In 1967, the very first Spider-Man animated series succinctly described his powers in this way: “does whatever a spider can.” But that’s not exactly true. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko took a few liberties when they created one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes.
Hey, he’s the Amazing Spider-Man, not the Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man.
In the Marvel Universe, Peter Parker was blessed with several different abilities. Perhaps the most iconic aspect of his powers is the way that Spidey can stick to almost any surface. Note that these powers can extend through Spidey’s clothing, but not his shoes. Presumably, Spider-Man’s costume is thin enough to allow him to use his power through his hands and feet.
Although Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy depicted Peter’s webs as a bodily function, his comic book incarnation relies on science and technology for that ability. Very early into his career as Spider-Man, Peter developed a chemical formula for webbing, and he also designed web shooters to use it. Peter’s genius was an inherent part of his character long before the spider came along. It’s also one of his greatest powers.
Additionally, the spider’s bite gave Peter phenomenal strength and incredible agility. It’s worth noting that Peter’s athletic prowess before the bite was largely non-existent. Practically overnight, Peter’s entire physiology evolved far beyond peak human levels. But that doesn’t make Peter a mutant like the X-Men. Instead, Spider-Man is a human mutate.
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Peter’s “Spider-Sense” has no direct correlation to actual spiders. Fortunately, this means that Peter doesn’t have multiple eyes, or literal eyes in the back of his head. But he does have an almost supernatural ability to sense danger even when he can’t exactly pinpoint its source. It’s been described as a sixth sense, and not even Peter can fully explain where his Spider-Sense comes from. Regardless, it’s saved his life on more than one occasion. When used in conjunction with his agility, the Spider-Sense even allows Peter to avoid bullets and other deadly projectiles.
But where did these powers come from? The Spider-Totem storyline suggested that the spider that bit Peter was trying to pass on its powers before the radiation could kill it. The implication is that the spider itself was special, and the radiation was not.
The subsequent Spider-Man comics have largely shied away from the potential mystical origins of Peter’s powers. However, the Spider-Verse crossover revisited the Spider-Totems in 2014 and established connections between all of the Spider-Men and Spider-Women from across the multiverse.
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Physically and mentally, Spider-Man is one of the most formidable heroes in the Marvel Universe. But his greatest attribute has always been his heart. In his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter learned the hard way that “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Spider-Man truly cares about the people he protects, as well as his close circle of friends and family. He knows the value of mercy, and the power of compassion.
Peter Parker is far from perfect, and he’s not above making occasional mistakes. But his mind, body, heart, and soul have made him into one of the most iconic comic book heroes ever created.