Since she was a little girl, my daughter Chloe has always been more into science fiction and fantasy than she was Barbie dolls or My Little Pony. While many of her friends were off playing princesses, she was reading about dragons or watching Star Wars and Harry Potter movies. It was this love of fantasy worlds that convinced me to introduce her to the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She instantly fell in love with characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. There was one superhero in particular though that seemed to stand out from the rest for her… Spider-Man.
In both Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War she fell in love with a character who was fast, funny, and relatable, as he was just a regular kid who happened to have these amazing powers. When the new video game Marvel’s Spider-Man was released last month, she made it crystal clear that she wanted to both watch and play the game along with me. So each night before bedtime we would spend on hour or so in the family room going through the game together, swinging through the city and pummeling bad guys. Occasionally she would grab the controller to play a bit herself, but mostly she just liked to watch me play. It was fun to watch her get so excited and invested in the story, yelling at the TV as I played. “That was awesome!” “Why would he do that Dad?” “You gotta catch him!” One evening as we played she made a seemingly trivial comment that I didn’t think anything of at the time, but makes a lot of sense now in retrospect.
“Someone could totally become Spider-Man in real life you know.”
A couple of days went by going through the same routine. She would get home from school, do her homework, practice her viola, eat dinner, and then we’d play an hour or so of Spider-Man before heading off to bed. It was business as usual around the Wahl household until one afternoon when I saw her going around the house, rummaging through closets and drawers, collecting various junk. I asked what she was up to and got an ambiguous “Working on a project” as a response. My kids are always working on some kind of craft project so I didn’t think much of it, even when I went into the family room later on and saw her on the floor with various fabrics, scissors, a needle and thread, etc.
That evening I opened my laptop to do some work and found the web browser open to Google and dozens of search results for “Making your own web fluid”. Okay… now this is getting a little weird. I was getting ready to ask her about it when she emerged from her bedroom with an armful of supplies. She had glass vials, measuring cups, and labeled containers of various liquids from canola oil to shampoo. She set everything up on the kitchen counter and turned to me to ask “Dad, where could I get some silicone?”
That’s when it all of a sudden clicked and I knew what was going on. We were in the middle of my daughter’s origin story and she was about to become a superhero. Initially my mind went to that logical place where I thought that I should explain to her the difficulties of sewing an entire costume, building functioning web shooters, becoming an actual vigilante, etc. Then I thought about the fact that my daughter is now 10 years old and the amount of times that she’ll be interested in playing make believe and superheroes with me are probably coming to an end. Soon enough she’ll be heading off to middle school and will be way too cool to hang out with her lame, old dad. So I did the only thing that made sense to me in that moment.
I opened up the Amazon app and ordered some damn silicone.
The following Monday our package arrived in the mail and we set up our testing station. I had ordered two different types of silicone and we tried each of them according to the (obviously) very precise scientific formula found on YouTube. Unfortunately after a bit of experimentation, neither one of them produced the type of results that were shown in the video. All I ended up with was a bit of skin irritation from spilling the silicone on my hand and possibly a mild contact high from the fumes. I could see from the look on her face that Chloe was upset and she retreated downstairs to the family room to hide under a blanket. Not the thrilling start to a superhero career that we had been hoping for.
I explained to her that science (and being a superhero) was tough and that nobody ever got these things right on their first try. Heck, it probably took Peter Parker months to figure it out! The trick is to never give up and to keep on trying until you get it right. She fought off a few tears and we went upstairs to clean up our experiment, tossing away the empty bottles and wiping down the table before my wife got home (you gotta maintain your secret identity after all).
After our failed experiment, things went back to normal for a while. In the days that followed we completed the game, defeating the villainous Mister Negative and restoring peace to the city. She was disappointed that it was over but when I explained that there would be new stories coming throughout the rest of the year she lit up with excitement. Our adventures were far from over.
There wasn’t much talk about costumes or web fluid after that. I assumed that the thought had passed and I was somewhat relieved, as coming up with actual working webshooters was a bit outside of my wheelhouse. Then one evening we were attending her school’s Fall fundraiser and I saw her and a friend hanging out at the bleachers on the other side of the baseball field. When it was time to go I called her back and as we walked to the car I saw that she was holding something in her hand. She held out a small bottle filled with a mysterious fluid that her friend had given her. “This is it Dad, I know this one will work.” Apparently we still had work to do.
Thank you Marvel and Insomniac Games for these moments with my daughter and for igniting a young girl’s imagination.