Friday, 7 May 2010

That Radical Brian Michael Bendis Part 1: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and "Ultimate Spider-Man: The New World According To Peter Parker"


1. A Brief Warning

I. Spoilers! Spoilers!

2. What's A Spider-Man For?

In their history of the mainstream of American comic books from 1956 to 1997, "The Comic Book Heroes" (*1), Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs hail the appearance of Spider-Man in 1962 as
" ... a full Romantic Rebellion against DC's '50s-style Enlightenment." Peter Parker, they write, was, unlike Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne;

"... the character's reality, not a coyly fabricated disguise. His first thoughts were of money and glory. Here was a believably ambivalent hero, who grew into his superheroic role by way of his personal life. Thus a need for growth had been programmed into his personality."


It's the traditional view of what has made Spider-Man such a popular and compelling character, and it certainly describes the beliefs that have motivated so many creators - and indeed fans - through the long decades between Uncle Ben's death and the dissolution of Peter and Mary-Jane's marriage, and beyond. Spider-Man, it's insisted, must develop and grow because his very nature is that of a character coping with change.

But I think that's there's a great deal of hindsight in this view, and hindsight, as Melvyn Bragg says in "The Adventures Of English, is " .. the bane of history. It is corrupting and distorting and pays no respect to the way life is really lived ...". Consequently, I'd like to offer my own measure of hindsight to the debate of what made, and indeed what makes, Spider-Man such an attractive and successful character. Because I don't think the original appeal of the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man was about change at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think "Spider-Man" was, at the strip's height, (*2) about the intense friction generated by the impossibility of Peter Parker avoiding change while he simultaneously couldn't ever achieve it either.

Or to put it another way, Spider-Man was entirely about the challenges faced by a Peter Parker who unexpectedly and traumatically found himself in the first stages of adolescence while being prevented by circumstances from becoming a man, and the further away from that metaphor "Spider-Man" has strayed, from his Graduation in "Amazing Spider-Man" # 28 to the present day, the less unique and affecting the character has become.


(*1) It's a book which I thoroughly enjoyed and which I highly recommend, and I'm only showing my respect for the book here by taking it so seriously that I want to engage in a debate with it. Jones and Jacobs of course worked in the very industry which they're chronicling. They know what they're talking about and, as a further spur to anybody thinking of tracking the book down, it's fun to note where they're perhaps being a little too obviously "discreet".
(*2) In the interests of full public disclosure, I regard the Lee/Ditko stories up until Amazing Spider-Man # 27 as the ur-text here. That doesn't mean that I haven't adored and admired Spidey adventures since then. In fact, I'm enjoying them still. It's just that, no matter what the rough edges and stumbling around, or actually somewhat because of them, that first few years of Spider-Man before Steve Ditko became infatuated with Ayn Rand's philosophy best display the remarkable DNA-helix of the character.


3. A Thirty-Something Spider-Man Is A Contradiction In Terms

This isn't a view of Peter Parker's situation and appeal which Spider-Man's co-creator Steve Ditko would have accepted as valid, though I doubt anything as crass as "popular appeal" would have been held to be pertinent by him anyway. According to Blake Bell in his "The World Of Steve Ditko" (*3), Mr Ditko was, from 1965 onwards, determined to act according to his Objectivist principles to recast Peter Parker from woe begotten loser to the master of his own fate. And so, for example, Mr Ditko had Peter Parker graduate from High School in "Amazing Spider-Man" # 28, and 10 issues later he had so removed Peter from the role of sympathetic everyman that Parker was contemptuously expressing his opposition to confrontational youth culture. Mr Ditko's Spider-Man would therefore be an independent-minded adult standing apart from, and indeed looking down upon, the corrupt society he inhabited.

Which explains why for me the appeal of Spider-Man as a character starts to fray in the mid-'60s, even while the Lee/Ditko team had almost a full year of Spider-Man tales before them. Because I don't believe that Spider-Man is a character predicated upon the need to change and develop, and I certainly don't believe that transforming Peter Parker into a poe-faced Objectivist sitting in judgement on the rest of we subjectivist masses would be a very good idea at all.

Indeed, as far as I can see, the very notion of "development" is inimical to the functional integrity of Spider-Man as a character. For Spider-Man was designed both by intent and chance to represent the specific moment when adolescence and its' increased potency begins to intrude upon the certainties of childhood. And the further from that moment the character's "growth" is allowed to stray and "develop", the less unique and fascinating Spider-Man becomes, and the more Peter Parker's alter-ego becomes just another superhero amongst ten thousand other superheroes.


(*3) Mr Blake's book is another volume that I'd highly recommend, though anybody who still harbours one of those"if only" thoughts about Lee and Ditko somehow managing to keep working together in the mid-'60s will be swiftly shown how that damn Ayn Rand woman was always going to stand between them. Ayn Rand, the Yoko Ono of the 1965 Marvel Bullpen. (No, I'm not saying Mr Ditko or Mr Lennon were wrong about where they located their allegiances. But I loved the Beatles and I adored the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man. The personal happiness of Mr D. and Mr L. may have been important to them, but what about me?)



4. Even When He Wins, He Loses, Because That's The Whole Point


I. For what little it's worth, I'm absolutely convinced that the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man was far more than just a book about the adolescent Peter Parker and his costumed alter-ego. I think it was in truth a book about the challenges and promises of adolescence that happened to feature Peter Parker/Spider-Man as the lead character. And if this is so - and I'll try to explain my case below - then it would mean that the constant attempts to update Peter Parker and his situation have all been based on the wrong first principle. For every new direction for Marvel's preeminent marquee draw has been based upon the belief that it is the combination of Peter's "lovable, wise-cracking loser" qualities and Spider-Man's costume and powers which have driven the character's appeal. And I suspect that while those qualities are obviously of vital importance whenever Spider-Man's popularity is considered, they are still secondary characteristics. On their own, they're brilliant, diverting and endearing, but they could have been replaced by equivalents and the Spider-Man story would still have retained a great deal of its' power and appeal; Spider-Man isn't the costume or the powers or Peter's happy/sad personality.

II. And I hope at this point that you're sharpening your pointy-sticks and reaching for your blogger-shaped voodoo dolls, because, yes, I did just suggest that Spider-Man's "irreducible minimum" doesn't necessarily include the traditional costume, powers and personality. (I could even suggest that Uncle Ben didn't necessarily have to die, although it was obviously a very good idea that he did. But a crippled Uncle Ben could have done the job to a lesser degree: he didn't have to be murdered for Spider-Man to "work".)

And I know that's somewhat of an - shall we say - eccentric point of view. (Although Spider-Man, for one thing, has retained his appeal even while his costume and even, to a lesser degree, his powers have been altered. And there have been periods when "Peter Parker" didn't seem very much like "Our Peter" either.) And I thought it best at this point to own up to the fact that the theory I'm about to spin is neither watertight nor testable nor, I suspect, particularly popular. But perhaps by pushing an extreme argument designed to provoke a measure of niggling unease and debate, some light as well as heat might be thrown on that perennial problem of "What makes Spider-Man "Spider-Man"?" For whether it's the debate about marriage or no marriage, hard-luck hero or Avenger, loser or man of confidence and substance, the truth remains that in the Marvel Universe at least, there's still a search for the character's "irreducible minimum", the least number of absolutely-central qualities that must be present in the narrative for Spider-Man to be Spider-Man rather than a Spidey-lookalike pretender in red-and-blue tights.


III. There's an endearing sense of the shock of the new in the contemporary accounts of how young comic book readers responded to the first appearances of Spider-Man. Many were disturbed, some were alienated, most were fascinated if many unsure. Because, as we all know, this was something very new and unique in the superhero landscape. From his very first appearance, Spider-Man stood apart as all revolutionary artifacts do. (Just as, sadly, in common with all revolutionary artifacts, that shocking uniqueness soon began to be obscured by the knock-offs, the copy-cats and the new disciples.)

And though I'm going to argue that there is indeed an "irreducible minimum" to be deduced from those first 29 or so appearances of the character, that doesn't mean that Spider-Man was ever a static comic strip where change was avoided by the creators. Indeed, Spider-Man's early appearances are characterised by small measures of development. For example, it takes three stories for Spider-Man to express himself with a characteristically light-hearted wisecrack, which happens during his aborted attempt to land a job with the Fantastic Four. (In his first appearance, Spidey tended towards arrogance, and in the second defiance and almost contempt.) Even then, once the conflict with the FF is over, the wise-cracking disappears too. And though Mr Lee has Spider-Man express bravado in his speech balloons over the next few issues, perhaps to indicate a teenager conscious that he's a little out of his depth and irritated by not being taken seriously, the first true Spider-Man wisecrack, free of aggression or contempt, doesn't come until issue 4, when in response to a criminal's "But ... who .. ?", Spider-Man quips "Well, it's not Dr. Kildare."

So change does occur over the range of the Lee/Ditko run, and the above is just one small example of how change and the Spider-Man strip have always co-existed, and how change has often enriched the comic. But the change in the early years is relatively limited and the pace of it is often glacial, for reasons we'll discuss below, and it simply doesn't follow that because change occurred, it's necessary or that it necessarily enriches the character. For the above example of wise-cracking actually helps to establish that several of those characteristics associated with Spider-Man's success were absent in the early stories even as the comic book was installing itself as a significant presence in the marketplace. Or to put it another way, Spider-Man was "Spider-Man" and becoming successful too before Peter Parker learnt to joke with and at the world, and therefore we might suspect that the wisecracking aspect of his status quo isn't as essential as we might expect.


For there's something going on in those very early Spider-Man comic books which lends the strip a particular power, and it's there even when many of the later-accepted "essential" components of the comic-book are absent.

