Spider-Man understands that it is not abstract conceptions of the world that matter most, but individual lives. His ethics point toward excellence of character, which is an extreme of sorts, but it does not require a rebellion against nature that aims to establish dominion over it. However great Spider-Man’s responsibility is, it remains recognizably human, whereas Batman’s undertaking is utopian in scope and inhuman in its implementation. Conscientious people can imagine imitating Peter Parker, though the material and reputational costs quickly dissuade them, but only a masochist would want to live like Bruce Wayne. Sure, he is admired by the ladies, mainly disreputable types like Catwoman, vacuous debutantes, and sundry glitterati, but he can’t love any of them back—not simply because they aren’t as lovable as Gwen and Mary Jane, but because the pursuit of perfect justice, understood as systemic rational order, leaves no room for love. Indeed, it is at odds with it.
Given that Spider-Man’s ethical ideal is of an upright, stalwart, long-suffering man who faces his travails with dignity and integrity, I cannot help but wonder if the premodern roots of his character are not better located in Jerusalem than Athens. Uncle Ben’s ethic of responsibility certainly calls to mind Luke 12:48, where it is declared, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Spider-Man’s origin story brings to mind a Gospel passage just a few verses before that one: “And this know, that if the good man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through” (Luke 12:39). There’s something Christian-sounding about Spider-Man’s “friendly neighborhood” sobriquet. He comes to the rescue of any and all people indiscriminately, implying that he treats every person in the world as his neighbor. He will even rescue his enemies from mortal danger.