Saturday, August 6, 2022

8 Opinions about Spider-Man

Per the demands of Prismatic Wasteland, I have to write a blog post about Spider-Man. So what do I say about Spider-Man that hasn't already been said?

I decided my best bet would be to just create a shitty clickbait post with no real substance and lots of bad takes.

  1. Stan Lee might be a thievin' capitalist, but I don't feel particularly bad for Steve Ditko.
     Stan Lee said many times that Spider-Man was the most important hero to him personally, even if he died still claiming the lie that he solely created the character. The true creator (or at the very least co-creator), Steve Ditko, made it clear that Spider-Man was also his most valued character, even if he ended up leaving Marvel because he couldn't seem to understand his own creation like everyone else did. There's a lot of speculation and gossip about his departure, but the consensus is that creative differences had been building for well over a year by the time he left, with one of the most recurring issues being Ditko's increasing obsession with the philosophy of Ayn Rand and his constant assertions that Spider-Man ought to be less self-sacrificing and more self-serving, like a true Randian hero.

    Yes, the creator himself somehow came to despise Spider-Man's most important and valuable trait of all: altruism.
    [By the way, you should look into Steve Ditko's later series, Mr. A. It's fucking hilarious.]
  2. I think Doctor Octopus might be my favorite of Spider-Man's main villains (maybe). Spider-Man is well-known for having the best Rogues Gallery of any superhero, right next to Batman. For this reason, they are the two characters who have most frequently been adapted into long-running series in non-comics media, particularly TV shows. When you plan on making 1-3 movies about a superhero, you can probably dig through all the garbage and find 1-3 decent villains (see: Iron Man, Captain America, maybe Thor). But for a TV show, you need lots of good villains, and Spider-Man's got em.

    Alfred Molina evoking Carl Sagan is a perfect
    creative choice it's so good you guys it works so well.
    But something I've always thought was interesting about Spider-Man is that he doesn't have an arch-nemesis. Most superheroes have one. Superman has Lex Luthor, Green Lantern has Sinestro, Batman has the Joker. But with Spider-Man, it varies based on the iteration of the character. In the early comics it was Doctor Octopus. Later it became the Green Goblin, which is why he was picked as the villain for the first live-action film adaptation of the character. But ever since the introduction of the symbiote, Venom has been a really strong contender, too (and a nice "dark mirror" of the hero, a classic ingredient for an arch-nemesis). And in the 90's animated cartoon, it's Kingpin for some reason. The internet likes to joke that Spider-Man's arch-nemesis is rent, obviously.

    But of them all, my favorite one to see given the spotlight is pretty consistently Doctor Octopus. He has a really cool design and gimmick, he's the epitome of the "super-science gone wrong" template that most of Spider-Man's villains follow, he's got some parallels to Spider-Man without being an outright "dark mirror" like Venom, and gosh darnit, Alfred Molina is fucking amazing.

    Honorary mention goes to the Sinister Six, because almost every time I've ever seen "Spider-Man versus a shitload of his secondary villains all at once" being done, it's been amazing.

  3. Aunt May needs to be the oldest old lady ever goddammit. Superhero artists have this problem where they are fucking incapable of depicting women as anything other than bizarre Barbie dolls with massive tits, often with identical faces. The one exception for the last 60 years has been Peter's Aunt May, who is a gentle and feeble old-ass woman with white hair. The Sam Raimi films got this right, the Mark Webb movies were pushing it with Sally Field, but the MCU has gone too far. Marisa Tomei is too hot to be Aunt May. It's wrong. She isn't just hot subjectively to the viewer, either. She is canonically hot within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She is one of the only characters in the MCU who is acknowledged as being hot by other characters, and it's constant. They took the one normal-looking woman in Marvel and yassified her just like the rest.

  4. Costume opinions. I like the variety in Spider-Man's costume across different iterations of the character, but my ideal costume includes the following: the thick "eyelashes" for the eyes (like the MCU version has), the webbing between the arms and torso, black instead of blue (like in the original designs), flat colors instead of something glossy like you often see these days, and subtle webbing patterns that mostly follow the contours of his muscles (I really dislike the weird, raised "net" webbing on the Toby Maguire costume).

