Let’s say you walk into a screening of The Amazing Spider-Man. You settle into your seat, grab a handful of overly salted popcorn and shut off your higher brain functions in preparation to be wowed by the spectacle of a teenage boy who’s been granted all the really cool parts of being a spider, without any of the gross, arachnoid body features. “All of this is silly make-believe comic book stuff,” you imagine, comfortable in your certainty that Andrew Garfield does not routinely swing through the streets of New York City suspended by a small, super-strong line of silk.
While we will readily admit that Mr. Garfield probably has better things to do than punch out muggers, the rest of the scenario is surprisingly possible. Well, almost. Watch the video embedded at bottom, created by Emory University math professor Skip Garibaldi, that explains why Spidey’s acrobatic swinging and seemingly indestructible webbing isn’t as far-fetched as you’d think.
Done? Okay, so as much as we appreciate Professor Garibaldi lending credence to our goal of one day living inside the mind of Stan Lee, there are still a few pretty big hurdles the Spider-Man mythos has to leap before we can claim that it’s a document of fact. First, though Garibaldi claims that Spidey’s webbing could, in the right circumstances, function as it does in The Amazing Spider-Man, he does allow that for Spider-Man to swing on it, and use the webbing to anchor himself to buildings, that he would need to be phenomenally, unrealistically strong.
“He was bitten by a radioactive spider! Obviously he has the proportional strength of the toughest arachnid!” you scream, spraying tiny drops of rage spittle across your monitor.
While comic book logic dictates that being bitten by a radioactive animal will give you the most awesome features of said animal, in reality you’d most likely just end up with a rather unfortunate wound. Assuming the spider that bit Peter Parker wasn’t killed by the dose of radiation it received (and assuming it isn’t one of those rare poisonous species), Parker would likely have been left with an annoying itch or, at worst, a slow-healing sore. Unless muscle cramping is a super power, that part of the mythos doesn’t really hold up.
Likewise, in addition to super strength, Spider-Man’s entire body would have to become far more resistent to damage. Remember that scene in Spider-Man 2 where Spidey stops a speeding subway car by webbing it to nearby buildings and using his body as a brake? If any of you were to attempt such a stunt your arms wouldn’t even get a chance to become tired, as the massive forces involved would simply pull your shoulders apart. You’d likely go into shock and bleed all over the passengers at the front of the train, shortly before the whole thing crashes into the Hudson River. That’s what you get for trying to play the hero.
Still, fallacies of comic book logic aside, its comforting to know that such an iconic superhero does actually have a claim to legitimacy, even if it’s only based on hypothetical physics and ungodly amounts of the silk that comes from a spider’s butt. However, if our counterpoints have left you soured on the idea of trying to become Spider-Man, we would instead direct you to the far more attainable goal of being Batman. For only $682 million you too could join the superhero biz, and barring any unfortunate cowl-related accidents, you’ll even get to keep both of your arms.