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By Dr. Rex (Dejai) Barnes, English and History Faculty
The Implied Spider-Man: Transcreating Religious Imagery and Meaning in Spider-Man India
Editor’s Note: This essay was written for and previously published in The Assimilation of Yogic Religions Through Pop Culture, Edited by Paul G. Hackett.
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the Amazing Spider-Man in the August 1962 issue of Amazing Fantasy #15, they conceived a young, reticent hero from Queens whose superhuman powers were the result of a scientific accident: the bite of a radioactive spider. Peter Parker’s transformation thereafter is well known. Having assimilated the proportional strength and agility of the spider, he can now climb walls and has gained a (sixth) spider-sense of alarm to imminent danger. Upon discovery of these newly acquired faculties, however, Peter initially seeks fame and celebrity, not crime-fighting. Only after the murder of his Uncle Ben does he embody the famous axiom: “With great power must also come great responsibility.” This is an important point often overlooked by avid and causal fans alike: it is the ongoing ethical engagement with Uncle Ben’s death, rather than the extraordinary arachnid encounter, which provides Peter the impetus to don the Spidey costume and enact his sense of inspired duty. 
That American comic book superheroes are often equated with and interpreted through their powers is understandable. Animistic designations often govern the namesake of many characters (e.g., Spider-Man, Ant-man, Hawkman), whereas a superlative or descriptive quality may emphasize another hero’s abilities and identity (e.g., Superman, Storm, the Human Torch). These are of course not hard and fast rules. Neither Wolverine nor the Batman derive their skills from the wolverine or bat. Their titles exemplify the respective traits of ferociousness and fear evoked by the symbolism of their animal avatars. No doubt myriad variations exist for how a hero’s name might dovetail with their capacity to astonish audiences in contemporary popular culture. In other words, the ways in which our superheroes are diversely portrayed and culturally perceived depends on more than simply a hero’s name. Social and political contexts, narrative setting, intended audience, and the publishers own creative intentions, among others, contribute to the numerous dynamic readings attributed to comic book characters.(more…)