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Action is his reward
March 10, 2012 5:03 AM   Subscribe

If Batman is a child's fantasy, then Spider-Man is very much rooted in being a teenager. When we're first introduced to Peter Parker in Amazing Fantasy #15, he's an outsider who feels isolated from everyone around him. He's miserable and resentful, but not because of some sort of defining tragedy, but because that's how you feel when you're a teenager. When he gets the one thing he wants -- the power that makes him stronger, faster and more popular than anyone else -- he promptly screws up and loses one of the only people that truly cared about him. (via Chris Sims @ Comics Alliance)
posted by radwolf76 (43 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really enjoyed that essay.
posted by Fizz at 5:09 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: His superbly muscled body suffers the torment of a virtually indescribable ordeal.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:00 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I generally agree, but the point he made at the end about Spider-Man being a model for self-improvement:

But Spider-Man also teaches you that the only way to get through it is that you never, ever quit. It's not easy, but even if it seems impossible, you can beat anything that stands in your way. You can become the person you want to be.

That's why he's the best.


Is also a huge part of Batman's story too. From Alfred's great monologue just before the reboot:

I did once consider resigning from my position in the Wayne household. "I need a disguise", he said, and I thought he'd finally gone mad with grief. Especially those next words...but when I saw what he meant, when I watched as he surrendered himself to an ideal, how he used each ordeal, each heartache and failure to become a better man in service of others...what could I do but stand in humble awe? And keep his wounds clean and his uniform tidy. And send him safely on his way.

Yes, Batman's superpower is his privilege, but it's also his determination for self-perfection. He needs to be perfect and sacrifice everything, down to his life and Bruce Wayne's reputation, for people he's never met.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:31 AM on March 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I read this in Sims' "Ask Chris" column yesterday. While he's not treading any new ground in terms of Why Spidey Matters (I recall reading an interview several years ago with a 1960's contemporary of Stan Lee who worked for a competitor when Spider-Man came out who said the his daughter had turned him onto how revolutionary Spider-Man was as a character when she explained why she liked Spidey better than her dad's work, "I like Spider-Man. He has problems with his girlfriend and stuff."), the revelation for me in this essay was his analysis of how crime functions on a completely different level in Gotham than anywhere else because of Batman.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:43 AM on March 10, 2012


If Batman is a child's fantasy...

This is exactly why I find Batman to be so ridiculous. At some point, you'd think he would grow up and not be that emotional child anymore, realize that he help defeat crime in other, vastly more meaningful and efficient ways.

And it never happens. Meanwhile, he's got a huge personal fortune, so he never had to want for any material things, he never had to struggle.

Spider-Man knows struggle and not having power. So when he gets power, he does a very human thing, he pimps it for money, only to find his short sightedness cost him a parent. Him, I can see using his personal super power to defend crime. Batman, he would have grown up to be a lawyer or human rights worker/funder but that wouldn't have sold many comic books. Deciding to dress up as bat to fight crime doesn't make much sense to me, especially when he doesn't have any superpowers.

Spidey makes total sense, because his actual selfishness caused someone's death, someone who loved him. He can't quit because if he does, he knows someone else will be negatively effected by his inaction. That realization, that guilt is a powerful motivator.

What the hell, happened to Batman after his parent's died? Was he just left alone to grow up in Wayne Manor, raised by Alfred? That sounds incredibly unrealistic.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:17 AM on March 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Playing Mad-libs with my kids the other night, we discovered that the word 'Spider-Man' for practically any part of speech! Try it for yourself!
posted by newdaddy at 7:25 AM on March 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Batman's version of self-improvement is very different from Spider-Man's. Batman is already a stoic hero dedicated to the cause; his goal is to acquire new skills, to become stronger and faster and smarter. Spidey is trying to improve his character - to become a better human being.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:45 AM on March 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know where I read it, probably on Metafilter, but someone said Peter's life must look very odd to an outsider. Here's this super smart kid, clean living, top of his class, destined for success ....and then something happens and now he barely shows up to class, has no social circle, and never has any money. He's got the worst part time job in the world, basically.

