Friday, July 30, 2010

Bronze Age Spider-Man, and Peter Parker As "Aspirational" Identification Figure

Okay, answer me this question: Is Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, a fully realized character?

I mean, he’s got character traits, certainly. Loves science, strong sense of responsibility, protective of his aunt, young(ish), prone to self-pity and paranoia, an outsider, an underdog, ability to banter with super-villains, etc. etc.

But is there much in the way of depth? Does he have those idiosyncrasies that make us who we are? Does Peter feel like a really real person, the kind you’d meet walking down the street or share a cubicle with?

I would argue, in most cases, no. (Although if anyone disagrees, I bid you, let us have a stirring conversation about it in the comments.)

Most A-list superheroes are not, partially by virtue of being the subjects of ongoing narratives by different writers and artists spanning decades, owned by media conglomerates, having to straddle the line between art and commerce, taking licensing into accommodation, and so on. But perhaps more importantly, I’d liken them to what I described in the Friends post as “aspirational figures” – you find a superhero you can kind of relate to, and you can aspire to being as super as them. Science enthusiasts have Reed Richards and a bunch of others, engineers (and I am thinking of one in particular, Daine!) have Tony Stark, guys who spend their lives training their bodies have Batman. Marvel’s unglamorous misfits of the Silver Age are just as aspirational because they’re heroes despite their problems: if you’ve got anger management issues, Bruce Banner is someone who understands you, and the Thing is every guy who got dealt a bad hand, who was ever written off for seeming low-class or not having a pretty face.

They’re relatively vague because they are meant to be, because you have to identify with them. It’s been said (maybe it was Scott McCloud – I’ve never sat down and read Understanding Comics from cover to cover, I’ve just gone through sections of it here and there over the years, so I'm a bit patchy on it) that in cartooning, the more stylized a face is, the more identifiable it becomes. You could say that Bruce Timm’s Bruce Wayne reminds you of any number of big beefy dark-haired white guys, but Bryan Hitch’s Nick Fury is quite obviously (and in this case quite intentionally) one guy. The characters on Friends are cartoony for a similar effect – with more subtle, fully realized characters, you couldn’t quite as easily (imagine yourself/aspire to be) Chandler or Rachel or whoever. And so it is with the A-list superheroes.

Spider-Man’s got it harder, though, because he’s got to be an aspirational figure for everybody. He can’t even be a character type like Tony Stark or the Human Torch because Peter Parker has to be all things to all comics fans. He’s the part in all of us that screws up, feels alienated, feels alone and always on the outside of things. He represents youth, and if we're not still as young as he's supposed to be, we can at least remember when we were. Because he’s so universal, he’s got to be extremely broad, and indeed, as is often pointed out, because of the full face mask you can very easily imagine your own face under there.

But Spider-Man’s greatest asset as a character is also therefore his greatest liability. He can’t progress or become an individual if he has to be relatable to everybody, but once you outgrow the aspirational aspect of Spider-Man, there’s not a lot to the character you can hang on to. Much of the audience reading the “in-continuity” “616” version of the character’s passed Peter Parker up in age, and now it’s gotta be him aspiring to be us at this point, right? “Why doesn’t he grow up already, get a steady job? He’s been at this superhero thing as long as anybody now, shouldn’t he have gotten good at this at some point?” I’ve offered a solution before, but it’s a somewhat cynical one, and not satisfying for everyone.

Quite frankly, I think the reason why Spider-Man is considered to have been in a creative malaise for over 20 years now isn’t because he was married or too old or anything like that – it’s that the fanbase is increasingly invested in the writing of superhero comics over the art, and from a writing standpoint, Peter Parker can be a pretty thankless character.

But in the Bronze Age of Comics, it wasn’t always quite so.

Stan Lee was 49 (if I have done the math right) when he stepped away from writing Amazing Spider-Man in 1972, but his successors were much younger (most notably, 19-year-old Gerry Conway). Lee was a guy aiming for authenticity as best he could in depicting teenage life, and pulled off a slick soap opera approach pretty well, but these new guys had recently been or were actually still livin’ la vida Parker.

