On Spiderman

The Friendly Neighborhood of Peter Parker

By Michael A. Burstein

Every comic superhero has a home base. It’s necessary; a hero has to live somewhere. Even though superheroes often deal with major disasters around the world, they still have to concentrate most of their heroics in one location. And often, the choice of a hero’s hometown defines much of what the hero does.

In the DC Comics universe, superheroes tend to live in fictional cities such as Metropolis or Gotham. Editors at DC often refer to Metropolis as being New York City in the daytime and to Gotham as New York City at night. There’s a major advantage to using a fictional setting as a character’s home base; a writer can kill off the mayor or have a super battle result in citywide destruction without worrying about what the repercussions would be like in the real world.

But when Stan Lee began co-creating superheroes for Marvel Comics in the 1960s, he decided that their heroes wouldn’t live in fictional cities. Instead, he located most of the heroes in and around the real city of New York. This not only allowed the heroes to team up, but also encouraged reader identification. A comic-book fan walking past the Empire State Building, for example, might get a thrill from remembering that a major battle took place near there between the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom just the month before!

If your heroes are living in New York City, the obvious place to locate them is the borough of Manhattan. The tall buildings and teeming streets create  …

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