IV: One of the reasons why all the attempts to replicate the success of "Spider-Man" in the almost 60 years of the character's existence is that the cloners have mis-identified the "irreducible minimum" of the character. They've seen Peter Parker's qualities of fortitude and self-doubt, klutziness and boyish charm, intellect and humour, shyness and determination, and taken some or many of them to create a Daredevil, a Blue Beetle, a Gravity or whomever. And the grafts have never entirely taken, because it isn't those qualities that powered the success and appeal of the early Spider-Man. Those qualities enhanced the metaphorical power of the strip, but they aren't the essence of the strip. Spider-Man was still a fascinating character when he was an apparent mix of petulance and arrogance, and Peter Parker was still "our Peter" even before his self-doubt and despair started to be tempered by a measure of self-confidence and social recognition and humour.

Because at the heart of Spider-Man's revolutionary appeal in the early '60s was the fact that this was a comic-book about entering puberty. Pretty much every aspect of the strip locked together to produce a kaleidoscopic portrayal of the horrors and promise of adolescence, and even those elements of the strip which served the metaphor less precisely, such as the many and inventive super-villains, were informed by it and strengthened it in return. (Another argument about what makes Spider-Man "special" has always been the appeal of his distinctive rogues gallery. Again, I'm convinced that Spider-Man would have been successful with anybody's rogue's gallery, though the one he has undoubtedly been a significant advantage to his success.)

And so, any attempt to isolate the personal qualities which supposedly defined Peter Parker and Spider-Man particularly in the first few years of his existence, and which are assumed to be essential to that character's success, miss the point. For to replicate those qualities while failing to maintain the central metaphor of adolescence is the equivalent of deciding that "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is all about the guitar solo, or "I Feel Fine" the feedback, or "Tomorrow Never Knows" the tape-loops. And the world is full of brilliant guitar parts, masters of feedback and excellent manipulators of technology that can replicate something of the force of the last track on "Revolver". But the truth is, all those songs would have been remarkable without their arrangements. The arrangements add value, they polish and enhance the melodies and lyrics, but they're not on their own why the Beatles were so preeminently excellent. (*4)


And if we merely abstract Peter's characteristics from the metaphor of adolescence, what we have is a perpetual loser, a clumsy boy-child, a social misfit despite his many fine qualities, a failure in the market-place despite his genius, a barely-successful serial monogamist despite his obvious excellent heart. Separate the adolescent qualities from the adolescent metaphor and Peter Parker becomes a contradictory impossibility.

Nobody that bright and able can be a failure.

Nobody that kind and empathetic can fail to maintain successful and lasting relationships.

Making the adolescent Peter Parker the adult Peter and giving him most if not all of the same qualities while placing him in comparable situations to his youth may seem to be an example of change, of allowing Spider-Man to grow up, but it's actually the opposite. For not only is the original metaphor of adolescence shattered, but the adult Peter becomes a failure. What is understandable in a young boy such as Peter, with his whole life ahead of him, is almost contemptible in the adult Mr Parker. And whereas I will happily sit by and watch Peter struggle with learning how to be an adult while in High School, there's something which until recently I couldn't name in me that rebels against engaging with a Peter who grew up and learnt very little from all that unhappiness.

How can Peter Parker have grown up to be the perpetual loser, despite his brilliance, his power, his achievements, his friends, and his splendid good nature? That's not endearing. That's nonsensical, and I suspect strongly that it creates an unseen but significant narrative drag on the character's appeal. There's a reason why we're constantly talking about who Spider-Man is and how he should be portrayed. We've all misidentified the "irreducible minimum", and we've ended up with the equivalent of a Batman who's utterly free of the trauma of his parent's death.

(*4) Yes. of course I chose the relatively less-substantial songs to make the point. What, do you think that I load the dice in favour of my own arguments? For shame ....


5. The Adolescent Metaphor, And Why It Shouldn't Be Messed With


I. After all, it's not as if we're utterly unfamiliar with the point of view that the early Spider-Man was all about being an adolescent. We know how that fabulously appropriate costume, for example, is a brilliant metaphor in itself for how puberty provides both enhanced physical capacities and the disturbing sense of being something of an alien in one's own body. We're aware that the costume describes the sense of fearful difference arriving in pre-pubescence, being somewhat creepy and disturbing when Spider-Man is in a state of rest. And we also recognise that the costume, which is at it's most impressive when Spider-Man is in motion, speaks to us about how the very onset of those alien qualities brings with it strength and power and possibility of freedom. And as with the costume, of course, so with Mr Parker's powers, which are at the same time unsettling and enviable, familiar and exotic.

But the costume and the powers are surface elements. They don't define the essence of Spider-Man so much as the visual appeal of him at any one moment. (And this is why it's been possible to change them both to one degree or another over the years without the character disappearing from the fan's affections.) For there's something far more fundamental and essential to "Spider-Man", and the appeal and influence of those early Lee/Ditko stories, and it's something that is on occasion quite forgotten in flaming wars and creator manifestos. And we can trace this hidden but fundamental "Spider-Man" when we look beyond the visual tropes and focus on how precisely weighed the narratives were in those early stories, where every glorious advantage that his super-powers brought Peter Parker were counter-balanced by emasculating and counter-balancing disadvantages. Peter Parker was forever caught between longing for the security and routine of his lost childhood family life and striving to establish himself as an adult able to control the circumstances of his own existence. And he could never achieve either of those ambitions. His strange newfound physical maturity has yet to grant him significant advantages while it had already shattered the safety and security of his past. And until the end of their run, when Lee and Ditko permitted Peter to graduate and become something of a ladies' man, which caused much of the essential and informing tension to bleed away, Spider-Man could never escape from the Chinese water-trap that is the very stuff of early adolescence. The more Peter strove to belong, the more his changed nature accentuated his difference. The more he tried to put his past behind him and build a new life, the more every single step forward brought him at least another step back. This marvellously intricate latticework of opportunity and restraint, power and impotence, gave Spider-Man its' emotional power. The Lee and Ditko Spider-Man appealed to adolescents and to those who remembered adolescence because every part of the strip, from design to theme to metaphor and narrative, trapped Peter Parker in that no-man's land between child and man, safety and freedom, permanency and potentiality.

It's that narrative balancing act explaining that specific metaphor which made Spider-Man so unique and so effective. And when that perfect foundation was operationalised by the story-telling, was wonderfully brought to life by the design and the artistry and the wordsmithery, then we got "Spider-Man". The Spider-Man.


And then, when new elements such as a self-deprecating humour and the beginnings of social competence were introduced gently into the strip, the underlying structural latticework shifted and compensated for the change and the whole strip retained it's relevance and elegance and force.

But remove the metaphor and leave the secondary characteristics in place, and all you get is the illusion of change and yet another costumed acrobat. Worse yet, you get a loser of a lead character, and Steve Ditko was right about Peter Parker being somebody who shouldn't be anything other than the master of his own destiny when he enters adulthood. That's the whole point of Spider-Man, I'd argue, to show how adolescence is the crucible in which good folks such as Peter Parker learn to overcome their biology and their situation and their natures in order to take some significant measure of control over their destinies.

If Peter Parker went through Uncle Ben's death and Aunt May's suffering, if he persevered through the terrifying challenges of being Spider-Man while maintaining his academic progress, if he lost Betty and Gwen and Harry and just about everyone else, then it has to be for something, or all that counts for nothing. He has to learn and move on, and win. Because Peter was obviously never going to be an adult loser. He was just learning to be a boy when he was first bitten by that radioactive spider, and we loved him for it. And in the worst of circumstances, we could see that there was hope for him, even if he couldn't recognise it for himself, and so consequently there was hope for us too. Circumstances could be learnt from, situations could be mastered and overcome.

But an adult Peter Parker who retains most of the qualities of the powerless, bullied, isolated youth? Wouldn't that be a sign that Peter didn't learn from his experiences, and that he really was the loser he always feared he was?


II. Consider, if you would, how every advantage of becoming Spider-Man brought Peter Parker an equal and opposite disadvantage;
  • Peter gains awesome power, but at the cost of the death of his Uncle Ben and the health, both physical and mental, of his Aunt May.
  • Peter is forced into becoming the head of the household long before he is mentally and financially capable of doing so, but at the same time he must defer to the authority of his Aunt and bear the burden of deceiving her when it appears to him to be necessary.
  • Peter's powers allow him to fight the good fight, but they can't be used to secure either his families' well being or his own independence for fear of exposing himself to the vengeance of his opponents and the strain on his Aunt's health.
  • Peter can contribute to society, and indeed to the constant saving of society, but only at the cost of being loathed by much of the public at large, including large swathes of the police force. He seems doomed to forever be the "changing" man, remarkable and useful, but different and unappreciated.
  • Peter's powers allow him to capture photographs of himself in action which he can sell to The Daily Bugle, but their use will only further incriminate him on the eyes of the general public.
  • Peter's growing vitality and potency allows him to attract the opposite sex, but - with Betty Brandt, Mary Jane and Gwen Stacey - his commitment to fighting the good fight and protecting his identity fearfully prevents him for developing a mature and trusting relationship with the women in his life in case they discover who he really is.
  • In essence, Peter is undoubtedly unique and special, but he can't yet lastingly and substantially harvest the reward for that. And because he's never - obviously - been through adolescence before, he can't believe that the torment will ever be over and his virtues and gifts recognised. He's caught in the tyranny of the unresolved moment.
  • And therefore Spider-Man is the escape for Peter Parker, and Peter Parker is the escape for Spider-Man, and neither identity, not powerful man or hesitant boy, can protect our hero from dealing with the changes he's going through.
Oh, I know you know all of the above, but isn't it just brilliant? Isn't it just the most fantastically perfect metaphor, the most functional of plot-drivers for a heroic journey, the most elegant of structures to locate a heroic conflict within?

