The Amazing Spider-Man's Jewish web

(Image courtesy of Reuters)


Ten years ago, when “Spider-Man” came out in May of 2002, the world was a different place. In that original movie, the plan was to have a helicopter filled with masked bank-robbers get caught in a giant spider’s web that was strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Because of the events eight-months previously, that scene was cut.
Yet when it finally hit the theaters, “Spider-Man” seemed to be the super-hero the masses yearned for. Indeed it was the only film to reach $100 million dollars in its first weekend, (the largest opening weekend gross of all time), and the most successful film based on a comic book.
You see, unlike Clark Kent (Superman) who lives in Metropolis or the multi-millionaire Bruce Wayne (Batman), who resides in a mansion in Gotham City, Peter Parker, the boy behind Spidey’s mask, lives in and swings around the real streets of New York.
With the remake that came out this week of “The Amazing Spider-Man”, we witness more than just the technological leaps made in moviemaking in that short decade. We see a story that’s still deeply ingrained and part of our collective unconscious with archetypes embedded in The Bible and mythology.
Surrounded in comic-book culture today, with supers galore from Thor, Ironman, Hulk and the gang of Avengers, to Green Lantern and Batman, Spidey re-invigorated the yearning for mythical heroes ingrained in our culture. Joseph Campbell once wrote in “Mythology and the Individual,” “All cultures … have grown out of myths. They are founded on myths.” When the top 15 grossing movies of all time include names like “The Avengers”, “Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man”, Hollywood must know they’ve hit a nerve.
Back in 1962, when he was first introduced, by Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) and illustrated by Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) and quickly turned over to Steve Ditko, Spidey was a kid in high school—an angst-filled, bespectacled teenager. While Clark Kent was only pretending to be a nerd, Peter really was one. According to Stan Lee, “Most of the young readers could identify with him because he had all the hang-ups that they did…in a story, I’d have his costume tear or he’d get an allergy attack.” In this latest remake, his costume tears, he gets shot (and it hurts) and beat up pretty badly. We feel his pain. But like his other comic book cousins, Reed Richards, Bruce Banner and even Tony Stark, what he has going for him is his brains. He solves the equation that sets the story in motion and in turn has to undo his own tangled (er…sorry) web.
Interestingly too, like all of those characters, also made by Marvel’s Stan Lee, there’s a Jewish component to him. Not only is the actor who plays him, (Andrew Garfield) a member of the tribe, but it’s part of the very fabric of the supers’ heritage. Lee writes, “To me you can wrap all of Judaism up in one sentence, and that is “Do not do unto others…’ All I tried to do in my stories was show that there’s some innate goodness in the human condition. And there’s always going to be evil; we should always be fighting evil.” Lee even points out that of all the biblical characters, Spider-Man most resembles David and recounts a story when King Saul, who is jealous of David, sends soldiers to kill him. David finds a cave and a spider weaves a giant web hiding him from them.
On another level, one could make the case that Peter Parker is much like Israel today. The young, smart, brainy country has the highest concentration of engineers in the world. It ranks fourth in the world in scientific activity as measured by the number of scientific publications per million citizens. Israeli companies advanced the mobile phone industry, pioneered voicemail and SMS as well as the first camera for use in mobile phones. Intel’s high-speed Centrino processor and Microsoft’s NT, XP and even the Firewall were developed in the Holy Land.
Yet perceptually, just as much of the world only sees Spider-Man and is not aware of his true identity, for much of the world Israel is only the mighty warrior.  
But even with that strength she seeks peace. Even with nuclear capabilities, she does not threaten her neighbors with them. Because, like Spider-Man in that final panel of the first issue and after his Uncle Ben’s murder, Israel knows that, “With great power there must also come…great responsibility.”
Much has changed in ten years. This month a Jewish nerd named Sergei Brin unveiled a pair of spectacles equipped with (like something out of a comic book) a processor, memory, camera, GPS sensors and a display screen.
And with the Fourth of July fireworks silhouetting it in the background, 1 World Trade Center (The Freedom Tower) originally conceived of by Daniel Libeskind to be a symbolic 1776 feet tall, is now the tallest building on the Manhattan skyline.
Setting itself up for a sequel, while the credits rolled at the end of this latest Spider-Man yarn, I’m envisioning that the next ten years will provide many more technological and cultural memes by which Spidey can swing.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at