You are soaring through the air, covered head-to-toe in red and blue spandex gleaming in the sunlight. While free-falling you extend your hand and webs shoot out of your wrists, attaching to the side of a skyscraper, and you pull yourself up and shoot out another rope of webs. Swinging from building to building, surveying New York City, you’re suddenly reminded of an essay due the next day — and need to buy flowers for your girlfriend, do laundry and pay rent. Being a college student can be difficult, but for someone like Peter Parker, it’s almost impossible.
On Sept. 7, Insomniac Games released the long-awaited new Spider-Man game for PlayStation 4. In the early 2010s, it seemed that Spider-Man was everywhere, with the new films starring Andrew Garfield and a hit Broadway show. His presence was becoming oversaturated and poorly received, even by those in the films. But now, following a popular reboot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a new video game and an upcoming animated movie, Spider-Man has made a comeback as a fan favorite superhero.
One thing remains unchanged: Peter Parker will always be the scrappy teenage superhero who never quite fit in. As college students, we can relate to his fickle actions and their serious consequences. Parker is essentially an NYU student, having gone to Empire State University in the comics, which is modeled heavily after NYU buildings and is set in Greenwich Village.
When Spider-Man was first introduced in 1962, he was dealing with everything a normal high schooler living in the Bronx deals with: crushes, homework, subway delays and being bitten by a radioactive spider. He also existed when Batman and Superman were portrayed as perfect and rarely failed in their superhero endeavors. Peter Parker somehow navigates the struggles of high school, hiding a secret identity and fighting crime on the side. Creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko wanted Parker to be relatable to teenagers who read the comics, but this did not limit their imagination in his storyline. Villains such as Green Goblin and Venom remained fanciful and elaborate rather than bad guys in suits. Lee wanted Parker to remain vulnerable and a different kind of hero.
“The idea I had, the underlying theme, was that just because somebody is different doesn’t make them better,” Lee wrote of his hero. “That seems to be the worst thing in human nature: We tend to dislike people who are different than we are.”
Now, with Tom Holland stepping into Parker’s shoes, some notable changes have occurred as Spider-Man stormed the big screen in “Captain America: Civil War” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Holland brings a whole new sense of relatability to Parker. Current NYU students have grown up with three different portrayals of Parker. While many students reminisce over Tobey Maguire, others have just recently become Spider-Man fans after Tom Holland’s takeover.
Students today focus on Holland’s age and how it makes him feel more relevant. In “Homecoming,” Holland portrays Parker as a normal high school student vying for a girl’s attention and trying to do well in his classes — all on top of transitioning into a superhero and impressing his mentor Tony Stark. Holland’s plucky and awkward approach makes him appealing to fans. The film’s focus on high school struggles alongside the struggles of a superhero captures the two sides of the character remarkably well. Thus, whether in “Homecoming” or “Infinity War,” having Parker as an outcast hits home as we all try to make a good impression on our own personal Tony Stark.
In the video game, Spider-Man has grown up. He is a 23-year old college graduate and is personally responsible for protecting New York City. As he transforms from being a teenager trying to make sense of his new life to an adult full-time superhero, his situation gives college students hope of maturing from troublemaking mentee to the personal protector of our hometowns.
To see a teenager become a superhero will always be both inspiring and shocking. Whether Peter Parker went to NYU or not, we can all relate to his common teenage problems and we will dream of having his powers. The character’s new place in the MCU and other mediums allow us to grow up with him as he moves through high school, college and now the world beyond.
Email Julia Fields at [email protected]