With his teenage neuroses and gawky vulnerability, Spidey isn’t your ordinary superhero, but despite the dodgy wrist action he still resonates with armies of fans

Not a spider – and not a man – but the most powerful teenage kid in pop-culture history. Spider-Man is the lonely, sensitive, adolescent underdog whose high-school miseries and humiliations, combined with his secret superheroic triumphs, have been comic-book crack for generations of fascinated fans and a gateway drug to the Marvel world itself.

He first appeared in Marvel Comics almost 60 years ago: the orphaned young science prodigy, Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider at an educational exhibit. (Like Godzilla, Spider-Man is a product of the nuclear age.) He acquires the proportionate strength of a spider, a tingly “spider sense” for danger, and the ability to climb up walls. He designs his own body-hugging web-motif costume and web-shooting wrist modules and becomes a superhero, battling people such as the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. But he is somehow unable to reveal his secret to his high-school crush Mary Jane Watson and, as humble Parker, gets bullied by the high-school jock Flash Thompson who – ironically – fan-worships Spider-Man. So Spider-Man’s victories coexist with despair and depression: he fails to save his Uncle Ben, killed by a street criminal, and his entire superhero career is driven by that primal scene of failure and guilt – a Rosebud of wretchedness.

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