The first time I heard the question “Marvel or DC?” I, as a non-comics-reading person, was a little shocked that a clear, firm answer came immediately to my mind, and even more surprised that instinctual answer was “Marvel.”
This was long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m not sure if it was before the first big X-Men movie or not—probably around the same time, and I have the feeling the X-Men were involved in my answer, but possibly just from hearsay—I loved the idea of them, the questions about acceptance and being human that they raised, even before I witnessed (read or watched) any X-Men stories first hand.
But my first superhero was Wonder Woman. I’d seen all the Superman movies, and loved Lois and Clark as a teen. I’d regularly watched two different Batman TV shows as a child, and Michael Keaton’s Batman always had a little place of honor among everyone I knew (Keaton being a relative local; my favorite teacher had gone to school with him). I’d had much more exposure to DC than to Marvel growing up. But none of the DC heroes stuck with me the way the one Marvel hero I did know well stuck with me: Spider-Man.
And it wasn’t even that he was Spider-Man. It was that he was Peter Parker.
That occurred to me while I was writing my own dorky, awkward superhero character in high school.
Clark Kent pretends to be a nerd to hide his superpowers. Peter Parker IS a nerd who happens to have superpowers.
It spoke to me. It definitely spoke to the character I was writing, even though his power set was closer to Superman’s than to Spidey’s; the feeling of grappling with great power and great responsibility was so much more interesting to me than the specifics of that power.
“I’m surprised,” my now-husband said when I first mentioned my Marvel-leanings to him. “I mean, Marvel characters are so much angstier. Peter Parker has more mental-emotional issues than all of DC’s characters put together.” This made me laugh. If he’d chosen any other character, I might have doubted myself, felt like a Fake Geek Girl who didn’t understand Marvel properly—but he’d chosen Pete.
I knew where my boyfriend’s assumptions were coming from: I don’t like grimdark stories, I’m an optimist and a lover of kidlit. But Spider-Man wasn’t The Watchmen (which, I know the movie doesn’t do the comic justice, but the movie was Too Dark Enough for me). Spider-Man was about a mixed-up nerd trying to be a hero and usually succeeding despite his often failing efforts to juggle the rest of his life, and that, in my opinion, was far more optimistic than a hero who started out perfect.
Then the MCU happened, quickly joining Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as top movie franchises of my heart, and definitely solidifying my stance as a Marvel fangirl.
Spider-Man was no longer my immediate answer to the “favorite superhero” question (not that I had a clear new answer, either. I can’t answer with my absolute favorite MCU character since she’s one of the ones without superpowers).
The other week I saw Endgame and was overwhelmed with All The Feels, very few of which had anything to do with Peter Parker, although he was in it. My brain has been squeeing about the surprise appearance of [REDACTED], writing fanfic that explains everything about [REDACTED], occasionally getting weepy over [REDACTED] (sorry, no link there, all my weeping is internal), and for some reason playing [REDACTED] over and over in my head ever since. I started watching the new trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home as an Endgame extension, but something about it transcended the general Endgame feels— “That was delightful,” I said, though I couldn’t quite say why.
At some point during this, I did make a Spider-Man reference to my son, who said, “What?” I moaned melodramatically. “It is wrong that you kids don’t know Spider-Man! He was my superhero growing up!” The thought was still tickling the corner of my mind (though most of my mind was still screaming “ALL THE ENDGAME EVERYTHING!”) when I went to work at the library that day and saw that Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse was on the shelf for once. Definitely have to see that, I thought, and the kids will have to see it, too.
“I want you to watch this with me!” I told my 12-year-old when I got home (the 10-year-old had gone to a friend’s for the night). “It’s supposed to be really good, it’s made by the same people who made The Lego Movie, and it’s about my favorite superhero from my childhood, who, like I said this morning, you don’t know well enough!”
“Oh..kay?” he agreed. He kept his racing game out as if to humor me about the movie while he went on with his own game, but pretty soon we were both exclaiming and laughing and theorizing together. When his sister came home, I didn’t have to say a thing: he took over proselytizing for the movie, pretty much nonstop for the next two days. “No,” she said outright, out of orneriness, mostly. Finally, he put the DVD on while she was already comfortably occupied in the same room.
Not five minutes in, she was literally on the edge of her seat, yelling, “WHAT?” at the screen and grinning.
“He keeps making jokes in the middle of fighting!” she laughed fairly early on.
“Yep,” I said, “it’s kind of his thing.” For some reason, I felt a little swelling of pride at that. That’s my web-slinger. It’s kind of his thing. Memories of all the Spider-Man stories I’d seen or read over my life settled into my mind at once and made me a little teary-eyed.
Into the Spiderverse, of course, is about a lot of different Spider-People from parallel universes, not just, and not even primarily, Peter Parker. Miles and Gwen were there bringing all the awkward teen energy to the story, giving my kids someone to identify with, being Spider-Folk for a new generation. Peter was just a middle-aged sad-sack kind-of-lousy mentor figure, but I could barely take my eyes off him.
“Oh, Peter, you complete and utter dork,” I thought. “I FORGOT HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU.”
He was all still there, the blend of cool competence and complete incompetence, the tug between self-centered withdrawal and the genuine desire to do right. He was the faulty, utterly human superhero that first made me love superhero stories, that first showed me how much more interesting superheroes could be than just mighty beaters-up-of-bad-guys.
Like I said, I was deep in the Endgame feels at this time. It would take a lot for a character to poke through that, to say, “Yeah, yeah, Captain America is great, whatev, but remember me? Remember how I always was your favorite?”
Yeah, Pete, I do. And you still are.