    The one on the left is very close to my ideal, and is indeed the original design.

  5. The Spider-Verse is a super weird trope you guys. For a long time now, a recurring important plot device in various iterations of Spider-Man has been the multiverse. Obviously, nowadays we are oversaturated with multiverse-media, even when it's good. The MCU has signaled that it's going to be the focus of their whole next phase, so we won't be rid of it anytime soon. But before the current craze, it was something specifically attached to Spider-Man. It plays a very similar role for the character as an earlier plot device did in his franchise: clones. Basically, it's a really common thing for different iterations of Spider-Man's story to play around with the idea of there being lots of different versions of the character. Spider-Man 2099, Miles Morales, and Spider-Gwen have even broken out into being popular and beloved characters in their own right.

    Some of these multiverse stories have been excellent, like Into the Spider-Verse. But I have to ask: why? What, conceptually, does the character of Spider-Man have to do with the multiverse? For Doctor Strange it makes sense because he's, like, a wizard and stuff. For Rick and Morty, it's the entire premise of the show. But what does it have to do with, y'know, being a spider-themed teenage superhero? They get to use the "web" metaphor to describe the multiverse itself, I guess. But it's really arbitrary, isn't it? Like, why of all things would Spider-Man be a common thread tying together all these different timelines and universes and whatnot? It feels like it could have been attached to any superhero and made just as much sense. The only reason it's so frequently attached to this character is just because he's popular.

    My best theory is that it's metaphorically playing with my old favorite talking point: plasticity. Spider-Man is one of the most plastic characters in all of pop culture, as evidenced by the fact that this entire blog post is basically just me barfing up sentences like, "the best version of X element of the story is in Y iteration, whereas the best version of Z element of the story was in..." and so on. Maybe the Spider-Verse trope is just a way of acknowledging that aspect of the character, embracing the diversity of forms he's taken rather than trying yet again to create "the platonic ideal Spider-Man."

    Oh, and while I know this isn't exactly what they did, I really like the idea from the third MCU's movie of having the Sinister Six be "crossover of Spider-Man villains from different universes." I didn't really like that movie but that's a good twist on the trope of "super-villain team."

  6. Gwen Stacy is best girl. Another weird thing about Spider-Man is that he has lots more love interests than nearly any other superhero. By my count, the main ones are: Betty Brant (the secretary at the Daily Bugle and Pete's first love interest), Liz Allen (the popular girl in his high school), Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy (AKA the Black Cat), Mary Jane Watson (the main one, duh), and Carlie Cooper (his primary love interest after One More Day). Many iterations of the character choose to include most or even all of these characters, and his love life is usually one of the most prominent story threads in Peter Parker's ongoing struggles. Sometimes it's very much just nerdy fanservice, with the sentiment expressed seeming to be "despite all his difficulties, Peter still gets to have a hot girlfriend." But most of the time, most of these characters are actually better-written and more interesting than most superhero love interests. In a medium notorious for shitty romances and female characters who exist only as motivation for male characters, the Night Gwen Stacy Died somehow manages to be one of the high points in the history of comic books. And she's even better when she's alive!

  7. The best iteration of Spider-Man overall is the 2008 cartoon The Spectacular Spider-Man by Greg Weisman.
     Yes, the Gargoyles guy made a Spider-Man show and it's great. I cannot praise this show enough. The 616 universe, the Ultimate universe, the 60s cartoon, the 90s cartoon, Sam Raimi, Mark Webb, the MCU, those Playstation video games, the Into The Spider-Verse version, even the fucking newspaper strip... they all have their strengths, but not a single one of them gets as many variables right as this one does.