III. Consequently, "Spider-Man" retained its greatest measure of potency when Peter Parker was never permitted to gain enough advantage to turn his back on his past and move on. With one foot in the old home and another sticking to the wall of Manhattan's great skyscrapers, Peter Parker was trapped, neither a child nor a man. Able to punch his weight in costume, but unable to punch Flash Thompson. Able to attract, but not fulfil. Always becoming and never quite being. We could love him for his weaknesses, because they were symptoms of his passing situation rather than qualities he'd never overcome. No wonder we cheered when he hauled himself free of tons of crushing debris, no wonder we retained a sense of dread whenever he'd apparently won a great victory. No wonder we cared so.


6. A Very Brief Digression: On His Villains

I've mentioned how Spider-Man's rogues' gallery has always been seen to be one of the major reasons for his great and lasting success, and I've mentioned that I'm sure that, as long as the original metaphor is maintained, Peter Parker could be fighting garbage-men and building inspectors and he'd still enthrall us, albeit not nearly as much as if Dr Octopus was charging at him all arms a-clacking. But, again, there's absolutely no doubt that the majority of the protagonists that Spider-Man faced in his golden age were utterly appropriate to the maintenance of the adolescence metaphor, and that their presence greatly enhanced it even if they weren't essential to its' functioning. For example, the super-villains Peter Parker fought were usually;
  • Adults, and powerful adults too, examples of what would likely happen to Peter Parker if he avoided his responsibilities in the present day while trying to grow up. (This covers the demagogue J Jonah Jameson and the Crime-Master too, for, though lacking in super-powers, they're definitely examples of power acting without responsibility.)
  • Obvious symbols of the often unfair and constricting demands that the adult world can apply to its' "trainee" almost-members, since those villainous characters were insistent on using their advantages to obtain their own satisfactions without interest in the needs of any others.
  • Scientists who'd screwed up or surrendered to self-interest, providing a clear and illuminating contrast to Peter Parker's attempts to do his best in his own chosen career-path.
  • Examples of catastrophic bodily change, just as Peter was, though his antagonists were individuals who'd chosen to grasp the "with great power" segment of Spider-Man's motto while ignoring the "comes great responsibility" part.

7. Even When He Wins, He Wins, Because We've Forgotten The Whole Point

I. And this is why all attempts to recreate the original shocking power of the first run of Spider-Man's existence have failed. Oh, there have been fine takes on Spider-Man, beginning with John Romita's splendid run. But much of the pleasure to be derived even from Mr Romita's romantic rendition of Spider-Man was the thrill of seeing the constantly-thwarted and lonely hero becoming a romantic lead. It was such a relief, and offered something of a promise to a generation of comic book readers that they too might one day be fought over by the two most beautiful women in College. But compared to what Steve Engelhart once called the "strangeness" and "darkness" of the Ditko years, the Romantic years were an thinner brew, and these short-term victories for Peter were soon bleed of their pleasure. Like a ruptured dam, the original force of the relief from the tension of the Lee/Ditko years soon subsided as the strip founds it's level as a superior but typical superhero strip. And Peter went from tortured to whinging, and many of us wondered, except in the aftermath of Gwen Stacey's death, what the hell he had to whine about.


For I wouldn't have wanted to be the Peter Parker in the Lee/Ditko years, up until # 27 or so, but I'd have had no qualms in opting to be any Peter Parker from those days onwards. Problems? What problems? The advantages of being Peter Parker have since 1965 slowly increased until I just want to clip him over the ear and tell him to grow up.

(Clip.)

Compassionate, intelligent and beautiful women love you, Peter!

(Clip)

You have incredible super-powers, Peter!

(Clip.)

You're a genius, Peter!

(Clip.)

You're an Avenger and despite problems with the public's opinion, you're respected by some of the finest people your world has ever know!

Grow up, Peter Parker. Grow up!

Or rather, stop letting Peter Parker grow up in such an inappropriate, counter-productive way.

II. Peter Parker and Spider-Man will never be returned to their most affecting state in the Marvel Universe until the strip's original metaphor is substantially reconstituted or brilliantly recast. But if, for example, a team of creators decide to accentuate an adult Peter Parker's romantic failings, they merely create a hard-luck hero. But Peter Parker was never a hard-luck hero in its most banal sense. The lack of romantic satisfaction was never a marker of Peter Parker's true and lasting nature. In fact, any reading of even the earliest Spider-Man tales will reassure the reader that in time Peter was undoubtedly going to blossom into a well-loved and successful man. Peter's problems aren't intrinsic to being Peter. They're being Peter in a Jock-dominated school during his adolescence. He's a lovely bloke. He was always going to win the love of a Gwen or a MJ.


He's better than you and I. He's Peter Parker. And just because most of us comic book readers, of whatever gender and sexual orientation, struggled at one time or another to establish ourselves in the dating game, it doesn't mean that we should seek some validation and solace in Peter Parker's eternal failure. And that is especially true since the constant sense of failure that's been grafted onto the adult Peter Parker's psyche is entirely illusionary. As Dan Slott has Johnny Storm tell Peter in the excellent "Spider Man: Human Torch - I'm With Stupid" TPB;

"How can just one guy have it all? To grow up and have someone like your Aunt May there, to be this big hotshot photographer, to have a brain the size of Mr Fantastic's, and the babes! The girl's I've seen you with! God I've always envied you!"

But we fanboys and fangirls - and fanboys-and-fangirls-turned-creators - do want it all, don't we? We want a Peter Parker whose failures make us feel better for our short-comings, and we also want the Peter Parker who's super-successful so we can live out our hopeful fantasies through his success. But making Peter a simultaneously hapless adult loser and world-class adult winner destroys much of the entire bedrock of the Lee/Ditko metaphor. Peter was never going to grow up into a loser. He was bright and kind, trustworthy and inventive, loyal and decent. He was always going to be somebody's loving and well-loved husband and probably the boss of a great deal of people. We must all know in our hearts that loser-adult Peter would truly be a failure, a denial of the considerable measure of potential that was only sharpening and deepening while his adolescence progressed. And so the story of Peter Parker isn't about a lovable looser. It's about the period when he had to learn and learn again how - yes - "with great power comes responsibility".

And that's why the present-day take on Peter Parker never quite succeeds in defining the character in the way the Lee/Ditko Peter did. Because if you take that adolescent tension out of Spider-Man, then you have to work forever to make a boy who was destined to be winner become a loser. Which is why Spider-Man eventually ended up married up to Mary-Jane, I would suggest. It wasn't a betrayal of the character. It was the logical, even necessary culmination of Peter Parker's life-story.


7. However, On Uninventing The Wheel

Let's suspend our better judgement and make-believe that there's some truth in what I've written above. How then might an editorial/creator team discharge their "stewardship" role with "Spider-Man" while maintaining and hopefully increasing sales?
  • Perhaps they might choose to focus on the original metaphorical power of Spider-Man's first run, lock the character in a perpetual adolescence, and try to maintain the integrity of the metaphor and the intricacy and balance of the win-and-don't-win narrative. But this would require the utmost editorial restraint and the most ingenious and able creators in order to hold the line while still crafting entertaining stories. It's the toughest call of all.
  • Or they might decide to focus themselves on the task of developing a different metaphor which reflects a later transition point in Peter Parker's life. This is quite different from deciding that the contradictions in Peter Parker's character which were the product of adolescence should simply be picked up and dropped into a latter stage of his life.
  • Or their could be a collective shrugging of collective shoulders and the maintenance of a perpetual kiddiehood for Peter, however old he's supposed to be in whatever superhero universe he inhabits, where he's the adorable and yet unlucky handsome, genius, super-powered loser. It's a kind of join-the-dots Spider-Man, almost a post-modern way of assembling a super-hero mainstay. But a bumper, a music system and a retractable roof don't a sports-car make, and the problem with Post-Modernism is that it's all surface and no depth; Spider-Man is not simply the sum of his costume, his powers, his jokes, and his failures.
8. Reinventing The Reinvented Wheel - Brian Michael Bendis & "The New World According To Peter Parker"

I. What's most remarkable about Mr Bendis's current take on a teenage Spider-Man, as shown in "The New World According To Peter Parker", is how substantially it diverges from the framework of the Lee and Ditko ur-text. It may not immediately look like it does, but it really does. It sails off in a direction that's never been attempted by any creative team on Spider-Man before. And it doesn't so much ignore the irreducible minimum that I speculate about above as change the whole foundation of the character's existence so as to create a new irreducible minimum of its' own. Now, all of the above is not a statement that heralds a grand good kicking being aimed in Mr Bendis's direction for revisionism, for I'm well aware that this is the 21st century and that there's far more ways than one to skin this particular cat. (In fact, that's the point of this whole piece.) And what has caught my attention and refused to let it stop turning over is how this reboot of the Ultimate Spider-Man is a far, far more radical take on Peter Parker and his life than I've ever seen. It's an absolutely revolutionary departure from the past, and I'm surprised that it's not been more written about in that light. (*5) This is different.

Which is of course undoubtedly necessary. For where Mr Lee and Mr Ditko piloted Spider-Man's destiny for around 41 issues, including annuals, Mr Bendis has almost reached 150 issues of his take's career. (*6) Given that the intention seems to have always been to keep the Ultimate Spider-Man as a teenager, clearly differentiating that take on Peter Parker from the "original" in the Marvel Universe proper, the problem of how to develop the book when it could never be developed too far, too swiftly, must have been a challenging and gradually-deepening one. And since "Ultimate Spider-Man" can't just have the character graduate and weave on into an uncertain and perhaps-dysfunctional future, it makes perfect sense for the world-changing "Ultimatum" cross-over to be put to use to establish a new status quo in the relatively-new Peter Parker's life.


