Spider-Man: Still a nerd at 50?
Can you tell whether Peter Parker, as played by Andrew Garfield, is a nerd?
July 4th, 2012
12:56 PM ET

Spider-Man: Still a nerd at 50?

The very first page set the tone.

"Amazing Fantasy" #15 presented an image of a bespectacled, oft-tormented high school science whiz named Peter Parker. As bully Flash Thompson poked fun, Peter's shadow formed the silhouette of Spider-Man – a character who would use both his spider-powers and his intelligence to defeat larger opponents.

It was unheard of for a teenager, especially one with lots of personal problems, to be a superhero in comic books back in 1962.

"A teenager can’t be a superhero, he can only be a sidekick," co-creator Stan Lee remembers being told by his publisher. And as for heroes with personal problems, forget it.

But this nerd almost immediately struck a chord with comic book readers.

"Peter was an outsider, and that was me in high school," said artist Mark Bagley, who related to the hero of "The Amazing Spider-Man" and ended up working as the artist on that book years later.

At the start of his near-decade run on "Ultimate Spider-Man," Bagley was dealing with the unsavory mandate of "beefing up" Peter Parker in "The Amazing Spider-Man" books. Determined to save Peter Parker's nerd cred, he decided that "Ultimate's" hero would always be skinny. He saw that physical trait as an important reminder of Peter's underdog status, something key to the character’s popularity.

That was true for Brad Douglas of fansite SpiderManCrawlspace.com, too.

"He has problems just like you," Douglas said of the classic version of Peter Parker. "He can't pay his bills, he can't get a girl, when he does he has to ditch her to go fight bad guys. His costume rips."

Peter Parker puts on a mask and goes off on adventures to avoid bullies or other problems. What put-upon nerd wouldn't daydream about that?

“He gets to put on those web shooters and swing through the sky like we get to escape and pick up a comic book,” current “Amazing Spider-Man” writer Dan Slott said.

“He’s so meta. He’s us.”

This identification is by design. Lee wanted to make Spider-Man the opposite of DC Comics "Superman" and "Batman," where the costumed crime-fighter is the star of the book. In this superhero comic book, Peter Parker would be the star.

But despite the best of intentions, Peter Parker wasn't always a nerd. Spidey historian Alan Kistler, author of "The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge" pointed to Spider-Man publications of the 1990s, when it seemed like Spider-Man had no situation he couldn’t handle. Peter Parker also went through storylines that had him grow progressively more handsome or get macho jobs - like when he became a firefighter.

Now, 50 years after Lee's nerdy inspiration, Spider-Man writers Slott and Brian Michael Bendis (“Ultimate Spider-Man”) keep Peter Parker's nerdy roots top of mind.

Slott and Bendis were devoted to Spider-Man comics from a young age.

While Slott identified with Peter Parker - "I was always rooting for him. He was like me. He could screw up,” Slott said - Bendis “studied the comics the way you studied the Torah." He even found religious significance in the fateful quote from Peter's Uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Did "Amazing Spider-Man" measure up?

Director Marc Webb is the latest to take on the challenge to reinterpreting the character for the big screen in “The Amazing Spider-Man," starring an elegantly lean Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker.

Webb aims to emphasize Peter’s intelligence and outcast status in his telling of the story. “He’s an outsider, but he’s an outsider by choice. That gets him into a lot of tough situations,” he said.

But his brains don't get overshadowed by all the ruckus, Webb said. For the first time on the big screen, Peter Parker's web-shooters invention process will be shown. A key scene shows him developing a key algorithm to assist Dr. Curt Connors in his research.

“He’s got science going through his blood, sometimes literally,” Webb said.

Even so, Webb’s skateboarding Peter is not the same iteration of nerd we saw portrayed on that first page of "Amazing Fantasy."

“Anybody who’s seen ‘The Social Network’ knows nerds are now running the world. Being a nerd is now something different,” he said.

Not your father's Spider-Man

What do you think? In 2012, is Peter Parker still a nerd? Give us your take in the comments below.

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Filed under: Brainiac • Comic Longbox
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Hakan

    ArlitaI was bitten by a Hobo Recently During A move,I Live in Oregon and can tell you the execeipnre was not a pleasant one. I woke up to a burning sensation on my right index finger.There I noticed two fang marks with a sac blister between them full of what I describe as a greyish blue ooze that broke open.upon my cleaning of the area. It has now been four days since the bite. On first day Severe headache and nausua with fatigue, Headache untoucable even with heavy duty pain medication.and ecah day after non-pleasant vision disturbed,severe nausua and weakness. Went to Urgent care first night,for treatment,my advice to all fog with insecticide before moving things from storage, and each fall fog your homes.This will kill egg sacs also.Keep yourselves protected an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.Believe me this is an execeipnre you don't want to have.Day Four still feeling Ill.Will take up to two weeks to totally heal up.

    August 5, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  2. Rute

    I was in the process of ansirewng a Yahoo question when I found this video. Upon first viewing, I really thought this was truth and became very interested. As I continued to view the video, I found myself laughing uncontrollably! Now, I am not sure if the content is true or not, but it certainly made my day! Thank you!

    August 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  3. enclosedenclosed cargo trailer alberta

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    July 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  4. FMG

    I don't think Peter needs to remain a "nerd" to remain relatable. If "nerd" describes the socially awkward phase of adolescence, then by definition it's a transitional phase. If the character grows at all, he probably retains "nerdy" aspects. But, as with awkward limbs and acne, these things people generally grow out of – as they grow up.

    It bothers me a little that the focus continues to be on Peter as an adolescent – as if this temporary stage defines his character. I found him just as relatable as a working professional and husband in the comics; in fact, it made him more endearing – especially the situations when he's trying to make both his aunt and his wife happy at the same time.