So for whatever reason, whether that these comics were being produced by people the same age as the character, or that the writers and artists were young and brash and ambitious and serious…for whatever reason, Peter Parker occasionally got a few moments of real humanity in the Bronze Age. Where he’s more than just the aspirational everyman, “the super-hero who could be…YOU!”, but something approaching an individual person. Not all the time, because he for the most part remained that carefully maintained combination of heroic and neurotic that is the formula for Spider-Man we all love so dearly. But he got a couple. And I would like to share three here with you.

Now, I really wish I had panel scans so I don’t have to describe these, but if anything it emphasizes what I’m talking about. I do not have any of the issues I’m going to talk about, but I have read them, each only maybe once or twice, but they stayed with me. They’re fairly small moments, of varying weights and importances, but they stick in my head because they hint at a depth you rarely see in Peter Parker as a character. Perhaps it makes him slightly less relatable to a mass audience, and yet…I feel as if I know him better, I feel as if those moments are able to surprise me. And that’s something you don’t get all that often.

1.) SPIDER-MAN SINGS ELVIS COSTELLO (Marvel Team-Up Annual #4, 1981, written by Frank Miller)

Okay, so if I remember how this goes, Spider-Man interferes in some scheme of the Purple Man’s, so Purple Man uses his mind control powers to get Spidey out of his hair. He tells Spidey to hang on a lamppost and recite some Shakespeare. Spider-Man says he doesn’t know any (ah, you see? Less relatable to me, in theory!). Purple Man asks him what he does know, and as a result, you get Spider-Man singing the lyrics to “Oliver’s Army” for a couple panels (I forget why, but he never does make it to the unprintable lyric on-panel).

This is not the only occasion that Bronze Age Peter Parker has been shown to dig Elvis Costello (you have to scroll down to "Spiderman" on the link). And it’s a risky thing, in its way, to pin down. Defining a fictional character’s musical tastes always threatens to alienate readers, as much or possibly even more so than politics or religion. The line in High Fidelity is that it’s what you like, not what you are like (granted, John Cusack’s character is not meant to be a great judge of interpersonal relationships, but still). If I tell you a character (or a real live human being) is into U2, or into Ben Folds, or Phish or Lady Gaga, it probably suggests something to you. Such is the power of pop music that if you tell me you like XTC, you can show up at my house uninvited, eat all my chips, drink all my booze, crash on my couch and then make a mess in the bathroom in the morning; but tell me you think the Stones are better than the Beatles, and we have to fight bareknuckled in a back alley in the pouring rain.

Maybe I’m biased because I really like Elvis Costello, but what I take away from this is a different sort of Peter Parker than we saw before or since. In the early Silver Age, Peter Parker was a nerd and a social outcast; today Peter is cast more as a geek and lovable loser – both pretty broad characterizations. But in the Bronze Age, I feel like Peter’s deal was a little more nuanced. Parker’s kind of a hip guy who remains straight laced. He’s tuned into pop culture but doesn’t get wrapped up in it; notably, it doesn’t define his life in the way that geeky things rule your thoughts and mine. He’s uncomfortable at a disco, but not a total square either. He can get a first date but has trouble getting a second.

He’s a guy who’s got a Trust poster on his wall but who doesn’t talk your ear off about how great it is every time you see him.

2.) PETER TRIES TO BRUSH OFF MARY JANE (Amazing Spider-Man #122, 1973, written by Gerry Conway)

The last one was a lightweight scene, and this one’s about as heavy as Spider-Man gets. This is the issue after the Green Goblin kills Gwen Stacy, and then in this issue gets impaled on his own glider in a fight with Spider-Man. You know.

After the battle, Peter wanders back to his apartment and finds Mary Jane there. At this time she’s still played at best as a carefree party girl, at worst as superficial, capricious, self-absorbed. She tries to comfort him, but Peter, all torn up with grief and rage and a million other things, isn’t having any of it. Here’s what he says (secondhand, courtesy of a Google search, so I can’t vouch for it being 100% accurate):

“Don’t make me laugh, Mary Jane – you wouldn’t be sorry if your own mother died. What do you care about straights like me and Gwen? Go on…get out of here! I know how you hate sick beds, and believe me, I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun.”
This sticks with me because it’s such an ugly moment – lashing out at someone trying to reach out to you. It’s somewhat understandable, given the state of mind he’s in, but there’s no denying it’s really ugly. And that’s what I love about this moment.

