With Great Power Comes Great Preventability

Still from Into the Spiderverse (2018)

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

In terms of methodology, Spider-Man is now the ideal coronavirus era superhero. Yes, the radioactively spider-bitten young man from Queens who mixes it up with both street level threats and cosmic menaces is now uniquely positioned to fight crime in this new COVID-19 age. Consider how easily most of his crime fighting activities can be adapted to the commonsense practices of personal safety we have adjusted to in our lives.

An obvious place to start is the mask. Most superheroes don’t cover their mouths or faces. Those that do tend to prefer something covers the eyes or head. Domino masks and cowls have their own problems in terms of protecting secret identities. Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Silver St. Cloud, for example, once famously realized her lover was Batman because she recognized his chin. No matter what though, a mask that does not cover the mouth offers no protection. Spidey’s full facial covering is an ideal transmission foil, protecting our hero from asymptomatically passing along and/or accidentally inhaling coronavirus. 

Now you might wonder if Spider-Man can get sick. After all, he has demonstrably superior physical powers and endurance. While alien beings like Superman and living demi-goddesses like Wonder Woman appear to be immune to conventional human illness, Spider-Man is somewhat legendary for getting sick. There are a number of stories in which a cold impaired his crime fighting. A personal favorite is a time when Peter Parker revealed his secret identity to his friends upon the mistaken assumption that he had lost his spider-abilities. This turned out to be a very bad case of the flu, and luckily with a bit of help from Spidey’s sometime ally the Prowler, Peter was able to convince them this was just a feverish delusion on his part.

Be advised, this is not evidence to be seized upon by the anti-mask set. Spider-Man got sick because of his bad habit of overextending himself. In his personal, educational, and professional lives, this guy is infamous for trying to do everything for everyone. This was particularly true of his days as a college student. Spidey also had the misfortune to fall into water a lot in the winter. Manhattan is an island after all. 

Battling evil is a notoriously up-close-and-personal business. Superheroes often find themselves wailing into gigantic piles of thugs or costumed flunkies or ninjas. In the heat of battle, there are very few opportunities to keep at least six feet apart. Here again, Spidey has advantages over his heroic counterparts. 

First, there’s the webs. Really, Spider-Man could just incapacitate his foes from a distance with well-aimed nets of sticky filaments.  You might wonder why Spidey does not do this all the time. I certainly have. Basically, it comes down to expense. Web fluid is not cheap to make. 

Second, there’s Spider-Man’s fighting style. In battle, the Webhead is a constant flurry of motion. He springs from surface to surface, ceiling to wall, overwhelming his foes with a variety of attacks that come from all directions. This style has given Spider-Man a reputation for being able to handle even groups of superpowered opponents all by himself. So even when going hand-to-hand, Spider-Man is not going to be right around people as much as a typical adventurous brawler might. 

Finally, we all know that Aunt May has raised this young man properly. We can count on Spider-Man to do the right thing. 

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