As much as I respect Batman as a symbol of the self-made hero, he’s not a character that is especially easy to understand or relate to. For example: if Batman happens to be faced with someone trying to take over the world, or acquiring ridiculous new abilities, or coming back from the dead, he is likely to respond with a kind of grim acceptance that, yes, in fact, life really is this bizarre, then move ahead with some plan on how to get everything back under control again. Maybe he’s just been doing his job too long to be shocked or amused anymore by the vagaries of the superhero lifestyle, but the point is this: Batman has no idea what it’s like to be a normal person, living a normal life.
Spider-man, though, is a “common man” superhero. This may seem an odd claim, since, unlike Batman, Spider-man has some pretty wacky abilities of his own. (Proportional strength of a spider … really? And how exactly does he manage to stick to walls through gloves and shoes??) But in how he responds to the craziness around him, Spider-man demonstrates more humanity than Batman and Superman combined.
Spider-man’s stories really stand out for the amount of attention given to his secret identity, where lives of Batman and Superman’s “real world” alter-egos tend to remain only vaguely relevant. As a character, Peter Parker is a person we actually recognize, a person who seems to have at least one foot in the real world that we experience. He worries about money, he worries about relationships, he has a difficult time not letting people down. Even when it comes to a super-human throw down, we never forget that there’s a real person swinging around inside those spandex pajamas, just some guy who, between wise-cracks and really freaking out, is barely keeping his act together. I guess for me I see reflections of my life in Peter’s vulnerability, which makes the story of Spider-man’s unrelenting efforts to make a difference in the world all the more inspiring.
Really, though, it’s a tough call between Batman and Spider-man. The tone of their crime-fighting couldn’t be more different, of course, but beyond that, the Dark Knight and Your Friendly Neighborhood You-Know-Who actually have a lot in common: murdered parents; dead girlfriends; strong, well-defined rogues galleries; etc. It’s unfortunate that the two don’t have more opportunities to work together; a few more Marvel/DC crossovers would be therapeutic for the heroes, if nothing else.
Suggested Spider-man Reading: Amazing Spider-man, Vol. 2: Revelations (ASM #36-39), Amazing Spider-man; Vol. 3 : Until the Stars Turn Cold (ASM #40-45); Marvel Knights Spider-man, Vol. 1 (#1-12).
Suggested Spider-man/Batman/Superman Youtube Vid: “I’m a Marvel, I’m a DC, #5“