See, Peter is usually portrayed as being in the right all the time because he’s both aspirational and a reader identification figure, and most of us don’t often think of ourselves as being wrong, nor do we wish to be. He can make mistakes, misjudge things, but it’s a rare occasion when you could actually call him out for a lapse in morals or, in this case, just being a colossal ass. You’re not supposed to think the character you’re supposed to relate to is being a jerk, so most of the time Peter isn’t one. It’s why people got bent out of shape about him making a deal with Mephisto (well, rightly I might say) and, previously, joining up with the pro-registration movement in Civil War.

But one of the drawbacks to a character who is always right and always good is that they’re flat. So this nasty little scene at least supplies slightly more depth than we’re accustomed to from Peter Parker. He’s not May Parker’s perfect nephew on these pages, but a guy who is just not in the mood for you right now. On the surface it’s alienating – “I would never say what Peter just said!” But how do you know? Your girlfriend just gets murdered by someone trying to get to you – maybe you’d say exactly what Peter said. Maybe you’d say worse. Or maybe you wouldn’t. In any event, here is a rare occasion where you can judge Peter Parker, where he’s not above reproach, where he’s not trying to be liked by you.

3.) PETER’S LAST WISHES (Amazing Spider-Man #151, December 1975, written by Len Wein)

Not as heavy as the aftermath of Gwen’s death but not as frivolous as singing “Oliver’s Army,” this moment is one that I find the most poignant, and it’s also one of the more obscure.

So this is the wrapup of the “original Clone Saga,” where Spider-Man fights his own clone (the one that would go on to become Ben Reilly), who supposedly dies. Peter takes the “body” to a factory smoke stack and says wistfully to his clone something to the effect of, “Well, since it’s my wish to be cremated, this is probably what you would’ve wanted too.”

I’ll repeat that: Peter Parker knows what he wants done with his remains when he dies, and it’s cremation. Unusual for a superhero! Whenever you see a superhero funeral – whether a “real” one, or a symbolic one that just happens on the cover for effect – it’s a casket burial with a big ol’ tombstone. Makes sense, I suppose; you’ve got the ceremony, the pallbearers, the lowering of the casket – it’s visual, it’s a spectacle, which makes for good comics iconography.

But that is perhaps exactly why Peter Parker isn’t planning on having a casket burial. It’s a little detail, fairly insignificant, never really brought up again so far as I know, and to be honest, the whole thing is probably motivated by the plot – Peter has to get rid of the clone body somehow. But still, you hear “it’s my wish to be cremated,” and you start of thinking of the young man who’s made that decision, and he’s made it as a man, and not as a superhero. Spider-Man won’t have a big stone monument with an eagle perched heroically on his arm to mark his grave; Peter Parker will just get himself taken care of in a low-key manner…don’t want to bother anybody, don’t want to make a fuss, it’s only me for heaven’s sake...! What’s to be done with the ashes? At this point in his life, he’s probably thinking scatter them off the Brooklyn Bridge, hm? Aw.

It’s one line, and yet I feel it suggests so much about Peter Parker that we never even knew.

(I know, all that build up for the Bronze Age Spider-Man post for that? Still, this was important to me for whatever reason.)


Andrew Hickey said...

"if you tell me you like XTC, you can show up at my house uninvited, eat all my chips, drink all my booze, crash on my couch and then make a mess in the bathroom in the morning;"

Possibly going a *little* overboard there? Now if it was *the Dukes Of Stratosphear*...

Justin said...

Well, if the conversation with this theoretical houseguest doesn't extend beyond "Making Plans For Nigel," "Dear God," and "That 'I've got 1-2-3-4-5!' song," then I'm going to make him or her clean the bathroom, don't get me wrong.

Then again, I never keep very much alcohol in the house at one time, and it's rarely anything fancy, so combined with the potato chips I'm only out maybe twenty-five to thirty bucks.

plok said...


plok said...

