Spider-Man and the Avengers: Considering the Web-Head’s Place Amongst Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

I feel I write about Spider-Man and his being a member of the Avengers tangentially in a lot of posts.  It’s often an aside, here or there.  Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of Spidey being an Avenger (or part of the Fantastic Four’s Future Foundation or anything).  I’ve always seen Spider-Man as a solo act, Peter Parker’s character not readily lining up with the whole “super team” thing.  Plus, is swinging around and sticking to things really the type of small-time power set you want when battling Thanos, Kang the Conqueror, Annihilus, or Ultron?  Still, that’s my bias and it’s anchored in my preconceived notions.  So I decided I wanted to sincerely look at the idea of “Spider-Man, Avenger” with an open mind.  The time to make an informed decision had come!

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Spider-Man listening to the baby monitor for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage’s daughter Danielle is one of the best things I’ve ever seen.  He clearly gets the gravitas of what I’m undertaking here, too. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

To do this, I treated myself to reading much of Brian Michael Bendis’ run writing the Avengers.  He made Spider-Man an official Avenger and he featured prominently on the New Avengers (as well as the main Avengers team, for a time).  So I read Bendis’ New Avengers (2004) #’s 40-64 and New Avengers (2010) #’s 1-34.  I also read his Avengers (2010) #’s 1-16.  Those were the issues where Spidey was on the main/priority/proper Avengers team and they fell in the middle of his time with the New Avengers.

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Deadpool harasses Spidey for quitting the Avengers. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Before I get into those comics, I want to clearly state my biases.  The reason I’ve never liked Spider-Man as an Avenger is he never felt like he fit there to me.  Reading comics as a kid, Spider-Man was never on a superhero team.  Sure, Peter Parker once tried to get on the Fantastic Four (back in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 in 1962!) but that was to try and get a paycheck.  While he’d always stand alongside the heavy hitters – your Fantastic Four, your X-Men, your Avengers – when the Marvel Universe was in danger, he was a solo act.  In fact, in many ways he scorned the establishment.  Peter Parker was always the outsider, the loner, and Spider-Man carried that, too.  One of the things that bothers me with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is how desperately he wants to be an Avenger.  That wasn’t Spider-Man!  Ever!  In the comics, even as a teenager he was never prone to hero worship.  In fact, he rejected an Avengers membership on several occasions.  Spider-Man didn’t seek the approval of others!  Rather, he sarcastically mocked everyone – especially those who didn’t freely accept him.  He was who he was and you could take him or leave him, thank you very much.

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Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel soar through New Orleans. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

His powers don’t seem a fit for the world-saving, universe-saving, reality-saving battles the Avengers always find themselves in, either.  Reading the first 100 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, all written by Stan Lee himself, I saw he was solely a neighborhood hero.  Peter spends most of his time dealing with organized crime – the Kingpin, Silvermane, the Schemer, Hammerhead, etc. – and he fights bank robbers, muggers, gangsters, and hired muscle as often as supervillains.  All the supervillains he faces are localized threats, too.  Sure, they may cackle about “taking over the world” but it’s always with a ray gun they lifted from some lab or the bonds or jewels they stole in a briefcase or out of a bank truck or something.  So it’s clear Stan Lee never envisioned Spider-Man to be an Avengers-level hero.  He was the everyman.  He was a kid and then a young adult who was always hard on his luck but when he donned his webs he became this colorful costumed outlet for all his angst.  He didn’t need or want your acceptance and his focus was the neighborhoods of New York.  This local feel very much shaped all the Spider-Man stories I read in the ‘80s and the ‘90s.  Then when I returned to reading comics in 2015, the first I heard about Spider-Man ever being an Avenger was when Deadpool harassed him for quitting the team in Spider-Man/Deadpool #1.

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Spider-Man alongside the New Avengers…and yeah, I’m with you Spidey.  I did not like this whole setup, either. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

So for me Spider-Man was never an Avenger.  The idea of him being on the Avengers in fact felt very antithetical to the core of his character.

