Tag Archives: Spider-Man Comics

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Black Cat #1

Every Wednesday, this crazy and chaotic world gets a bit more bearable when a new stack of comics enters this world. Some feature iconic superheroes. Others feature devious villains. Some dare explore the vast gray area in between. Of all the new comics this week, one book dares to stand out by staking a claim in that gray area.

Black Cat #1” is one of those comics that probably wasn’t on many peoples’ radar. Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy is not one of those obscure comic book characters that only ardent Marvel fans know about, nor is she in that top-tier class occupied by the likes of Spider-Man and Captain America. However, whenever she shows up, she finds a way to leave her mark and looks dead sexy while doing it.

For years, Black Cat was a supporting character for Spider-Man who often fluctuated between being a sexy villainous, a volatile love interest, and a full-fledged anti-hero. At her core, she’s a thief who treats stealing as an art and a profession rather than a matter of necessity. She’s basically a female Danny Oceans with infinitely more sex appeal.

Black Cat #1” doesn’t try to shake up those previous roles. Instead, it embraces Black Cat’s thieving persona. It even celebrates it in ways that rarely play out in a typical Spider-Man comic. It showcases just how capable, devious, and downright coy Black Cat can be when she’s at her best.

There’s no Spider-Man sub-plot here. The plot in “Black Cat #1” is entirely built entirely around Felicia Hardy organizing a daring heist. However, it’s not just for money or thrills this time.

Thanks to recent events in Amazing Spider-Man, she has a target on her back. In addition to the police and various other superheroes who don’t take kindly to thieves, she managed to piss off the Thieve’s Guild, an organization that tends to hold a nasty grudge, even by comic book standards.

Black Cat can’t simply rely on her cunning, skill, and sexiness to get out of her predicament. She also can’t do everything on her own, for once. As such, she has to exercise both her thieving skills and her ability to manage a crew of other thieves who don’t have a romantic history with Spider-Man.

It’s a simple heist that requires a complex effort. It’s not quite on the same level as “Ocean’s 11,” but it’s not as simple as just breaking the glass and sneaking through air vents. In fact, “Black Cat #1” avoids some standard thieving tropes, focusing instead on everyone who tries to stop Felicia.

I won’t spoil many of the details, but I will note that they fail. Whether they’re security guards, police officers, or ninjas attacking her car, they certainly make a concerted effort. True to her skill and persona, Black Cat fights back and smiles a lot in the process.

Writer, Jed MacKay, captures both the personality and spirit of who Black Cat is. For once, she isn’t pushed into a particular role, as is often the case when she shows up in a Spider-Man comic. He lets her be herself. He gives her a voice that feels distinct and appropriately sassy. The collective artwork of Mike Dowling, Travel Foreman, and Nao Fuji ensures she looks good every step of the way.

That’s an accomplishment because one of Black Cat’s biggest shortcomings is that it’s not always easy to root for her. While she never descends too deep into outright villainy, she can often come as crass and manipulative, even without Spider-Man. That never happens in “Black Cat #1.” She only ever seems confident, charismatic, and focused.

On its own, “Black Cat #1” is a solid, well-contained heist story involving one of Marvel’s most famous thieves. It shows Black Cat when she’s at her best, stealing things that are difficult to steal and navigating obstacles that frustrate even the more competent villains. There’s never a point where you feel like rooting against her.

What makes “Black Cat #1” even more compelling, as a comic, is how it sets up the next part of Felicia Hardy’s story. Unlike many other stories where she acts mostly as a supporting character, the one MacKay teases feels more personal. It doesn’t just present a new challenge. It adds a significant complication to a life that is already inherently complicated by being affiliated with Spider-Man.

Even if you don’t know much about Black Cat or haven’t paid much attention to her story in recent years, “Black Cat #1” is one of those rare comics that can sell you on a character. In one issue, you get a good idea of who she is, what she’s about, and why she matters in the larger Marvel universe. In that same issue, you also get a sense that there’s more to her story and it’s about to change in a major way.

Some characters need to be overhauled while others need to be reinvented. Black Cat needed none of that. She just needed a chance to show what she can do and how much fun it can be to see her work. That’s exactly what “Black Cat #1” delivers.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Spider-Man Life Story #1

Every week, the world gets a brief reprieve from being a chaotic mess when a fresh crop of comics enters the world. Most call it Wednesday. Others, like myself, call it New Comic Day. It’s like a weekly holiday, minus the decorations, gift giving, and crowded airports. On this unique day, I pick one particular comic to single out as worthy of making this day feel extra festive.