(*5) Either it has been written about and I've missed it, in which case I'm sorry, or it hasn't been written about because I've got it wrong, in which case I'm sorry. (*6) These are approximate figures. I'm sorry about them too.


II. Perhaps I might be forgiven for touching again on some of the points I outlined above in order to compare what Mr Bendis has done with his adolescent Peter Parker with what Mr Lee and Mr Ditko did in what I've called Spider-Man's golden period.
  • From the very first appearance of Spider-Man in "Amazing Fantasy" # 15, Peter Parker was been forced to assume much of the responsibility of the head of his household. Mr Bendis has quite deliberately and successfully taken another path for "his" Peter Parker here. In "Ultimate Spider-Man", Aunt May is fit and well and unbroken by fate, and she has no need for Peter to protect her from the world in any shape or form, emotionally or financially. As she says to Peter when he expresses his unease at his Aunt taking in stray super-heroes into their home; "You need to be Spider-Man. I need to do this. I've learned .... I need to help ... the way I can." She has a purpose beyond mothering Peter to help her rebuild her life after her husband's death. And so immediately the fundamental difference between the original Peter, who I argue was profoundly not designed for change, and this Peter becomes howlingly obvious. This Peter doesn't have to crucify his public standing for spare change, doesn't need to protect his Aunt's heart from his super-powered identity, and would be quite insane to try to assume authority over Aunt May. And so this Spider-Man is in no way the precise metaphor for the early stages of adolescence. This Spider-Man is a character who is undergoing adolescence, but it's passing and he's learning as he goes. Which is a sensible technique for Mr Bendis to adopt. To keep writing about a Peter Parker perpetually frozen in that moment between boyhood and manhood would quickly run the risk of degenerating into nine-tenths technical exercise. Maintaining the lattice of frustration and promise which Lee and Ditko raised would surely be stifling for any modern creator over a decade of story telling, and anyway, modern teenagers face a somewhat different set of challenges. So, this is a Peter who can change, and undoubtedly will. Yet, by changing one of the fundamental pillars of the early-adolescent metaphor, Mr Bendis has inevitably changed the whole nature and direction of the strip. And as with all change, there is a cost for this, and perhaps it's a necessary cost, but it's there. And we'll come to it in a few short paragraphs.
  • Whereas the first Peter Parker was apparently doomed to be the perpetual outsider, the Bendis Peter Parker is actually the opposite. This Peter Parker is utterly adored. This is perhaps the most popular character ever presented in a comic book short of Starfox on a "love-me" jaunt. Captain America may be revered, Superman practically deified, but this Peter is universally adored. Women love him: Gwen Stacey, Mary-Jane and - possibly - Kitty Pryde all think he's the absolute knees of the bee. His aunt knows about his Spider-Man identity and grants him validation there. His school principle has developed, as a result of the recent flooding of NYC, a serious case of respect for his heroic virtues as well as his academic potential. Johnny Storm looks up to Peter, Sue Storm is overwhelmingly respectful and grateful to Peter, hugging him tearfully and declaring; "I'm glad you're OK. You're such a great guy." And in fact, we never see Peter alone unless he's flipping burgers in his dead-end job, for the only person who doesn't seem to adore him is his boss, who, since he's an overweight know-nothing who ignores his own rules, obviously doesn't matter anyway. This is a Peter Parker who has already passed through the membrane between early-adolescence isolation and mid-adolescent acceptance, if not unqualified bliss. In fact, if Peter has any problems in the Bendis world, it's in getting some time to himself. He's only afflicted by having two other male teenage super-heroes sharing his home. In a sense, he's become John-boy from the Waltons, the good example whom the rest of the children in the family look up to, despite feeling somewhat weighed down by his responsibilities at times. ("Good night, Johnny!" "Good night Peter!" "Goodnight Bobby!")
  • And if we narrow our focus from Peter's social relations to the previously-fraught arena of romantic and sexual affairs, here we have an explicit acknowledgement of what was always obvious and yet strangely ignored in the text of Spider-Man from the John Romita days onwards: this Peter is an absolute winner with women. There's little hesitancy here, little fear, and relatively little doubt. Everybody loves Peter! He may not be equipped with the self-confidence of a smalltown stud, but that's effectively what he is. And even if future issues see him losing one or both of the current main rivals for his heart, as the mechanics of soap opera narratives surely demand, then he'll never return to being the loser that he was in the days of Lee and Ditko. Clive James is quite right to remind us that every man becomes a virgin again after he's lost a lover, but there's a universe of experience between a boy who's only dabbled in relationships and one who has been effectively, if somewhat surreptitiously, shacked up with Gwen Stacey for several months. Peter knows alot more about how women smell than just the perfume on their necks or the shampoo on their hair. He's crossed the Rubicon and no-one can ever take his potency as anything other than having being spectacularly established, as indeed we might indeed expect from a handsome young man who's built like a Olympic gymnast.
  • And then there's Spider-Man himself, who, to his own bemusement, has become exceptionally popular with the citizenry of New York City. Which is a logical idea, and draws off how the respect for NYC's emergency services soared after 9/11. It's amusing to watch Spider-Man continually assume that he's going to get the blame for whatever robbery he's discovered trying to thwart. (Has there ever been a super-hero so familiar with adversity that its' absence only communicates itself to him as the cruel calm before an awful storm.) This is Spider-Man as the people's champion, as the openly-valued colleague of NYPD "Captain Franky". This is, in fact, the Marvel Universe's version of Superman, or at least, the original Superboy. We love him, they love him, who doesn't love him? Well, certainly not his superhuman friends from the neighbourhood, congregating together in the wake of Magneto's flooding of NYC. In fact, what we essentially have here is a team-book, Spider-Man and his Amazing Amazing Friends, with Kitty Pryde standing in for Firestar and Johnny Storm on a season-long loan from the major leagues. And Spider-Man is apparently their leader.

8. But The Jeopardy, Captain Stacey? What About The Jeopardy?

I. The advantages of this new set-up are so manifest and many that it'd take a very long time to list them, and I promise that I won't do so obsessively. For Mr Bendis has, with one single bound lent to him by "Ultimatum", created a soap-opera set-up which can be used to endlessly create and resolve conflict. The constraining loneliness of the Lee/Ditko years, where Peter's interactions with others existed only to stress his isolation and his conflicting responsibilities, are replaced with a far broader range of personal connections. And if "Ultimate Spider-Man" is still to be the "entry-level" book for the Ultimate Universe, then this set-up is fit-for-purpose; there's an easy-to-grasp "family" core to the book, and there also a great set of linkages to the rest of the Ultimate Universe.

And so Mr Bendis has done what all able writers do when they're committed to a protracted stay on a property. He's created a situation which generates the potential for considerable conflict - both personal and "super-heroic" - while constructing a stage for action which is specific and constrained enough to remain distinct within the panoply of other associated books.

But at what cost?


II. What's most odd for me about "The New World According To Peter World" is, firstly, the lack of purpose in the life of Peter Parker, and, secondly, the lack of jeopardy in Spider-Man's life. Because in the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man, Peter Parker's desperate and inadequate efforts to carve himself out a place in his life - where he was the only authority of what happened to him - was always a considerable strain and never resolved. And in that struggle, every aspect of his experience was dangerous. Catching a cold was dangerous. Visiting the school lockers was dangerous. Tearing his costume was dangerous. Even doing everything he could to avoid trouble inevitably brought trouble straight to his door.

So the metaphor and the theme and the narrative all coalesced into a structure which meant that that poor Peter Parker was perpetually at risk and we were always worried for him. And that wasn't because he was a lovable loser so much as he was a decent bloke who lived directly underneath a permanent cloud of pure, 100% dread.

But if we were to ask ourselves what it is that Mr Bendis's Peter Parker wants, well, it seems that he just wants to be left alone a little bit more. There's no dread hanging over him, and very little jeopardy. He just feels a little crowded in his Aunt's home, though it isn't that he minds so much the new boarders as he wants his measure of space free from them. Similarly, he wants to be free of the responsibility of being nice to the customers at the Burger Frog and pleasant to his idiot of a boss. In fact, since Peter has nothing but the most mundane of everyday problems left to deal with, bar the uncomfortable dreams he suffers as the consequence of the tidal wave which took out NYC, there's a danger that he's gone from tragic all the way down to peevish. He simply seems somewhat stand-offish and almost selfish at times. In the scenes of his sulking at his job, for example, I so wanted to reach into the panels and say to him that it isn't usually the customer's fault that Peter Parker needs to flip burgers, and that it isn't fair to them to be surly and unhelpful. Of course, I'd have no problem with Johnny Storm acting like that, because the young Johnny is surly and unhelpful, but the original Peter Parker never was to that degree. Still, a change in the structure means a change in the effect; perhaps this Peter isn't going to grow up as well-adjusted-despite-his-demons as the Lee/Ditko one seemed destined to.


And what of Spider-Man? Unexpected and dangerous super-villains, on the evidence of these six issues, don't seem to shake Peter very much either. Even Mysterio, the antagonist of these issues, isn't a source of considerable jeopardy to Spider-Man. Yes, he's powerful. He murders the Kingpin and he's only prevented from killing Spider-Man by the appearance of Kitty Pryde, who's been rather obviously positioned in the narrative as a mysterious supposedly-new Super-Hero in the neighbourhood. But separated from the metaphor which organised and drove the Lee/Ditko stories, Mysterio is just another superbaddy here. He doesn't symbolise anything except himself, unless it's some vague sense of change he's supposed to embody. In fact, he doesn't seem to particularly frighten or anger Peter at all, and even when Spider-Man is lying prone before Mysterio, there's not a sense of a terrified hero facing his doom. And so, why should we care very much either? We've seen thousands and thousands of supervillains and their long monomaniacal monologues detailing their world-conquering plans. A super-villain operating according to a super-villain's typical designs isn't anything remarkable, particularly when even the comic's hero is pretty unfazed by the whole affair.