Brian Michael Bendis would see a very different vision of the web-head though and Peter Parker would become a foundational part of the New Avengers.  In the immediate wake of the “Secret Invasion” (the big Marvel Universe crossover event where like a zillion Skrulls had infiltrated every conceivable level of society including super teams), a hushed call went out to form/reform the New Avengers as a sort of secret, underground team.

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“Pssst…hey.  Do you want to be a New Avengers?  Pass it on.” / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Norman Osborn, the infamous Green Goblin, had played a decisive role in stopping the Skrulls and as a result the security for the planet was handed over to him.  S.H.I.E.L.D. was torn down and recast as his H.A.M.M.E.R. organization.  This would begin the “Dark Reign” (another crossover event).  He gathered a team of supervillains together to take up the mantles of classic heroes to do his bidding as his own Avengers team (aptly referred to as the “Dark Avengers”).  This is what drives the New Avengers underground.  Hunted by those in power, they would oppose Osborn and his Dark Avengers at every turn until they could expose him for the monster he truly is.

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Spider-Man alongside the first New Avengers team he was a part of – Luke Cage, Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel, Jessica Jones, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, Wolverine, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Bucky Barnes/Captain America, and Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

I actually loved seeing Spider-Man as part of the New Avengers!  I would go so far as to say Bendis’ New Avengers became one of the best titles I’ve ever read.  So, while I came to it well after the original hype, I see why the title has the reputation it does.  This team will spend the majority of their time battling demons and supernatural threats, the Hood and his crime gang, and (of course) Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers as he comes to power, falls, comes to power again, and so on and so forth.

The threats felt more “localized” than what I traditionally associate with the Avengers and the team certainly had a more “neighborhood” feel to it with heroes like Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and eventually Daredevil all playing such significant roles in the series.  Squirrel Girl was even the nanny for Jessica and Luke’s daughter Danielle!  But this wasn’t what made me like the series nor what made me love Spider-Man joining them.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

First, he’s just funny and Spider-Man’s humor – especially his use of humor to diffuse tension – felt welcome alongside the sorts of threats the Avengers normally face.  Also, it’s something I’ve realized I do sometimes, use humor to avoid addressing a more serious issue, take a compliment, or diffuse tension or discomfort.  So seeing that there made the team feel more real to me…if that makes sense.  There were many moments as I read where I found myself thinking, “Yep, if I was facing a demon horde that’s probably exactly how I’d react.”  So I appreciated that.

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Spidey shared his wit with the “priority” Avengers team, too. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Spider-Man and the Thing debate their role on the New Avengers. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

But second and far, far, far, far, faaaaaaar more important was alongside the New Avengers Peter Parker found a family.  He found a place to belong.  Yeah, I’ve always seen Spider-Man as a solo act and, for much of his comic career and almost all of my time reading his comics, he was just that.  But in reading New Avengers I realized in stark clarity how CRAZY UNHEALTHY it is to shoulder all those sorts of burdens all by yourself!  Sure, Peter Parker is the consummate outside/loner but who wants to live that way??  In seeing Peter join the New Avengers I got to see him let his guard down, accept help, and share the ridiculous load of guilt and grief he always so obstinately carried on his own.  I got to see him grow from the teenager and young adult who refused to let anyone in into an adult who can admit he needs help, can’t do it alone, and is willing to let others in to find the love and support he needs.

Reading that made me so happy!  I saw this character I’ve loved since before I could even read finally, finally, finally find people who would accept him and help him.  Watching him willingly unmask and share both sides of his identity with his teammates was a surprisingly moving experience for me.  And in doing that they became more than just his teammates.  They became natural supports.  They became confidants.  They became family.

