Discussion: Superior Spider-Man

With the Marvel NOW! reboot, Marvel is ending a lot of their long running titles and relaunching their characters in new titles, situations and status quos. One of these relaunches centers around the long running Amazing Spider-Man ending it’s run with issue 700, and relaunching with a new Superior Spider-Man #1. 

Johnnie: As you predicted, Jason, Spider-Man is getting rebooted in January, but no tentacles!

Jason: I think I would have prefered tentacles. This just seems underwhelming in the sense that they ended the 700 issue run Amazing Spider-Man to make Spider-Man all pissed off and angry. That sounds like Black Suit Spider-Man. If they were going to end ASM, I would prefer it be something crazy, like Spider-Man with Doc Ock tentacles. As stupid as that would have been.

Johnnie: Oh goddammit. You’re so right. They did this before with the symbiote storyline. It’s the same thing pretty much except something DRASTIC and TERRIBLE will happen that will make Peter like that naturally. Mary Jane will probably die and we’ll get that shot of Spider-Man raising his fist at the sky vowing to avenge her death. Just like the whole Gwen Stacy ending. And we’ll all be expected to go “Oh, I see what you did there”.

Jason: Spider-Man will kill the already dying Doctor Octopus, because Peter Parker killing an already dying man is sooo badass. With no one to AVENGE against, Peter will just have to fight ALL CRIME. Like Batman.

Johnnie: I feel like Marvel has this weird tendency to cater the comic book to whatever the movies are doing. They did this when the first Spider-Man movie came out with The Other storyline. They had that stupid arc where Spider-Man gets beaten to death by Morlun, then gives birth to himself from a spider. And all this was done just to give him organic webbing instead of web shooters. Because that’s what the movie was doing. And now I feel like they’re doing that again; making the comic DARKER and BROODIER to make it conform to The Amazing Spider-Man movie.

Jason: In that case, I’m surprised they’re not giving him the same costume. They should give him a cape so he can hide in the shadows and brood. With his toe claw. Sometime’s it’s ok to follow the movie or cartoon SOMEWHAT. Introducing characters into comics, like Harley Quinn or Chloe Sullivan have proven popular. The Avengers are now moving in line with their movie version, but it’s not necessarily un-Avengers like to have the comic go in this direction. A broodier Spider-Man kind of defeats the purpose of Spider-Man. He’s supposed to be dark in some ways, but also lighthearted in many others.

Johnnie: Oh my God, what the fuck is that toe claw? WHY DOES HE NEED THAT? I mean, part of me wants to withhold judgment. When I first saw the production stills from Batman Begins of the new Batmobile, I was so irate and critical. I was like, “What the fuck is this? That looks like a fucking tank. FUCK CHRISTOPHER NOLAN GRAWR!” But then I saw the movie and thought, “Wow. I’m a dumbass.” So ever since then, I’m always worried about passing judgment too soon concerning superhero redesigns and reboots. But something about a toe claw just feels different in all the wrong ways. I mean, after The Other he gained spiderlegs and poisonous barbs. And while I thought that was lame, compared to toe claws, I yearn for the days of spiderlegs.

Jason: I’m still waiting for the comic where Spider-Man shoots web out of his butt. I mean, why try to explain something that makes no sense. He has the powers of a spider, but he can shoot web out of his arms? Why explain that? It’s fine. Comic books are a game of conceits and you shouldn’t have to explain anything. NO ONE CAN FLY IN REAL LIFE.

Johnnie: Well, in the original Spider-Man, his powers didn’t make sense in the same way that being exposed to radioactive substances giving you superpowers doesn’t make sense at all (cancer.) But the webbing thing did make sense, if you were willing to suspend your disbelief regarding the possibilities of science and the intellectual capacity of a high schooler inventing that technology. But it was something he built himself because he was a nerd. So that made sense.

Jason: Comic books are all about suspension of disbelief and that it’s ok to make up science. Lots of Superheroes from the 60’s had ridiculous origins and people just went with it. The Fantastic Four were hit with space waves in a space ship and they didn’t die because Jack Kirby said so. Spider-Man was not nearly as ridiculous, but it still should have done nothing. Radioactive powers were par for the course back then.

Johnnie: Well, I think everyone agrees that that’s all well and good. We all willingly (and happily) suspend our disbelief for the benefit of seeing people stick to walls or leap tall buildings in a single bound. That’s fine. But I do expect my superheroes to have cool or interesting or original powers. And that leads me back to the toe thing. That was honestly the best they could do? Why not have it come out of his forearms like Baraka from Mortal Kombat. If “dark” and “edgy” is what they’re going for, Spider-man being able to straight up stab people with arm knives is way better than a fucking huge toenail. They’re inviting jokes with this toe thing.

