On -isms: Spider-Everyman

By | Thursday, April 13, 2017 Leave a Comment
One of the things that helped Spider-Man with his popularity was that his costume completed covered him. He could be virtually anyone under that mask. Regardless of skin color or hair style or even gender! Superman was clearly a white guy with dark hair. Captain America was clearly a white guy with blue eyes. As a reader, particularly as a young reader, if you weren't white with blond hair, it was harder to picture yourself in Green Arrow's costume than in Spider-Man's.

Of course, Spider-Man's real identity as Peter Parker nails the character's look down considerably more, but who wanted to pretend to be Peter Parker anyway? The whole thrust of the character was that Spider-Man was a release for Peter to be somebody he wasn't normally. That idea transcended the comic itself, and readers could both empathize with the idea and, to some degree, act on it by donning their own Spider-Man costume.

Here's a thought, though. What if there were a costumed superhero that was completely covered like Spider-Man, but you never saw him/her out of costume? Or if you did, it was obscured by shadows or something. Assuming it was written and drawn well, would that prove appealing on the basis that it could be anyone under that costume? The same concept as what happens with Spider-Man, but deliberately carried to a near extreme.

You could still delve into the character's personal life. Maybe use a gender-neutral name like Sam or Pat. You could still have an aging parent like an Aunt May, who still tries to set up the character with blind dates -- ones that are never seen and/or have equally gender-neutral names... like M.J. Plus your standard work and money problems.

You'd have to play it straight, I think. Not like Julia Sweeney's Pat character from Saturday Night Live. The whole point is that it would be a heroic character that readers of all sorts could easily step into. The challenge would be in creating a story that's really solid, doesn't borrow too heavily from Spider-Man, and doesn't come across like it's pandering specifically to that conceptual hook.

I don't know. Maybe it's a crap idea that wouldn't sell regardless of how well executed it was. This is why I'm not a comic book writer.

But I bring it up to perhaps help folks get some gears spinning about what they might do when designing characters to make them more broadly appealing. Particularly if you're a white creator and have a tendency to cater to the white status quo.
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