One Fan's Opinion: Issue #64

Fri, November 17th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

I'm going to start off with a bit of a spoiler here. If you haven't seen the trailer for the third Spider-Man movie, the following makes reference to that. So, if you don't want to know anything about it, stop reading now.

Oh, and I spoil an old EC story and a few other things…

Anyway…

So, the new Spider-Man trailer has a detective saying to a stunned Peter Parker, "We have some new information - this is your Uncle's actual killer." At which point he produces a picture of Flint Marko, otherwise known as, the Sandman.

Later on in the trailer, Spidey is seen mixing it up with Sandman and ol' Web-head asks, "Remember Ben Parker?"

To which, Sandman responds, "What does it matter to you anyway?"

Which is, precisely the point.

Some may get all bent out of shape at the ret-conning going on. Others will remind you that we never really saw Ben Parker's murder in the first movie.

And it does take the sting out of Spider-Man's dogged pursuit of the Burglar in the first movie and it does make his demise seem unnecessarily cruel under the circumstances. If he's "just a robber," does he really deserve the beating he received? Did he deserve to die for running off with a few bucks?

Watch that scene again, with fresh eyes. The guy who had money stolen from him just stiffed Peter Parker - Peter felt justified in letting him run past. The robber stole some money from an obnoxious jerk and then Peter doesn't lift a finger to stop him, saying, essentially, why should I care?

Later, a disguised Peter Parker chases him down, livid, that this was the guy responsible for the death of his beloved uncle. This ultimately leads to a confrontation and the untimely (though accidental) death of the Burglar.

But if he didn't kill Peter's uncle…

Well, his feeling earlier may have been justified. And he just helped get a guy killed for an infraction not in line with the punishment.

Ouch.

So, great - more guilt! Why would they do that? Why reopen that wound? Why contradict the earlier film? Why revisit Spider-Man's origin and the tragic demise of Uncle Ben at all?

The reason is simple - it makes Sandman matter and it makes the viewer care. It's the same reason Aunt May and MJ always end up in the crossfire. The viewer doesn't care if random guy on the street gets killed because they don't know or care about a random guy on the street, but they do know and care about Uncle Ben and Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson.

I can see why they'd do it.

And Sandman looks great, by the way. He's arguably the first Spider-Man villain that is completely nailed in terms of being translated literally from the four-color page to film. I wish they'd have been as true (visually, at least) to the other characters. The Green Goblin in movie one looked ridiculous.

They do it because you care.

And it's the same reason comic book writers keep revisiting characters' origins and inserting pivotal characters into their pasts and killing characters off. They want you to care and THEY want to matter.

Yeah, it is a bit selfish. But it's true - everybody wants to make animpact - they want to matter. Be it for killing off Gwen Stacy or bringing her back or killing off Aunt May or bringing her back or ripping out Wolverine's adamantium or putting it back. It's nice to be remembered. It's nice to have a place in history. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to have a tiny little black and white cover shown in an "Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide." Every index or reference book that comes out, I page through it to see if I'm mentioned. I'm hurt when I'm not and overjoyed when I am (it seems my "place in history" boils down to "he followed Todd McFarlane on Spider-Man" in most cases - but I'll take what I can get. Sigh.)

Making readers care is a worthy goal. You do want your readers to be engaged and be involved and care about the stories you write and the characters you create. But often - too often - this has lead to abuse, especially when royalties kicked in and creators were rewarded monetarily for their efforts. Is it any wonder everybody wanted to guest star Wolverine or Batman or Spider-Man or tie his or her story into the latest unwieldy company-wide crossover!

Once word got around that "death sold," it was all you could do to keep a character alive for ten consecutive issues. Deaths and fake deaths were an everyday occurrence. Sure, it was cool when Phoenix died and Elektra died, but it wasn't long before characters were being killed off every other month from Aunt May to Kraven to Electro to Karen Page to Colossus to Robin to Supergirl to the Flash to Superman to Odin to Green Arrow to Thor to Betty Ross to Jim Wilson to Shazam to Mr. Fantastic and a hundred other guys.

It got to a point where readers got pretty cynical about the whole thing.

Is that character really dead? Is he "Bucky dead?"

But now even Bucky isn't "Bucky dead."

Do you care anymore? When characters can be brought back at the whim of a given creator, does it really matter anymore? Do you care? They want you to care! Do you?

Sure you do. And you're buying up the latest unwieldy company-wide crossovers by the truckload because of it. This time it really matters - this time it's for real! This time everything changes forever -and we won't be going back ever!

Except that they will.

This too shall pass.

I don't think enough thought is put into the integrity of the previous creators' story.