This week brings us a special gem from everyone’s third favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, after Spider-Ham and Spider-Gwen. It comes courtesy of one of Marvel’s top scribes in Chip Zdarsky and one of their top artists in Mark Bagley. While there has always been an abundance of Spider-Man comics, “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” stands out in a uniquely charming way.

For much of Spider-Man’s contemporary history, there has been an ongoing challenge, of sorts, when it comes to keeping him relevant. Writers, artists, and movie producers keep having to update Spider-Man’s story, somewhat, so that he feels modern. That’s not easy for a character who first debuted in 1962, courtesy of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Over the years, Peter Parker has found himself reinvented into many eras, from disco to social media. Marvel has always been somewhat coy about how characters like Spider-Man can show up in these eras and not seem to age, but that’s exactly what makes “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” so unique.

It doesn’t try to put Peter Parker in a more modern context. It doesn’t try to radically change who he is so that he fits into a more familiar world. Instead, Zdarsky and Bagley do the complete opposite and just let his story unfold within the era that first created him.

There’s no sliding timescale here. The year is 1966. Peter has had his Spider-Man powers for four years. He’s in college, the Vietnam War is ongoing, hippies are starting to grow in population, and cigarette’s are still advertised for their health benefits. This is the world in which Spider-Man was initially birthed and this is the world in which his story unfolds.

It’s a familiar story, one that frequently relies on Peter trying to balance his life as a college student with his superhero life as Spider-Man. However, that familiarity is exactly what helps “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” work so well as a concept and a setting. While it isn’t bound by the same 50-plus years of comic book continuity, it is bound by the circumstances of the mid-1960s.

This is a very different time for superheroes and non-superheroes alike. It’s not just that soda costs a quarter and the idea of alternative facts can be attributed to bad acid trips. This is a time of major social upheaval, especially in places like New York. Issues surrounding the Vietnam War aren’t just affecting Peter. They’re affecting his friends and other heroes, like Captain America.

It’s a world in which Peter struggles with choices that don’t just involve being on time for class. He’s seeing friends/bullies like Flash Thompson get drafted into a war that is just starting to go poorly. He’s watching other superheroes who don’t have to deal with J. Jonah Jameson make difficult choices about whether to get involved. What does an aspiring superhero do in that kind of world?

It makes for an interesting and dramatic backdrop for “Spider-Man: Life Story #1.” Peter still deals with typical Spider-Man issues, like getting to class on time and pursuing a blossoming relationship with Gwen Stacy. There are also a few battles with familiar enemies, namely the Green Goblin, who’s an asshole in any era. However, neither Peter Parker nor Spider-Man are bigger than the issues of the world around them.

In many respects, it brings out a more balanced Spider-Man. His struggles in dealing with the times and circumstances around him makes Peter Parker feel more real. It has always been part of his appeal, going back to the era of Lee and Ditko. He’s not some billionaire playboy or legendary soldier. He’s just a nerdy kid who got super-powers by accident.

This is a Peter Parker who isn’t bound by the old Comic Code Authority or aversions to political undertones. Zdarsky and Bagley let him live and react to the world of 1966 in a way that’s both believable and engaging. Essentially, they let him be the character that Lee and Ditko created within the times of his creation.

Those turbulent times set up even more drama as issues like the Vietnam War and the growing mistrust between people and authority start to grow. Peter’s youth puts him in the front row of the emerging chaos while the adults around him, including other superheroes, find themselves affected in ways that would’ve abhorred 1960s censors.

In a sense, the times and the larger world of “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” is the biggest appeal of the story. It allows complexity and drama that isn’t typical of a modern Spider-Man comic, but somehow brings out the best in Peter Parker and those around him, even if J. Jonah Jameson is still an annoying blowhard.

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Five Reasons Why Spider-Gwen Deserves Her Own Movie

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It’s a great time to be fan of superhero comics, but it’s especially great if you’re a Spider-Man fan. Even if you’re not a big fan of the superhero genre, it’s hard to deny the prominence of this famous Marvel franchise. Between a successful spin-off movie in “Venom,” the remarkable acclaim for “Into The Spider-Verse,” and the recent trailer for “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” it’s an amazing time for wall-crawler enthusiasts.