I also like my Spider Man with a bit if a chip on his shoulder concerning money. Super wealthy Wayneses are fun and all but not exactly relatable.
posted by The Whelk at 7:57 AM on March 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Batman is already a stoic hero dedicated to the cause; his goal is to acquire new skills, to become stronger and faster and smarter.

But there's a degree of mental illness/inability to deal with the past that strikes me as ridiculous. That's about the only way to explain the Bat, that his multi billionaire smart, driven guy likes to dress up and fight crime at night, while being a regular guy during the day, so to speak. Only a crazy person would do that, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:11 AM on March 10, 2012


we discovered that the word 'Spider-Man' for practically any part of speech!

"we discovered that the word 'Spider-Man' Spider-Mans for practically any part of speech!"?
posted by yoink at 8:14 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spider-man spider-man Spider-man spider-man spider-man spider-man Spider-man spider-man.

wait, I think that only works if Spider-man is also a city...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:31 AM on March 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


To me the story of Batman has always been a story of what happens when the mental healthcare industry of a city is chronically neglected. Batman's insane, his adversaries equally so. It become a game of trying to determine what parts of a particular story are objectively true and what parts are one or another character's delusions and hallucinations. For all I know, Bruce Wayne's been strapped into a rubber room all these years since his parent's murder snapped his mind in pieces, imagining the entire thing Tommy-Westphall-style.
posted by distressingly thick sheets at 8:33 AM on March 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Somebody (TLC?) did a show where psychologists diagnose Batman. They said that he's the model for mental health.

Their rationale was that he was the victim of an atrocious crime and that while his method of dealing with his problems is obsessive and dangerous, he is still confronting them. And by that choice he's contributing to the betterment of others. (Remember if Bruce Wayne never became Batman, the city still needed someone like him.) The death of his parents was just the first domino that was tipped over. It doesn't mean that their death doesn't affect him, but he isn't insane.

The unhealthy person is the one who wallows in misery and leads down a path of drug abuse or suicide.
posted by CarlRossi at 8:45 AM on March 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


How does Peter Parker earn a living? You'd think at some point, he'd get subsidized by shield or something.
posted by empath at 8:46 AM on March 10, 2012


Isn't he still a science teacher at his old high school?

I need to read the article, but Peter was pretty lucky with the ladies back in the day. The movies changed this quite a bit, and I think rewrote fans' memories. He had to beat them off with a stick.
posted by CarlRossi at 8:48 AM on March 10, 2012


I think at one point he was selling exclusive photographs of Spider-man to newspapers, wasn't he?
posted by distressingly thick sheets at 8:50 AM on March 10, 2012


It's not like newspapers are making gobs of money anymore.

Wait, how does Clark Kent like ....have a job?
posted by The Whelk at 8:52 AM on March 10, 2012


I think at one point he was selling exclusive photographs of Spider-man to newspapers, wasn't he?

Yes. He's stick a camera somewhere, set it on auto and then fight villains and sell the photos to the Daily Bugle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:53 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a teenager, dammit!
posted by edguardo at 8:54 AM on March 10, 2012


This is interesting. I'm not a big comics guy, but whenever one of Sims' articles shows up on the blue, I really enjoy reading it. That Scooby Doo thing he wrote was wonderful.

That said, I guess I've always thought of Spider-Man as mostly being rooted in being able to do whatever a spider can. You know, spin a web, any size, catch a thief, just like flies? That sort of thing.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:55 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck. Me. Anyone wondering why the guy in the Yankees cap at Starbucks is crying while staring at his iPhone, it's because of this piece. This is such brilliant analysis I am speechless. When Spiderman 2 and Batman Begins came out , I remember writing this long ass email to a friend of mine in grad school talking about some of these themes (minus the connection with development stages of childhood and puberty). Batman and spiderman have similar origins that doesn't get discussed nearly as much as it would seem. But both lost their parent. Uncle Ben was peters de facto father. But it's the manner in which the deaths occurred that shapes their life and later development and in a lot of ways is what makes both Chabons Spiderman 2 a perfect movie, as well as the new Batmans. Bruce had his parents taken from him and it made him obsessed with revenge. And notice the themes of intimacy. He is incapable of it -- he pushes everyone away, even the Robins. It's patholical and he is deeply troubled and wounded in a way that has some very troubling effects on him. He's a great character no doubt. But spidey is unusual in very different ways. Unlike Wayne, Parker is the reason Ben died. Its not even the spiders fault -- Peter let the thief run by and that thief ran outside and murdered Uncle Ben.

