Is Spider-Man the best-designed superhero of all time?

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PumpkinBomb

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Edited By PumpkinBomb
 I'm not talking about personality or backstory here; I'm sure most people already appreciate the nuances of his being a teenage superhero with no mentor, an everyman with troubles outside of the costume, and a pretty funny guy. What I am addressing here is the specifics of his powers and abilities, and how they make him a near-perfect superhero.
 
His gadgets lend themselves to originality. 
There's only a certain amount of  variability one can write into a fight sequence. Generally, this depends upon the environment or the villain of the week, but at the end of the day, most of them are just going to end up pummeling the opponent into semi-consciousness. Not so with Spider-Man. Spider-Man's web shooters allow so much more individuality than the average superhero - their functionality is only limited by the author's ability to come up with uses for sticky threads. They're a single simple, intuitive gadget that allow (near) flight, mobility, shield-making, imprisonment, blinding, holding doors shut, neutralizing guns, pulling people out of danger, making trampolines, tripping people, diverting missiles, insulating oneself against Electro, clubbing people, leaving messages, catching falling girlfriends... He interacts much more with his surroundings than other superheroes. And he doesn't need a massive utility belt to pull it all off; he can perform amazing stunts on a photographer's wages. The fact that this gamut of abilities is limited by the number of canisters he has left lends them an underlying tension that prevents him from just spamming webs like a mutant. And his wall-crawling abilities grant him a much more interesting three-dimensional world than his street-bound counterparts, without making him just another flying person.
 
His powers allow him to logically avoid injury.
If you think about it, there's something a little strange about superheroes going out to fight crime every day for fifteen years and coming home intact. If you look at the most successful superheroes, almost all of them have abilities that let them logically remain alive. Wolverine has a healing factor. Superman's practically invulnerable. Captain America has an impermeable shield. Batman's covered in Kevlar. Peter Parker's spider-sense and reflexes allow him not to be hit in the first place. In a world where people are running around with adamantium bullets and shooting laser beams out of their orifices, near-precognitive abilities prevent Spider-Man from being turned into a puddle of goo. Captain America should have been sniped a thousand times in World War II, but Spider-Man's power set contributes to an ongoing story without letting the character feel immortal. His spider-sense also fulfills a number of other useful story functions by detecting malevolence as well as incoming projectiles, and his accelerate healing rate lets him recover from severe beatings in time to be barely presentable at work. 
 
 He's strong enough to matter... and weak enough to be vulnerable.
 Spider-Man's raw power is considerable. Unlike most highly-trained human characters, he has the speed, strength and durability to be valuable fighting almost any class of enemy. He can tangle with anyone from the Juggernaut to a carjacker without feeling out of his element, and is a valuable addition to almost any team-up. But unlike some superheroes with a similar level of brute strength, he's always in a distinct amount of danger. Although, as I mentioned, his spider sense and reflexes justify his survival, but we never get the sense that he's just waltzing along shaking off punches like raindrops. He has to take the effort of trying to avoid every blow that comes his way, and doesn't have a phenomenal success rate. There's rarely a supervillain fight in which he isn't punched hard enough to knock Aunt May's head clean off, and - given his lack of armour - it wouldn't be at all implausible to kill him with a submachine gun. It's hard to be worried about the Thing in a fight, but Spider-Man's mix of strength and fragility lets him contribute without ever letting us take him for granted. 
 
He's plausibly smart. 
Spider-Man occupies that rare niche in comics: that of being extremely clever within the bounds of normal human intelligence. Unlike many other "brilliant" heroes - Reed Richards, say, or Batman - Spider-Man's intelligence has definite limits. His accomplishments are pretty much confined to the invention of his webs and spider-tracers, neither of which are impressive compared with most of his fellow heroes' creations. What we do get from the comics is that he's very smart - certainly much smarter than the average citizen, particularly some of his enemies - but we don't get him flinging beakers around and muttering about unstable molecules and beating Doctor Doom at chess. When he uses science to defeat a supervillain, we can generally follow what's going on. There's no need for suspension of disbelief in regard to his intellectual abilities, and that makes him much easier to see as a real person.
 
