On Spiderman

Secrets and Secret-Keepers

By David Hopkins

After nearly a decade of writing Spider-Man, creator Stan Lee decided to inject Peter Parker with a dose of maturity in Amazing Spider-Man No. 100. Spider-Man beats up a team of bank robbers, and realizes it doesn’t give him the same thrill it used to. He bounces along the rooftops: “Maybe I’m finally growing up, at last!” Peter laments his life as a “corny costumed clown,” and thinks of the alternative, a normal life with then-girlfriend Gwen Stacy. What would married life be like as Spider-Man? “It’s tough enough to keep my secret identity from her now. But once we were married, the strain could be too great.”

Wait. Hold on.

He plans to keep his secret identity from his own wife?! Yep. He decides his only option is to either quit being Spider-Man entirely or forgo any hope of marriage. Now this is a superhero who’s serious about maintaining a secret identity!

The superhero’s story, like all heroes’ stories, is a journey of selfdiscovery. As part of this, the alter ego has always been a central motif in the superhero genre. Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, the Hulk, Daredevil, Thor, and Iron Man, all of them and numerous others have hid behind a fabricated identity. Even Odysseus, in Homer’s The Odyssey (which I would consider to be the first true superhero story1), made use of the alter ego. When Polyphemus the one-eyed giant asks Odysseus his name, he responds with “Outis,” meaning “Nobody.” And then after escaping the giant, when his ship is  …

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