Actually, "Making Plans For Nigel" is a song I can see Peter Parker knowing well enough to sing...something he heard on the radio that stuck with him...though I'm sure he'd like XTC a lot more if he had any time to listen to records, poor shmuck. "Skylarking", of could try to get him to sit down and listen to that...

The cremation thing, I didn't really think about that, but -- yeah, what it says to me is that this guy thinks of himself as a loner, said self-conception really only highlighted by dragging around your dead clone, I guess...and that's good, because the whole idea is that he thinks of himself as a loner, and he is a bit of one actually, the "hot girls constantly fighting over him" business put to one side for now...everything that happens to him isolates him, and that's his adolescent struggle (mine, too) in a nutshell. The fact that when the McCloud-style cartoon-mask goes on then the wisecracks come up is another good use of this, isn't it? When he's anonymized, he's okay, he can cope -- Peter Parker could be anyone under that mask. But when the mask's off, he's stuck with being himself. Which is why I also liked it whenever he'd act like a jerk -- we'd know enough about him to forgive him, but no one else would, and so it would tangibly demonstrate how misunderstood he was, and by extension how understood we are. Good in school, loving family, superpowers, hot girlfriends, easy job, motorcycle and notoriety and the constant doing of good deeds and he still screws it all up, he still acts like an ass and ends up sitting there in the rain. Perfect, obviously. My own Conway/Andru stick-in-the-head image is from him getting his place in Chelsea "with a view of the river", wearing his dumb favourite sweater and leaning out the window. I like to imagine it's the first sweater he ever bought for himself, that Aunt May didn't knit him...

So I think for me where Peter Parker approaches character depth is only where he really learns to make his own bed, so to speak -- where he learns that even when things are going well for him, it doesn't mean he himself won't still fuck it up. Just as in those Wein/Trimpe Hulk comics where Banner gets a little tougher and a little more self-reliant, you can see Peter Parker adapting to what he himself is like, and exercising a little more personal agency because of it. He chews out JJJ as himself, for example, instead of webbing up his desk later as Spidey...this reminds me of Maggin's Superman where Clark Kent experiments with living just as himself, without superpowers for a while: he punches out Steve Lombard, makes a move on Lois Lane on the couch after dinner. But that has to fall apart for Superman, that's the whole purpose of the story; whereas for a while there it looked like Peter Parker might be going through some sort of emotional growth spurt, getting the picture that Peter Parker makes consequences for Spider-Man too, and not just the other way around. I dunno, I'd still read that today: Peter really is just a good-guy cipher these days, things only "happen to him" still...but if he has to grow up, I'd rather he hadn't just grown up into a guy who's kinda cool with it all now...he does need some identity-tension to work properly, I think a lot of people actually do mix up the aspiration with the identification -- Peter Parker could be you, only perfected? But the identification works much better if he isn't perfect, and so the aspirations (smart-mouthed, spider-powered, kicks some ass, girls all over the place) are leavened with a bit of justified self-reproach. Justified self-reproach, though -- he has to do things.

Sorry, not too focussed a comment!

plok said...

Hmm, said it was too large to post, but it posted it anyway...?

Justin said...

Yeah, actually, I did a post years ago about what music different superheroes like, and my theory for Peter Parker is that everything he knows comes from the radio, and for him it's all either greatest hits compilations or, like, he's got the one CD you're "supposed" to own by each band. Peter might actually own Skylarking, and he might actually like it, but he's never gonna go out and buy Black Sea or anything.

And that goes back to what I was on about, that Peter Parker's very much NOT a geek. He's got a whole different set of things to think about; he wouldn't be writing a blog post about his own comics, that's for sure. But I've seen in the last couple of years this Peter-as-geek thing. Which I GET, if one thinks that Peter has to be LIKE his fans, but what I think I'm trying to get at (and you as well in the comment) is that "relatable" and "just like me" get mixed up like they're the same thing, which they don't have to be.

plok said...

Which they bloody well shouldn't be! Christ, where are you if you can only relate to people who're just like you, that's the wrong kind of comfort food...!

plok said...