His costume ("uniform"!) is a thing of beauty. 
There are a number of iconic costumes in comics, but his takes the cake. It's one of the most beloved symbols in pop culture, and you can't go outside on Halloween without seeing lots of little Spider-Men running around. It's less complex than Batman's and less campy than Superman or Wolverine's. It doesn't have unnecessary accessories,  high-tech components or pouches. The primary color scheme makes it clear that he's a hero, the full-face mask actually makes it reasonable for his acquaintances not to recognize him, and the big eyes give him a sense of youth and emotion despite his hidden face. As for the innumerable little lines - well, inkers have to earn their money. 
 
Peter Parker aside, the core design of Spider-Man is nothing less than amazing. His adaptive powers, ability to avoid injury while remaining vulnerable, raw potential power, reasonable intelligence and terrific costume have given subsequent writers the raw material for countless great stories without being constrained by plot holes like so many other well-known superheroes. As far as power sets go, I think Spider-Man's is the best.    
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#1  Edited By Icon

I am sure some may disagree and it's all subjective, but yes, I'm totally with you. You make some really good points, especially about the versatility of his gadgets and the appeal of his costume (btw, your point about Halloween is dead on since Spidey is statistically the #1 costume for boys this year). 

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#2  Edited By IrishX

Can't believe I actually read this whole thing. 
 
Wolverine's costume is not campy.

 

I thought you made many good points. The one thing that Spider-Man fails at though is having the "bad-ass" factor.

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#3  Edited By roadbuster

I'm skeptical there's anything such as "perfect" but for me the criteria would be storytelling potential and I'd argue that Spider-Man is trapped in a somewhat narrow web of stories... they're great stories, which is why they can be durably retold in an Ultimates line, film, TV, one-shots, or continuity reboots... but they're a lot more narrow in focus than a lot of other heroes out there.  The gadgetry essentially breaks down to choreography which is less character dependent than writer / artist dependent.  A multitude of powers can stand in for gadgets and Spidey's own gadgets and stock moves haven't actually changed all that much- a story point for the upcoming Big Time.  Being a webbing and wall-crawling hero means he's urban centric.  His character doesn't make sense in the cornfields of Iowa, he doesn't translate as well into a period hero before skyscrapers, or into a far future where web slinging as locomotion is sluggish compared to antigravity belts and hover cars. 
 
I don't really know how avoiding injury makes for a perfect hero... as you cite, it seems to be "standard issue"... and honestly, Spidey Sense seems to be one of the most unreliable and inconsistently written abilities in comics, by necessity, of course.  I'm undecided whether it's better to have an express explanation which is applied inconsistently or better to have an unspoken trope account for survivability... for Spidey it adds an interesting scifi flare but seeing Indiana Jones or James Bond survive countless harms is just seamless.  I'd say the weakest aspect of the Spidey Sense is that spiders don't have precognitive abilities!
 
Regarding strength, this would be plain preference and- essentially- saying that street level adventuring is what "matters"... but if we use my criteria of story potential, it means Spidey is routinely telling only street level stories.  Characters like The Flash can tell stories that span dimensions and time, death and life, bordering on the cosmic, but then turn around and tell a solid street level story without skipping a beat.  They get to play both god and everyman because of the range of their powers / strength.  Spidey only gets to tell urban street level stories unless paired with gods or imbued with powers beyond his own.  With respect to vulnerability, this is arguably a put on as any popular character is essentially invulnerable... tropes will keep them alive by and large... but if you mean in-story rationale, all heroes are written as vulnerable... it's just a question of what level of threat.  And again, I'm not sure that locking into street level as an absolute good / "perfection" is an accurate gauge of what level of vulnerability is best.  These are, after all, super heroes.  If we want to see characters routinely at risk to everyday harms, you can turn on any television show or pop in any normal action film.  If, however, you want to exploit the strength of the genre and see people who only begin to face risks when 50 mm shells are involved, giant robots, mutant powers, alien technology, or magical spells... then there's a good case that a higher vulnerability level allows for more story potential because those heroes can more plausibly participate in those stories. 
 