At this point, hoping for more is just being greedy. With a sequel to “Venomin the works and other spin-off projects in the pipeline, it almost feels wrong to hope for something specific. Marvel, Sony, and Disney are already giving us so much. What more can they possibly offer?

Well, I’d like to make the case that there is one particular branch of the evolving Spider-Man universe that warrants greater attention. It’s something that was already hinted at within “Into The Spider-Verse” and I feel she could have a greater than any other Spidy-centric media. The timing is right. The market is ripe for her ascension. It’s just a matter of building on foundation that is already rich with potential.

I’m referring to Spider-Woman, also known as Gwen Stacy, but best known as Spider-Gwen. In the mythos of Spider-Man, she’s a fairly recent development. However, her rise to prominence has been nothing short of spectacular and I believe she has done plenty to warrant her own place in the franchise.

Most Spider-Man fans know the name, Gwen Stacy. She has had a prominent place in the Spider-Man comics for decades. However, like Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen emerged in an alternate universe where known characters are different and events unfold differently. Her sequence in “Into The Spider-Verse” offered a brief overview of who she was, but her story is far richer than that.

That story still contains many of the iconic themes associated with Spider-Man. Issues like power, responsibility, and dealing with J. Jonah Jameson are a huge part of Spider-Gwen’s story. However, there are a few distinct variations that help set her apart and it’s because of those traits that I believe she can carry her own movie.

What follows are just a few reasons for why I feel that way. There are probably plenty more that other Spider-Gwen fans will resent me for skipping. I understand and accept that responsibility. Since these are such great times for Spider-Man fans, I like to think we don’t need that many reasons to give someone like Spider-Gwen her own movie.


Reason #1: She Sets Herself Apart From Peter Parker (Aside From Being A Woman)

If the success of “Into The Spider-Verse” taught us anything, other than the inherent appeal of cartoon pigs, it’s that you don’t have to be Peter Parker in order to embody the themes of Spider-Man. Miles Morales did a lot to set himself apart in terms of personality, circumstances, and abilities. Spider-Gwen does plenty of that too, but she takes it even further.

In the world of Spider-Gwen, the story of Gwen Stacy unfolds very differently. She’s not a nerd like Peter. She’s not a biracial teen trying to fit in at a new school. She’s the same sweet girl that Spider-Man fans know from classic stories. That all changes when she gets bit by that radioactive spider instead of Peter.

The Gwen Stacy that emerged after is still Gwen, but she goes about utilizing her powers very differently compared to Peter. They change the way she carries herself. She doesn’t approach them the same way as Peter or other Spider-Man characters. She follows her own path, complete with her own sense of power and responsibility.

Her approach is not radically different from that of Peter Parker, but it still feels distinct. How Gwen becomes Spider-Woman and how this affects her, as a character, is not a story that can be told with Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or any other character, for that matter. The fact she’s a woman at a time when female superheroes have been subject to greater scrutiny is just a nice bonus.

Moreover, the story of Peter Parker has been told and retold many times, already. There have been three distinct timelines with three different actors taking on the role. There’s only so much more that can be done at this point. Gwen Stacy is a different story, but one that’s familiar enough to fit into the greater Spider-Man mythos.


Reason #2: Her Story Brings A Unique Set Of Challenges (Aside From Being A Woman)

Being a masked vigilante is hard. Five decades of Spider-Man comics and three movie franchises have done plenty to establish that. However, Peter Parker never had to deal with being a vigilante while having a cop for a parent. He also never had to be the prime suspect in the death of a friend that he tried desperately to protect.

Those are just some of the challenges Gwen faces throughout her story in the comics. Unlike Peter, she’s not just another high school student trying to balance her personal life with her superhero life. She faces far greater challenges than not having a date to the prom or showing up late to class.

One of her biggest challenges, throughout her story, revolves around being a vigilante while her father, George Stacy, is a cop with the NYPD. On top of that, he’s initially tasked with arresting Spider-Woman because she’s implicated in the death of Peter Parker. Learning that his daughter is Spider-Woman only compounds that challenge.

There’s a lot of drama in that dynamic. If you want to see how it plays out, I strongly recommend checking out the comic series written by Jason Latour. These challenges are things that you won’t find in a Spider-Man story with Peter Parker. Like her counterparts, Gwen bears many burdens and responsibilities, but having a cop for a father only makes it harder.

