Meet Spider-Man, superhero/regular guy.

Do yourself a favor. Finish reading this column, put the bills and errands aside, grab some family and/or friends, and go see Spider-Man at the nearest megaplex. And let me clarify something here: This is not a movie review. I could no more critique a film about Spider-Man than I could evaluate the strengths and weaknesses (there are no weaknesses) of my 3-year-old daughter. You see, Spidey and I go too far back. And just as I would if, say, an old college roommate were making his big-screen debut, I'm hereby urging you to go spend a couple of hours with the ol' webhead. If he's not your friend already well, acquaint yourself.

As a child of the Seventies, I had what amounts to a boyhood trinity of heroes: Roger Staubach (quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys), Paul Stanley (lead singer of KISS), and Spidey. Even Staubach would lose a game every now and then. And it took a couple of years before my parents would allow any KISS records in the house. But Spider-Man? He was always there, month after month after month.

My grandfather bought me my first Spider-Man comic -- Amazing Spider-Man #177 -- in 1978. I had read plenty of comic books before this epic gift, but I was more of a baseball-card kid at the time. Comics were a nice distraction, but I didn't have the bug (so to speak) just yet. In that issue, Spidey took on his archenemy, the Green Goblin (whose secret identity turned out to be a huge surprise an imitation Goblin, if you can believe that).

I lost my grandfather in 1979 but kept finding my way to local comic outlets for the next 20 years. Why the love affair with Spider-Man? Let me count the ways.

Were it not for his being bitten by a radioactive spider in a high school lab, Peter Parker might as well be you or me. School problems, girl problems, peer problems. No leaping over a building in a single bound for young Parker. No Batmobile to tool around in. Then along came a spider.

Before there was Spider-Man as we know and love him, he was a circus act. A mercenary. Peter simply wanted to cash in on his newfound powers to the highest bidder. It wasn't until he ignored a chance to stop a burglar -- who, as fate would have it, later murdered his uncle Ben -- that Peter realized his mantra: with great power comes great responsibility. Has there ever been a cornier superhero slogan? And, I ask you, has there ever been such a slogan more worthy of our attention?

The meaning of hero was redefined for us on September 11, 2001. Spider-Man -- to say nothing of Roger Staubach or Paul Stanley -- isn't in the same league as those firemen and police officers who stormed up a pair of skyscrapers they knew were coming down. Since that horrible day, it's the men and women fighting to end the horrors of terrorism who have come to embody modern heroism.

But you know what? Spider-Man would have been there to help. As irrational as it may sound now -- and, admittedly, it's a child's fantasy invading an adult's mind -- I wished for there to be a real Spider-Man as the twin towers and Pentagon burned. I wished for reality to take a backseat temporarily long enough for good to once again stiff-arm evil.

To date, my collection of Amazing Spider-Man comics numbers almost 400. I quit collecting the current issues in 1998 when the powers-that-be at Marvel Comics made the god-awful decision of essentially starting over, with the second volume of Spidey's story to be told in a more modern context. (Talk about reinventing the wheel.) I've been left with the task of going back in time, working my collection downward, the price of an issue going up as the number on the cover gets smaller. (I'm at #53, a treasure from October 1967.)

As I go back with Spidey -- and get older every day -- I realize all the more how great my hero's powers really are. The power to escape, not so much in body but in mind. If you ask me, the perfect hero for the silver screen. As this long-awaited motion picture finally arrives, I am disappointed in one regard. Columbia should have cast me as Peter Parker.

There's always the sequel.

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