The worst Spider-Man pitch ever
Spider-Man is probably my favorite superhero. I have read and enjoyed Spider-Man comics since I was a child. I will continue to read and enjoy Spider-Man comics for years to come. I say all of this as a preface to the fact that I might have just come up with the worst Spider-Man pitch ever:
What if Spider-Man was an incel?
Okay, okay, you can stop the groaning – I get it. It’s a terrible idea – not even a joke, really. But … but … let’s just explore this idea.
I’ve been reading some of the earliest Spider-Man comics from the initial run of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. As written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, Peter Parker is an interesting cat. More than any other portrayal of the character that has come since, Ditko’s illustrations really nail Peter Parker the Nerd. He’s too skinny, has a terrible haircut, and doesn’t know how to dress or even stand when he is in the company of his classmates. He can’t get the attention of the girls he likes, he’s bullied by almost every other kid in school – as well as some of the teachers. He’s a total loser.
But then Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider. He gains superpowers and finds fame and success as an on-screen entertainer and wrestler. He finally gains the admiration of his classmates – except, it’s not as Peter Parker but instead as Spider-Man. Why does Peter feel the need to have a secret identity? Why doesn’t he just announce to the world that he’s Spider-Man? Is it his need to protect his Aunt May? His guilt over not being able to stop the thief that would later kill his Uncle Ben? Or is it his own self-worth? Does Peter not think he deserves friends, support, and happiness? Does Spider-Man deserve those things?
There are brief moments throughout these early issues in which Peter Parker, the resentful jerk, comes out to play. Peter frequently contemplates taking revenge on the classmates who bullied or mocked him. While in costume as Spider-Man, he is a prankster and anarchist – walking through the Marvel Universe with a giant chip on his shoulder. He is the type of guy who walks into a room and picks a fight with the meanest dude in there - just to show that he's a mean dude too. Heck, Spider-Man in one issue even contemplates using his powers to team up with Dr. Doom – even for the briefest of moments - just to show the world what he's actually capable of.
Peter Parker is intrinsically a good person, though, and putting on the Spider-Man costume and saving the lives of innocent people around the city allows him to realize this in full. It’s by becoming Spider-Man and being a hero that Peter Parker realizes his own self-worth. While, at first, he only flirts with women while dressed as Spider-Man, as the series progresses, Peter begins to attempt friendships and relationships with girls while as Peter Parker. He starts dressing better, ditches his glasses, and forms real bonds with the classmates who used to bully him. He becomes a good person as Peter Parker, not just Spider-Man.
Side-note - some of this might have to due with Ditko leaving the series as Steve Ditko, while an incredible illustrator, was frequently trying to stick Ayn Randian Objectivist philosophy into Peter Parker's personality.
The transformation from Peter Parker the resentful nerd to Peter Parker the good-natured everyman is gradual though – almost imperceptible when seen across the entire 58-year history of the character.
My pitch – if I was rebooting Spider-Man – would be to make it a much more pronounced, dramatic character arc. I would explore the idea of Peter Parker, before becoming Spider-Man, being a real teenage dickhole – the kind of basement-dwelling, Red Bull-chugging dude who spends all his time on 4-Chan, cyberbullying his own bullies through the guise of internet anonymity. he reads THE PICK-UP ARTIST, he listens to Joe Rogan and he trades Pepe the Frog memes.
This Peter Parker thinks he’s smarter than anybody else in his peer circle. His parents’ death and the fact that he’s being raised by two old people who dote on him endlessly has given Peter a huge complex. He’s a put-upon jerk who, instead of realizing things will get better for him after high school, decides the world is full of assholes that don’t deserve his attention. He dreams of becoming rich and successful just so he can show up the people who currently make his life miserable. He’s probably on a school shooting watchlist somewhere.
But then Peter gets bitten by the radioactive spider. Realizing his awesome powers, Peter decides to become Internet famous. He starts Instagram and Tik Tok accounts and spends all day posting videos showing off his abilities. He finally gets the attention he so desperately craves – but his self-worth issues prevent him from taking credit for Spider-Man’s fame. And then, due to his self-centered, selfish attitude and the cruel hand of fate, his uncle dies. Peter, for the first time, faces real, tangible consequences for his actions. He becomes cognizant that he has been acting like an asshole.
Does this instantly cause Peter to do an about-face and become a better human being, though? No – journeys like that take time!
In the months following Uncle Ben's death, Peter Parker dedicates his life as Spider-Man to trying to make up for not stopping the criminal. He throws himself into vigilantism – but even this is just a chance to be a bully, except to people who he thinks deserves it. He is a little too violent when stopping criminals. He racially profiles and lacks empathy. His costumed persona is all raging id. His attempts at comedy are just shy of being funny and, more frequently than not, he’s just annoying and abrasive in that way overly confident white dudes can be. He hits on any female costumed hero or villain he encounters – but in that sad, awkward way unaware virgins hit on women out of their league. In other words, he negs. A lot.
As Peter Parker, he’s not much better. He isolates himself from his classmates – afraid to make connections because he keeps losing the people he loves. Gradually, though, he begins to make friends with other outsiders – people like nervous Harry Osbourne, dorky son of New York’s richest and most successful businessman, and Mary Jane Watson, the shy and introverted girl next door who comes from an abusive relationship. Together, the three of them form a tight bond.
Months turn into years and Peter becomes to gain perspective. He realizes restraint and begins to gain empathy. He forms a weird quasi-friendship with The Sandman, a super-criminal that he keeps busting but whose own good-natured attitude shows Peter that even the bad guys can be good people. He learns to grow a thick skin because of the constant harassment from J. Jonah Jameson - learning that bullies are usually bullies because of their own, inner unhappiness. He makes friends with The Human Torch, a young superhero that is the ultimate jock - a blonde-haired, blue-eyed teen idol who is, much to Peter's surprise, actually a good dude. Peter is humbled when he meets folks like Tony Stark and Reed Richards, whose intellect outmatch his own. Most importantly, though, Peter sees the Ghost of Bitter Nerd Future when he encounters Dr. Octopus, a glimpse at the kind of man Peter Parker could grow up and become if he doesn't change his ways.
By his senior year, of course, Peter has fallen for Mary Jane. He eventually builds up the courage to ask her on a date but before he can, though, MJ confides in Peter that she has actually fallen for Harry. Oh, no! Peter is going to flip out about being friend-zoned.
Except – he doesn’t!
You see, by swinging around the city in tights and pretending to be a hero, Peter Parker has actually become a better person. He has gained that empathy, he understands the perspective of other people. He sees Mary Jane as a human being – not just a potential sexual conquest. He’s bummed about MJ having feelings for his friend, but more importantly, he understands she’s a woman with her own agency and he accepts that.
Spider-Man, and Peter Parker, is now a hero!
Do people want to spend years reading about an unempathetic, incel Peter Parker learning how to be a good human being? Maybe not - but maybe the real-life incels out there do need to read this series. Maybe by seeing Spider-Man take a journey of self-discovery and growth as a human, they will be motivated to take their own journeys.
For almost sixty years, Spider-Man has helped inspire boys to become men. Now, more than ever, this role model is necessary.