Avenging Spider-Man 1 (2)

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Avenging Spider-Man 1 (3)

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Avenging Spider-Man 2

Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

I’ve often said one of the greatest truths I’ve learned in life is that family is the most important thing in the world.  Family are the ones who are always there for you, no matter what.  However, “family” has nothing to do with blood.  Blood is all about who you’re related to.  Family are those to whom you are bonded in and through love.  We may share that loving bond with our blood relatives.  It’s great when we do!  But family is forged in love and it’s in love where we find true strength, support, compassion, and care.  After reading decades of comics where I’d watch Peter lament how nothing he does ever works out and how being Spider-Man only brings pain and heartache to his own life and the lives of all those he loves, I FINALLY saw Peter let others in and let them help him carry the burden of being a superhero.  It was beautiful!  The stories were fun and funny and exciting too, but their power lied in the beauty of Peter reaching out in trust to others and, in so doing, beginning to face some of his own limitations and trauma.

In his essay on Spider-Man in his text Do the Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes, Ben Saunders blew my mind with his analysis of Peter Parker:

To put it another way, if we look at what Peter is repeatedly made to do by his creators, rather than what he is sometimes made to say [“With great power, comes great responsibility”], then both his feelings of guilt and his crime-fighting can seem to have an obsessive-compulsive quality about them.  His expressions of self-loathing and guilt with regard to Ben’s death start to appear more neurotic than heroic.  For example, his constant cry – “It’s all my fault!” – simply doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.  He didn’t actually shoot his uncle, after all, a burglar did, and yet he seems compelled to take on more responsibility than belongs to him.  He is getting something from all that delicious guilt…Time and again he resolves to stop.  But, like an alcoholic returning to the bottle, or more accurately, like a co-dependent, resentfully but perpetually riding to the rescue, he always finds himself donning his Spider-Man costume again.[1]

…Bruce Wayne does not go through nearly as many bouts of agonized indecision in relation to his Batman identity, after all; nor does the Green Lantern constantly wonder whether the universe needs him to police it;  Wonder Woman never seriously considers abandoning humanity and returning to Paradise Island; and so on.  Only Spider-Man is so driven to renounce his heroic identity, and then take it up again, in an endlessly repetitive cycle.  And that cycle, I am suggesting, is inherent in the particular mechanism of trauma and guilt that shape and drive his story.[2]

….But when Gwen dies, despite and perhaps even because of his best efforts, the relationship between guilt and responsibility central to Peter Parker’s self-understanding is exposed as a self-protective fiction – keeping at bay the awareness that we live in an unpredictable universe where Bad Things happen that no one can prevent.  Thus, Peter and his readers were forced to face the possibility that, in taking up the mantle of “hero,” he had only replaced one self-serving fantasy (that his powers set him apart from involvement with ordinary humanity) with another (that his powers allow him to always save others from harm).  With Gwen’s death, the true cause of Peter’s neurotic guilt over Ben’s murder was inadvertently revealed.  His exaggerated sense of responsibility served not only to compensate for Ben’s loss, but also (and perhaps more important) to sustain a comforting illusion of safety and control in a profoundly uncertain world.[3]

Right?  RIGHT??  MIND.  BLOWN.  I’ve been reading Spider-Man comics for decades and I never saw this!!!!  But this strikingly accurate, character-redefining frame shows how all the more important Peter joining the Avengers is.  In this act, he surrounds himself with natural supports.  He is living with and working alongside people who understand the unique burdens of being a superhero.  People to listen to him, to advise him, to help him succeed and to help him deal with the grief when he can’t.  We live in a “profoundly uncertain world” where “Bad Things happen that no one can prevent.”  And in joining the Avengers, Peter Parker is both practically and symbolically relinquishing some of the unhealthy responsibility he can never meet, forged by trauma, that he’s always carried alone.

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Spidey shares some of his issues with guilt with the New Avengers. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

I should note, Bendis’ Avengers title was fun, too.  It saw Spider-Man alongside some “heavier hitters” and more “classic” Avengers and they had to deal with Kang, time travel, the Maestro (a future, warlord version of the Hulk), Ultron, the Infinity Gems being gathered by the Hood, and a bunch of other high stakes issues.  I dug seeing Spider-Man as part of those adventures, too.  But those titles lacked the sense of family New Avengers provided and, as such, felt like your more “basic” Avengers stories.