At a time when the conduct of the police is under more scrutiny than ever, I think a Spider-Gwen movie could explore those conflicts better than most. Beyond giving Gwen different obstacles, it offers a different perspective on what it means to be a hero and how difficult it is to manage when family affairs get involved.


Reason #3: The (Fitting) Tragedy Of Peter Parker In Her World

It’s impossible to tell the story of Spider-Gwen without telling the story of Peter Parker in her world. Her version of Peter is very different in that not getting bit by that radioactive spider sent him down a darker path. His story is one of tragedy, but it’s the kind of tragedy that complements Gwen’s story and fits perfectly with the themes of Spider-Man.

In many respects, Peter fills the role of Uncle Ben in the world of Spider-Gwen, but not in the same way. It’s not a classic case of failing to stop him from getting hurt by a random accident. Gwen actually went out of her way to protect Peter. Getting superpowers actually made that easier for her. She sees him as her friend and wants to help him.

However, in doing so, Peter makes some fateful decisions that result in his death. It’s not just tragic. It’s gut-wrenching for Gwen. She has to watch this boy she cares about die because he wanted to be more like her. She’s very much responsible for what happened to him. On top of that, Spider-Woman is blamed for his death, thanks to shoddy reporting by J. Jonah Jameson.

This version of Peter is powerful in how it twists the classic Spider-Man narrative without warping it entirely. By helping Peter like she did, Gwen ultimately failed him. That’s a different, but effective way to learn the importance of power and responsibility.


Reason #4: She’s Likable In Many Ways (More So Than Peter)

Even in stories where she doesn’t have powers, Gwen Stacy is a genuinely likable character. She’s sweet, fun-loving, and genuine. She’s the kind of girl you can be friends with and/or fall in love with. She’s honest and blunt in how she deals with people. She’s also compassionate and understanding. Getting superpowers only enhances these traits.

What we saw in “Into The Spider-Verse” was just a small sample of a much richer persona. Her attitude, as well as her ability to connect with others in awkward situations, is plenty endearing. In the comics, we see this manifest in many other ways. From the way she deals with her father to how she interacts with her band-mates in their all-female band, the Mary Janes, is likable on so many levels.

I would go so far as to argue that she’s a lot more likable than Peter Parker, if only because she’s less prone to brooding and whining. Throughout the comics, she ends up in some pretty rough situations, which include being actively hunted by the NYPD and unable to go home to her father after he learns of her identity. It’s rough, but at no point does she just whine about it.

As sweet as Gwen is, she also has grit. She knows how to endure a lousy situation and when the going gets tough, she finds a way to get stronger. She still messes up along the way. In fact, she messes up a lot in the comics, but she learns from her mistakes and she grows along the way.

I’m not saying Peter Parker hasn’t grown over the years, but even after five decades of comics, cartoons, and movies, his growth tends to regularly stagnate. Every time he seems to move forward with his life, he takes a step back, whether it’s undoing a marriage or losing his billion-dollar company.

Spider-Gwen may not have had as much time to grow and regress, but her story has been allowed to evolve in many ways since her debut. That development is full of opportunities. Even though she has only been web-swinging since 2014, she has plenty of material for a great movie.


Reason #5: Her Story Is Not Bogged Down By Continuity

This is more a logistical issue than anything else. Peter Parker has been around since the Kennedy Administration. His story has years upon years of continuity that effectively shackle him from radical change. I’ve mentioned before how all superheroes are subject to these constraints. I’ve even argued that Spider-Man is more inept than most at dealing with them.

With Spider-Gwen, however, there are far fewer constraints and many potential avenues for growth. Her story, and that of her distinct alternate universe, is in its infancy, relative to other superheroes. She hasn’t been around long enough for complications and retcons to accumulate. She can follow many different paths, both in the comics and in the movies.

One of the common complaints that comic fans will levy against a movie is how closely it follows the source material. Since Peter Parker is such an icon, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. With Spider-Gwen, there isn’t much source material from which to deviate. “Into The Spider-Verse” already captured the basics. A full-fledged Spider-Gwen movie will have plenty of flexibility.