Jason: I think they’re going with some sort of ninja design. The foot is split between the big toe and the claw seems to make it more ‘realistic’, instead of just him magically sticking to things. Maybe they’re trying to make him less superhero-y and more urban protector/vigilante. It’s what Marvel does best…except X-Men…and Avengers…

Johnnie: I realize there’s been this drive in recent years to make comic book heroes darker and more serious. Comic book movies have taken their subjects seriously and presented them in non-campy ways. And I think comic book writers are trying to capitalize on that, naturally. Comics are seen as nerdy, and in the past that was a bad thing. But now that nerds are cool, comics are catering to that “nerd-chic” thing.

Jason: Comic books have actually gotten increasing darker since the mid-80s, when Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns came out. After that everyone just tried to copy off that vibe. Maybe they’d do their own thing, but it was always going back to that same feeling and it got degraded more and more. Now it’s not “Oh they’re going for dark and edgy” it’s now “Oh, they’re going for lighthearted and fun!”

Johnnie: That’s definitely true. There’s nothing wrong with a darker tone. But I think it has to make sense within the internal consistency that the character exists in. Like, this isn’t about wanting comic book writers to cater to our particular preferences and prejudices concerning our favorite heroes. It’s not, “Spider-Man needs to be a wise-cracking kid because THAT’S THE WAY IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN.” To make a 180 like that and turn him into a dark, brooding anti-hero is to force him to behave out-of-character. And that worked in the symbiote storyline because he was being influenced by a parasitic alien lifeform. OK, that makes sense in that world. But I can’t imagine anything else making Spider-Man’s entire personality change like that. He’s lost loved ones before and that didn’t annihilate his personality. I’m just very skeptical about where this shift is coming from and how they think they’re going to make this change without it being completely unbelievable and out of character. Maybe they have something surprising and logical up their sleeve, but judging by Dan Slott’s total punt in the Alpha ending, my expectations are not high.

Jason: Well Batman started out as a dark avenging figure who shot people, but then he became a fun loving groovy guy of the 60’s and everyone loved it. Then he became dark again and everyone loved him. That’s why Batman is so successful; he’s maliable to any story, theme, situation. Maybe Marvel saw that and wanted to do the same with Spider-Man. Batman is DC’s most successful character and Spider-Man is Marvel’s, so why not try to adapt him for all audiences and themes? There are already kid adventures with Spider-Man, so how about an adult-themed Spider-Man? Maybe that’s what they’re going for, maybe they’re actually  geniuses.

Johnnie: Batman is probably one of the few superheroes whose origin story makes perfect sense within the logical consistency of his world. He has a guilt complex and a vengeful streak. And he has unlimited wealth to pay for all his hi-tech crime fighting shit. But I also quite like Green Lantern’s origin story. The idea of a young man coming upon a crashed alien spaceship and being given a ring granting him incredible powers is very cool. Like a nerd fantasy come true. I like that.

Jason: So Spider-Man’s origin is all tragic. Batman rises above his tragedy, Green Lantern embraces his new gift, but Spider-Man lives in his tragedy.

Johnnie: See, that’s the thing. Spider-Man already had dark origins and tragedy. PLENTY of it. He inadvertently contributes to the death of the one man who supported him; his father figure. He also accidentally killed the woman he loved in trying to rescue her. That is fucked up. Like, traumatizing. He did that shit twice! But the way he has always dealt with it is by beating the shit out of criminals and making jokes while he does it. That’s his defense mechanism, and that’s what made him different. With this new direction Marvel NOW! wants to take him in, he’s just a tragic character in the same way as Batman. Spider-Man’s humor and wit is what makes him special; it’s what separates him from others, I would argue.

Jason: If Mary Jane or Aunt May die, I have to believe Spider-Man would lose all desire to continue being Spider-Man. What would he be fighting for? He’s not fighting for the masses, like Batman is, he’s fighting directly for his loved ones and somewhat for himself. If he were to lose ANOTHER loved one, what would make him keep going, instead of just saying ‘I’m terrible at this whole thing, I’m done.’ If he lost Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy and then Mary Jane, who is he fighting for and why would he even want to try anymore?

Johnnie: That is a great point. Spider-Man has a need for retribution and redemption. His uncle’s death was proof to him that if he does nothing, he’s culpable; and that’s what drives him to fight crime. But Batman had a wider scope. He saw his parents’ death less personally, I guess. It was a result of a high crime rate in Gotham, haha. He’s driven to fight crime because he wants to prevent what happened to him from happening to others. He has a knight in shining armor complex. Spider-Man has none of that. So you’re right, what will be his motivation in Superior Spider-Man? Are they planning to change his motivation?

Jason: His motivation will be REVENGE. It just seems like Superior is a poor choice of words. They state that this more driven, more vengeful Spider-Man is superior. Why? Because he kills people? How is that Superior? I’m not saying Superheroes should never kill EVER!!, but what makes this a good mission statement? He’s angry now, so he’s Superior. Avenging Spider-Man would have been a better name, if it wasn’t already taken. or Pissed Off Spider-Man. (Johnnie: It is taken. Avenging Spider-Man is a monthly team-up series. It’s very good.)