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The New Avengers grow together as a family.  See??  How could I not love this?!!? / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

I enjoyed seeing Spider-Man on the Avengers “priority” team but I LOVED him on the New Avengers.  Ever since I heard that Marvel had put Spider-Man on the Avengers I rebelled against the idea.  I thought it was just a blatant cash grab move.  I saw a boardroom meeting where someone said, “Hey, you know who people love?  Spider-Man!  What if he was on the Avengers?  I bet we could sell even more comics that way!”  I saw it as a perversion of the core of his character.  I resented it.  I thought it was ridiculous at best and insulting at worst.

But I was wrong.  I’ll say it.  I’ll own it.  I was wrong.  The Avengers is the perfect place for Spider-Man.  It feels somehow appropriate that today, on my birthday, I’m admitting this.  I’m growing, just like Spidey.

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Yeeeeep, it can be a little embarrassing to admit we were wrong.  But we can do it together Spider-Man!  We’re growing! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

In Brian Michael Bendis’ hands, Spider-Man joining the New Avengers represents some of the most significant character growth Peter Parker has ever seen.  He realized he couldn’t do it aloneHe let others inHe trustedHe embraced a family in which he found – and could also provide – deeply needed natural supports.  Peter Parker made positive progress with the guilt and grief-induced self-loathing that so defined him for so, so long.  He saw – at least in part – how unhealthy the “high” he was getting from his terrible choices was and began to try and correct it.  It’s brilliant.  It’s beautiful.  And they are really good superhero stories, too!

I realized, as I read, my struggle with Peter Parker joining the Avengers was only ever tangentially about who Spider-Man is for me.  Really, the real question was who the Avengers were to me.  When I saw them just as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” it seemed odd this guy who could stick to stuff would fit in there.  But when I saw them as a group of individuals who stand together to do an impossible job – a family, when they are operating at their best – then it all made sense.  Bendis, weaving an “oral history of the Avengers” through both titles, addresses this by having the Avengers themselves “talk to the camera” in a fashion.  He clearly makes this point.  It’s not about the “caliber” of the hero or their power level or anything.  It’s about how, when we come together, we become so much more than we could ever be on our own.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

We aren’t made to live alone.  We’re stronger together.  And yes, that’s a cliché.  But things often become clichés because they were truths we kept repeating!  And we are stronger together.  The reason I’ve come to love Spider-Man on the Avengers is because he needs them in his life and he is better for letting them in.  It shows he’s growing.  In that, Peter Parker is far more inspirational than in all his speeches about power and responsibility combined.  In seeing what Spider-Man joining the Avengers really means, I’ve found my childhood hero still has a few important lessons left to teach me, lessons I need always be mindful of in my adult life as well.

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Finding this feeling with others, finding these sorts of relationships that let us feel this?  That is everything.  That’s the whole point.  That’s what gives life meaning. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

 

__________________________________________________________

[1] Ben Saunders, Do the Gods Wear Capes?: Spirituality, Religion, and Superheroes, (New York: Continuum, 2011), 79.

[2] Ibid., 80.

[3] Ibid., 85-7.

11 thoughts on “Spider-Man and the Avengers: Considering the Web-Head’s Place Amongst Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

  1. First, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ❤

    Second; I am forever impressed by your writing. This is the level I strive to be at some day. Another super informative analysis that was extremely enjoyable to read.

    I get what you originally said about Peter Parker, it totally makes sense! I guess I never thought of him being a bit of a loner, neighborhood guy (kinda like the opposite of big time, more like off Broadway in a sense). It's funny because I rather enjoy Tom Holland's Spiderman, BECAUSE to me, he acts the most like a teenager or KID would. And I've always thought of Spiderman as a kid.

    But the "found family" trope is hard to beat. And it makes complete sense for the trajectory of the character to grow and figure out that letting people in, leaning on them and allowing them to help ease the burden is crucial for your mental health and survival. That's a very adult lesson to learn and I think it DOES fit with the character's development.