If you take these events seriously, they are a prism for understanding these two men. Guilt isn't in Batman. He isnt guilty -- he is an avenging angel. Spiderman is a suffering hero. His wounds are so raw, so open and bleeding he cannot stop himself. These are two different motivating forces.

Phone dying. Thank you for posting this.
posted by scunning at 9:05 AM on March 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


How does Peter Parker earn a living?

Isn't he baller-rich nowadays, working for some science company? Maybe his own?

Incidentally, there's a problem nowadays where, in current continuity, there aren't nearly enough superheros who aren't also superwealthy, or who, even if they're not wealthy themselves, don't know at least three multimillionaires. Even the goddamn HULK is rich nowadays.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:40 AM on March 10, 2012


I don't know where I read it, probably on Metafilter, but someone said Peter's life must look very odd to an outsider. Here's this super smart kid, clean living, top of his class, destined for success ....and then something happens and now he barely shows up to class, has no social circle, and never has any money. He's got the worst part time job in the world, basically.

You'd figure he'd become Teen Alcoholic Man, maybe, except that then he'd have friends. It's probably more like he became Lays in Bed Staring at the Ceiling and Listening to Prog Rock While High on Aunt May's Valium Boy.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:45 AM on March 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


cool spitbull thanks for the info
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:01 AM on March 10, 2012


And interesting aspect of the movies, at least, is how sympathetic the villains are. Like, problems on the level that require Spider-Man to save them can't even be attributable to "evil," so much as forces beyond normal human control. "Evil" in this world is personified by petty dictators like J. Jonah Jameson.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:08 AM on March 10, 2012


Thank you, I found the essay to be a pretty interesting perspective on Spiderman and Batman.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 11:02 AM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


the revelation for me in this essay was his analysis of how crime functions on a completely different level in Gotham than anywhere else because of Batman.

Haven't you read the Dark Knight Returns? One of the core questions revolves around whether or not Batman causes the criminal behaviour around him.
posted by Chuckles at 11:21 AM on March 10, 2012


I thought the take home point of Spiderman is that you get superpowers when bitten by radioactive arthropods?
posted by Renoroc at 12:14 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, there's a problem nowadays where, in current continuity, there aren't nearly enough superheros who aren't also superwealthy, or who, even if they're not wealthy themselves, don't know at least three multimillionaires. Even the goddamn HULK is rich nowadays.

Tony Stark is the biggest problem... he has unlimited resources and can afford to bankroll anyone even halfway affiliated with the Avengers. (Norman Osborn is the villainous version.) He made Spidey some crazy six-legged armor before Civil War.

The 2000s have been marked by a big change in how Marvel approaches their properties: they've really tried to unify the Marvel Universe and figure out the politics that would emerge from all these heroes and villains coexisting, much more than they did in the past. This leads to some kinda neat stories like Civil War and Dark Reign, but it really screwed things over for the street-level toughs like Spider-Man and Daredevil. Now Spidey can just call up Mr Fantastic to whip something up that'll take down Doc Ock. So Doc Ock has to have his own powerful piece of technology, and suddenly it's not a street-level story any more, but a fight between the toys of the rich kids. Superman has no place in Gotham, but when you really try to tell a consistent story about the politics of your universe, then at some point it seems crazy that Superman doesn't just swoop in and stop Clayface. Super spidey armor has no place in a Spider-Man story, but the politics of the MU demanded it.

I'd like to see someone write an essay about the role of money in the Marvel universe and how it's changed over time. Technology has always been one of the main sources of power in the MU, and thanks to the way that Tony Stark, SHIELD, etc. are portrayed, being good with technology has pretty much become synonymous with being rich. So now money is up there as one of the main elemental sources of power, up there with magic, cosmic powers, etc.

Spiderman is a suffering hero. His wounds are so raw, so open and bleeding he cannot stop himself. These are two different motivating forces.

