It’s a Marvel after all these years, but I am still an unabashed Spider-Fan. And that’s true whether the man behind the mask is Peter Parker, Miles Morales … or Mattia Villardita.
If you don’t recognize that last name, don’t worry; you haven’t missed the box office smash “Spider-Man: Far From Rome.” Mattia Villardita is a man from northern Italy who visits sick children in hospitals dressed as the superhero webslinger. During the pandemic, that even extended to organizing video calls for pediatric patients, delivering Spidey-pizzas to them, and organizing a kids’ play area in his home town’s hospital.
It’s been a colorful way to help others, and recently it’s gotten him international recognition. Photos of Spider-Man receiving a thank-you from Pope Francis on June 23 and then giving the Pope a mask of his own rocketed around the internet… to the amazement of Mattia, who didn’t learn of his applause until later, since, as the Irish Times noted, the Spider-Man costume didn’t have room to carry a phone.
“To tell you the truth,” he told the Irish Times, “I expected that this meeting could spark curiosity, but not that it would go all over the world.”
Unlike Mattia, I’m not surprised at all.
If ever there was a superhero for all of us, right here, right now, it’s the webhead.
I latched onto Spidey as a kid, buoyed by comics and games and episodes of “The Electric Company.” It was a neat fit – a young hero with a quick sense of humor and a mind that worked faster than his web-shooters. As I reached my teen years, I even had a bit of a Peter Parker look myself, albeit with blue eyes instead of the traditional brown hidden behind the mask.
But it didn’t take me long to see what really made his heart beat behind those red-and-blue long johns. And what makes him still work today.
Then and now, he’s one of us.
Superman routinely saves the planet. Spidey’s had his moments, but spends most of his time with more local problems (as befits “your neighborhood friendly Spider-Man”).
Batman has the resources of a billionaire to help Gotham, both in and out of costume. Spider-Man sometimes struggles to make the rent.
Wonder Woman fought to become a champion, Spider-Man chose to become one when he saw how badly he’d screwed up.
He goes into battle scared and covers it with jokes. He’s got troubles of his own, but doesn’t let it stop him from helping someone else.
Flawed. Limited. Struggling. And still trying to help.
That’s us. Even if we’re a little less flamboyant in how we cover our mouth and nose.
That’s the family friend who visits because they heard the lawn mower was broken … and then stays to help tame a backyard that had become Wild Kingdom.
It’s the daycare helper who’s in demand to read again and again because “You do the voices!”
It’s the steady hand on the trembling shoulder, offering comfort at a time when there’s nothing else to give.
It’s the realization that we’re all responsible for each other. And that if we each do what we can, however small it might seem, it can make a difference.
Even without a Papal photograph to prove it.
I hope Mr. Villardita keeps up the good work. I hope we all do. We may not be able to climb a wall or swing between skyscrapers, but together, we can spin up a super amount of help.
And True Believers, that’s a world-wide web worth having.