    I agree with you that he fits particularly well with the New Avengers as opposed to the originals. That group is such a "Big Hitter" feel whereas the New Avengers are all in the same boat trying to figure out their place. I personally have never read the New Avengers comics, but now I kind of want to!

    Again, great write up! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! For the birthday wishes and the compliments – they mean so much :).

      And, to be a little more clear, I really do like Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, too! I just read so often about how he’s “the most faithful adaptation” of the comic character and I’ve never seen that. However I think within the MCU and how they’ve built their world and especially how they use Spider-Man – he’s perfect. The MCU is, and should remain, it’s own creative entity. Some things feel just like the comics and others change. For me, that makes it more fun.

      I know some people get really upset when the adaptations aren’t “perfect” but that never really bothers me. I like some more than others, sure. But I LIKE that the Marvel comics and the MCU are different. The spirit of the characters and the stories are the same but I’m happy that the filmmakers aren’t tied and don’t try to tie themselves to decades of comic continuity. I mean, when I want that I can read the comics! I like that Tom Holland (and the writers and directors) have the freedom to put their own stamp on Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I enjoy how he has chosen to interpret the character, too. And it makes me much more interested when the movies and characters can continue to surprise me even after all the years I’ve spent reading comics.

      Also, Tom Holland is like the sweetest guy ever and how can you not love him??

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy Birthday! Hope you’re doing well and have a great day 🙂

    I loved Spider-Man being a New Avenger, although I always was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get to display his scientific prowess very much when he was on the team. But their whole dynamic was just great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It was a lovely birthday. It’s still sort of going, as far as I’m concerned. Grandma always taught me, why have a birthDAY when you can have a birthEVENT? So I’m doing my best to keep the celebration rolling ;).

      And I agree – it would’ve been fun to see him use his scientific mind more. There were a few moments where Bendis would sort of put his toe in that water, but they never really gave Spidey the chance to lean into it. And that could’ve been a very interesting addition to the stories!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I considered myself a loner for many years, often through the comfort of self ascribed labels and circumstance, but finding yourself accepted and cared for does change things. That examination of Peter’s mentality is the kind of fact that when you read it, you go “well of course it is”.
    It’s obvious that Spider-Man would avoid joining, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t. We all need someone to say that it’s not all on you. This was a fantastic post and a highlight of my morning

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! This was one of those posts that started with “Huh, these were fun comics” and then really ended up saying something that mean a lot to me. I’m happy to hear it resonated. That means a lot :).

      Like

  4. I always thought of Spider-Man as a loner, too, so it is interesting that he worked in a team so well! I do think of him as a local hero and have trouble envisioning him wrapping up someone like Thanos in a few webs. But I think that maybe his powers could be useful as part of a team!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of my most vivid comic-reading memories from childhood comes with ‘The Infinity Gauntlet,’ the miniseries ‘Infinity War’/’Endgame’ were based on. There’s this scene where Thanos has all the Infinity Gems and the heroes are fighting him in space in front of a castle he created on a meteor. In one panel, Spider-Man swings by (on what? they never explain what he was even webbing on to in space) and kicks Thanos in the face. Even as a ten-year-old I was incredulous. I remember thinking, “Why is he even there? He’d die in like two seconds!” And Spider-Man was always my favorite! Hahaha, but it still seemed silly to me.

      Like

  5. Michael,

    I see both sides. The thing that does make the team thing work for Peter is character development. He carries a huge burden( like CW’s Barry Allen) but letting others on let’s the audience understand their mindset. Do you remember all the Spiderman things when Peter and Miles met in the Spiderverse?

    Thanks,

    Gary

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m late to the game here…but you wrote (as always) a very well researched and thoughtful post. I think your post transcends the stated intent of, is Spiderman Avengers material, by showing that we are what we make of certain situations or people. I’ve always been somewhat of a chameleon, not always the best fit in a certain group I was in, but making the best of it and embracing the opportunity. I’m not defined in one role, as Spiderman does not have to stay in his early defined role. We evolve and can change our circumstances as we see fit, or sometimes certain situations or groups are forced upon us, but we adapt.

    Like

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