Spidey’s Homecoming

Dr. Mike Robinson, LC Communication Studies Professor~

Spider-Man: Homecoming” is a clever title. Although Spidey had a big part in “Captain America: Civil War,” this title references the character’s rightful placement in the Cinematic Marvel Universe. The prodigal spider-son has returned after a complex series of movie rights agreements were ironed out between Sony and Disney.

The title also suggests the way this movie has restored Spidey to his high school days, and homecoming traditions are central to the story. Audiences seemed genuinely excited to see Spider-Man return to a high school setting, a place where it has always seemed natural for him to be. I started to wonder why. After all, for much of his history, Spider-Man has not been in high school at all.

In order to explore this idea a bit, we have to understand that time flows very weirdly in comic books. Spider-Man debuted in “Amazing Fantasy” #15 way back in 1962. In that story, he was already a high school student.

However, the character we see today is not a senior citizen.  In fact, we know Peter Parker’s age. In “Amazing Spider-Man” #1 (volume 4 – 2015), Spider-Man thinks back to being a 15-year-old when he was bitten by the radioactive spider that gave him his powers and mentions that he has been in the superhero biz for 13 years. This makes him 28-years-old.

But that time has not passed evenly. In fact, Spider-Man’s entire high school career played out pretty quickly. While the cover of “Amazing Spider-Man” #28 (volume 1 – 1965), shows Spidey facing the menace of the Molten Man, a blurb urged the reader not to miss Peter Parker’s high school graduation. This was probably the most normal flow of time for Spidey ever, as he finished up in three real years.

spidy

Illustration by Genevieve Griffin

After that, Parker went on to college and further developed what is arguably the best supporting cast ever in the history of comics. This is where he met both of his true loves, the doomed Gwen Stacey and Mary Jane Watson. As we all know, college takes forever. Peter didn’t graduate until issue #185 in 1978. Then he was in grad school for another forever, as grad students are want to do.

If the majority of his comic adventures took place out of public school context, why do we think Spidey belongs there? The movies may have pushed that idea a bit. However, Tobey Maquire’s Peter Parker graduates halfway through the first “Spider-Man” (2002). Both of the reboot “Amazing Spider-Man” movies were in high school, but those really focused on Peter and Gwen’s love not teen melodrama.

A few of the recent cartoon series have set Spidey in those times, but only the wonderful “Spectacular Spider-Man” (2008-2009) really explored his high school life. As perfect as that show was, I can’t imagine its cultural reach was that large. Nor do I believe that the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic books series, which always had a high school focus, created this public mindset.

I think Spidey seems to belong in high school because as a culture we want him there. Secret identities serve as wish fulfillment. Teens are genetically wired to feel like outsiders. Peter Parker is the triumph of the awkward kid over the popular crowd. We want him to beat the doubters and the bullies there as much as we want him to defeat the supervillains in the city.