Panel from Spider-Man, Amazing Fantasy #15

Panel from Spider-Man, Amazing Fantasy #15

 That’s how Stan Lee introduced Spider-Man to Marvel Comics readers in 1962. The narrator pronounces these words, which so many of us have heard so many times, in the last panel of Amazing Fantasy #15. They are words that, over the intervening decades, have both guided and tortured Spider Man – nee Peter Parker – throughout both comics and film. They are also words that capture some of Stan Lee’s brilliance.

Lee, who died November 12 at 95, was using an idea that has been spoken throughout history by the likes of Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill. The idea that great power requires great responsibility is an archetype, something we lean as a standard in journalism, politics and life. And although Lee applied it to a fictional superhero, it gains far greater resonance because it exists through time, through situations, and through cultures. It transcends the comic, such that Peter Parker – aspiring photojournalist — becomes more than just Peter Parker. He becomes every person wrestling with that reality. And by using it in his comics, Lee put it where even young people could start to access and understand.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This sentence and analysis was the offering of a small workshop of science journalists, reported and written by Erik Ness and Lauren Gravitz, with editing and input from Cassandra Willyard, Jill U. Adams, Hannah Hoag and Siri Carpenter.

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