Taking on Spider-Man Part One: The Web Already Spun
Spider-Man is one of the most popular characters in comic book history, and not just comic books, but pop culture in general. You can throw a rock out the window and you’ll hit a person who knows Spider-Man. It’s amazing the reach this character has, capturing the imagination of children and finding a place in the hearts of adults. Of course, the adult fans keep the comics alive. However, Spider-Man stories haven’t been truly impactful in years.
Was the last truly riveting seminal Spidey arc the Death of Gwen Stacy? It’s a fair question to ask. It was practically Shakespearean, containing love, tragedy and revenge. It solidified Parker’s character, unable to take the life of another no matter how deserving. As of late, Spider-Verse came along to bring something no one knew they wanted. It’s a memorable fun ride, an event I’m enjoying, but might intimidate new readers, even push them away with all the who’s and what’s. It’s a totally different kind of beast. But what if I was ever bestowed the opportunity to write Spider-Man? I would boldly go where Spidey hasn’t been for a while: Developing a story with meaningful high stakes but maintain the lighthearted charm. The approach would emphasize the limits of the character to make his victories feel earned and more rewarding. Though, it all begins with sharing my understanding of what has and hasn’t worked for this character and who Spider-Man is to me.
Spider-Man is a top-tier, street-level superhero. It can’t be denied. He wasn’t cash rich like Tony Stark or an indentured servant to an agency, and he didn’t improve his genius to Reed Richards level. His attachments keep him grounded. Peter Parker had a home, family, a shaky career and relationships to maintain. Peter was relatable through his flaws and issues in everyday life with the added layer of being a superhero. Spider-Man getting tossed into far-fetched situations tear away at the core character. When Spidey is thrown into mystical, intergalactic, interdimensional events, it takes away from the relatable human aspect that can be developed to make him appealing to newcomers. Not to say it can’t be done. Dan Slott’s writing in the recent run with the return of Peter Parker deserves praise, especially for Spider-Verse. It could even be used as a platform to clean the slate.
Let’s take a look at Spider-Verse. It’s a far-fetched event to be centered around a street-level hero, but Spider-Verse occurred due to circumstances outside Peter Parker’s control. That’s good. He didn’t build the device for interdimensional travel himself. He was brought into this situation, visited by other Spider-characters to drag him in. He didn’t give Morlun motive (a.k.a. revenge, the common Spidey villain motive) to hunt Spider-men. Morlun just exists to eat. Let it be known, this doesn’t mean I like the spider-totem premise or Morlun and the Inheritors. That stuff shouldn’t even exist in Spidey’s core stories. Slott also plays with death a lot during Spider-Verse. It’s pretty much a spider-massacre, but the weight is mainly significant to long-time readers. Newer readers are most likely just there for the spectacle. But, damn, it’s so much fun to see this kind of ambitious idea hit the page.
At least Spider-Verse is all about how Spider-Man is thrown in and deals with being the chosen one–plus, for better or worse, there is a ton of fan service. Dan Slott is working with what has been laid before him, having fun and making it work. I completely commend that. Personally, I hope the event ends with the death of all the Inheritors and puts this spider-totem business behind us. Spidey didn’t need his own interdimensional, world-expanding dilemma back in the day and doesn’t really need it now. The larger Marvel universe can handle that and drag him along as usual. Spidey needs to go back to basics: In depth character arcs involving his relationships while growing as an individual, then pour on the villains and bombastic battles to spice it up.
If you like where I’m going with this, stay tuned for Taking on Spider-Man Part Two: Spinning a New Web! In which I discuss ideas I would like to explore with the ol’ Webhead. Some ideas may challenge some loved staples, others may just make fans angry. Who knows? I’m far from being the biggest Spidey fan, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think about the character with a caring creative approach. Either way, it’ll be good ol’ fun to stir the pot.