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Into the Psychology of the Spider-Verse

Superheroes are our modern mythology. The thing about mythology is that the story changes with time and with retelling, but there are core elements that always remain the same. Comic book publishers reboot timelines like nobody's business, but the core of every hero stays the same.

Look, I know you're saying "What about Nazi Captain America," and I get that, but that was a tremendous mistake. Hear me out.

Spoilers abound below!


No matter the timeline or the reboot, Batman's parents always die, driving him to seek justice. Superman is always an immigrant refugee [yup, I said it] coming to Earth and learns wholesome values to balance his powers. Iron Man is always a genius billionaire reinventing himself.

In the Spider-Man mythos, there is always loss.

Peter Parker, no matter the universe, always loses his Uncle Ben. And eventually he loses Gwen Stacy.

Miles loses his Uncle Aaron.

Gwen Stacy loses the Peter Parker of her world.

Peni Parker loses her father.

"The hardest thing about this job is that you can't always save everybody." - Spider-Ham

It almost doesn't matter the topic, I seem to include Kubler-Ross' stages of grief, which, while repetitive, makes sense because loss is so pertinent to not just superheroes but . . . life. Perhaps why we relate to these heroes so much, perhaps why we create them in the first place, is to because loss is one part of the common human experience, and these stories help us deal.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed her model of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) after working in various hospitals with terminal patients. While the model has been widely accepted as a general pattern of dealing with grief, everyone deals with loss in their own individual way, and usually within their cultural norms. Kubler-Ross observed presumably mostly white, of a certain socioeconomic status, American patients. Someone from a different background or with a different set of values and world perspective doesn't experience loss through those same five stages or experiences the stages in a different way.

Although they both inevitably wear a mask in their individual mythos, the way Peter Parker deals with his loss differs from how Bruce Wayne deals with his. And Miles deals with his loss differently from Peter.

But the experience of loss is universal. So we understand the feeling when Uncle Ben dies (again) or when Miles feels responsible for his uncle's death and isolated from his family.

But! Miles' story isn't just about loss. Miles experiences a feeling of belonging, with his family, with the other Spider-people, and eventually as he transitions to his new school. With a "leap of faith," Miles transitions from naive child closer to a confident adult. Loss isn't the only part of the human condition, although it is an inevitable one. Belonging, family, and growing up maybe look different depending on who we are and where we're from, but we all go through some version -- some dimension, if you will -- of it.

Maybe we create these heroic mythologies to help deal with real loss, but maybe also to express those desires to belong and our own hero's journey through personal development. When the hero we see ourselves in -- whether it be Peter, Miles, or Gwen -- finds that place of belonging and turns that loss into something powerful, it's as though we do too.

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