I've talked before about my love of Spider-Man. He was the nerd I aspired to be growing up. He was the example I followed when the bullies set in. When he was picked on, unfairly treated, or harassed, he rose above. He outlasted. He never quit, and time and time again proved that if you kept putting one foot in front of the other, sure in the belief that what you were doing was right, you would persevere. I took a lot of a solace and guidance from that, but it wasn't the only thing that I took away from the example he set. Spider-Man is different from the rest of the capes and tights in a very interesting way.
Spider-Man is unique amongst the superheroes in that he chose to be a hero. He didn't have to. After Uncle Ben's death, he could have blamed the mugger instead of himself. Peter wasn't to blame for the incident where he let him go, legally, morally, or otherwise. He had every reason to blame to TV producer who stiffed him, or faulty security at the studio for letting the assailant get away, or the police for letting him get to Uncle Ben.
We live in, and pay taxes into, a society where we know there are trained and specialized men and women out there whose job it is to take care of people like that, and they can usually do it a lot better than the rest of us, even if we did get super spider powers a month ago. He could have chose to blame the system for letting him down, or God for betraying him, but he chose to blame himself. Unhealthy? Perhaps. A therapist in a similar situation might tell his patient to stop blaming himself for something so out of his control. Regardless, it was that guilt that drove him to become a hero, and has driven him every day since.
No other hero had to choose to be one. Every other hero was either born one, or forced to be one, as this article I read recently made note of. Bruce Wayne's choice was ripped from him at a young age with the murder of his parents. He was Batman from age five; he just had to wait for the training and costume inspiration to catch up. Kal-El was Superman from the day he was born, by the nature of his very genetics. Steve Rogers was always heroic, but didn't have the means to act upon his nature until higher powers recognized his potential and stepped in to help him realize it. Wonder Woman was conditioned to be a hero from the day she was born. The Martian Manhunter is the last of his species; he has both a Batman and a Superman Complex times a million. Bruce Banner has little choice in whether he Hulks out, and even actively tries to stop himself from doing it. Thor was bred for a life of conquest and righteous battle.
Tony Stark chose to go into costumed do-goodering when he returned from his terrorist hostage situation, but he was wagering far, far less than Peter Parker ever had to. Stark has the money, power, and resources to live his life without an "alter-ego": in public, he is Iron Man, and Iron Man is him, and everyone knows it. If it goes downhill for him, he and all his loved ones can retreat into their multi-million dollar security bunkers and wait for it all to blow over. Peter Parker doesn't have such a luxury. He is broke, his friends and family don't live in Stark Tower, and he doesn't have SHIELD on speed dial. Both men are gambling with their lives, but Parker is all in.
Peter Parker chose to be a better person, rather than waiting for it to be forced on him. We have this choice to make in our every day lives, as well. We all have ideas of who we want to be: just, true, loyal, compassionate, honest. There's who we want to be, who we want others to think we are, and who we are, and unfortunately, none of us get all of those lined up. Usually, it comes down to making who we are into either who we want to be, or who we want others to think we are. Upon the death of Uncle Ben, Peter looked at the kind of person he had been, found it was the person he wanted others to think he was, and was ashamed. He then set out to devote the rest of his life to making who he was the person he wanted to be.
So in our everyday lives, are we choosing to be the person we want to be or the person we want others to think we are? That's a question of choice, of passivity or activity. The person who makes himself into who he wants to be is active; he decides to be that person. The person who makes himself into the person he wants others to think he is is passive; he is relying on and waiting for outside approval to be that person.
Every day, we have a choice. Which superhero do we choose to be? Spider-Man chooses to be the person he wants to be. Batman waits for that choice to be taken from him by someone else, fairly or unfairly. Superman expects to have been born with the ability, Captain America wait for someone to recognize his potential and help him achieve it, and Iron Man won't do it until he can do it safely.
Spider-Man does it regardless. It's more important to him than whether other people see it or allow it, or whether it hurts him in the long run. He doesn't wait for someone to tell him to, or force him to, or allow him to. He just does it, because it's the most important thing to him.
Image courtesy of ADB Designs