The Spidey costume is great but it has three big weaknesses: 1. No silhouette.  If Spidey doesn't pose or use webbing there's nothing iconic about his outline just standing there.  2. Muddled icons.  It's not completely clear what Spider-Man's most powerful icon is... is it his chest symbol, his head, his webbing, his colors?  The spider alone isn't rendered with the consistency (of appearance or stylization) of most other heroic icons.  His head is often used as his icon (both as a Marvel bullet or in his Spidey-signal).  And his signature colors aren't really built into the logo itself.  3. It's difficult to render with a lot of detail work for a fully rendered suit. 
 
As irishX mentioned, there's the whole moral dimension which is more paragon than antihero so that's another narrowing of storytelling types.
 
I'm not saying Spider-Man is a bad hero... far from it... but I think this particular definition of "perfect" presents a more narrow picture of quality storytelling than is ideal for me.

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#4  Edited By frogjitsu
@IrishX said:

"I thought you made many good points. The one thing that Spider-Man fails at though is having the "bad-ass" factor. "

Spidey can be plenty bad-ass, when he has reason to be,
he just doesn't show it all the time.  He is your "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man".
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#5  Edited By roadbuster
@frogjitsu: "when he has reason to be" is the issue... characters with the "factor" can turn on a dime and be one way or the other without provocation.  For Spidey, if you need to amp things up to the level of newborns dying, then that's less a factor and just an "everyman" quality.  You push "everyman" far enough and he'll snap... that's not really character design so much as situation design.
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#6  Edited By spidey 15
@IrishX said:
"

Can't believe I actually read this whole thing. 
 
Wolverine's costume is not campy.

 

I thought you made many good points. The one thing that Spider-Man fails at though is having the "bad-ass" factor.

"
Read Back In Black and Grim Hunt. Nuff' said. 
=P
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#7  Edited By Deadcool
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#8  Edited By Deadcool
@Mainline said:

" I'm skeptical there's anything such as "perfect" but for me the criteria would be storytelling potential and I'd argue that Spider-Man is trapped in a somewhat narrow web of stories... they're great stories, which is why they can be durably retold in an Ultimates line, film, TV, one-shots, or continuity reboots... but they're a lot more narrow in focus than a lot of other heroes out there.  The gadgetry essentially breaks down to choreography which is less character dependent than writer / artist dependent.  A multitude of powers can stand in for gadgets and Spidey's own gadgets and stock moves haven't actually changed all that much- a story point for the upcoming Big Time.  Being a webbing and wall-crawling hero means he's urban centric.  His character doesn't make sense in the cornfields of Iowa, he doesn't translate as well into a period hero before skyscrapers, or into a far future where web slinging as locomotion is sluggish compared to antigravity belts and hover cars.

All that was good when he was a Teenager, now he is an adult, and you are right, he is not suposed to be like that any more, I blame Quesada for that, JMS's Spidey Maked sense for me, but most of the problems "of the character" are from the writers and editors in cheif (Quesada), they haven't  planned about the next step, I like what Bendis has done as next step, he to Peter to have Nick Fury's Job, that is perfect even if Ultimate Spider-man is a depowered Spidey, he has a lot of potential. 

I don't really know how avoiding injury makes for a perfect hero... as you cite, it seems to be "standard issue"... and honestly, Spidey Sense seems to be one of the most unreliable and inconsistently written abilities in comics, by necessity, of course.  I'm undecided whether it's better to have an express explanation which is applied inconsistently or better to have an unspoken trope account for survivability... for Spidey it adds an interesting scifi flare but seeing Indiana Jones or James Bond survive countless harms is just seamless.  I'd say the weakest aspect of the Spidey Sense is that spiders don't have precognitive abilities!

If you knew about sciences, there is no real superpower (All of them are dumb), but its perfect, it makes more sense than the invulnerability (That is a cheap power) and is more much useful, and that makes him physically vulnerable for the plot.
Well you are right in the part that Spiders have no precognitive superpower, but they have someting similar:
Spiders are very  sensitive to changes in pressure (They have a kid of hair that feels the pressure, they are more notorious in the tarantulas) and vibration (They feel the vibration in the web and the earth, there are desertic spiders that feel the vibration from the sand).

