Stan Lee, Spiderman and Troubled Teen Protagonists

Today I happened to catch this excerpt from an interview with Stan Lee on BBC 5 live in which he was speaking about one of his most famous creations, Spider-Man. He was discussing the fact that when he first suggested Spider-Man to his editor, his editor was less than enthused. Whilst this may be old news for people who are more knowledgeable than me about comics, what struck me were the reasons given for rejecting the character.

Firstly Lee’s editor suggested that spiders were a bad choice because many people hate spiders. (Though not me – I am generally indifferent to spiders – and sometimes they can be downright adorable). This is perhaps not that surprising, unlike Batman, Spider-Man is no contender for the title of Gothic (anti)hero. Thus naming him after a creature that evokes horror, terror, fear, and revulsion (all delightfully Gothic emotions) might seem like a brave move. However, what intrigued me more were the concerns over the age and temperament of Peter Parker/ Spider-Man.

Lee states in the interview that he consciously chose to make Parker both a teenager and someone with a complicated back story. He wanted a superhero who had to balance their personal life with their public persona. Nowadays complex teen characters with superhuman powers are de rigueur. Indeed one of the key tropes of paranormal romance, especially novels aimed at young adults and teenagers, is the problems of combining your day-to-day life with your supernatural exploits. These often reflect teenage concerns such as feeling alienated from your peers or your family or struggling with your transforming body and emotions. (Think Teen Wolf – both the film from 1985 and the current television series – and Buffy asking Joyce, “What do you think has been going on for the past two years? The fights, the weird occurrences… how many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, and you still haven’t figured it out?” (‘Becoming’, Pt. 2, S2: Ep22)).

Spider-Man made his debut in 1962 which pre-dates the examples above but certainly comes after the ‘invention’ of the teenager in Fifties’ USA. Clearly however the idea of a teenager have superhuman/ supernatural/ preternatural powers was revolutionary at the time. Moreover, the idea that the effect of these abilities or your new identity would bleed into your normal life was particularly troublesome. There needed to be some separation between the supernatural and the natural. Whilst this is only a very brief look at the idea of the paranormal teen in its early inception, it is fun to think that there was a time when it was an alien concept.

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