Spider-Man has been a long time flagship superhero for Marvel. His character is naturally more relatable in the fact that unlike similar heroes, he isn’t affluent like Iron Man or insanely overpowered like Superman. If he hadn’t been bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker would have simply been an everyday teenager. He’s an extremely down to earth character that’s still learning how to handle tough situations and it provides a great avenue for reaching the reader on a personal level and letting them think through some of his same lessons.
I’ve included only three of the many philosophies that I believe to be the most central in what his character can teach us.
1. Every life is worth saving.
This philosophy is a staple of Spider-Man’s identity. Throughout his entire career, Spider-Man has never put the killing blow on an enemy. When his enemies do die, it’s usually because they were so preoccupied with killing Spider-Man that they make fatal mistakes. However, when Spider-Man sees their mistake happening and is able to save the villain from death he will save them every time.
In the real world, it can be easy to say that certain people deserve to die for what they’ve done. We think that we can be the ultimate say in who lives and dies or that someone “deserved” to die. Spider-Man sees it differently. He realizes that each life is full of moments that led up to where the person is now and that every person has the potential to change for the better. If he kills them now, they won’t even have a chance for redemption. Even though most would probably say that’s a naïve and unrealistic idea, I think it’s something worth contemplating.
2. Determination through adversity
Spider-Man isn't exactly the strongest superhero. Sure, he has much more strength than any normal person, but when he's compared to his superhero colleagues he’s an inexperienced small fry. He's often pinned as the underdog in the world of Marvel’s heroes and in fact, many would agree that his most intriguing stories happen when he faces a situation in which he knows he’s outclassed in every way, but continues to persevere until he’s won. Even though he may end up bleeding and broken he doesn’t stop - especially if someone's life is on the line.
Issue #33 of "The Amazing Spider-Man" has him trapped in an underwater base with tons of machinery holding him down preventing escape. Just at the point, the reader thinks Spider-Man has given up and escape is impossible, he gets a second wind of motivation and starts to tell himself he can do it. Slowly but surely he lifts the machinery off of his back and is able to escape the water-filled base. This was a pivotal time in Spider-Man’s history because it taught him he is capable of so much more than he had originally thought. He had been pushed to his absolute limit and yet he prevailed.
When we’re at a low point in our life, it can seem like there’s nowhere left to turn and that there’s nothing we can do. Spider-Man teaches us that even though in many cases you’ll be up against something completely out of your league, if you stay determined, eventually tough times will pass and things will start looking up. He teaches us to realize our inner strengths and persevere through the worst of times because when we do, we can look back and see how we grew during the process.
3. “With great power comes great responsibility”
This line is probably one of the most famous lines in superhero history and for a good reason. It has - in my opinion - an insanely deep philosophy that was learned the hard way by Peter Parker only after his uncle was murdered. Ever since that day, Peter has been trying to atone for his mistake by helping others when they need it. Peter jumps at every chance he has – even at the cost of his own happiness – to help out and do good for other people because he understands what the consequence could be should he choose not to.
This philosophy can easily be related to everyday life. For example, if you have the resources to give to the needy and provide for the less fortunate you should do everything in your power to make sure that happens. If you see someone being bullied or cast out, you have the ability to reach out to that person and tell them that they are not alone and that you’re there for them. The ethos that Spider-Man lives by is an invaluable lesson that can be used by everyday people.
Too often in this world, we are exposed to people that have power and use it for their own personal gain. Peter has great abilities and could easily extort it for wealth or fame but instead chooses to use it for the benefit of others. Even when the cost is high - which is often - he chooses to do the right thing over personal wishes every time.