It’s a small buzzing in the base of the skull that warns Peter Parker of danger yet to happen — Spider-Man’s spider-sense, originally discovered by the Chameleon as he was sending a message to Spider-Man on a frequency that could only be felt by one with the senses of a spider all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1. Throughout the rest of the issue, Spidey uses this new found spider-sense to hone in on his cleverly disguised enemy. For the next 45 years, this little tingle has become a constant, however secondary, aspect of the wall crawler’s stories.
In recent times, many of his powers have been revised. During J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man, the hero became much more involved in the animalistic aspects of his character, even going so far as to die and be reborn as a new Peter, one more spider than man. This transformation saw Peter’s spider-sense becoming greatly enhanced, to the point that it was practically on par with Daredevil’s enhanced perceptions. (In once instance, Spider-Man perches himself on a giant web and uses the vibrations that he feels to locate a young girl trapped under a building.) These events also saw Peter wielding a set of wrist mounted stingers, similar to Wolverine’s claws, which are lodged in his forearm. The question of why the creative team behind Spider-Man went through all this trouble for what looks to be essentially another “Clone Saga” is for another time. (In fact, once the story happened, it was pretty easily forgotten about, especially since Marvel’s Civil War was starting.) For now, let’s just concentrate on the dynamics of his most underrated power, the spider-sense. Where does it come from, and why hasn’t this psychic ability really been explored?
His spider-sense is a form of precognition. No known species of spider is known to actually exhibit such talents. Spiders do seem to be extraordinarily sensitive to their environment, sensing minute differences in temperature with the tiny hairs that cover their body, and reacting to vibration along their webs. However, no spider has ever been psychic.
During the recent “Spider-Man: The Other (Evolve or Die)” storyline, we were told that the reason for Spider-Man having poisonous spikes in his wrist, even though such a trait isn’t related to any known breed of spider, is that, in time, spiders will evolve to have these powers, and he represents the powers of spiders past, present, and future. Lame? Yes. Terrible, in fact. It’s a weak power, it doesn’t suit Spidey, let’s leave it at that. During the “Other” storyline, we also see Spidey getting evaluated after his rebirth by Marvel’s Master of Mysticism, Dr. Strange. During this very brief visit, Strange tells Peter that he seems to be at the center of a large cosmic or metaphysical web of events. Perhaps Peter has always been on this web, and danger creates vibrations to it which he can sense, much like real spiders-sense the tiniest vibrations along their own web.
There’s also the Chameleon’s idea that each species has a frequency that they can instinctively sense. This comes from the notion that most animals have means of perception beyond that of humans. There is some truth to this. Sharks, for instance, are guided by the Earth’s magnetic field as they roam the seas. The notion that animals have enhanced perception can also be backed up by animals responding to hypersonic frequencies and acting strangely before natural disasters. As we observed during the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Thailand in December 2004, animals do seem to have a greater perception of their environment, since, while many thousands of humans were killed in that disaster, most animals had cleared the area before the waves had hit. This is hardly mystical, however. Wildlife experts believe that the tendency for animals to react in times preceding earthquakes and tsunamis has to do with their acute senses which make them more aware of vibrations in the Earth. The idea of an animalistic early warning sense also has to do with the way our brains are constructed. Humans have evolved our frontal lobes, which give us rational thought. Animals don’t have frontal lobes, so they basically run on instinct.
So, we have explored the basis of this sixth sense in our reality, but the fact that Peter Parker has an actual sixth sense is still under appreciated. This power is the real deal, the intuitive clairvoyance that the human race has always wanted to tap into but simply cannot (despite the clever ruses of many generations of con artists). Why isn’t the spider-sense used to its full potential? How is it that for the last 45 years Peter Parker has been basically ignoring the fact that he has psychic powers? His testing of them has been minimal, which is strange seeing as how Peter Parker is an amateur scientist, and would never just let something like this go on for so long without analyzing the crap out of it. Hell, in the movies it isn’t really even used.
Why hasn’t Peter taken a month off and gone on a retreat with Charles Xavier back into the woods behind the X-Mansion, where they can really delve into this ability? What else can he use it for besides just a short term danger alert? From a mythological perspective, Spider-Man is the shaman / trickster of the New York superhero tribe (even being human in mind but animal in appearance). It seems like being able to see into the future is a logical facet of this archetype that he has chosen to spurn.
On the other hand, what would happen if his psychic powers really went out of control? What happened if he started really bugging out (pun intended), and he could sense other worlds? Other realities (Marvel has had a few)? Farther into the future, perhaps, towards some big Earth-shattering, internet-cracking event? Marvel could always use another.