There are plenty of other reasons I could list to justify Spider-Gwen getting her own movie. She’s a great character who embodies unique aspects of the greater Spider-Man mythos. Given the current state of the superhero genre, especially with respect to box office returns, I don’t think Sony, Marvel, and Disney need many to make Spider-Gwen their next success story.

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How “Into The Spider-Verse” Embodies The Best Aspects Of Superhero Movies (And Sets Up A Promising Future)

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In the modern era of superhero movies, Spider-Man is one of the bedrock franchises that has guided the genre through its journey from niche market to global box office dominance. Alongside the first “X-men” movie, Sam Raimi’s original “Spider-Man” is credited with ushering in this golden age of superhero cinema.

It has been a bumpy road at times. We had high points with “Spider-Man 2” and not-so-high points with “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Regardless of how these movies fared, the story of Peter Parker shouldering the power and responsibilities of Spider-Man has become ingrained in pop culture. We still could’ve done without that awful dance scene, though.

Given all the weight Spider-Man has for the genre, a movie like “Into The Spider-Verse” has a lot going for it and just as much working against it. The story of Peter Parker has been done, redone, and overdone so much that it feels like there’s no room left for nuance. Well, “Into The Spider-Verse” definitively proves there’s still untapped potential and it runs even deeper than anyone thought.

I don’t want to spoil much about this movie, but I will spoil this. “Into The Spider-Verse” is every bit as awesome as critics and audiences alike have said. It’s a truly groundbreaking achievement for superhero movies, animation, and the Spider-Man franchise. The fact that it managed to do this without being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes that accomplishment all the more remarkable.

This movie succeeds on so many levels. It takes a concept drawn directly from the comics and expands on it, creating a whole new world in which all things Spider-Man do not revolve entirely around Peter Parker. That’s not a typo, by the way. This is a Spider-Man movie in which Peter Parker is not the main driving force of the story.

It’s this kid.

He’s still there. He still plays a major part in the story. However, this movie is a story about Miles Morales. Those who follow the comics will recognize that name. He’s not just some unknown character who gets thrust into a central role in the vein of the “Ghostbuster” reboot. Miles has a fairly comprehensive history going back to 2011 and this movie captures the heart of that history perfectly.

Miles is not like Peter in many ways. Beyond the fact that he’s half-black, half-Latino, and the nephew of a dangerous super-villain, his powers are slightly different. His personality is different, as well. He’s not the same nerdy dork that Peter Parker was, but he is very much an outsider who struggles to fit in.

Miles has more confidence, but not in the arrogant hipster Andrew Garfield sort of way. He’s someone who isn’t sure of who he wants to be or where he wants his life to go. On one hand, he’s got his parents who want him to aspire to something greater than a life in Brooklyn. On the other, he has influences like his Uncle Aaron pulling him down a darker path.

Him getting bit by a radioactive spider only compounds these conflicting forces. Part of what makes Miles work when other would-be Spider-Man replacements failed is that his struggle feels genuine. He never comes off as a rip-off or a substitute. What makes Miles a Spider-Man worth rooting for is how Peter Parker inspires him to take on that responsibility.

The comics went about that in one particular way that worked brilliantly. “Into The Spider-Verse” utilizes a different, but similar approach that’s every bit as compelling. Peter Parker has a major influence, but the movie throws in many other influences that send Miles down the path to becoming Spider-Man.

Some of those influences come in the form of other famous alternate-version Spider-Man characters, including the likes of Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham. “Into The Spider-Verse” manages to give them their own stories that show how they fit into the greater Spider-Man mythos, but for Miles, they embody the responsibility before him.

Like Peter, and so many other Spider-Man characters, he’s initially reluctant to bear that burden. Over the course of the movie, he endures plenty of agonizing decisions and crippling self-doubt. He struggles in ways that we’re not used to seeing Spider-Man struggle, but that’s exactly why “Into The Spider-Verse” works so well in the current landscape of superhero movies.

Going back to the first “Iron Man” movie, we’ve come to expect struggles and setbacks from our heroes. Miles has a lot more than most and not just because of his youth or inexperience. He has huge shoes to fill and the history of characters filling the shoes of iconic heroes is mixed at best.

By the end of the movie, though, Miles effectively proves that he’s worthy of being Spider-Man. He deserves a spot in the greater Spider-Man mythos. It doesn’t have to revolve entirely around Peter Parker. For some Spider-Man fans, that may seem outrageous. “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there’s plenty of room for characters like Miles.

