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The Fifth Color | Peter Parker, the eternal child

by  in Comic News Comment
The Fifth Color | Peter Parker, the eternal child

Congratulations, everyone! It’s a boy! Like, an actual boy: The newest actor to step into Peter Parker’s shoes is 19-year-old Tom Holland, the youngest Spider-Man yet (when cast at least, as he’ll probably be 20 or so by the time he shows up on screen).

The news has been met at my store with mixed “mehs.” Some are disappointed because Miles Morales won’t be appearing in his place, others are worried that we might have to sit through yet another origin story. Some are just put off by how young Holland looks. While there’s nothing fans can do to change the minds of studio executives, there’s still a chance that we might not have to watch Peter be bitten by a spider for any longer than an opening-credit sequence. It’s the teen years we’re really focusing on, and it can be such a sticking point with the discerning fan.

Why does Peter Parker always have to be a kid?

Believe it or not, that’s not exactly true. In the comics, Peter Parker has been a teenager roughly as long as any vaguely aged adult has been. I can’t speak for The Amazing Spider-Man 1 or 2, but at least in the Sam Raimi movies, Peter Parker graduates and gets to have two more adventures (with mild degrees of success). The majority of Spider-Man’s appearances in popular culture haven’t been as a teenager, but why do we collectively groan when films intend to put him back in high school? Shouldn’t he be over that now? Shouldn’t we?

Let’s face it: Teen Peter Parker is an icon. One could argue that Amazing Fantasy #15 is the backbone of the Marvel superheroes we know and love today. And, unlike some other icons of the dawn of Marvel Universe, Peter Parker became real to us right off the bat. We didn’t meet him as a baby or as a boy, but as a teenager, right on the edge of becoming an adult but still uncertain of what that might entail. His mistakes were forgivable; he was learning, as a lot of teens were when they read Spider-Man for the first time.

His start in comics is quite possibly his weakest moment: an outcast nerd raised by a widowed aunt; none of this background screams, “This guy’s gonna make it!” We find him in the most archetypal pecking order possible, as the social strata is strongest in high school. And through all of this, he gains his powers in secret and overcomes his personal adversity with anonymous heroics — and this is where the readers’ fantasy kicks in. We can relate to Peter’s troubles and aspire and escape through his superheroic identity. He is both the fantasy and the reality.

Older Peter Parker becomes us. I can’t tell you what a teenager reading about Spider-Man thinks of his further adventures, but as an older reader I can see where it just might not be as fun anymore. Learning about responsibility is for the young and when you can’t get it together out of college, it feels like you should know better. Being Spider-Man part-time now seems irresponsible, as you wonder how he’s even paying his bills. I’m not saying there are those who can’t relate to understanding the balance between power and responsibility later in life, but for as long as we’ve known the guy, you kind of just wish he’d get his act together.

In fact, the next phase in one’s life where that power/responsibility balance is changed and even relearned to some extent is, well, marriage. Letting someone into your life for the long term means giving up some your power to take on new responsibilities so that you both grow and learn together. Gaining something greater than yourself is a huge step and it can take a lot longer than your teen years to master. You’re not learning how to be an adult, you’re learning how to be adults, plural. Mary Jane and Peter Parker work because it is the natural evolution of adulthood for both of them.

There’s only one real problem with this progress: The people writing these stories are still figuring out a lot of this themselves. The adage is “write what you know” for a reason, and in the real world, not a lot of people know how to progress as smoothly as fictional people. It’s easier to put Peter Parker in high school, a place a lot of people have perspective on, whether you’re experiencing it now or are looking back on it with distance and wisdom, than to take Peter Parker that next step before you’ve even found it yourself.

I’m not saying there’s not an abundance of fantastic stories about married Peter Parker or, even more dramatic, “Dad” Peter Parker, but I do feel that there isn’t a creative team ready to write those stories yet. And if the comics can shatter universes and stitch them together, there they are willing to do some daring stuff. Movie execs have always been less daring due to budgets and how large an audience they can attract, so it’s not that surprising that not only do we see the very well-known character of Peter Parker back up on the silver screen, but in his most familiar setting: high school. Hopefully, by spending a little more time with Peter in his natural habitat, we can forgive his perpetual childhood and enjoy the moment to revisit our own.

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