Please don't take away Spider-Man's web!
posted by painquale at 12:33 PM on March 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bloviation on superheroes:

The most successful superheroes, the most resonant, are those that symbolize the conquest of common anxieties. Those characters have breached the walls of the four-color world and are known to the world at large. The more central the anxiety is to the human condition, the more resonant and thus successful the character. What are the anxieties they address?

Superman: Our physical limitations and our mortality. We are weak, earth-bound, easily hurt. Superman is mighty beyond description, can fly, and invulnerable. His identity as Clark Kent throws the difference between Superman and humans into relief. We can’t help but notice how mighty Superman relative to us when he has to pretend to be one of us.

Batman: Fear. Batman transforms fear and explodes it outward, making himself a man so skilled he can defeat anything, and brings fear to those who use fear as a weapon. To speak in a childish way, the essence of Batman is "Scare me? HA! I scare YOU!" Revenge, revenge, revenge, the fantasy of the fearful.

And then there's the hero of the piece...

Spider-Man: He addresses the irritations of everyday life. As Peter Parker, he’s bullied, ignored, put upon, and feckless. As Spider-Man, despite the setbacks, he is free and can at last take action, and he can win, even if he has a cold and his costume is ripped and his rent is late. The classic Spider-Man stories show him put upon yet still victorious in the long run. In the end, he bests JJJ, he gets the girl, he stops the villain, triumphing over the jealousies, petty emotions, and small focus of the people around him. (Even Aunt May.) Spider-Man is about learning that the world is bigger than you, and rising to meet that.

He makes a great contrast to Captain America. The hook of Cap is that Steve Rogers is a man who was born a hero, but no one noticed. Then he acquired his powers and brought Righteous Fisticuffs to the world. The hook of Peter Parker is that he's not naturally a hero, but when power was given to him, he recognized that when particular dangers arose, he was the only one who could help. Parker never wanted to be a hero, but often he's the only one who can help, and so he does what he must. They make a great pairing.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:08 PM on March 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just for geekiness's sake, Peter Parker currently works at a super-exclusive high tech think tank incubator thing. This gives him all kinds of techy resources, which he uses to upgrade his own gear. I assume it also pays pretty well.

Additionally, he's also an Avenger now, but I don't know if they pay. He was also a member of the FF at the same time. He probably never has to buy food, since he can just swing into the Baxter Building and raid the Richards's fridge.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Batman's insane<

This.

Never to be forgotten. How he acts out his twisted reality is the point (I suppose) but make no mistake, he is as insane as the Joker.
posted by twidget at 3:42 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like Spiderman, I too was amazed the first time I shot my web as a teenager.
posted by quadog at 5:09 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like Spiderman, I too was amazed the first time I shot my web as a teenager.

Relevent image.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:58 PM on March 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


@ Chuckles: Yes, I read the DKR and am familiar with the "does Batman cause the super villian crime around him" question. What blew me away was Sim's notion that street crime, the sort of crime you and I deal with, and the sort of crime that killed Bruce Wayne's parents, is no longer a major threat to the citizens of Gotham thanks to Batman. It got me thinking about how Gothamites view crime. THAT is super interesting. You never see that in Batman comics. Batman is cut off from the people he's sworn to protect both by his social status as billionaire Bruce Wayne and his vigilante status as The Dark Knight. His only social interactions are with people who wear costumes or uniforms.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:08 PM on March 10, 2012


Spider-Man. Not Spiderman. Or Spider Man.
Spider-Man.
posted by signal at 9:10 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then is it The Bat-man as well?
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:15 PM on March 10, 2012


Also, Peter does not get paid for his time as an Avenger, because the Avengers are on the government payroll (I wonder what a superhero gets in a year?) and so have to reveal their secret identities, social security numbers and other personal information to the government. But, although at one time almost every Marvel superhero knew Spider-man's identity as Peter Parker, Peter has since had his secret identity put back in the bottle, like the proverbial genie. Dr. Strange cast the spell that removed the knowledge of Spider-man's secret identity from the people around him, despite our great Lord Mephisto getting the credit for it. Though the spell originally kept people from learning his identity in the future as well, since the events of Spider-title crossover event "Spider Island" where everyone on Manhattan gained spider powers and Spider-man rallied, sans costume and mask, his fellow Manhattanites to fight a grave threat with their powers, his identity is no longer magically protected.