Which would be fine, if somewhat dull, if the intention of the books was to replace the metaphor of adolescence with one concerning the mundane nature of everyday social reality. But I don't that's what's at work here. I think Mr bendis is recasting the original situation laid down in the Lee/Ditko books to create new narrative options, as he always has in the Ultimate Universe. But I don't think there's much evidence that he's replaced the original and so-powerful metaphor with an equally forceful and unifying one of his own. He's given himself new plot options, but he's just meddling with the super-structure and not the base.

And consequently, even in the Ultimate Universe, Spider-Man has become just another young, learning-on-the-job super-hero, surrounded by lots of other super-heroes, facing nothing more scary than yet-another-super-villain and the strains of having lots of women attracted to him, a dull job at Burger Frog, and a few too many super-people bedding down at his place.


III. It's not that I'm immune to the skillfully created sense of fun that Mr Bendis's scripts create. And there can never be enough comics free of faux-angst as far as I'm concerned. So let me make sure that I'm being honest and fair here. This is a highly competent, well-crafted book. It's decent in its' morality, clever in how its' scenario can generate future stories, and useful as a gateway title to the Ultimate Universe. If I had a child, from 4 to 47, I'd happily buy this for them, and I'll be pleased to find the follow-up volume in my local library for myself.

It's a superior super-hero comic, and an entertaining version of a super-hero called Spider-Man. And it's a very good take on that Spider-Man indeed.

But it's not Spider-Man. It's not strange and unique, it's not saturated with dread and captivating and heartwarming despite of and because of that.

It's a Spider-Man. It's not the Spider-Man.

Because the central problem still hasn't been solved. How can that original metaphor be replicated or replaced while preserving the uniquely odd mixture of "scary" and "uplifting" that powered the original Lee/Ditko version?

Can it be?

Or have I made that whole stupid metaphor business up ...




I've been captivated and on occasion perplexed by the story-telling tecnniques exploited by Brian Michael-Bendis in this trade paperback. I hope that you might join me soon to have a look at these in another TooBusyThinkingAboutMyComics piece. Aside from that, thank you for dropping in and, regardless of how it might sound like something Peter Parker is compelled to say while serving at the Burger Frog, I hope you have a fine day.



.

27 comments:

  1. WONDERFUL piece. Thank you for that!

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  2. Hello, Leroy - and thank you for your kind words. I'm very glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. Out of curiosity, did you read Untold Tales of Spider-Man? If so, what did you think of it? It was the first Spider-Man series I read that made me want to read about the character.

    (as opposed to drooling over Todd McFarlane's art or buying a Venom arc because Venom was just so awesome or buying comics with hologram covers. I was between 12 and 15 during Spidey's Wicked Kewl period)

    Except for the cartoons of my childhood, I never really cared about Spider-Man. If we're talking Earth 616, I still dn't. He's okay, I guess, but, for the reasons you noted, does not stand out. The Paul Jenkins/ Mark Buckingham and early JMS stories were the only issues that did anything for me.

    Anyway, the Untold Tales got me interested in the Ditko issues, which I read in the Essential volumes and flat out loved. Teenage Spider-Man is the one that clicked with me, and the tension you identified is a big part o the reason why. There's so much more artificial DRAMA!!! in high school, and it resonates more with me than the more mundane and real drama of adulthood.

    I also liked Ultimate Spider-Man, and Bendis & Bagley managed to balance the high school high jinks with the super-heroics. The series had its ups and downs, but I kept with it because I liked the characters. Bendis has his faults, more glaringly obvious than some writers of similar skill because he's repeated them so often, but his dialogue style is perfect for Ult. Spidey.

    I dropped the book shortly after Immonen took over due to financial resons, but managed to pick up most of the back-issues months later. i dropped the book again right before Ultimatum. I figured I was done with Ultimate Spider-Man, even with the coming relaunch. At a recent 1/2 off sale, I picked up issues 1-6, and liked them quite a bit. The transformation of the lead character and his world didn't bother me that much, because:

    - people change as their confidence grows, even in high school. As much as I love Ditko-style Spider-Man, a Peter Parker who has become more comfortable with himself is fine by me. Bendis pays lip-service to the idea that Peter is still a loser, with the job and occasional bit of dialogue, but the character changing a bit makes sense.

    - the high school high jinks continue, as Peter has to deal with "sibling" rivalry, girl trouble, and more. The tension has been displaced, but it's still there. I like the fact that he doesn't feel comfortable with his new-found adoration.

    - the supporting cast is great. I was disappointed when Mary Jane came in during the clone arc and took Peter back from Kitty Pryde, and delighted when she came back into Peter's life as a classmate. Gwen, MJ, and Kitty are all good matches for Peter, and I feel like he could be with any of them at any time. Johnny and Bobby have a lot of potential. I liked the police captain, and Ultimate Aunt May is the best version of the character by far. She's not just a plot device, she's a well-rounded adult.

    My main problem with the new version is, as you noted, the lack of drama in the super-hero stuff. Except for the mysterious cloaked figure (whose identity reveal threw me for a loop, but seems obvious in retrospect), none of the super-battles seemed to mean much. Unlike Ult. Spidey vol. 1, the antagonists don't have a personal connection to Spider-Man or his supporting cast. Even if Spider-Man beat the Green Goblin or Venom, he still lost a friend or had to deal with someone who knew his identity or was after his friends. Mysterio and the Bombshells were just commiting crimes, with nothing more at stake than money or property.

    Bendis gets credit for exploiting our preconceived notions regarding Spider-Man. We know that other shoe's going to drop any time now (I kept waiting for Mysterio to rob a bank in a Spider-Man suit). I kind of like the new status quo, even though I know it can't last.

    As always, thanks for the thought-provoking post, and allowing the rest of us to ramble with you.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  4. Hello Mike! And thank you very much for your thoughts! I'm really glad that folks such as yourself know how much I appreciate getting to hear what other people think. As far as I can tell, the whole point of writing a blog isn't to tell the world what it should think so much as to give other folks the material to come back and say what they think. I'm grateful to every single person who "rambles" back at my "rambles", Mike, and it's often the comments which sharpen my thinking even more than the writing the blogs in the first place. No hyperbole, 'tis true.

    It's instructive that "Untold" was your gateway to the Lee/Ditko issues, and I enjoyed reading about why the likes of the high-school setting is so interesting to you as a reader. I certainly did read and enjoy the Busiek "Untold" issues myself, and there were some of them in particular which I warmed to greatly, such as the story where Peter discovers a schoolmate who has been bullying him is being abused, where the tale ends with Peter tutoring the bully out of empathy and not pity. It was top work. I ought to take those issues I've still got down and have another look, because I have a feeling that I was rather bored by the super-villain content of those stories while entertained and often moved by the human stuff. Sometimes I remember thinking that Busiek would've been better off writing the adventures of Peter Parker and leaving the Spidey stuff to Stan'n'Steve, but I don't mean that cruely. The first year of issues were in particular well-worth reading and I wish they'd collect the whole run together in an "Essentials". Yep, I would buy that.

    One of the necessary correctives which blogging offers the blogger is that it results in being exposed to thoughts such as yours concerning the Bendis years on Ultimate Spider-Man. Because I have to admit - actually, I have no problems doing so - that I've enjoyed a great deal of what he's done, and reading what you've written, I may have under-estimated how much I have enjoyed. I do, however, feel that he loses control of his stories in a way which no other writer of a comparable status and skill does, and you're right, his particular tics and techniques do get repeated so often that there's sometimes a sense of "Oh no, not again". Which may also be a function of how much he writes - it would be hard for anybody to avoid their readers feeling a certain degree of familiarity with their method when their work is constantly appearing in the comic shops.

    Your point about the villains in the latest Ultimate Spider-Man series is well-made and, to my shame, ones which I ought to have made to my piece. But statcounter does indicate that a few good folks read these comments, so I'm glad they'll have your words to illuminate what I left so ill-lit.

    Thanks for your words, Mike. I hope you're having a fine weekend.

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  5. Wonderful post.

    I could not agree more about the central metaphor of Lee-Ditko stories. Just look at how strangely Spidey moves in those early issues. It conveys that sense of alienation from ones own body that puberty brings very nicely.

    I also agree that the core metaphor limits how far the character can really progress forward. College is really the last time that it is normative to be wrestling with any of the concerns Lee-Ditko laid out for Peter. By the time you have a career and a relationship that is leading toward marriage, you really should have that stuff resolved. The mainspring of the series had begun wearing down well before the nuptials themselves.

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  6. Good morning, Dean. Thank you for your kind words. Your point about college made me think how odd it was that those who argue so strongly for Spider-Man being a character who must grow up and change don't (1) seem to realise that as you so succintly put it, that would mean a Peter Parker quite unlike the teenage version, and (2) seem to want Peter to actually age beyond about 27, despite wanting constant development. If change is the issue, then change it should be, I guess. But then we'd end up with a Spider-Man like the one in "Earth-X", over-weight, under-achieving & yet still pretty much a teenager

    You're right about how strangely Spidey moves in the early Ditko issues, and much of that is there even at the end of his time. I've got Schumer's book on Silver Age art at hand as I write this, and even in the examples therein from the 20s of his book, there is a sense that Spidey is often going to roll over the top of himself. But as you say, the earliest issues best have that "sense of alienation from ones own body" that you refer so well to.

