The Ideology of the Spider-Suit

Editor’s note: This post was written by Morgan Kraljevich, a freelance writer by profession, and a video game addict by self-diagnosis. An avid reader and amateur coffee connoisseur, she can often be found bumming around the local cafes reading and writing in her worn-out journal. Hoping to one day set her sights on each square inch of the world, she often spends hours globetrotting in reverie. A lover of all things fuzzy, fantasy, and all things between here and infinity – which she hopes to completely understand, one day. Follow Morgan on Twitter.

It’s as classic as apple pie or Thanksgiving dinner; it’s blue and red, recognizable around the world. To some it’s a symbol of hope, to some it communicates a message of menace; the notion that the days of chaos and anarchy are over, something has stepped in to enact a change. It’s a figure of power and responsibility; an artifact that heightens its wearer to an idyllic identity. It is: The Spider-Suit.

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Since 1962, Spider-Man has been recognized as one of the most notable characters in comic book history, with so many iterations through the years it’s impossible to keep them straight. He was Spider-Man; he hosted the sentient manifestation of the universe itself in the Uni-Power; he was even an Elizabethan gentleman in 1602. It’s a hard pill to swallow if you haven’t had a chance to read every single issue (and who honestly has?!), which is why it’s great that someone else has already done that. Or at least done a lot of research to come close enough to doing it that they were able to put together an infographic that timelines the majority of Spider-Man’s forms. Last year, Mashable put together a comprehensive infographic that collected most of the suits into one place, with a brief history and description of the artist paired with each.

The collection of characters was extensive and included a number of versions that have made their way into more mainstream culture, as well as some that some fans might not have even known existed, unless they’ve done some heavy reading. It’s a timeline that’s seemingly reminiscent of The History of the Bat-Suit infographic from a few years ago, and I think it’s a nice tool to use for those Spidey-fans out there that want an extensive resource – with a bit of history thrown in – to help keep the story straight as they’re navigating through the franchise.

At first glance the variety of suits is somewhat perplexing; the fact that one character can be a superhero at all is pretty amazing, but to have over 20 different versions of oneself is almost incomprehensible. And while the Spidey-Suit hasn’t only been reserved for best-known wearer Peter Parker, it still begs the question as to what is really lying behind all of those suits.

There’s more than purely aesthetics at play; each deviated storyline offers a representation of a deep reflection that Stan Lee might have been making at the time of creation, and the suits lend themselves as a visual representation of that. It’s a chronicling of Peter’s endeavor at making sense of his changing environment, which mirrors Lee’s thought process through its creative connectivity.

Take the Symbiote suit for instance (a personal favorite of mine); on the surface, it’s a simple black-and-white suit that Peter finds on an alien world. Beyond that though, it’s secretly a sentient organism that Perter unknowingly puts on, whereby it attempts to bond with his body. While Peter is in the suit his Spider-Skills are heightened – he’s faster and stronger than ever, and has unlimited webbing – but the amplification comes at a cost; wearing the suit drains Peter’s energy. To me this was a direct representation of life; the suit bonds with Peter, it becomes him. It’s a statement to remain true to oneself; Peter’s change seems positive at first glance, but once he loses himself, he starts to lose his very life force. It’s a reminder that nothing good in life is free, and that with great and unchecked power, comes great risk and responsibility.

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Directly after Symbiote came what I would argue as one of the most peculiar versions of Spider-Man. And while it’s not on Mashable’s list, there is an infographic by Jonathan Sagovic that details it nicely. Enter: Bombastic Bag-Man.

It’s Peter’s answer to not having a suit at all once the Symbiote was removed, and though it’s strange in appearance, I think the representation is clear. Peter lost his identity first when he bonds with the Symbiote, and then is faced with another loss of character once that suit is gone. He is in a state of uncertainty, and must decide who he will become now that all previous identities have been stripped from him. In another reflection of life, Peter must rely on his friends for help and temporary self-distinction, and can then return to his superhero duties when he has finally pushed outside of himself.

And while there are a lot of subtle, philosophical implications that can be drawn from many of the suits, some of them are clearly aimed at having a bit of fun. The idea of Spider-Man being the last in a clan of ninjas in Legend of the Spider-Clan is much less serious, for example. Though the iterations may not follow an entirely linear path throughout the series, they can definitely be taken to embody the growth of Peter – physically, but also mentally and emotionally – as he becomes a fully established character.

Though it’s never explicitly been stated that Spider-Man represents a young male’s coming of age, I think that calling it a very fanciful, deeply developed bildungsroman would be fair. He is an average boy, who through a series of supernatural events, becomes a hero. He becomes the physical manifestation of what we all hope to be; he’s powerful, but he’s human. He’s tasked with monitoring the fate of the world, but does so with humility, and not without error.

The reason that Spider-Man works well as our heroic self-representation because deep down, there’s a little bit of Spider in all of us. There’s a drive to better the world in some form or another, and a desire to be more than the Average Joe. The human aspect of Spider-Man makes him relatable; it gives the reader that feeling of “maybe this could be me,” – if they could only come in contact with a fated radioactive spider.

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