How it goes about this has greater implications for the future of superhero movies than it does for the present. I would even go so far as to say that “Into The Spider-Verse” might end up being a major turning point for the superhero genre because of how it tells Miles’ story alongside that of Peter Parker.

Aside from just raising Miles’ profile, “Into The Spider-Verse” does something that is overdue for Peter Parker’s story. Specifically, it ages him. The Peter Parker in this story is not some wide-eyed kid with Tom Holland’s baby face. He’s an older, more jaded version of Peter who has made mistakes and lost confidence in himself, as often happens to those who survive to middle age.

The look of a man who has fought one too many muggers.

It’s part of the paradox of heroism that I’ve mentioned before in that many popular superheroes aren’t allowed to age beyond a certain point. In fact, that was cited as the primary reason for breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson in the comics. Aging a hero beyond the mold Frank Miller’s version of Batman just seems like a dead end.

Into The Spider-Verse” makes the case that this doesn’t have to be the case. Peter Parker can grow up and even endure a mid-life crisis. For a character who has been around since the early 1960s, it almost feels overdue. His struggle doesn’t have to be the end of his story. If anything, it helps further Miles’ ascension to becoming the new Spider-Man.

It’s a theme that has played out in the comics more recently. Older heroes are inspiring a new crop of younger heroes. Miles Morales was among the first. Others like Kamala Khan and Riri Williams have followed. It feels like a natural progression of the superhero archetype, inspiring others to take up the responsibility and aspire to something greater.

Miles Morales isn’t a replacement for Peter Parker. He’s a supplement to the greater Spider-Man mythos and “Into The Spider-Verse” establishes how well this can work. His story is every bit as endearing as Peter’s, but without supplanting him. As such, it provides a new template for superhero movies in the future.

Not every story has to rely on rehashing and revamping iconic characters from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko era. It’s possible for new characters to emerge without replacing older ones. The world of superheroes can grow and evolve with subsequent generations. It’ll have to and not just because of actors’ contracts expiring.

If I had to score “Into The Spider-Verse,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It’s a great movie, but it does have some shortcomings. They’re very minor. The pacing of the movie is erratic at times and the designs for certain characters, namely Kingpin and Scorpion, have room for improvement. It never feels chaotic or disconnected, though. The movie has a unique artistic style that fits perfectly with the story.

Every now and then, someone will claim that superhero movies will one day go the way of the western. That may still happen at some point, but “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there are whole new paths to explore and they have to exist in the MCU. This movie is an incredible achievement beyond just being a great superhero movie and one I hope inspires others for years to come.

Also, the tribute to Stan Lee at the end will bring a tear to your eyes. Be certain of that.

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “What If? Punisher #1.” Enjoy!

‘What If? Punisher #1’ Toys With Spider-Man’s Concept Of Power And Responsibility

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October 11, 2018 · 5:28 pm

Jack’s Quick Pick Comic: What If? Punisher #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics comes out and for comic fans like me, it’s the biggest highlight of the week that doesn’t involve ice cream and whiskey. Within that batch of comics, it’s hard find the gems that really stand out. That’s why every week, I pick out a comic that I feel warrants extra praise.

This week, my quick pick is “What If? Punisher #1.” Now, this may seem like an odd selection. In fact, this comic is very much an anomaly. There was once a time where Marvel had an ongoing “What If?” series that basically offered alternate history takes on iconic characters and stories.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about how these stories are handled. For the most part, they’re hit or miss. They’re either really good or really bad. Rarely, if ever, are they fleshed out stories.

What If? Punisher #1” finds a way to stand out because it does more than speculate on what would happen to Spider-Man if he chose a slightly different path. It actually explores the entire premise that with great power comes great responsibility. It even makes the case that the mainline Spider-Man in the long-running “Amazing Spider-Man” series is wholly irresponsible in his methods.

This is an idea that I’ve actually explored before. I once made the argument that Spider-Man is the most inept hero of all time. I got a lot of hate for that piece, mostly by long-time Spider-Man fans. I don’t blame them for a second. However, this comic actually takes some of the concepts I discussed and puts them into a cohesive story.

It doesn’t radically reinvent Peter Parker or Spider-Man. It also doesn’t radically alter his origin. He still fails to stop a burglar that goes onto murder his Uncle Ben. From that tragedy, he learns that critical lesson about power and responsibility. The only difference in this timeline is that great responsibility means killing his enemies, just like the Punisher.