And, this is a sort of fannish idea, it's exactly the sort of thing fans take too far, but...yeah, do I remember you saying that? Peter knows what he hears on car radios, he probably used to buy records just to fit in when he was in school, so he'd know what Gwen was talking about enough to water-cooler it, but he's a busy man...when you consider that Deb Whitman wanted to go to CBGB's with him, and he didn't even know what it was...then you have a young-adult Peter who's a lot like young-adolescent Peter: he's a babe in the woods, in a lot of ways. He's naive, and un-plugged-in. He's a square. hence the way the Gwen and MJ thing used to work, Gwen not being a square and MJ really not being one...the Black Cat scared him, and even Deb Whitman was cooler than he was, and she was most definitely a square...or, at least: a geek. But all these girls also had a core of traditional-family stuff just like Pete did, and he was a square with potential, to borrow and paraphrase from Morrison "every big-city girl's dream, a good-looking clunk with no sense of style", so...

Gee, that all kind of makes sense suddenly, doesn't it?

...So a lot could still be done with that, I think, and for identification it'd work pretty well: Peter Parker is you when you meet the cool people, you don't know what they're talking about.


Justin said...

Well, the thing about fannish notions like that is they're only tiresome if you've got no discipline. If you were writing Spider-Man you could let an idea like that INFORM how you do the character, but you can tell a really bad superhero writers because they're the ones so proud of their fanwank they explicitly write it in. To some degree, that's what drives me nuts about Batman Begins.

The "babe in the woods" approach is elegant does feel right. I'm curious about where the misguided notion that Peter Parker has to be a geek like us comes from, though. Do fans really want that, or is it a slightly condescending editorial staff thinking, "Married with a kid? Nah, that'll fly RIGHT OVER their heads."

Of course, the larger question about Spider-Man is whether the continuity-narrative can be preserved now that the tank seems to be running on fumes, or if it even should be. "Our" Peter Parker's coming up on 50 years if you can believe it. I wonder if it's all still worth it or if the Spider-Man concept is best expressed these days in movies, games and Saturday morning cartoons.

Actually, maybe not movies. I've always thought Spider-Man has to be episodic; most of his villains are so incidental to the real business of the stories that it's hard to hang a movie on them without forcing some added meaning (connecting Peter personally to Dr. Octopus and Sandman, for example).

plok said...

Well, in 2010 it's pretty damn easy to do "young-adult" stories with characters in their thirties, actually! When my grandfather was my age he was already a grandfather, meanwhile (as the joke goes) if a fuse blows in my apaprtment I just sit in a corner and cry. Everyone I know in their thirties is basically exactly where Peter Parker was back when he was in grad school -- he could've stayed in grad school for quite a while, but they really moved up his clock-speed for whatever reason, and for whatever reason there now seems to be a mental block out there, that makes it impossible for writers to site him in the Peter-Parkerisms appropriate to his age, which all my friends are going through, and it definitely smacks of adolescence-issues from time to time in these crazy modern days. "Aging" him, I'm just not sure he ever got "aged" in a way that couldn't be reversed really easily, it's just that everyone was writing him as though he'd hit his forties, which is really not necessary. I don't see that he ever has to hit mid-life at all: and for God's sake, you can be married in your twenties too, it doesn't make you old! You don't have to be all totally Mature Now and have handled all your problems of youth already, just because you're married! But I think the Spider-Man writers just got themselves in navigation difficulties. I'd find it easy to make "Peter Parker stories" with an early-thirties protagonist, early thirties is hardly the time of total Adulthood-Mastery and settling down to eat your cupcake, there's a lot of good issues in there still...

I dunno, I think it could be done. But at this point I guess it'd need somebody who was capable of Conway-izing the early-thirties stuff, someone writing it who's ready to say something about it. JMS was writing midlife crisis material, really, it was too soon. I don't think he did an awful job of it all the time by any means, but what we ended up with (a lot of the time) was a Spider-Man who was putting his youthful mistakes to rest and getting perspective on them...which is jumping the gun a little. The Mephisto thing just let them keep all that, and even play to it -- instead of actually changing course and letting that JMS stuff slip away over the horizon, they actually cemented it, I think. The "real" Peter Parker is still the JMS guy: the effect of the magical correction is really just shunting him back in his character-timeline, his own overall arc, instead of taking him someplace else from where he was. I use this term a little too much maybe, but for me the seriality of Spider-Man comics has kind of been terminated by that.