    If, as a grown-up, he's not as relatable to the money-spending teenage audience...well, that's another discussion...

    July 5, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Ewen

      Dear Everyone and Christine (#7)' My name is Linda and I was also bitten on the neck this past Saturday night in Providence, RI. I now think this was a sepidr bite am I worried about necrotic arachnidism syndrome. I didn't feel the bite but started getting severe cold/fluish symptoms at an outdoor festival near the river. Within one hour I had trouble swallowing and the next couple of days in and out with sweats and chills. The red bite-mark was visible the next morning.It has not gone away and has progressed to almost all the symptoms I've read on this site: red boil-like mark (very small and painful), larger red area getting1f81 bigger every day, red streaky projections coming off the red area encircling my entire neck, the entire red area of skin feeling very dry, leathery, and itchy, extreme sore throat behind bite area. I hoped all this would go away but after three days it didn't and I realized this was serious. I don't know now what damage has occured by waiting to see an MD.I went on Wednesday (4 days after bite) and MD put me on a very strong course of Antibiotics. But .the area still hurts and feels dry (more so). My throat is better (MD did not see infection) but lungs now feel watery and right side of entire face feels stiff. Immediate bite area looks black and I am wondering if, in spite of antibiotics, there will be necrosis in this area (I hope not). Reading this article and your comments, I am freaked out. Sounds like this is not a simple easy thing at all. I did not realize how serious a sepidr bite could be. Linda

      August 5, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  5. Krandal

    Thanks to Obama, it's safe to be a nerd.

    July 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Rick

    The director's name is "Webb"! No way that this Spiderman movie and the other Andrew Garfield ones that follow won't be *the* definitive Spidey movies. Consider Raimi's torch passed...

    July 5, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Mali

      Oh now this is why I love Canada. I have watched so many Hinterland Who's Who sohrts on CBC over the years. I swear much of my childhood was formed by these HWW sohrts.This one is a gem. I love the Crack Daddy spider.

      August 3, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  7. Solo

    I've never liked the Spiderman story – the movies made it worse.

    July 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Tom

      Who gives a crap what you like? At least make your post worthwile and specify why you think what you do.

      July 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Valar

      that it looked like a speidr bite. I cant see it but this is how she described it to me. red, it is a bump, it is forming a top/pimple. I live in Ohio and i started looking online and saw that the people who had this happen to them said it was a brown recluse and i don't think that is what it is because it is now almost day 3 and it hasn't gotten lines going out of it. The only symptoms i have are; Pain! That's it except for shaking a little. It has been getting redder and the redder it gets the more hardened it gets. No,i did not catch the speidr doing it nor did i catch a speidr!I hope you can help me, i don't know what to do.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  8. AC-360

    Spiderman is actually Anderson Cooper......and to think....I thought it was a web he was shooting over 'bad guys"

    July 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  9. Melissa

    Whats wrong with being a nerd? Nerds rule the world. Nerds are the ones that invent all these gadgets we all love so much. Love the nerd, don't hate him/her.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  10. Henry Hanks

    Stan Lee is credited as co-creator in the post, and the other co-creator is Steve Ditko. It is well known that Ditko has not made any public statements in many years. Of course, Kirby was a huge influence on Marvel Comics and no one denies that.

    July 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  11. Oscar Pitchfork

    Another Spider-man "Re-Imagining"? Is this like, Hollywood's version of Tribute Bands?

    July 5, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  12. Rob

    For the most part I agree with the article – Nerds are becoming the IT thing and it is safe to be one. Hell I know kids that want Big black rim glasses and wear bow ties cause to some people that cool .After seeing the movie I felt a connection to the character much Like i did with him in the comics causei was that kid ....nerdy to myself and I wanted to escape it ( by reading comics or doing something else construtive).

    July 5, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  13. Major

    Another article giving Stan Lee credit for other people's work. The idea for Spider-Man was created by Jack Kirby, and it was later refined into the character we see today by Steve Ditko, who was also responsible for the teen angst and neurotic nature of the character. Stan Lee was never a creative force. He was simply the boss' nephew, who put his name on other people's work.

    Stan Lee made a career out of stealing credit American comic book legends like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Why are you still perpetrating the lies that allowed Stan Lee to harm these great men? Shame on you for not reporting the FACTS.

    July 5, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Dragun

      You need to learn your facts over sir.

      "Comics historian Greg Theakston says that Lee, after receiving Goodman's approval for the name Spider-Man and the "ordinary teen" concept, approached artist Jack Kirby. Kirby told Lee about an unpublished character on which he collaborated with Joe Simon in the 1950s, in which an orphaned boy living with an old couple finds a magic ring that granted him superhuman powers. Lee and Kirby "immediately sat down for a story conference" and Lee afterward directed Kirby to flesh out the character and draw some pages. Steve Ditko would be the inker.[note 3] When Kirby showed Lee the first six pages, Lee recalled, "I hated the way he was doing it! Not that he did it badly—it just wasn't the character I wanted; it was too heroic".[9]:12 Lee turned to Ditko"

      Straight from the Wikipedia site and as said in several referenced sources.

      July 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
      • Major

        No less an eyewitness than Jack Kirby himself refuted the account that you posted, which came from Stan Lee and therefore has no credibility because Lee has been conclusively proven to be a complete and total liar and fraud who stole from talented geniuses.

        July 6, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  14. KM

    Dear Peter Parker
    Why give your dad's algorithm to the very company your dad was trying to keep it from? Idiot. You should have given them Al Gore's rhythm.

    July 5, 2012 at 1:12 am |