Regarding strength, this would be plain preference and- essentially- saying that street level adventuring is what "matters"... but if we use my criteria of story potential, it means Spidey is routinely telling only street level stories.  Characters like The Flash can tell stories that span dimensions and time, death and life, bordering on the cosmic, but then turn around and tell a solid street level story without skipping a beat.  They get to play both god and everyman because of the range of their powers / strength.  Spidey only gets to tell urban street level stories unless paired with gods or imbued with powers beyond his own.  With respect to vulnerability, this is arguably a put on as any popular character is essentially invulnerable... tropes will keep them alive by and large... but if you mean in-story rationale, all heroes are written as vulnerable... it's just a question of what level of threat.  And again, I'm not sure that locking into street level as an absolute good / "perfection" is an accurate gauge of what level of vulnerability is best.  These are, after all, super heroes.  If we want to see characters routinely at risk to everyday harms, you can turn on any television show or pop in any normal action film.  If, however, you want to exploit the strength of the genre and see people who only begin to face risks when 50 mm shells are involved, giant robots, mutant powers, alien technology, or magical spells... then there's a good case that a higher vulnerability level allows for more story potential because those heroes can more plausibly participate in those stories.

That is what i call: SUCH POTENTIAL WASTED!!!

The Spidey costume is great but it has three big weaknesses: 1. No silhouette.  If Spidey doesn't pose or use webbing there's nothing iconic about his outline just standing there.  2. Muddled icons.  It's not completely clear what Spider-Man's most powerful icon is... is it his chest symbol, his head, his webbing, his colors?  The spider alone isn't rendered with the consistency (of appearance or stylization) of most other heroic icons.  His head is often used as his icon (both as a Marvel bullet or in his Spidey-signal).  And his signature colors aren't really built into the logo itself.  3. It's difficult to render with a lot of detail work for a fully rendered suit.  As irishX mentioned, there's the whole moral dimension which is more paragon than antihero so that's another narrowing of storytelling types. I'm not saying Spider-Man is a bad hero... far from it... but I think this particular definition of "perfect" presents a more narrow picture of quality storytelling than is ideal for me. "

Well some people uses the Spider-black suit as main symbol... But most of the time Spider-man's face is used as symbol....
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#9  Edited By Icon
@Mainline: I really respect your opinion but I'm completely unconvinced by the argument that his stories are as limited as you think. I've read almost every imaginable kind of story in Spider-Man, from horror, to comedy, to sci-fi/space, to street drama, and all of them work on different levels. He is one of the few characters without the kinds of limits you suggest. Also, Spider-Man does have iconography that everyone recognizes, most notably in the way the character poses (such as his hand gestures when spinning webs as just one example), and also the symbol of his mask.
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#10  Edited By roadbuster
@Icon: I'd give the same argument that I gave to frogjitsu... situation is not the same thing as character. 
 
The OP is about character design and things intrinsic to Spider-Man that act as strengths.  However any sufficiently popular character will find themselves across any and every genre and setting.  Wolverine finds himself crossing over with the Power Pack and Punisher can find himself in the pages of Archie.  Those aren't due to the inherent or unique qualities of the character so much as sheer commercial momentum and writers creating justifications for their jaunts. 
 
With respect to iconography, I didn't say he doesn't have it, I said that they are "muddled" meaning there is no single "go to" icon to reliably and always represent Spider-Man.  And don't forget that discuss was about costumes.  Parker's poses aren't built into the costume.  Again, this doesn't mean the costume is bad but it is weaker than other costumes that have a single clear reliable icon that universally translates into the character.  Spidey's costume is muddled in the way Wolverine's is... you couldn't sure whether to use the claws (costume?), the yellow and blue flaring, or the face mask to represent Wolverine every single time.
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#11  Edited By Comicgirl93

I think Spidey's pretty cool! :D

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#12  Edited By Amegashita

  Personal opinion is personal opinion.

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#13  Edited By Icon
@Mainline: Actually both his mask and the spider symbol/chest symbol are go to symbols for him, and are used continuously in reference to him (hence my avatar). There just isn't anything muddled about it. Think of the movie posters for instance that were about just showing his symbol. Notice they don't even bother to put the name "Spider-Man" on it, since who else would this symbol belong to?

