Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Comic You Should Be Talking About For April 12, 2006: Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man 7

Yeah, like I didn't kiss PAD's ass enough in that last post…

Anyway, this comic manages to say eloquently something I've been saying for five goddamn years, with no effect. This probably won't do the job either on the most stubborn fanboys, but it sure is nice.

If you've followed Spider-Man comics at all in the last half-decade, you know that J. Michael Straczynski has introduced a new wrinkle into the Spidey mythos: the idea that maybe, just maybe, that accident that gave him his powers wasn't an accident at all. That maybe the spider intended to give him the powers all along, and the radiation just meant it had to speed up its schedule a bit. That, in short, there was an intelligence behind it all.

Oh, the hue and cry.

The "Spider-totem" notion, as it's been dubbed by the usually clueless denizens of online fandom, has been ill-received by some. They believe it irrevocably changes the character to add this element of mysticism, and perhaps a legacy, to the character. I though JMS dispelled this well enough in his first story arc, when he had Peter straight up say that he was at most a blend of science and magic, that knowing about this didn't change who he was or how he did business. Apparently, I'm some kind of idiot, because the hue and cry went on, and reached a fever pitch with last fall's "The Other" crossover.

Now, I thought "The Other" would have served better as a four-issue story in ASM than a twelve-part crossover epic, but I didn't have a problem with the root ending: Peter has a near-death, if not actual death, experience, and comes back more in touch with his Spider-y roots, with new powers to boot. Among these include night vision, an extended "web-sense" that allows him to pick up currents of danger in a more expanded area and gives him some limited tracking ability, and the stingers.

They are *not* fucking bone-claws, OK? He doesn't slash with them, there's only one on each arm, they're not even made of bone… let's just agree to shoot that one in the head right now.

Anyway, this ish, Spidey runs into both El Muerto (the luchador from last month's installment) and the mysterious El Dorado, a pair of fully-mystic legacy/totem characters who trigger an internal debate about just what the nature of his new powers is. This includes a conversation with Iron Man in the first few pages where, surprisingly, Tony takes the pro-magic POV. This is an interesting switch, but believable given recent developments. But that’s beside the point, which is that David manages, here and in the issue's denouement (that's French for "the part where he beats up the bad guy"), to deliver an eloquent and logical bitch-slapping of the ignorant, immobile fanboy position.

Here it is in a nutshell: This is a world where magic exists. It's a part of the universe. It's no less natural than, for example, a full-body suit of armor that folds up and fits in a briefcase. So its place in Spider-Man's life doesn't really violate any rules, if you accept the shared universe package (and so many of these fanboys are insistent on doing so). Furthermore, it doesn't change who Peter is one whit. He beats El Dorado using his knowledge of science, not his new magic-related powers. And even if he were fully magical, or fully scientific (and the two are not mutually exclusive, this is fiction, for god's sake, can't we say "anything goes" at least once in the series bible?), he'd still be, at heart, Peter Parker: the scrawny nerd who screwed up big-time and who is going to spend the rest of his life making up for it, who secretly likes his life but likes bitching about it more, who jokes it up in front of the bad guys partly for revenge against the bullies who tormented him, and partly because it's the only think keeping him sane when he's fighting mad armored dictators and scientists with telescoping adamantium arms.

The powers are not the character. Let's say that again, because it's bloody important: The powers are not the character. The costume is not the character. The behavior is the character. What choices he makes, what mannerisms he affects, what things he believes in and fights for. And even that's up for debate; people do change, after all.

Spider-Man has not been ruined by this. If the bloody clones couldn't do it, then I doubt anything can. Ideas are more resilient than that. If stupid, misguided interpretations (of which this isn't, but even if it were, my point would still stand) were enough to destroy an idea, religions of all stripes would have died out ages ago. And if you don't like it, remember one simple maxim from a book that didn't come with pictures, but nonetheless provides many wise and practical sayings: "This, too, shall pass."

So would you fucking get over it already? I really don't want to have to do this again.


Kyle said...

I've been kind of out of touch . . . missed out on this whole development. So the spider meant to do it. Spider-Man has magic powers along with his pseudo-scientific powers. Huh.

It's a bold wrinkle. In principle I back the freedom to toss up new ideas and open new ways of looking at old premises. I didn't even mind when Thomas Harris went all Gothic in Hannibal. The movie was there to keep the more traditional version alive.

But I must say this new Spider-Man approach doesn't sound like a good idea. It's not like it triggers thoughts of "Oh great, magic in Spider-Man. There's not enough magic in Marvel stories. This is something fresh and new -- magic."

It isn't that spider-possession (or whatever is happening here) is all that less plausible than a superpowered suit of armor that fits in a briefcase. More like there are different flavors in the world and some do not belong together. Caviar and peanut butter -- keep them apart. Finding out that Dr. Strange uses transistors for some of his stunts wouldn't really do too much for his appeal. Same with Spider-Man and his magic spider.

Or at least quite possibly. I haven't actually read any of the issues in question, so -- in a certain sense -- screw everything I just said.

SpiritGlyph said...

Personally, this issue Spider-Man struck me as a great example of how to make the most out of a bad thing. Face it, The Other was terrible. It took 12 bloody issues to die and form a cocoon, plus there was a Swarm knock-off tossed in there for some reason. We never even found out who The Other was supposed to be. JMS's original story worked because it made Spidey being magic ultimately irrelevent. The Other made magic essential, and it didn't work at all.

For something so dumb, though, Peter David really managed to salvage it. Here we see The Other declared ultimately irrelevent, as it should be. The Other made Peter magic, and this stick science back in the center where it belongs.

Also of note was that great coloring job. The largely hideous Iron Spider suit was salavged by the decision to depict the garish scarlet and gold as red-tinted black and gold-tinted white. It actually looked good. I applaud.