Comics everybody!
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:28 PM on March 10, 2012


On a completely different level, Spider-Man is a great superhero because his design and powers work really well for comic book adventure stories.

He's strong and tough enough to do exciting things, but not strong like Superman as to make it difficult to challenge him. His speed and danger-sense give writers an excuse for all kinds of exciting split-second escapes from danger. He can be written as a fast guy dancing around a strong guy (Rhino) or a strong guy trying to lay hands on a fast guy (Vulture), but most of the time he's vulnerable--dodging bullets or punches--which I think is more exciting and more visually dynamic than surviving a hit by being tough or armored.

The web-swinging and wall-crawling are also visually dynamic and give him a lot of mobility with more interesting story-hooks than if he could simply fly.

His webs give him a non-lethal ranged weapon with all sorts of creative possibilities, complete with cartridges of web-fluid that can run out at dramatic moments.

And it all fits into the Spider theme, unlike so many superheroes that have either a single power or a grab bag of arbitrary powers (Superman's heat vision).

On the other hand, Spider-Man's powers are far more nonsensical than most superheroes. Most superheros have powers that sorta make sense if you suspend your disbelief about the premises (a ring that makes stuff if you can imagine it hard enough, a guy who is stronger under a yellow sun, a guy who is on fire and can burn stuff), but Spider-Man's powers don't even make sense in the terms they're presented.

"Spider Strength"? Spiders aren't strong. They're just small. They exist at a scale where it takes very little energy to move even stuff that's significantly bigger than they are. They move fast because it takes very little energy to move something that small. A spider the size of a man would probably be weaker than a man an slower--if it could move it's own weight at all.

"Wall Crawling"? Spiders do it with little hooks on their appendages, and again it only works because spiders are so small and light.

"Spider Sense"? Somehow the spider's ability to move in reaction to air currents sensed by hairs on it's body becomes a combination of precognition and some sort of radar sense that allows him to move around in the dark. And it can be "jammed."

"Web Swinging"? The Spider-Man video games have almost convinced me otherwise (I strongly suspect they cheat), but it looks like a whole lot of swinging depicted in the comics would be impossible unless the web is attached to something directly overhead, which there usually isn't on a city street.

"Web Shooters"? So this kid who gets spider-themed powers (from a radioactive spider, even though it's clear none of these abilities work at all the way they do for a spider) also just happens to invent a new miracle adhesive that looks just like a giant spider web? Not to mention, on top of this chemical wizardry, the engineering feat of spraying the adhesive huge distances at great speed (Spidey frequently webs cars speeding away from him) with a tiny little mechanism.
posted by straight at 10:51 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then is it The Bat-man as well?

No. See the link posted by painquale above for clarification.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:16 AM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some writers have theorized that the spider bite gave him the knowledge to create the chemical formula for his webs.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:50 AM on March 11, 2012


Sims's comment that Amazing Fantasy was a horror comic and Spider-Man's origin has the structure of a classic EC horror story is pretty insightful. I had never thought about it like that.

There are a lot of panels that I'm now going to always mentally add "Good lord! *choke*" to.
posted by painquale at 8:59 AM on March 11, 2012


There's a wonderful moment in the second Marvel/DC crossover of Batman vs Punisher where the Punisher chases Joker through some halls, and Joker monologues about Batman. He says he thinks something similar to the death of the Punisher's family must have happened to Batman, but it must've happened when he was just a child, because he has reacted the way a child would: toys, costumes, gimmicks. (The an unspoken subtext that Frank reacts like an adult might -- he picks up guns and starts murdering people.) I always really dug that.

I also dug the point where Frank runs Joker down, and Joker tries to surrender, and when he realizes that Frank really is going to fucking kill him, he starts screaming for Batman to rescue him.

...also, I agree with Chris Sims. Spidey's awesome. I just wish Quesada would stop trying to pretend that Brand New Day was a good idea. I want Mary Jane back. THAT relationship had originality to it.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:41 AM on March 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


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