    
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 An example of his chest symbol being used with his name:
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Then there is his mask, which is an iconic symbol in its own right. Spider-Man even uses it as such as the Spider Signal (the light he flashes from his belt). And whenever you see it on an item there is no denying the symbol signifies Spider-Man and no one else. 

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#14  Edited By Dracade102
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#15  Edited By Metatron_Da_Don
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#16  Edited By roadbuster
@Icon said:

" @Mainline: Actually both his mask and the spider symbol/chest symbol are go to symbols for him, and are used continuously in reference to him (hence my avatar). There just isn't anything muddled about it. Think of the movie posters for instance that were about just showing his symbol. Notice they don't even bother to put the name "Spider-Man" on it, since who else would this symbol belong to?
 An example of his chest symbol being used with his name:
Then there is his mask, which is an iconic symbol in its own right. Spider-Man even uses it as such as the Spider Signal (the light he flashes from his belt). And whenever you see it on an item there is no denying the symbol signifies Spider-Man and no one else.

The "both" is the muddling.  There isn't a single definitive logo (like I raised with Wolvie, you could use an "X" crest, his claws, his trim, or his mask).  The spider silhouette is weaker than other logos because it's just a spider silhouette not even consistently stylized (compare the movie poster, the Ultimate cover, and the gadget scans... one looks like a tattoo, one looks like an ant, and one looks like a tick!).  Additionally, taken out of context it does not necessarily lead to Spider-Man.  On a movie poster as a sequel, on a videogame cover, etc. sure... but if you just put a black spider silhouette- much less a whole variety of them as seen in this thread alone- one could very well say, "neat spiders!" without once thinking Spider-Man.  Then, as a logo itself, it doesn't incorporate the hero's colors.  Even if you sit it on a field of red, blue is conspicuously absent.  The spider-silhouette works, it's okay, but it's far from "perfect" as an icon and thus the costume bearing it is less than ideal. 
 
By bringing up the Spider Signal (which I did in my first post too), you're bringing home the point.  The spider alone isn't enough to identify so when Spidey needs to be identified he uses his face / mask to represent himself.  Now his mask is definitely more distinct than his spider, but is it really a logo or icon?  It's not an abstraction of Spider-Man so much as it is a direct representation.  No one would wear a Spider-Man mask on their chest as a superhero costume.  So again, it's fine, it's distinct, but it's not as good as costumes that have that uniquely identifying logo and it's not as good as costumes that don't have competing iconography.  I mean, clearly the mask isn't the sole "go to" logo if a movie relies instead on the chest... but neither is the spider the "go to" if cupcakes are decorated with the face.
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#17  Edited By FadeToBlackBolt

If you were to take Superman out of the equation, Spider-Man would be the greatest superhero in comics, (he wouldn't be the greatest character, that's Batman, but he would be the greatest hero). What Pete lacks is Clark's ability to inspire.

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#18  Edited By Icon
@Mainline: OK, but your points are true of most superhero costumes, and that alone is not a weakness of them. Many have symbols that have not been consistently stylised (Batman's bat being a good example as there are several very different versions, as inconsistent as Spidey's chest Spider). With my posts I just wanted to point out that Spider-Man does at least have recognizable symbols. You're right to point out any inconsistencies in stylization, but they do not equate to any real weakness of the character's design or his ability to be recognized.  You suggest otherwise but the fact is people do wear Spider-Man's symbol on their chest (as I showed with the Spidey symbol t-shirt). Anyway, there is just no law saying in order for a superhero costume to be "ideal" it must have one (and only one) "go to" symbol that doesn't change between various incarnations and incorporates the heroes colours in the symbol. The only superheroes who fit that mold are classic DC heroes like Superman, or teams like the FF. It's just too arbitrary of a criticism to say Spider-Man's costume is lacking compared to a handful of others because it isn't in their specific style, one based solely around a single obvious symbol with the heroes colours incorporated therein. That isn't necessary.
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#19  Edited By roadbuster

I agree that's true of "most" which, as I pointed out with baseline hero durability (or harm avoidance), is common... whereas "perfect" ought to be a higher and more rare standard.  I'd say the stylization of the Batman symbol is more distinctively stylized across the board and resembles an actual bat less than Spidey's spider looks like a spider... so if you put a field of batman crests against a field of spider-man spider silhouettes, I'm guessing people will more reliably recognize Batman.
 