    I hope your day is a splendid one.

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  7. Absolute brilliant piece.
    "Even When He Wins, He Loses, Because That's The Whole Point" ...."and [now] we've ended up with the equivalent of a Batman who's utterly free of the trauma of his parent's death."
    Sometimes you read something, and you realize that you've been feeling exactly the same thing, without ever really putting words on the thoughts, and then when somebody does - it seems so obvious.
    Thanks for the brainstorm :-)

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  8. Hello Peter - I'm glad that you thought the piece was of some value. I often find that I work my whole way through a "brainstorm" and at the end of it is something which, as you were kind enough to say, is something which I always believed, but didn't know I did; it's always abit of a surprise to me, I must admit. It's just that I can't get to those points without all the preceeding words. I'm really pleased that it was of some use to you: your comment has certainly cheered up this English evening, so thank you.

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  9. Let no man, woman or child say that you did not hit this Spider-Man business DIRECTLY ON THE HEAD. An engaging read as always!

    Although: I do have a justification I personally use to engage with the present-day "adolescent adult" Peter Parker. In my head, he's been sort of doomed by forces outside his control (in his world, fate; in our world it's Marvel editorial and fan demand) to a life of mediocrity.

    For instance, when I was a lad, during the Clone Saga, Peter was married with a kid on the way and had landed a sweet gig at a research firm in Oregon. And then in six months, fate/editorial (using as their agent the Green Goblin*) had basically reset it so he was still a down-on-his luck dude working as a freelance photographer in NYC, living in an aged relative's house (although he got to keep Mary Jane that time at least). Say what you will about Spider-Man comics circa 1997/8, but they at least portrayed Peter as self-aware enough to realize how far he'd fallen backwards.

    So in my head, Peter keeps TRYING to make something of himself, but forces outside his control keep knocking him back to a mediocre status quo. (Of course, this doesn't work so well with the most recent reboot, because Peter CHOOSES to make the deal with Mephisto, but I am willing to look past an ugly mistake in a bad three-year-old story in order to get on with things.)

    So instead of the metaphor of adolescence, Peter becomes a bit of a Sisyphus; I can live with it, although I'd understand anyone who couldn't.

    (* - Actually, it's worth noting that the Green Goblin has served this function before in killing off Gwen Stacy, preventing her and Peter from getting married.)

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  10. Hello, Justin - and I have to admit, as I've touched on above, that it is hard for me not to enjoy the various pseudo-adult Peter Parkers that Marvels given us for the past three or four decades. And it is indeed that sense of "the world won't listen and doesn't help" that endeared me to those takes, though as I get older I look back and think that - and hear I shudder to hear myself think this let alone write it - Ditko's philosophy would've been more use to me as a touchstone than the kind of "I can't win" attitude that adult Peter often has.

    And that of course is exceptionally relevant to your point of Peter as Sisyphus, because if Peter is going to be a symbol of the everyman rolling that rock up that hill every day before being forced to repeat the task tomorrow, then at least he should do so with more grace and self-knowledge. If Pete's going to age and stay hapless, he ought to be a touch more knowing, a touch more determined, and certainly more grateful for all the good things in his life. That doesn't mean that he can't get knocked back, feel hopeless and so on. But a greater measure of fortitude, of iron in his soul - mmmmm, as always, Justin, you make me think. Would that be the variable which would make his modern adventures just a touch more palatable to me? It might, except that he's still going to be possessed of such advantages - from genius to achievement to loving family/friends - that that rock is always going to seem much smaller than it needs to in order to make the whole process make sense. Still, I'm with you - that's an alternative way to engage with the adult Peter and I shall nip across to my accidentally-renewed Marvel Digital subscription & see if it works for me.

    That's a GREAT point about how the Green Goblin has been used as a "re-set" button too. And I'm glad that we're both going to ignore the concept that Peter would choose to do that deal with Mephisto. It'll get re-conned after JQ leaves Marvel. It's a "Hal Jordan kills all the Corp and destroys Oa because he got upset and snotty" moment. It's so exceptionally dumb that only the presence of JQ at the top of the heap can prevent most everyone leaping in with after-the-fact explanations/excuses. Because, of course, it obviously never happened.

    Thank you as always for commenting, Justin!

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  11. --part two of ye blather--

    The "hard luck hero" approach is a misinterpretation of the theme. Yes, things go wrong for Peter, but in the way that they go wrong for everybody. That's why we identify so strongly with him. It's not about "living with tragedy" or being maudlin. It's about the fact that even if you have super-powers, you still have to deal with selfish jerks, your costume will shrink in the laundry, and people probably won't appreciate what you do for them.

    This is why Peter's aging is a problem, as is his whining. When you're a teenager, you're stuck in high school, where petty tyranny and injustice rule. Also, you don't have a strong sense of perspective yet, so it's hard to grasp how important so many things aren't. When you're an adult, the petty problems of life don't stop -- if anything, they increase -- but your perspective on them has to change.

    So an adult Peter Parker could work just fine; he just needs (a) a new set of everyday annoyances and selfish jerkasses in his life and (b) a more adult perspective on what it all means. This is often screwed up, even by Stan Lee.

    To work as a character, Peter has to recognize that he's getting dumped upon in a way that superheroes traditionally aren't, but he should also take it in relative stride. A roll of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders, and move on.

    In the Stan-and-Steve stories, there's something else that a lot of writers leave out: petty victories. Spidey gets the best of JJJ frequently. He screws with Flash Thompson. He often goes beyond beating villains and makes them look stupid. We take joy in his little triumphs just as much, if not more, than his larger ones, because we relate to them better.

    Also, this is not about realism per se. Spider-Man is not particularly realistic. But the comic uses a broader emotional palette than most comics, particularly of that era, and we respond strongly. Those comics touch on deep-seated feelings of annoyance we all have, and lets us revel in Peter's victories over them. Because let's face it, in the end, he does always win.

    A grown Peter Parker as a slacker loser makes no sense to me. As you point out, when we meet him, he's a great kid with a tremendous future ahead of him. He just hasn't grown into himself yet. His adventures as Spider-Man complicate his life greatly, but they also enrich it. He'd grow up to be a well-adjusted, humane adult, probably the only hero in the MU who is, because he dealt with the petty crap that forms us into well-adjusted, humane adults.

    And he'd still have to sew his own costumes and occasionally fight crime with a head cold.

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  12. (This one went long, so it's in two parts)

    This post got me re-reading "Essential Spider-Man, Volume One," and I came away with a similar but not identical interpretation of the character. There's a single element that runs through the Stan-and-Steve Spidey that encapsulates the series's charm and point of difference. It's not youth, it's not puberty, it's not "hard luck heroism."

    It's pettiness. Think about all of the touches of pettiness in those issues.

    There's behavioral pettiness: Peter's initial urge to make money with his powers; his letting of Uncle Ben's killer rush past out of spite; Flash Thompson; JJJ; Spidey's relationship with the Torch; and the way Betty and Liz interact with both Peter and each other.

    And then there's the pettiness of the world itself: Spidey's mask tears during a fight with Kraven; people get colds; the Parkers have a hard time making ends meet through no fault of their own.

    Peter makes ends meet by being a dastardly little jerk, in a way that readers enjoy as a bit of smirking vengeance. JJJ creates a super-villain, the Scorpion, out of motives so weak it's hard to believe. And yet we do.

    Now compare that to any other comic of the time, or even most since then. That particular idea proves to be surprisingly rare. The FF had interpersonal conflict and one time had money trouble, but they were Big Damn Heroes living on a Big Damn Scale all the time. The Hulk didn't settle on a theme for years. Thor was, at this point, basically Silver Age Superman with a hammer. Dr. Strange never had room for pettiness after he became a disciple of the mystic arts. Overcoming pettiness is the core of Dr. Strange's character.

    --end of part one--

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  13. Hello Harvey! And yep, you’ve sold me that a powerful theme in the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man is as you say “pettiness”, or, if I may, the necessary knowledge for adolescents that absolute & noble victories are rarely possible or even necessary. (I suspect that’s more Stan than Steve, since Mr Ditko would have, I believe, presented the dialogue of such scenes in terms of moral absolutes.) And it is a really good point you make about a clever technique which just isn’t used as often as it should be, because it’s not recognised as a useful one to the degree that you’ve made me realise it should be. I don’t agree with you that it was THE theme of Spider-Man, but it believe on consideration that it was a technique that accentuated the “reality” that Peter Parker inhabited & established a theme of compromise & survival that all teenagers struggle with and yet learn to revel in. And more than that, and I wouldn’t have thought of this without your fine points, it allowed the strip to give the illusion of progression through achievement that the central metaphor of adolescence could permit. Petey can put one over on JJJ without altering the fact of the power-relations which dominate an adolescent’s life. Which is, of course, what adolescents do. Little victories while gathering the strength and knowledge to engage on the greater battles. And the pettiness you discuss grounds the strip, gives it grit. Yep, you’ve sold me. Because part of adolescence is realising that reality may be made up of rights and responsibilities, power and helplessness, and any number of oppositions, but on the ground, in everyday life, victories are nearly always minor, fleeting and won by less than perfect means.

    I know! I know! We’re disagreeing about what’s the central metaphor and what’s the theme that serves it, but (1) what you’re saying is fascinating & changing what I’m thinking, and (2) it’s great stuff to be thinking about, I think, if I can be forgiven a culturally unacceptable degree of pleasure in taking on board someone else’s ideas and realising that I’ve missed what is at least a key component of the Spider-Man / adolescence conundrum.

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  14. Part 2.