It’s a line that the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man doesn’t dare cross most of the time. In nearly every famous iteration of Spider-Man, Peter makes clear that he does not kill. However, “What If? Punisher #1” makes the case that not only is this irresponsible. It actually played a part in hurting his loved ones.

How that happens and how it makes this case is something I won’t spoil. Since this is a “What If?” comic, though, there’s not room to dig deeper. There are more than a few gaps and oversights, but most of that is due to logistics rather than merit. At the very least, this comic asks some pretty damning questions about how Spider-Man approaches power and responsibility.

Even though most “What If?” comics are quickly forgotten and have no impact on the actual canon, this issue is worthy of my pick because the concept is so intriguing. It’s too brief and very much incomplete, but the ideas it presents are pretty remarkable. Not all Spider-Man fans will like it, but it’ll definitely get them thinking.

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Why Spider-Man May Be The Most Incompetent Hero Of All Time

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Whenever I talk about comic books and superheroes on this blog, I generally try not to single one particular character out unless I’m trying to make a point. I find that singling out one too many characters is like pointing out all the plot holes in a Michael Bay movie. It just becomes too frustrating and futile in the long run.

That means if I’m going to dedicate a post to a character, it better be for a damn good reason. They must be a uniquely compelling sex-positive female character or a potential prelude for future female villains. Well, after talking about why most superheroes are incompetent by design, I feel compelled to single out one particular character who is, within this context, the worst offender.

That character isn’t some obscure, little-known sidekick from a bygone era either. In this case, the worst case of inept superheroes who take their incompetence to the next level is one of the most recognizable superheroes of the past 50 years. He’s had multiple movies, multiple cartoons, and multiple actors play him with varying degrees of success and/or failure.

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Yes, I’m talking about Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker. He is, by far, the most recognizable and iconic of Stan Lee’s many creations. He’s also, by a ridiculous margin, the most profitable superhero in terms of merchandise sales. He makes enough money for Marvel every year for them to eat caviar every day off diamond-encrusted gold plates.

So why, then, is he so incompetent as a hero? Why is Marvel’s most iconic character a case study in how not to operate as a superhero? Well, some of it has to do with the built-in incompetence I mentioned before. Spider-Man can’t be too competent, otherwise his overall narrative just wouldn’t be as compelling and his toys wouldn’t sell.

However, compared to the many other orphaned heroes who get their powers through accident or tragedy, Spider-Man sets himself apart by not just screwing himself over, but also by undermining the very principles of power and responsibility that he espouses. That doesn’t just make him an incompetent hero. It just makes him misguided, albeit not on purpose.

So what exactly makes Spider-Man inept by both the standards of a superhero and the standards that he sets on himself? Well, that has everything to do with his tactics and how he goes about them. If you’ve ever read a Spider-Man comic, seen a Spider-Man movie, or watched a Spider-Man cartoon, you know those tactics well. It goes like this:

  • Someone commits a crime
  • Peter Parker springs into action, putting on his costume and mask
  • Spider-Man fights the criminal, making jokes and quips along the way
  • The criminal whines and complains about how he’s ruining their master plan
  • The fight plays out and Spider-Man wins
  • Spider-Man ties the criminal up with his webs for the police
  • Spider-Man goes back to being Peter Parker and uses the pictures he takes of himself to make a living

This is Spider-Man’s primary method for dealing with crime and irresponsibility. It is the primary structure of every major battle he’s ever fought, be it the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, or Venom. While he wins/survives many of those battles, and even goes onto marry a supermodel for a while, it’s only when you step back and scrutinize the larger picture that you see how he loses his war against irresponsibility.

First and foremost, it’s important to establish that Spider-Man is one of those heroes who doesn’t kill. Like Superman and Batman, he goes out of his way to prevent the loss of life, be it innocent life or that of his enemy. That’s an understandable position to take. Killing is one of those unambiguous moral lines and many superheroes define their heroics by respecting that line.

For Spider-Man, however, this moral stand against killing is a major liability and the catalyst for his ineptitude. Granted, it’s not intentional, but the byproducts are unavoidable and those close to him have suffered as a result. Just ask Gwen Stacy.