I agree that there is no rule that determines a costume with a silhouette or a single unifying icon are better, but these are my criteria.  Others may say the "perfect" costume are the most contemporary, the most street, the most skin, the most functional, the darkest colors, etc.  My criteria, however, are based on artistic and distinctiveness considerations.  A silhouette obviously helps make the character identifiable near or far, bathed in shadow, or beaming in light, etc.  A logo eliminates any question of identity and can be used to brand things beyond just the costume to make the association clear.  It also makes derivation while maintaining identity easier.  Combined colors on the logo means your entire pallet is expressed on one icon so your coloring can be consistent across the character in any lighting, shade, etc.  And, to me, it's aesthetically pleasing yet artistically and commercially utilitarian. 
 
I'm not denying anyone's right to consider Spidey their ultimate hero design, but he doesn't line up with my ideal criteria. 
 
I also thought of another two: Spidey doesn't really have a prominent "Spider-Man family" like several of the X-Characters, Iron-Man, or DC dynasties which means one less built-in storytelling avenue.  Additionally, his classic origin revolves around human science which demands it be updated with actual technology and scientific sophistication rather than being timeless (or, entirely side-stepped by claiming Spidey's origins are totemic animal magic).  Still an awesome favorite character of mine, but in terms of my design criteria he's not perfection.

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#20  Edited By Retro_Metro

I'd vote on most interesting to get into.

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#21  Edited By N7_Normandy
@IrishX said:
"

Can't believe I actually read this whole thing. 
 
Wolverine's costume is not campy.

 

I thought you made many good points. The one thing that Spider-Man fails at though is having the "bad-ass" factor.

"
Spider-Man does have the  "bad-ass" factor when he's angry 
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#22  Edited By FadeToBlackBolt
@N7_Normandy said:
" @IrishX said:
"

Can't believe I actually read this whole thing. 
 
Wolverine's costume is not campy.

 

I thought you made many good points. The one thing that Spider-Man fails at though is having the "bad-ass" factor.

"
Spider-Man does have the  "bad-ass" factor when he's angry  "
QFT.
 
Spidey is a serious BAMF when he gets mad. Back in Black, Grim Hunt, Origin of Species. You do not want to mess with that Spider.
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#23  Edited By IrishX
@FadeToBlackBolt:
@N7_Normandy: 
@spidey 15:
@frogjitsu:
  
 
I'm sure Spidey has had plenty of "bad-ass" moments and times in his career as a super-hero. That said though I don't think anyone looks at Spider-Man and thinks bad-ass. It's an attitude... a way of being.  
 
Not every character should be that way and I certainly don't think someone who's reputation is a geeky teenager should be that way. Spider-Man is cool but he is not bad-ass.

   
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#24  Edited By Doctor!!!!!

If it ain't broke, don't fix it... 
Just Sayin'

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Deadcool

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#25  Edited By Deadcool
@IrishX:  He is bad-ass with the right people... You dont have to be recogniced to be a Bad-ass.
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Hamz

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#26  Edited By Hamz

Spider-Man is just easier to relate too than most superheroes I think. I wouldn't say he's the best designed superhero but he's definitely one that I believe has a more consistent feel to him than most others. 

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SpidermanWins

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#27  Edited By SpidermanWins

I'd like to say so. But it is hard to say out of the myriad of superheroes in all comics that there have ever been. Sooooo maybe, but there is alot to think through before announcing the winner.

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ComicCrazy

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#28  Edited By ComicCrazy
@SpidermanWins said:
"I'd like to say so. But it is hard to say out of the myriad of superheroes in all comics that there have ever been. Sooooo maybe, but there is alot to think through before announcing the winner. "

Kind of Ironic seeing as though your user name is Spiderman wins.

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