    Harvey, I’ve been thinking about the adult Peter problem quite a lot too. I think it’s obvious that there are many stories where the trick of an adult Peter is pulled off, or is at least enjoyable to engage with. And I’m pleased that we agree that an adult Peter would get dumped on but wouldn’t bend and almost break to the degree that has often been shown. Peter would be bright and able enough to cope with most problems, and I’d hope that a creator wouldn’t try to load him up with more & more intense measures of angst in the hope of making him a loser again. Oh. That’s what’s too often happened ….

    Everything you say I agree with, I really do. The only thing I’d take issue would be the implication of saying that adult Peter stories could be told; if we accept that premise – which I do – then some might think that it follows that those stories would have the force of the best of the Lee/Ditko stories. And that wouldn’t be so. The costume and the powers are still best utilised as the metaphor for adolescence; they’re so specifically useful that I think they ought to be put to use where they work best. Even the Spider-sense as a metaphor for the time when we start to be aware of wider social networks and expectations fits that model.

    But by the same token, I fully accept your point that an adult Peter could serve as an engaging and entertaining hero, especially - absolutely! - using the strategies you mention. In fact, perhaps it’s time for a humane adult hero behaving as an adult. Less youthful intensity, less unfocused angst, more adult depth, but as you say, a deliberate engagement in an adult world.

    But perhaps that requires another hero created for that purpose while Peter stays where he ought to be?

    Thank you for your thoughts. I’m struggling with my Cap part II at this very moment & this has helped me switch off on that for a moment & engage another part of my brain. And you’ve also inspired me to go back and have another read of my Essentials looking for that pettiness. I haven’t rejected your hypothesis. I’ve engaged with it & later I’ll be able to read “The Living Brain” and tell The Splendid Wife that I’m undertaking research.

    Thanks Harvey. I’m really glad for your thoughts. I hope your day is a splendid one.

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  15. Part of me wants to reject the idea that Spider-Man works best as an adolescent. My first memories of Spidey were from the late seventies and early eighties, when he was in graduate school, hung out with a now-friendly Flash Thompson, and was in perpetual trouble with his landlady, Mrs. Muggins. "Essential Spectacular Spider-Man" Volume One made my head explode, because those comics were the blueprint of my understanding of the character, and I hadn't seen them since I was a child.

    And yet, and yet, and yet. As much as I love the Mantlo-era Spidey, with his crazy soapy life and love triangles and whacked-out supporting cast (Razorback? The Hypno Hustler?), I admit those comics aren't as good as the Stan-and-Steve era. The DeFalco-Frenz era of ASM is even better, and it too isn't quite Lee-Ditko quality.

    You're right. The difference is high school. He works a lot better as The Kid.

    A cool story of sorts that would handle the theme would be a flash into the future, or even some sort of time-travel story, where Young Peter and the readers would see that Peter Parker turns out not just okay, but that he's the best, most adult hero of all. He didn't grow up in the X-Men's self-referential bubble, the FF's ivory tower of science, or Avengers Mansion, and so, we discover, Peter Parker is virtually alone in the superhuman community as a decent, grounded man. He is, essentially, a "child star" made good. Young Peter would see that he did become the adult he wants to be, gain confidence from it, and return to the present with a slight bounce in his step, and the readership would glow with that feeling every teenage kid wants: "everything's gonna work out fine, I'll be fine."

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  16. Harvey, that idea of the "Spidey visits the future" story is a lovely one, it really is. It reminds me of the charm of the kind of Superman/Superboy story that might have been produced during the height of the Bates/Maggin/Pasko era, though of course Spidey wouldn't be Spidey without a great deal more grit in the oyster than that. Perhaps Peter gets to see the future, but only gets to remember a slither of comfort in his unconscious mind until he sees the whole meeting from the perspective of his adult self? I know that's a traditional way of dealing with such tales, but I could just see Ditko's Peter smiling just a touch, with a touch more confidence, despite not quite remembering why, as Flash shouts at him down a school corridor. And as I write this, I realise what THAT thought shows to me: so many of us are still fond of Peter Parker, but we want to save him, just as we'd quite like - perhaps? - for someone to have saved us from perhaps just one moment of adolescent crisis that we went through ourselves. But I'm with the "He can't be saved" school. Peter is all about the moment of adolescence, and no matter how we want him to sway at the Coffee Bean and drive his groovy moped home, it undercuts the point.

    But one day - one day we HAVE to KNOW that he'll be the grooviest swinger that the Coffee Bean's ever seen. (But perhaps a '60's more-innocent kind of swinger than "swinger" might suggest.)

    I know I've written about the Dan Slott "Spider-Man/Human Torch: I'm With Stupid" story before on this blog, so I won't ramble on about it at length again, but the last issue of that of course did something very similar to what you suggest about Peter turning out OK. And the last five pages of that gave me exactly what you've written about here: the 'child star' made good, thank God for Peter feeling. It's a much under-rated comic book, I think, quietly fine & I may read that again after the Essentials you've inspired to haul out.

    Sigh. Hard life. Oh, the burden of reading fine comic books ... Into the ranks of whom I'd add the DeFalco/Frenz & Mantlo books too, even if think there's been some slippage in the metaphor there and therefore the weakening of the power of the narrative which you yourself mention above. Fondly remembered they are still, though, despite any qualifications I might have when I think of them.

    It's been a pleasure debating with you, Mr H. I feel I've learnt stuff I'd not have otherwise. Thank you!

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  17. When Spider-Man and the other original Marvel "properties" were created there was no longevity planned for. Marvel time and real world time were the same. There was none of the more modern comicbook time bullshit nor were the creators or fans ageing fanboys. The comics had broad, totally disposable, appeal.

    As long as that held true, then the comics trundled on their merry way and Spider-Man and the other heroes aged through the 60s.

    When Marvel became a monstrous hit publisher all of that changed, and ever since then, the seeds of DC-style nonsense have been planted, to now cancerously flower on an almost weekly basis for the last 25-30 years.

    All it would have taken was to replace "properties" with new characters and keep the thing ticking over. The reset button was a much easier answer.

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  18. Hello there Anonymous:- I think the very fact you mention, that folks never imagined that the new superhero universes might last in the way they have, has caused the problem. If it had been built into the narrative of Marvel-Earth from the beginning that folks would age and identities would pass from one generation to another, then it might now be a given and trying to keep time-lines straight might not be a problem. By the same token, I do rather enjoy the attempts - often inventive and successful, often very much not - to keep properties "alive" while appealing to new generations. It's always interesting to see how creativity expresses itself when faced with the problems of, say, a 29 year old Superman with a 71 year career. The reset button would've been an easier answer, but the lack of a perception that such an option is acceptable does produce some fascinating products too.

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  19. Oh, bravo.

    It's true, the qualities that make exceptionally great stories, in other media, do not predispose them to serializing. The serial format has occasionally given us terrific history and continuity, but the themes of intense stories become difficult to unify without a finite frame.

    Please bear with the example that comes to mind, as you've already laid out one convincing one.
    Much as I plan to snatch Don Quijote and Sancho Panza out of vol. 2 Book 58 and send them time travelling, we know how Cervantes felt at the time about writers getting his creation wrong (see the spurious sequel released between DQ vol. 1 & 2).

    I will come back and give this more thought, but there may be no further story that could make me love Spider-Man more than I already do (which has not sent me out to procure all things Spider-Man, regardless; his freedom of movement is a great blessing to my imagination). I love what you did in seeking the minimal reduction; if this quality's present in the new movie, we all win.

    This is why Omega the Unknown is a stunning triumph, for all its commercially abbreviated form; it digs into every corner of adolescence possible in its aborted run.

    Most importantly, this didn't make me want to revamp Spider-Man at all. It made me think of how these qualities should be reflected in my own adolescent characters. You helped illumine, in part by defining what is not, the rich tapestry of adolescent concerns. It gives me hope I may be able to produce memorable work, even without that heartbreakingly brilliant costume...

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  20. Hello CI:- I think you've provided something of the solution to the "problem" in your last paragraph. If Spider-Man should be about some aspect of adolescence, then as you say we've all got elements of that state of mind and heart in us. And whether we use it on a franchise character such as Peter Parker or in some new creation, adolescence is a topic which, if approached in an intelligent and heartfelt way, never grows old. And there's so much about adolescence that comic's haven't worn out yet, including the experience of it in different cultures and sub-cultures.

    Of course, I'm not saying that Spidey can't be used as a metaphor for other aspects of the human condition. BMB's done some interesting work on, for example, that period in which adolescence begins to bleed conspiciously into adulthood in the second volume of USM, and of course Spidey's been an adult in the comics for decades now. My preference is for the precision of the adolescence metaphor, but I'd hate at the remove of almost a year since I wrote the above to appear to be a Spidey-Stalinist about the matter.

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  21. Fascinating piece, Colin, well-argued, nicely written - most convincing. It emphasises that we all get different things out of particular comics - you locked onto a metaphor that you may not have been able to describe until years later, whereas I apparently didn't connect with it at all.

    The adolescence metaphor resonated with you, something powerful grew as issue after issue, Peter dealt with life as a high schooler and superhero. Reading those first issues when I was about nine, in UK Marvel reprints, I just found it all too depressing for words.

    It was the Wein/Conway/Andru/Esposito stories that made me a fan. Tales in which being the role of Spider-Man was, for the most part, an escape from the miseries of Peter's everyday life, rather than just another brand of woe. The wisecracks weren't simply bravado, they were indicative of the joy Peter felt for the few hours he was in costume. In those Seventies tales superheroics and soap meld perfectly, the villains know their parts and New York is as much a character as any cast member.

    I can enjoy - appreciate is likely more apposite - the Lee/Ditko stories today, but to me they're like the first few years of the Fantastic Four, the necessary foundation before everything gelled.

    (You're holding your head in your hands, aren't you?!)