What made Batman work - what made him cool - was the frustration of having never found his killer.

There was an old EC story - "Murder May Boomerang" it ran In "Crime Suspense Stories" #1 (and later, in #19) - in which an old man was beaten and left for dead by an escaped convict that had found him alone in an old hunting cabin. The old man's son finds him crammed in a closet in his hunting cabin, broken, bleeding and delirious. The father tells his son that the convict took his hunting clothes. The son gets upset and wants vengeance - he tells his dad that he'll get him, he'll get that killer! Soon the two are seated in the son's car and are tearing around in the driving rain searching for the man. The old man points to figure walking in the rain wearing hunting clothes - "Son! There! He's the one! He's the one!" and the son stepped on the accelerator and plowed into the man, killing him in an instant. It was over. And yet, when the two stopped in front of a sheriff's office and a man in hunting clothes stepped out, waving to the sheriff the old man repeated himself - "Son! There! He's the one! He's the one!" and the horror of it all sunk in - his dad was out of his mind! He didn't know who had beaten him - he only knew that the man wore hunting clothes. The story ended with the son and father still driving - the son in shock, afraid to stop.

It's a powerful story - and well worth seeking out - and it brings to mindwhat Batman should be - a guy driven over the edge, forever hunting for an unnamed killer that he never brings to justice because bringing him to justice would end the quest and ease the pain.

But that's not what we got.

Instead we got answers and more answers - endless stories dredging up the past and solving the crime. The random mugger had a boss and a motive and blah, blah, blah.

That's not better - but for that story - that story that tied things up - it was. It made the guy matter - it made readers care. This was the guy and Batman caught him and the case was closed and the next day Batman went out and fought crime - again.

But we want you to care so that's why that happens. We want you to emotionally involved.

Taken as a whole, Spider-Man has the most ridiculous life in all of comics.

Peter Parker has not known a single normal person. Everybody he's come into contact with is related to or has been touched by or held hostage by some sinister supervillain. Flash Thompson dated the Black Cat and was taken hostage by Dr. Doom. Liz Allen was related to the Molten Man. Aunt May dated, and nearly married, Dr. Octopus. Harry Osborn was Peter's roommate and his dad was the Green Goblin and later he was the Green Goblin. The Green Goblin killed Gwen (and had a lovechild with him according to recent comics). J. Jonah Jameson's son was transformed into a big brutal behemoth and later a Man-Wolf. Glory Grant dated a bad guy - Betty Brant's brother was murdered by a bad guy - the list goes on and on and every time a connection is made, the goal is the same: to make you care. Because nobody cares about the unknown victims that Spider-Man rescues. So, Spider-Man's entire supporting cast stands in for whatever unknown victims would make more logical sense to have being held hostage or worse.

Tying things all together and intertwining characters' lives is what distinguished the House of Ideas from their Distinguished Competitors. The Joker wasn't related to Batman and Lex Luthor wasn't an old school pal of Superboy (at least, he wasn't when he was introduced - that was shoehorned in years later). But at mighty Marvel, Dr. Doom and Reed Richards were old school chums and Reed was there when Doom's device blew up - he warned him about some faulty math! Soon, all sorts of characters were related to their nemeses - Parker worked for J. Jonah Jameson who was out to get Spider-Man and helped fund the Scorpion and the Human Fly and a gazillion Spider-Slayers and hired Luke Cage. The Hulk's major foes were also victims of Gamma Rays - both the Abomination and the Leader had origins similar to old Jade Jaws and who could forget Loki going after Thor? They were brothers (okay, half-brothers) and Odin, the all-father, was forever getting in the middle of that mess. When it got personal, you got connected - you cared. You cared when you found out Darth Vader was Luke's father (he wouldn't kill his own father, would he?) - you cared that Lea was his sister (he wouldn't kiss his own sister, would be?) - and you were perplexed when you discovered Chewbacca was his second cousin once removed (on his mother's side).

And things keep getting more and more ridiculous.

And we've ended up with characters that have the most contrived, ridiculous, tenuous motivation and the coincidences and shocking revelations are ludicrous and there are endless stories where villains aren't out to perpetrate a crime particularly - they just want to kick the heroes' asses. If the hero didn't exist, the problems would all go away (and property insurance would go way down).

And it's all in an effort to make you care.

And that's why Sandman did it. And maybe it works beautifully in the Film - it's just possible that it does - but I think you know why they snuck that in there - to get tongues wagging and bloggers blogging and folks all fired up.

The detective might as well have said, "Son! There! He's the one! He's the one!" as Peter revved him engine.

You…do care…don't you…?

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