And, wow: it got kinda late in the evening while I was writing that! Who knew I cared?

Justin said...

Yeah, I got married a couple weeks shy of 24 (coincidentally, the same year as Peter Parker getting unmarried!) so I of course don't believe the "being married makes you ooooold" thing either.

Anyway, I think that early thirties approach would work too. Actually...that late 90s Spider-Man I grew up on (post Clone Saga, pre-Byrne reboot) was sort of going after that. Editorial got their way by taking a Peter Parker with a research scientist job in Portland and a baby on the way and turning him back into a guy trying to make ends meet working at the Daily Bugle, but it doesn't read as a total reset the way the new stuff does because Peter was AWARE of how far he fell. "Shit, what happened to my life? How'd I end up back here?"

plok said...

Good segue into your "There Were Good Marvel Comics In The Nineties For Real You Guys No Shut Up There Were" post?

There's something in this. I remember some of those early thirties PP stories, and the vague disquiet with them coexisting with a sort of "huh, that's reasonable" thing. Today it'd be easier: Portland company goes belly-up, right? We're back to topically-aware Spider-Man trying to roll with the punches...

Maybe the problem was that they just did all that ten years too soon? My memory of that period was spotty when it started, so forgive me if I get it all wrong and they really trying to do that, but...I have the impression that they decided to have him "grow up", and then it just didn't work, so they tried to reset to "classic Spider-Man feeling". Today, though, it would site Pete exactly where a lot of his grown-up readers are, exactly: young guy takes a jump for the next step, catches it, does great work, everyone loves him -- analogue for tech boom. Everyone knows what's coming. Then the sudden economic disaster happens, fortuitously for Marvel: kind of recapitulates the dot-com bust, but happily coincides with Real Life and Real Issues. "Spidey gets Downsized!" screams the New York Post, Marvel sells a half-million more copies. And then he moves back to the bosom of NYC, tries to make a go of it as an apartment-rat again, with wife and baby. Aunt May keeps wanting to help, but he has to fend her off because he knows she lost a lot of money in the collapse too. Crimefighting is the only way he can get his frustrations out, MJ's worried about him "hitting the suit" too much...then the sight of down-and-out New Yorkers soldiering on through bad times as they always do inspires him, and MJ doesn't have to keep asking him to be "Spider-Man No More!" anymore...

Ah, if only. What a Seventies-throwback world was there.

And just where's the topicality in Spider-Man comics right now, I ask you? A critical reading of recent events looks kinda bad from the psychological perspective, don't you think? "Frustrated Man-Child Makes Deal With Devil To Return To Carefree Days Of Lessened Consequences!" is a particularly spooky message for a late-2000s Spider-man, no?

(No, I haven't read the post-BND stuff. They tell me it's good, maybe I should open my ears and listen, but I just can't.)

Justin said...

Nah, Spider-Man comics of the late-90s vintage won't make the list. They're thoroughly OKAY, and I enjoyed 'em because I was there at that time, but it's not like your comics library suffers for not having a complete run of Howard Mackie's PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN (Romita Jr. art's always nice, though).

Anyway. You make it sound so easy, and it probably WOULD BE that easy, but there was no topicality at all in those comics, because the late 90s for Marvel was all about cleaning up after the early 90s, and they had no time for conversing with the real world.

Knee-deep in the Clone Saga (God help me, I feel the need to make it a proper noun), the idea was that Ben Reilly was the "real" Spider-Man, and so he'd come back to be "classic" Spidey and live in a crummy apartment and try to get girls to go out with him, and the "clone" Peter Parker could "grow up" and get the happy ending. Then Marvel editorial gets nervous and declares the whole thing's a scheme of back-from-the-dead Norman Osborn (as though he'd been this master manipulator all along instead of a guy whose master plan was "knock the dude's girlfriend off a bridge"), who (kidnaps? kills? dangling plotline!) the baby and forces Peter back into his apartment-dwelling former life.

So yeah, not topical AT ALL, and in fact dangerously insular, and yet the thing I can take away from this is at least the "classic Spidey reset" is something that's IMPOSED on Peter the way a recession or something else beyond your control would be. You make all the right moves but fate screws you over. THERE'S some relatability at least, even if it is obscured by the Green Goblin's pumpkin bombs. The deal with the devil thing sucks because he ASKS for it, and it's just as sad as you make out.