Now I’m not saying Spider-Man is directly responsible for such suffering. Like all heroes, his intentions are good. He wants to help people. He wants to save lives. The problem is that, with his tactics, he’s doomed to hurt far more people than he helps.

This is because his tactics essentially guarantee that he will be a target, his loved ones will suffer, and his enemies will become stronger as a result. This isn’t just because Spider-Man refuses to kill them, although that is part of it. It’s because of the very persona that Spider-Man creates that his efforts are so inept.

Spider-Man, unlike Batman or Daredevil, doesn’t present a very intimidating presence. He’s many things, but intimidating isn’t one of them. His costume isn’t that intimidating. He doesn’t operate in the shadows or anything. He’s actually a well-known public figure, thanks largely to his own efforts and those of his boss, the ultimate blowhard that is J. Jonah Jameson.

This is a huge problem because it ensures that Spider-Man’s presence isn’t considered a major threat or danger to his enemies. He’s more of an annoyance or inconvenience. Whether they’re the Green Goblin or a simple mugger, they know Spider-Man isn’t going to kill them. He’s not even going to seriously wound them. He’ll just fight them, tie them up, and give them over to the police.

Even for those without access to overpaid lawyers, that’s not so much a threat as it is a frustration. On top of that, Spider-Man doesn’t really have meaningful conversations that get people to rethink their choices. He’s just cracks jokes, makes lewd comments, and generally carries himself with the maturity of a 13-year-old. Granted, this is part of his charm as a character, but it also ensures his tactics are doomed to fail.

It’s one thing to anger and annoy an enemy in the heat of battle. That can work to a hero’s advantage. However, the problems with Spider-Man manifest after the battle is over.

By annoying and angering his enemies, all he does is give them more incentive to fight him and hurt those he cares about. On top of that, he wears a flashy, distinct costume that’s easily recognizable in both night and broad daylight. It’s also well-known, thanks to his own efforts at taking pictures of himself and selling them to a newspaper.

Even before the era of smart phones and Twitter hacks, that’s putting a pretty big target on his back. He makes himself an identifiable figure on which his enemies can focus on. Even if they don’t know his identity, they know the source of their frustration. Since Spider-Man doesn’t scare them, they have every possible reason to fight him.

To make matters even worse, he gives his enemies a common threat to rally against. Anyone who knows anything about social psychology, or has just been to a Taylor Swift concert, knows that nothing unites people better than a common cause. He doesn’t just make his enemies stronger as individuals. He makes them stronger as a team. How is that responsible?

In essence, Spider-Man doesn’t intimidate his villains, doesn’t do anything to deter their irresponsible decisions, and gives them a common enemy to really around. If being responsible is deterring the kind of criminals that killed his Uncle Ben, then he’s the most irresponsible hero of all time.

I’m not saying Spider-Man has to start killing like the Punisher. I’m saying that his own tactics undermine his goals. Now you could make a similar criticism to characters like Batman or Daredevil because they don’t kill and their enemies constantly escape to torment them. However, there is one key difference that sets them apart.

Batman and Daredevil, despite their gaudy costumes, are intimidating. In fact, intimidation is a key tactic of theirs. Batman said it himself in the early scenes of “Batman Begins.” He seeks to strike fear in those that prey on the fearful. In this sense, he does succeed.

You could make the argument that because of Batman’s presence, there people in Gotham City who choose not to enter a life of crime. The prospect of dealing with Batman is scary. Fear is a powerful deterrent. Only the truly deranged criminals dare to enter this life and take on Batman. In that context, it makes perfect sense that the kind of villains he faces are the exceedingly deranged kind.

Spider-Man can’t make that claim. He can’t claim that he scares or intimidates people into not choosing a life of crime. If anything, his tactics may annoy ordinary people who wouldn’t otherwise consider such a life, but try it anyways just to shut him up or make a name for themselves.

Every hero is different. Every hero has their own set of tactics, goals, and ideals. However, no hero is as inept, incompetent, or irresponsible as Spider-Man. So long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, and Marvel has a huge financial interest in never allowing it to change, he’ll continue emboldening his enemies while guaranteeing that everyone around him suffers.

It’s both an irony and a tragedy. In his efforts to be responsible with his powers, Spider-Man conducts himself in the most irresponsible way possible. Even if it’s indirect and unintentional, the results are the same. He can still call himself a hero because of his principles. He just can’t call himself a very competent hero.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes