The oldest superheroes are Superman and Batman, who debuted in the late 1930s. But the third most successful came along decades later, in 1963: Spider-Man. Created by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko (with some help from legendary writer/artist Jack Kirby) Spider-Man was a milestone for superhero comics: the first time a teen was a hero rather than a sidekick.
The 2002 film directed by Sam Raimi brought the hero affectionately known as "your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" and "ol' webhead" to the big screen, producing one of the most successful superhero movies to that point. Since then, Spider-Man has weaved a weird web at the movies. Raimi directed two more movies with mixed success, then the franchise was rebooted with Andrew Garfield replacing Tobey Maguire. The first was pretty great, but the second was an atrocity. Now it's reboot time again with another new Spidey in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Let's hope this version is good and successful enough to hang around more than two years. But even if a new Spider-Man keeps coming more often than Leap Year, the lingo of Spider-Man is eternal and unique. Please enjoy these words associated with the hero cranky journalist J. Jonah Jameson calls a "web-headed menace."
Check out more Spidey-inspired vocabulary at: Spider-Man's Word Web.
Spider-Man's origin involved getting bit by a radioactive spider: in other words, a spider that had become irradiated with radiation. Radiation is a specific sort of intense energy consisting of electromagnetic particles. Nuclear waste gives off radiation, which is dangerous, so please don't eat any. But any radiation can be harmful: this is why when you get X-rays, the technician covers your vital organs with a lead apron. If only radiation worked like it does in Marvel Comics, where cosmic radiation created the Fantastic Four, gamma rays created the Hulk, and radiation in general created mutants like the X-Men. In real life, too much radiation is anything but super.
Spider-Man's motto is: "With great power comes great responsibility." Responsibility is duty: an obligation to do something. Peter learns about responsibility the hard way during his famous origin, in which after gaining powers, he becomes a professional wrestler, trying to make as much money as he can. As a self-absorbed jerk, Peter fails to stop a bad guy who had just committed a robbery. That bad guy—who Peter could have easily grabbed or tripped—ends up murdering Peter’s Uncle Ben. That’s when Peter learns his famous lesson and decides he might need to do more with his powers than become the next Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Because Spider-Man feels at fault for the death of his Uncle Ben, he is consumed by remorse—an emotion made up of regret and sadness. When you feel remorseful, you blame yourself for something. Despite his wisecracks, remorsefulness is the defining trait of Spider-Man, who always feels like he has to make up for the past. Subsequent events in the comics—such as the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy—add to his guilt. It's not easy being Spidey.
Spider-Man has a tremendous lineup of villains such as Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, and the Vulture. Many of them have a scientific origin—such as Dr. Curtis Connors, the Lizard. Lizards are reptiles that are closely related to snakes, consisting of over 4000 species that are mostly long, green, and scaly. Many can regenerate limbs, which is what interested Connors. He was trying to regrow his own missing arm but ended up turning into a freaky lizard man instead, with many reptilian qualities. This is why comic-book science is not recommended by doctors.
Do the words teen and teenager sound too casual to you? Then there's always adolescent, which means the same. You can also refer to the teen years as adolescence. Since teens are sometimes stereotyped as being moody and self-centered, this word is also used as an insult for older people. An adult who's rude, sulky, or otherwise immature can be called adolescent. Before his Uncle Ben died, Peter was an adolescent literally and figuratively. He had a lot of growing up to do.
Young Peter Parker is a whiz at science, which is why he was interested in the particle accelerator that irradiated that pesky spider. This scientific interest also allowed Peter to invent his own web fluid. Fluid is another word for a liquid, which is one of the states of matter. Liquids—such as water, milk, and oil—are denser than gases but less dense than solids. Peter's web fluid is really something, since it shoots out in liquid form, then hardens in exactly the way he wants it to, whether to create a line for swinging, a giant net, or whatever. Hey, if you're looking for realism, Spider-Man stories might not be the place.
Peter Parker, when first introduced in the comics and movies, lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. That's because his parents died: Peter was adopted by his aunt and uncle. When someone doesn't have any parents, they're an orphan. For some reason, being an orphan is strongly correlated with being a superhero. Batman's parents were murdered. Superman's parents died on Krypton. Captain America's parents died young. Even James Bond is an orphan. No wonder villainous fiends are so anti-orphanage.
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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