Jul 8, 2017

How Old Should Spider-Man Be?

Like many other things in life, entertainment is subjective. One person’s masterpiece can be another person’s Starman (garbage, to be clear). I know and recognize this, so I try to use unimpeachable methods as often as possible, whenever they can be applied. Math, as some would say, is completely objective. Number do not lie, except in the case of the box office success of the Transformers film series. That is subjectively and objectively inexplicable. So, when it comes to answering the age-old question of how old Peter Parker should be, I’ve decided to use cold, hard mathematics. Congratulations, today we will discover the definitive answer, without any subjectivity whatsoever (wink, wink) of...

How Old Should Spider-Man Be?
Ben Smith

When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man, they had no idea how popular he would be. In a larger sense, they had no idea how popular Marvel Comics would become, and there was certainly no way they could have known that the characters would continue to be published nearly 60 years later. Therefore, they graduated Peter Parker from high school probably way too early. I’ve heard a quote, either by Stan, or other creators close to him, that he considered this a huge mistake in retrospect. It’s not hard to tell that Marvel agrees with him, because nearly every multimedia interpretation of Spider-Man in recent years has had him high school aged. I can see the appeal of this, I can how this fits in better with his outcast, screw-up motif a lot better than your mid-to-late ‘20s version of the character, but it’s not the version I prefer. I’ll let you know that right up front. Still, let’s try and break down as best we can, the peaks of the character during each milestone period of his life.

HIGH SCHOOL AGE (Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1 - #28)

This era saw the creation of the character, via the greatest superhero origin ever devised. The debut of arguably the best supporting character ever in J. Jonah Jameson, and the best rogue’s gallery in comics (come at me, Batman fans).

Unquestionably this was the beginning of not only the ultimate blueprint for Marvel Comics, but all of comics in general going forward. A hero that thinks like us, and makes mistakes like we do. As impactful and influential as these comics are, and deservedly so, I don’t think they really represent the peak of what Stan and Steve would accomplish with the character. You had the high school bully in Flash Thompson, the love interests in Betty Brant and Liz Allen, but there was only so much mileage you could get out of Peter constantly holding back when he had enough power to destroy his longtime bully, or almost getting the girl but not quite.

(Ultimate Spider-Man probably should qualify as part of the high school era, but every six issues of that should probably count as one issue of this, and I’m not going to figure out that number, despite my lofty aspirations of objectivity and math.)

VERDICT: 29 great comics

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COLLEGE AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #29 - #185)

This era saw the debut of Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, and Mary Jane Watson. The Kingpin joined the ranks of the great Marvel villains. The Green Goblin became Spider-Man’s greatest foe by discovering his secret identity, and then eventually murdering Gwen. The Jackal debuted and kicked off the original Clone Saga. The Punisher made his first appearance in comics. Harry Osborn took over the mantle of the Green Goblin after the death of his father Norman Osborn.

This era started strong as Peter meets Harry and Gwen in college, and Stan and Steve reach the peak of their run with the Master Planner Saga. Following Ditko’s departure from the series, John Romita took over just in time to illustrate one of the best supporting character debuts in comics history with Mary Jane’s “tiger, you hit the jackpot,” scene. In a larger sense, Peter moving out on his own, trying to make his way as a young adult working at the Daily Bugle, and as a superhero against an ever-increasing group of villains that would come to have more and more personal ties to him, was the golden age of the character. His supporting cast was the best in comics history, with Harry, Gwen, MJ, Flash, Liz, Jameson, Betty, Aunt May, and Robbie Robertson. (This was before it was decimated by years and years of deaths and villainous turns.) Some of the greatest stories in the character’s history occurred in this time period, from the Master Planner Saga, to every Green Goblin appearance, to the death of Captain Stacy and Gwen, and finally the much underrated first Clone Saga. This era is unparalleled in terms of sustained quality.

VERDICT: 35 great comics (a highly conservative count)

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GRADUATE STUDENT AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #186 - #243)

The Black Cat makes her first appearance. Roger Stern takes over as writer of the series and produces one of the most beloved tenures in the character’s history. Mary Jane returns after a sustained absence. The mystery of the Hobgoblin begins.

Other than the early appearances of the Black Cat, this era owes everything to the excellent stewardship of Roger Stern. So much so, that I can’t really cut it off here because he so happened to have Peter quit school during his run.

POST-SCHOOL AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #244 - #292)

The Hobgoblin saga continues. The black costume makes its controversial debut. Spider-Man vs Wolverine creates the strangest secret identity reveal in the history of comics. Mary Jane accepts Peter’s second marriage proposal.

I have a particular soft spot for the Tom DeFalco run, as I’ve covered previously. The ongoing mystery of the Hobgoblin continues, and is resolved in most perplexing fashion. Personal favorites like The Rose and Silver Sable are important characters.

COMBINED VERDICT: 27 great comics (including Spider-Man vs Wolverine)

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MARRIAGE AGE (Amazing Spider-Man #293 – Amazing Spider-Man #545)

Nothing good happened while Peter and Mary Jane were married.

VERDICT: 0 great comics (I’m mostly joking, calm down)

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Since Brand New Day and the erasure of the marriage, I believe the character has enjoyed a sustained level of good to great comics, especially since Dan Slott took over as the primary writer. I’m not going to attempt to count those, because I’m tired and want to stop writing this now. I also know there were many other great comics in Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man that weren’t included in these counts, but I’m only going to do so much research for this.

That brings us to the end, and so the question has finally been answered, with completely objective mathematic proof. The best age for Peter Parker as the amazing Spider-Man, is college aged.

Obviously, this wasn’t really a completely objective solution to the dilemma of how old Peter Parker should be. If they had left him in high school longer, then there would have been more legendary stories created while he was that age. I simply wanted to highlight that, for me, the character will always be his best when he’s in his mid-‘20s. That is absolutely a grumpy old fan take, and is completely based on nostalgia, but I happen to think it’s true. Spider-Man’s initial appeal was as the teenager with real problems. Great power and great responsibility. I think greater power and greater responsibilities come after high school, and it’s a more exciting time in most lives. That’s 100 percent subjective, I know.

As we sit on the precipice of yet another movie reboot with Spider-Man: Homecoming, it looks like Marvel will continue to disagree with me. That’s fine, but personally, I don’t feel like moving backwards yet again. I’ll still go see it, because Spider-Man is my favorite character, but I don’t expect it to have the same impact on me. But if there’s a whole generation of kids it will impact, then that can’t be anything other than a great thing. If my kids, or any kid, is writing something like this 30 years from now, about how they think Peter works best as a high school kid, then that’s a win for everyone.

And one last set of books...

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