Oh, and I wouldn't worry about Brand New Day too much. Like the 90s stuff it's generally a good time, and there's actually a few REALLY REALLY GOOD issues scattered in there (that Marcos Martin is pretty much the bee's knees...he sort of hybridizes Romita AND Ditko if you can imagine such a thing), but it's not worth dropping a hundred dollars on trades or whatever; I'd hate to total up how much I spent on it before I bailed out.

Justin said...
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Justin said...
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plok said...

Well, Marcos Martin...he's amazing. Did you ever read his "Batgirl: Year One"?

Of all of it, two things are the worst. First and foremost, that Pete's the clone. It's just no good, it's too much a short-term chain-yank. Well, that the clone comes back at all is no good, but something of worth could have been made from it if he had been the clone. Clone-Gwen being alive (but absent) while Clone-Peter's dead is way too heavy a hit on Spider-Man to give up for shock value, but if it had to be done, it might've been possible to tell good stories about the not-real Peter being Ben Reilly. I know it's a real fine line, so I can see how they got confused -- but stories about "Ben", with an absent Peter always looming in back of him, for me you have to look at that and say "it's as close to the original as we're gonna get, it's change but it can be backstepped on at need, it gives the clone an arc of his own we can write to while maintaining the ability to write to Real Spider-Man if we wish...better pull over right here." I mean I get the desire to make drama so big it breaks the picture-frame, but that's "do not open 'til doomsday" stuff -- that rushes to total conclusion.


plok said...

Just getting tired of it saying it didn't post, when really it did.

The second thing is of course Norman Osborn. You could've made him as big a schemer as you wanted, could've always been running into his legacy as long as you wanted, in retrospect could've made him the scariest Spider-foe of all time...just so long as he stayed dead. Soap operas know how to do this, for God's sake: the hand of the master villain reaching out even after death. But when comics people start thinking in Yu-Gi-Oh terms, only about Big, Bigger, BIGGEST...! Then they lose their symbolic bearings, as I'm sure you agree. Story logic demanded Norman had to die then; they demand he has to die now. He always has to die, that's perfectly 101 for heaven's sake. WHAT A MISTAKE! We're still paying for it.

I hear Conway didn't do too good when he revisited the Jackal, either. Pity: I remember his return to...was it Spectacular? Something to do with Electro? a welcome return to all the "Interlude One", Epilogue Two A-B-C plotting structure that formed all my early Marvel ideas.

Justin said...

Someone a couple years back did this long column series called "The Life of Reilly" where they did, like, a "totally unauthorized, behind-the-scenes" look at how the Clone Saga came to be. It goes into exhaustive depth and probably isn't that interesting if you weren't there in the first place, but the really FASCINATING part is how accidental that whole derailing of the Spider-Man franchise was.

Because that stuff you said about the clone appears to have been the original intention. "The clone returns, we do a nice big crossover story about it to spike the sales, tap into that mystery and intrigue angle that's selling so well in X-Men, and then we get on with our lives." You know *I* agree, totally not worth it, but this is still the early-to-mid 90s at this point, and they're just looking for excuses for holofoil covers. In theory, they'd have put the Scarlet Spider in his own book at the end of it and he'd be, like, the Spider-Man equivalent of Thunderstrike or War Machine.

But then the marketing department looks at the sales spikes and demands that the books stretch out their little six-month story arc, and all of a sudden the writers and editors are going "Hell, this was a mistake, wasn't it?" But they were locked in by that point, and I think they pulled the "real Ben/clone Peter" switch just because they were looking to end this story by any means necessary.

The best part is when they finally committed and put Ben in place as Spider-Man with a new status quo, there's an editorial shake up and the new guys are like, "So...when does Peter become Spider-Man again? Get to work on that."

So basically the stories kept promising they would end and never did. It's kind of like Marvel and DC's rolling crossovers of the last few years! Except Bendis and Johns were doing them on purpose - the Spider-Man guys felt they were being punished to carry out years of damage control duty for a shortsighted idea somebody had in 1994.