Johnnie: What do they mean by “dark,” do you think? Like, it certainly won’t be on a PunisherMAX level. Otherwise they’d really be catering to a very different audience, and thus limit it. That would never happen, of course. But are they going for like, 1970’s Frank Miller Daredevil type dark?

Jason: They mean grim and gritty and lots of rain and mud and crying in the rain and yelling at the rain. Spider-Man is pissed off and determined to stop crime so all of a sudden it’s like he’s better at his job. He’ll probably be more proactive, which is a word that has been thrown around a lot in comics, but rarely has any meaning. If you have a proactive superhero, it would basically consist of Spider-Man busting in on the Lizard while he’s taking a piss, kicking his ass and taking him to jail. That’s one issue. You can’t have a long arc unless the bad guy attacks first, escapes and then makes the Superhero outwit him or out hit him. I don’t know if they’re going in that direction, but that never seems to work out.

Johnnie: Well, I know I’ve been bashing this idea all throughout this conversation, but I think this is one reboot where there is potential for good stories. Despite the fact that I am very doubtful they’ll be able to make this dramatic shift make any kind of sense, the idea of an angrier Spider-Man has some appeal.

Jason: The thing to think about with any long running property being rebooted or changed, is will this be as iconic and as successful. If not, then what’s the point? If you can’t see Superior Spider-Man going 700 issues, with Spider-Man being this Superior proactive superhero, then what’s the point of this? That’s one of my problems with DC’s New 52. Everything was rebooted, but can any of it last as long as the old stuff lasted? Can Spider-Man last another 700 issues as an angry dark avenger? I don’t think so.

Johnnie: I am going to give them a little benefit of the doubt. I have been very disappointed with the Spider-Man arc since Brand New Day and One More Day, as all Spidey fans have been. That was a dumb storyline and it ruined many of the things we loved about the series. And especially lately with Marvel threatening to make Alpha a permanent sidekick for Spider-Man, hopefully this Superior story will take them in a different direction. The Alpha thing was a mess, and hardly anyone supported it at all.

Jason: I actually have no problem with what happened with Spider-Man in Brand New Day, but I have a problem with why he did it. He erased his happy life with his wife just to save his 80 year old aunt, who might die in a year anyway. What did Aunt May have to say about that plan? What 80 year old woman is ok with their son giving up everything in their life in order to preserve a few extra years for her? I understand that Spider-Man felt like he was to blame, but at the same time, that is completely selfish of him. How did Mary Jane feel? How could he just give that all up for his own selfish insecurities because he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. That’s what I have a problem, not Mephisto magically coming in to make things better, after all, when the world knew that Wally West was the Flash, he asked the Spectre to erase the memory from everyone’s minds. It worked out fine (kind of). Directions change all the time and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the idea is.

Johnnie: I think this is a problem of fantastically oriented superheroes. Heroes grounded in a more realistic context seem to have less of that unbelievability and silly plotlines. I mean, Batman finding a way to walk again and be a fully functional superhero after Knightfall notwithstanding, has he had a storyline as absurd as Spider-Man making a deal with the devil to spare the life of his aged aunt?

Jason: Batman actually went through grueling physical therapy in order to walk again. He wasn’t magically healed. But fantastical things come into comics all the time. Superman died/kind of died, then he came back to life. Hal Jordan was actually dead and was resurrected. Green Arrow died, met his own soul in heaven and then came back from the dead. Crazy things happen in comic books. Batman travelled through time. It happens. Mephisto showing up is nothing new in mainstream comics. It’s the world they live in.

Johnnie: So how would you summarize your feelings about this new announcement from Marvel about Superior Spider-Man?

Jason: I think it has potential, if done with care, but if they think this is the new Spider-Man, I don’t think they know they’re own properties at all. In a comic book world filled with dark, gritty characters, how is Spider-Man becoming dark even newsworthy? Spider-Man is the one superhero who has stayed away from dark transformations (in-story explanations not withstanding) and it was wholly unique. Having Spider-Man go ‘dark’ is like turning everyone into Batman or Wolverine. It gets boring. When I thought Spider-Man was going to have Doc Ock tentacles, that was an interesting finite story. You can’t have Spider-Man running around like that forever. Do they honestly think they can have a brooding Spider-Man running around forever?

Johnnie: That’s about how I feel. I think it has potential for some cool stories, but not indefinitely. Eventually, Spider-Man’s brooding will become exhausting and devolve into self-parody. Like in Spider-Man 3 when his “dark side” is him being a douchebag and dipping Gwen Stacy on a dancefloor to piss off Mary Jane. I’m afraid that’s where it will go: silliness trying to be darkness. And you were right earlier when you said they’ve already done a dark Spider-Man. Isn’t that just Venom? And they’re doing a Venom series right now which is very much like a dark Spider-Man with guns, literally. So I agree, what could they possibly do with a dark Spider-Man that they haven’t already done with the symbiote plot, or what they’re already doing with the Venom series? I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. I’m skeptical of whether they’ve fully considered the long-term viability of a Superior Spider-Man.

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