    Y'know how nerds like to debate which of the live action Spider-Men is the best, saying things like "Toby Maguire is the best Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield is the funniest, blablabla." This version is the best at all of those things. He's the most like a normal, insecure, and fucking nerdy teenager. He's the most confident and awesome when in his suit, and he is by far the quippiest. He makes the best use out of his full suite of powers and abilities, which is something that most writers for the character struggle with. It's so weird watching other versions of him just, like, forget their wall-crawling or spider senses because the writer has trouble keeping track of every tool at his disposal when they choreograph a fight scene. This one nails it.

    It has the best iteration of all his side characters. It has a really strong early setup with Gwen and Harry as his best friends (but who are also big nerds), it makes all the other teenagers three dimensional while still very much like their classic forms, and it has a really, really good teen-drama love triangle between Peter, Gwen, and Liz Allen. It introduces Mary Jane a bit early but it's one of the only versions that decided to keep her original characterization as "the super hot and wild girl" rather than, say, Sam Raimi's "girl next door" or the MCU's "morbid, antisocial classmate." Don't get me wrong, those other versions have oftentimes been pretty good, and trying to do the alpha-stacy version is really hard to pull off, but this show fucking nails it. This is the best Mary Jane.

    It has one of my favorite J. Jonah Jamesons, too. He isn't voiced by JK Simmons unfortunately but he does have an exclamation point-shaped facial hair and it has a pretty good plotline showing his progression of first liking Spider-Man but then growing to hate him and there's just a lot of work put into justifying this and making it believable.

    The villains are (almost) all their best versions. It has the best Norman Osborn and definitely the best Green Goblin, it has by far the best rendition of the Venom plotline, it has my personal favorite Black Cat, and the rest of them it gets anywhere from "good" to "amazing" (Lizard, Sandman, Rhino, the Vulture, etc.). Its Doctor Octopus is okay, but he does get better as the series progresses and he leads the Sinister Six. But there are two decisions unique to this iteration that stick out: 1) Tombstone of all characters is elevated to being the main villain for most of the series, re-writing him as a Kingpin-like crimelord voiced by Keith David, which works really well, and 2) most of the villains share a common backstory of "Oscorp weapons experiments gone wrong" which is a brilliant way to create a long-term plot tying together the "villain of the week" format and is a pretty good plot device to justify all the comic book tropes appearing in this small time and place side by side other than "coincidence."

    There's a ton of episodes that use a really interesting framing device like the one where Flash is hosting a party and his mom or whoever set up the camcorder so throughout the episode you get snippets of characters talking into it, and there's this one where the school is enacting a production of Midsummer Night's Dream and between Spider-Man fighting with Green Goblin it keeps cutting back to scenes of characters in the play saying things that thematically reinforce the main plot and there's this one fucking episode that has an opera going on during a fight scene and it's so good holy shit.

  8. The best size for Kingpin is clearly option 6 and anyone arguing otherwise is a fool

Like everyone else, I love this character because, in many ways, he's the perfect superhero. He has cool and unique powers, an awesome costume, great villains, a sense of humor, but most of all, relatability. His life is hard, he messes up a lot, he's got tons of responsibilities that he often fails to uphold, people always read the worst in his actions, but... he's trying his best. It feels childish to imagine yourself being like the heroes in comic books. But Spider-Man's struggles make him just familiar enough that we can, for a brief moment, deceive ourselves into thinking that he's the one hero who we could be like.



  1. I've always thought it would be cool to convert Marvel villains into Sword & Sorcery villians. The Lizard and Vulture would be easy, an intelligent Lizardman and Aarakocra. Mysterio is an Illusionist, but what about Doc Octopus? nail the villian and at least some of their plotlines can probably become urban adventures.

    1. I guess Doc Ock would be someone with telekinesis up to four objects. That's all telekinesis is, after all. Like having extra arms with better range. Make him a mind flayer with mad science experiments, embracing the pulpy science-fantasy and you can get pretty close. OH! And it would reinforce the octopus theme!

  2. I suspect that the reason the Spider-Verse concept was so popular was, at least in part, due to exactly what you say - the number of different adaptations and takes on the character. If you're going to have a crossover showcasing all the different ways a character has been portrayed through the ages, Spider-Man is probably second only to Batman in the amount of material you have to work with.