The Peanut Gallery Presents: Spider-Man: A Rant

pg_titlecard_018Hello everyone, welcome back to the June Edition of the Peanut Gallery! Last month, two large events stood poised to impact tabletop gaming, and although there isn’t panic in the streets just yet, they implications and repercussions are still ongoing in that sense.

But this month, everyone’s focused on E3. I did a retrospective of E3 Last year, but to be honest, there’s not really a whole lot to be excited about. Unless you’re Frogman, because Nintendo’s got a fair amount to show.

No this month, I decided to keep it a little quieter, and focus on the problems assailing one of my favourite superheroes. Since November 2007, with the end of the Civil War and the beginning of One More Day, Spider-Man has consistently been plagued by bad storylines, inconsistent characterisation and a general lack of solid direction in its overarching plotlines.

A little bit of back-story may be required, so have a basic crash course in Spider-Man continuity. Civil War was a storyline in which the Superhero Registration Act was enforced, requiring all superheroes to register their identity with higher government authority. Captain America, along with several other heroes, refused. Spider-Man, at the behest of his boss, Tony Stark, willingly registered and revealed his identity as Peter Parker.

But by the end of the Civil War, things had changed. The actions of Pro- Registration heroes had changed Spider- Man’s allegiance, and he ought the final battle on the side of Captain America. With his identity known, and with the Anti-Registration forces standing down following Cap’s arrest, Peter Parker was a wanted man.

And repercussions for his actions did follow. Kingpin, seeing an opportunity to harm the man that had caused all sorts of grief for him over the years, hired an assassin to go after Peter Parker, to track him down and kill him. But while Peter’s abilities made him more than a match for the gunman, his family was caught in the crossfire, with Aunt May suffering a deadly bullet wound.

One More Day was a four-issue run that dealt with the circumstances that ultimately  created the situation that Spider-Man lives in at this moment. It mostly consisted of everyone, from Reed Richards to Tony Stark to well, Doctor Doom, and even one of his nemeses, the genius Doctor Octopus, who in earlier times had actually married Aunt May (Keep this in mind for later).

In the end, in order to save Aunt May’s life, Spider- Man, sold his marriage to Mephisto, Marvel’s Satan. The other part to this bargain was simple: Spider-Man’s Identity

A lot of people don’t like One More Day. Critics have described it as a ‘deus ex machina of the highest order.’ And it’s easy to see why: the decision to give up his marriage is selfish and childish, a far cry from the Spider-Man whose motto is ‘with great power there must come great responsibility.’

But that was 7 years ago. Since then, Spider-Man has had multiple storylines. He’s joined the Avengers. And while One More Day was the easily the lowest point of quality in Spider- Man’s recent history, his storylines have simply never really recovered.

But, well, the tools are there. Since 2007, Spider-Man has had multiple storylines, like Spider-Island, Big Time and the rise of the Superior Spider-Man, in which large parts of the story are well, generally interesting or entertaining premises. And yet, despite the actions of the writers and editors, Spider- Man just doesn’t feel the same.

The problem, I feel, lies in the image of Spider- Man, and how he has done something that most superheroes don’t. When Spider-Man first put on his mask, he was the first teenaged superhero. He was undoubtedly known to be younger than Captain America, the man who fought in World War 2, or Tony Stark, billionaire who built and advanced metal suit. Spidey started on the ground floor, and his motto, general message and actions reflected that. He fought and bled, learned and made mistakes, and did things that taught him more fully how to be a hero.

But times have changed, and Spidey has changed with them. While Spider- Man was the first teenaged hero, teenage heroes are common nowadays. Not only that, but Spider-Man has grown up. Since his creation, the problems for Peter Parker have evolved. Instead of living at home, he lives in an apartment. Instead of waking up and going to school, Parker wakes up and goes to his job. The dynamic has changed. Peter Parker can no longer be thought of as an immature younger character. He’s, for want of a better catchcry, an adult. But it doesn’t feel like he’s being treated as such.

When Joe Quesada broke up MJ and Peter’s marriage, he affirmed one of his personal theories – that Peter being single was an intrinsic part of the very foundation of the Spider-Man Mythos. In the same interview, Joe said that ‘Spider-Man is always its best when it’s about the life of Peter Parker and how being Spider-Man collides with that life.’ His idea about how to achieve it was to add, in his words, ‘soap-opera’ elements, in particular, the use of potential love interests and interpersonal relationships with other characters.

While his intent is admirable, this is again just an example of the problems that the current Spider-Man comic has. Peter is, well, he’s an adult, he’s been juggling his superheroics for years, along with his general life, and the simple fact is, we’ve already seen this. And that’s the issue. Spider-Man’s greatest stories have always been about how he as a person deals with issues, not just as a superhero. But the plotlines and parts of his life that don’t involve the mask are trite, ideas that have all been done before, in many cases with better writing and more realistic responses from the characters.

With a boring, overdone interpersonal story, Spider-Man’s superheroic adventures, no matter how interesting or entertaining as premises, will never be as great as they might. They’ll simply become mired in the background of Peter Parker’s Swingin’ Singles Life, where the challenge is to defeat the villian of the week with enough time to make it to that date with that girl. And that’s a shame.