Among all of the superheroes that have graced comics, my favorite is… Batman. I mean, he’s a billionaire who becomes a masked vigilante that dresses as a bat because he believes that criminals are a superstitious lot. He’s also got a ton of gadgets, the world’s greatest detective, a myriad of vehicles and probably the most iconic rogues’ gallery in comics. But among the Marvel comic book heroes, my favorite is… well, it’s Iron Man. Let’s face it: I didn’t grow up reading the comics so my only point of reference is the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Robert Downey, Jr’s performance as Tony Stark is one of the most entertaining things on screen in recent history.
However, as much as I like those superheroes, I do have to say that their origins are kind of vanilla. I mean, Bruce Wayne saw his parents get murdered in front of him and, while that may be iconic, it’s become a staple in a ton of revenge movies that have come out since then. Iron Man’s origin is also weird because I don’t really understand why he has to fight crime and thwart villains as he doesn’t have a clear motivation to do so. In fact, I will say that most superhero origin stories are more functional rather than actual good stories.
But there is one superhero that breaks that mold as he, not only has one of the best origins every, it’s also rather poignant. That superhero is none other than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
We all know Spider-Man’s origin by now. It’s so well known that, with the current incarnation of the Wall Crawler, Marvel didn’t even bother giving us his origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I guess it would be redundant and they’re right. But let’s go look at his origin story in order for me to explain why I say Spider-Man has the best origin story in superhero canon.
Created by the legendary Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man’s origin was initially shown in Amazing Fantasy #15. Young, nerdy Peter Parker did live a good life with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Even so, since he was a nerdy teen, he was always picked on at school. While visiting a science exhibit (like all nerdy teens do in the ’60s?), he gets bitten by a radioactive spider. He then gets the proportional strength, speed and agility of a spider as well as gains the ability to stick and crawl up walls. And this is where things get interesting but I’ll explain why later.
Peter then notices an ad that, if he can take on a wrestler, he would win $100, which is probably a ton of money for a kid in the ’60s. But, since he doesn’t want to be embarrassed if he loses, he creates a simple costume to cover his face. After winning, Peter uses his scientific know-how to create a synthetic web fluid to complete the “does whatever a spider can” theme. He makes up a more dramatic looking costume and decides to use his new powers for fame and fortune by being a TV star. This does work for a while but, during one night, Peter fails to stop a criminal, even though he could’ve overpowered him easily using his spider powers. He just didn’t want to get involved.
After one of his shows, Peter returns home to find the police there. His Uncle Ben had been shot during a burglary. Enraged, Peter dons the Spider-Man costume and hunts for his uncle’s murderer. Spider-Man does eventually corner the burglar/murderer and, to his shock, realizes that it’s the same man that he let go that one night. Peter realizes that, if he just stopped him then, his uncle wouldn’t have been shot by him. He then resolves to stop other bad guys so this tragedy doesn’t happen again because, with great power comes great responsibility.
Now, why do I say Spider-Man has the best superhero origin ever? It’s not the entire “bitten by a radioactive spider” thing. I think that’s kind of hokey. My reason for that is because, unlike most superheroes when they gain their powers, they immediately think of using them for altruistic reasons. Essentially, these people know the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” lesson right from the start. Of course, there are exceptions to this origin rule. Batman trained hard to become Batman after his parents’ murder springs to mind.
However, most superheroes in general just instinctively decide to use their abilities for good. When Hal Jordan gets a ring that can do anything he imagines, he earnestly becomes a space cop. When Barry Allen is struck by lightning and doused by chemicals, he uses his new superspeed powers to fight crime as The Flash.
Peter Parker, after being bitter by the radioactive spider, didn’t. He resolved to use his newfound superpowers for selfish reasons which is really… realistic and makes the story much more interesting than the usual vanilla “I have superpowers and I’ll start fighting crime now” stories most superhero origins have. Peter Parker had to learn that lesson the hard way the entire “with great power comes great responsibility” lesson. He didn’t use his powers to stop someone who was evil and his Uncle Ben paid the ultimate price for that.
This is possibly why Spider-Man’s origin is so iconic. It’s somewhat relatable to everyone. While we may not be able to understand why Batman hasn’t moved on since his parent’s murder or why other heroes still maintain their fight for justice, we can totally empathize with Peter Parker’s situation. He didn’t want to get involved and, because of that, someone he loved died. If he stopped him then, his Uncle Ben would still be alive. I believe we’ve all been in that situation when we didn’t want to get mixed up with something because we were too busy thinking of ourselves and we didn’t bother to think of the consequences.
This is also why we mostly attribute the “with great power comes great responsibility” to Stan Lee and Spider-Man, even though Stan Lee may have just copied it from some other people from history. We still remember it ringing true because of Spider-Man’s origin. There’s a moral lesson in his entire origin, something that’s missing from other superhero origins.
This is why I think Spider-Man has the best superhero origin story. It’s something that everyone, with or without superpowers, can grasp. The only other superhero origin that comes remotely close is Superman. Not because he’s an alien from outer space. But because he’s generally good and has never even considered using his godlike abilities to take over the world. You can thank his upbringing at the Kent household for instilling a strong force of humanity in him.
But Spider-Man’s origin is something different as he didn’t set out to be a hero right at the start. He used his powers in a way we would use them: for our own selfish reasons. I mean, let’s be realistic. That’s what we would all do, which makes it much more understandable why he would enter the life of crime fighting after the tragedy because, just maybe, that’s what we would do as well if we were in his shoes.
So, while Spider-Man may not be my favorite superhero (he’s in my Top 5 at the very least), his origin is still the best one I know.
Which superhero do you think has the best origin? Let me know in the comments section below!