    I came over here (from the future!) after asking why you found the modern Peter Parker so jolly unlikeable, and while I now understand why 2012 Spidey doesn't resonate with you as it might, I still don't get why you dislike today's Peter.

    Because Peter, currently, seems to be exactly the character you expected him to become based on the old ur-text, the Lee/Ditko early years. He's the successful, well-liked genius, the capable super-chap.

    Of course, without the central organising myth, he's still not the Spider-Man you want. Before reading your piece I couldn't credit that anyone with even a vague interest in Spidey could fail to cheer the two most recent issues, #678-679 (which you'd not had a chance to read then), but I'm not so sure now. Dan Slott writes a two-part tale in which Spidey and a pal at Horizon Labs must prevent New York being destroyed, as seen via a doorway that leads one day into the future. The disaster is somehow connected to something Peter does/would have done in the next/past 24 hours and he has to work out what. I'd say it's rather ingenious, playing entirely fair with the reader. The drama doesn't depend upon superhero deaths, or massive crossovers - it's a character piece at heart, but with massive stakes.

    It's superbly plotted, Spidey is brave and smart and relentless and funny, we see the love between him and MJ, Humberto Ramos provides the most attractive work I've seen from him since Impulse ... but while it's a story tailored to many aspects of Spider-Man - you couldn't swap in Daredevil, or Iron Fist, say - the adolescence metaphor isn't there (well, not that I can see).

    I only ever managed three or four issues of Ultimate Spider-Man - it just didn't feel right, this wasn't a fresh take on Spidey, but another character ... but that's more to do with characterisations and story choices than underlying metaphor.

    In other news, I love the new blog logo, it's mega-cute!

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  22. Hello Martin:- I tremble at the audacity of linking to this piece now, seeing how long it actually is. Thanks for even considering approaching this ... thing of a blog.

    Strangely enough, writing a blog was so much easier when I started. Topics that I'd had been thinking about for years were there - for good or ill - to try to access. It soon got considerably more difficult. That fact alone has given me tremendous respect for folks such as yourself, who are just long-standing bloggers but professional journalists too. One of the things which only practise illuminates, it seems, is how hard it to keep returning to the well without entirely draining it.

    But I digress. Again :)

    "It emphasises that we all get different things out of particular comics"

    Yes, the more I blog, the more I race backwards from the slightest assumption of objectivity. I might try to give every argument as much oomph as I can, but if anything's marked the process of blogging, it's been an acceptance that in just about everything, it's opinion and taste. I will say, as long as you do feel I'm sycophantic, that your blog has always helped this process. Because we do often see things differently, and yet, because your words are always well-chosen and well-supported, I just can't retreat up onto the high horse for too long. It really helps.

    "Reading those first issues when I was about nine, in UK Marvel reprints, I just found it all too depressing for words."

    I can absolutely understand that. Much of it comes down to one's own experience, I would imagine. Without presuming to give the slightest indication that I'm implying anything about your own childhood, mine was not a happy one. Consequently, I saw Peter's experience as being an entirely normal one and it was easy for me to empathise with him. I promise you, I say this as someone for whom the past is decades gone and its ghosts entirely reconciled. Yet that would explain why I did, and still do, identify that aspect of Spider-Man with the character's importance for me. It’s an argument which I feel is pretty water-tight in its own terms, but only in its own terms!

    "It was the Wein/Conway/Andru/Esposito stories that made me a fan. Tales in which being the role of Spider-Man was, for the most part, an escape from the miseries of Peter's everyday life, rather than just another brand of woe."

    I didn't get that from the Conway stories, but the Wein issues mark the point at which I can't engage with Spidey anymore on that fond level which marks a favourite character. By the time I reach today's Spidey - Avenger etc etc - I'm quite lost. It's as if my local town's 3-men-and-a-dog football club has been replaced by 100 000 stadium international footballing franchise. A different game, different rules and principles. Not better or worse in any objective sense. But very different.

    cont:

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  23. cont;

    "You're holding your head in your hands, aren't you?!"

    Nope. Really not! I think the privilege - if I can put it that way - of discussing things with folks with yourself helps keep me from degenerating into critic-barking mode, and I always go back and see things differently, even if I can't always see and feel the things that others might.

    "He's the successful, well-liked genius, the capable super-chap."

    He is. It's just a personal feeling. I just think the Lee/Ditko Peter would've come far further in his life, both in terms of her internal life and his affairs in the wider world. (In fact, I'm not sure I would've liked him so much either; there were signs he was becoming rather arrogant at the end of the Ditko issues.) Strip away the adolescent metaphor and produce a take on the older Peter at odds to my own take - re: opinion, re: prejudice - and I just struggle to engage with the character. The balancing act for an older Peter is always tough. He has to retain his vulnerability and charm while displaying an appropriate maturity. Parker has to be an under-dog to work, and yet he's now a long-standing Avenger, and yet as a long-standing Avenger he's often the Woody-Allen-in-costume-kid-in-the-corner. Those contradictions don't make sense to me. But I accentuate that the "me" part of the sentence is the truth of it.

    "Before reading your piece I couldn't credit that anyone with even a vague interest in Spidey could fail to cheer the two most recent issues, #678-679"

    You quite honestly inspire me to hunt them down and read them with as open-minded an attitude as possible. I can think of nothing that might be a better "assignment" for my practise blogging, with TooBusy of course very much is. You've absolutely convinced to make the effort and try to put my own preferences to one side. I do always try to do so, but perhaps not nearly hard enough. Sir, I accept your challenge! Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm.

    The new logo is by Mark Crabtree. I'm going to make sure he's credited and celebrated in tomorrow's post. It's lovely, isn't it? It makes me smile, and I can't think of anything more suitable to help establish the tone I'd love to transmit here.

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  24. Ah, the Avengers business. It's funny, Spidey as an Avenger is all over current comics, but it's just not in my consciousness as an aspect of Peter's life. Even when it's reflected in his own title, I've forgotten all about it. Ditto with the FF ... Because it just doesn't fit.

    We've been told for decades that despite friendships and team-ups, Spidey isn't a joiner. When I've seen him in a Bendis Avengers comic it's ridiculous how generally useless he is. He fares better in Hickman's Fantastic Four, being treated as Reed's scientific peer, but looks ridiculous, not like himself at all. Given that one of Peter's problems have always been finding enough hours in the day, he can't be spending all that time at Avengers Mansion or the Baxter Building.

    So those stories don't stick as part of Peter's canon.

    I forgot to address your remarks on the costume - wonderful stuff! I've always found Spidey's costume striking, but the idea of it as a metaphor for puberty is mind-blowing. I never found it creepy at rest ... It's red and blue primaries, similar to Superman - friendly looking (and I'd say it was the Spider-Man strip which codified purple and green as sinister, bad guy colours - prior to that, they said Lana Lang, because they looked so good with orange hair that she wore them often). The underarm webbing, mind, I suppose you could equate that with adolescent underarm hair ... it's a pity so many artists have him 'shave' there.

    Early Spidey looked creepy when skittering, or shining that beam in a dark alley, but add the wisecracks and his constant 'friendly neighbourhood' appellation, and amount of time he's been fighting crime in New York and he loses that power to unnerve. Certainly, it's there early on, but I think time, and Spidey himself, has neutered the notion did Spider-Man as an eerie figure.

    Oh dear, I'm going on. Time to get some Sunday morning fresh air!

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    1. Hello Martin:- "So those stories don't stick as part of Peter's canon."

      I suppose we're all picking and choosing which aspects of Spider-Man we're willing and keen to buy into. I've narrowed my focus far, far more than you, but we're both by necessity creating our own Parker out of all the many options available. It'd be hard not to. But there are probably a few generations of comic readers for who the idea that Peter shouldn't be an Avenger would be heretical. I do, however, agree entirely with what you say. I often think that "my" Peter Parker's story ended in the Slott/Templeton Spider-Man/Human Torch series. And I'm happy in many ways for that to be so, given what a brilliant series it was.

      But I have purchased the two Spidey issues you recommended to me on E-Bay this very morning!

      "Early Spidey looked creepy when skittering, or shining that beam in a dark alley, but add the wisecracks and his constant 'friendly neighbourhood' appellation, and amount of time he's been fighting crime in New York and he loses that power to unnerve. Certainly, it's there early on, but I think time, and Spidey himself, has neutered the notion did Spider-Man as an eerie figure."

      It's true, you've nailed it. And that means that my own preferences really do narrow down the issues that I can whole-heartedly buy into.

      I love the idea of the underarm webbing! That whole idea of the adult body beginning to colonise and transform the pre-pubescent one really does work for me in those early issues, and that fear of losing one's identity and being judged on what we do rather than who we are; I think I'm going to have to have a Lee/Kirby binge again. Your point about the colour scheme is well-made. Perhaps that helped the character win folks over even when he was - in the time - so odd and disturbing.

      I hope the fresh air- and I presume snow - did its job. I have a snow wander later this afternoon. I'm looking forward to dusk and the winter, as long as it lasts about three or four minutes and no more.

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  25. Darn, I should have thought on, I could have sent you those two comics. Oh well, let me know what you think ... For some reason I never get ColinAlerts when a new blog comment goes up after I've posted!

    No snow in Edinburgh!

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    1. Hello Martin:- I spend my life in a state of ColinAlerts. I suspect I absorb all that Blogger can produce in my search to be as worried as I can be. Gawd bless Blogger I say.

      I must say I'm really looking forward to those Spidey issues. I'm genuinely interested to see if I can past my own little conception of canon.

      No snow in Edinburgh? Actually I think back to my childhood and I can't recall all that much snow compared to down here over the Wall. Very little sun, mind you, and a great deal of rain ...

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