I’ve been trying for a while to write about Spiderman – His story has always been one of my favourites, I’ve always felt able to relate to him more than any of the other Supers.
It’s simply that he’s the most human of superheroes, the most grounded. And yet, the weight of the responsibility probably weighs the heaviest on this young man’s shoulders. Even when he’s ‘bad’ he’s still extremely moral and bound by his responsibility. How heavily do the words of Uncle Ben hang over his life? “With Great Power, comes Great Responsibility” a blessing/curse spoken by a loved one who is lost too soon – showing how much power our words have, especially over those who hold us in great esteem or affection.
An ordinary boy
It is of course the most classic of Hero stories – Ordinary boy gets extraordinary powers and responsibilities and saves the world (yes Buffy fans, sound familiar? – We’ll come to her in the next post). He’s not a Godlike Boy Scout (Superman/Wonderwoman) or a Billionaire playboy (Bruce Wayne/Tony Stark/Oliver Queen) or even a genius (Mr Fantastic/Bruce Banner) – he’s just a boy in High school (actually, he probably is close to genius – but that side is never used to hammer us over the head like it is with some of the other heroes). He’s not invulnerable or invincible, but he just gets on with it. And he has fun doing it. That’s one of the great things about Peter Parker – although he does have his times of angst and heartbreak, the pervading feeling you get from watching him in action is that of a boy enjoying himself. It’s kind of lovely, it’s appealing and it’s what separates him from the others (I can’t think of another super who has quite so much fun as spidey….not off the top of my head – but I’m open to suggestions from you guys).
Greater things will be demanded of those who have been given much.
This then is the great driving theme of almost all heroes’ journeys, articulated both by Stan Lee’s classic line and the quote from Jesus that he was (unintentionally?) re-phrasing. The idea that those with more – more power, more money, more knowledge, more authority, more wisdom, more strength, just more – will be held to a different standard than those who act out of weakness and ignorance is something that may well go against the grain. But it’s enshrined in Christian thinking right there in Luke 12. But it’s not just in the explicit words of Jesus that this culture of responsibility and power and higher standards is articulated, but it’s implied every time we’re commanded to love one another, when we’re exorted to prefer others before ourselves, when Jesus gently guides us to deny ourselves. And for those who still hold onto the “What would Jesus Do?” phrase (it’s become pretty cheesy now, but it’s actually still a great question to ask yourself) then ask yourself would He ever not live up to his potential, would he ever not intervene if he had the strength, wisdom or knowledge to save, heal or answer an issue?
Dark and light side by side. Power is intoxicating – frightening .
In spidey’s story there’s also the feeling that sometimes the power becomes an end unto itself – that it serves the one gifted, not the ones its been gifted for.
What Separates Peter from the equally gifted and often brilliant foes he encounters (it’s no coincidence that the list of enemies runs like a fictional who’s who of eminent scientists) is the simple motivation behind their use of Power. Often, whatever their initial motivation, it is power that Doc Ock, Green Goblin, The Lizard, Mysterio et al are interested in. It no longer becomes a means to an end – it is the end itself. Whenever Peter is tempted to stray from the motivation of being others centred and becomes focussed on the power itself, that’s when he starts to tap into his darker impulses.
Another element that draws him down the path of darkness is the temptation to view himself as above those he helps. This too is the curse of his foes; they see themselves simply as better than the sheep around them and so deserve better, and deserve to be served by the sheep. That’s the delicate balance of all gifted people – the basic fact that you are better (stronger, faster, smarter, more understanding, wiser) than those around you must be tempered with humility and love and an attitude to treat everyone as an equal, whether they are or not. For Peter, having Aunt May and Mary Jane in his life helps to ground him in the real world, but his heart is essentially one that is focussed on the needs of others – for most of the time. And He loves the people in his life. What takes him beyond many other heroes is the fact that although his foes attempt to use that love against him – for they see it as a weakness – it is in fact his greatest strength.
Let Love be your greatest strength. Hold on to the responsibility that your power gives you and you won’t fall foul of arrogance or the desire for power for its own good. And remember to take joy in your strengths, take joy in sharing your strengths, take joy in using your strengths for others. For you can be a true hero if you keep your heart soft and keep your eyes on the real master.
The world is difficult, but that’s why there’s us – champions; heroes.