stop the Hulk when he starts on something. But the problem with the Hulk is his lack of self control. We all lose it sometimes, and we have all made mistakes when we were angry. But the Hulk loses any shred of humanity when some small thing makes him angry. We need a role model that can check himself, that can stay in control.
In a classic example of Spidey’s self restraint, The Amazing Spider-Man #121, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, the Green Goblin regains his memories, and comes back to finish off Peter Parker for good. Peter Parke is sick, and comes home to find his wife in this series, Gwen Stacy, missing. His heart breaks, and he notices a Green Goblin lantern sitting ominously on the floor. His broken heart fills with rage. “Don’t ever touch the woman I love!” He shouts, and flings himself out into the night. He finds the Green Goblin standing over a bound Gwen Stacy on top of a skyscraper.
“You took away everything I love! I will now do the same.” He pushes Gwen off of the side of the building. Spider-Man rushes over, and caught her leg with his webbing. He pulled her up. But she had been going too fast; the stop had still snapped her neck. Spider-Man begins to beat the Green Goblin. His superhuman punches cracked bone and pounded flesh.
“Stop!” Spider-Man thinks to himself, and falls to his knees in grief. “I could’ve killed him... but I won’t.” Spider-Man is an excellent example of self-control.
Of course, another reason to accept Spider-Man as the best superhero role model is that Stan Lee, born Stanley Martin Lieber, the man who created and inspired countless superheroes and villains, even says that Spider-Man is his favorite. “He is the best loved all around the world, and that makes me very happy,” the old man says.
Spider-Man, since 1962, has been the best superhero role model for young adults. His relatability, virtuousness, and self-controlled attitude makes him a better fit than all of the other superheroes. He will never change. He will always be the great guy he is. Join Tim Harrison, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Venom, Stan Lee, and I; End your search, and change your role model to Spider-Man.