I’ve often come across the question: Who is better? Superman or Spider-Man? And out of the countless times I’ve read long essays comparing the different styles and methods of storytelling from DC and Marvel comics, my answer still remains the same. Spider-Man. And I’ll tell you why. It has nothing to do with their physical strength, but actually their strength of character.
Whilst both heroes share the common ‘dead family member’ trait, it’s easy to neglect that only one of them is fundamentally human. Straight away this makes Spider-Man more relatable – not forgetting the fact that he’s a teenage boy living in what you could say is an alternate version of modern day New York, something a lot of young comic book readers already have in common. Add to that he’s intelligent, a social outcast, has a great sense of humour, the fact he never relies on brute strength to win his battles and always, always does his best to help the enemies he’s fighting and you have the makings of a well-rounded hero. It all bears down to humanity.
Yes, Superman is on Earth to learn how to be human but he never was in the first place. Therefore he can’t empathise with his enemies on a human level. Yes, he will do his best to protect people but he doesn’t quite understand that to them, he’s so powerful he’s godlike. He doesn’t quite understand that people make mistakes, or are misunderstood, or have extraordinary circumstances that sets them down the wrong path. He judges them at face value and doesn’t provide them with an opportunity to redeem themselves. He just plays the role of judge, jury and executioner, believing that it’s the right thing to do.
Spider-Man, on the other hand, is the complete opposite in regards to this, but what makes his story more powerful is his resilience. When he’s out of options, he gets creative and thinks outside the box. It’s a lesson to all of us that there are other ways of dealing with our problems, no matter how far fetched they seem.
And can I just draw your attention to the remarkable thing Marvel comics has done with Spider-Man in casting a young biracial boy, Miles Morales, as the successor to Peter Parker? Or even, in an alternate universe, his former flame Gwen Stacey? It’s a step in the right direction for representation of other races and genders in the superhero genre, because I’m sure everyone’s noticed there isn’t nearly enough female heroes or heroes of colour. And I’m not saying DC comics don’t have alternate versions of Superman; Earth-23 has a Superman who is black and the President of the United States at the same time! But again this is a character with a hell of a lot of power. And while it’s an interesting concept, it’s not quite geared for the young teenage readership, who can relate to the issues Peter goes through, issues that aren’t addressed by any other mainstream comic heroes.
So that’s why Spider-Man trumps Superman. It’s not all about who would beat whom in a fight – one which probably wouldn’t last five minutes unless Spider-Man had Kryptonite or magic webbing, but that’s a discussion for another time – but more of how the characters relate to the readers and the sort of issues the storylines deal with. Besides a real comic book fan would know that both DC and Marvel comics bring different dishes to the superhero dinner table, and that it’s far better to sample the entire buffet of choice rather than to stick to just one plate.
What do you think? Is Spider-Man a better character than Superman, or is there more to The Man of Steel than what meets the eye? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!