Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Year of the Superhero - Spider-Man Trilogy

When I started this series, I mentioned that superheroes tend to make me grin like an idiot. I first noticed this watching Peter Parker test out his powers and learn to be a superhero. He's so clumsy and dorky and good-hearted! He can't catch a break! He shoots webs out of his wrists! The second and third Spider-Man movies don't inspire quite as much glee, but they're still enjoyable. You can't watch them as serious fiction and sometimes you have to ignore bad writing and plot holes, but they're Hollywood summer action blockbusters. If you're entering the theatre expecting Oscar material, you're going to be disappointed.

The Spider-Man franchise hooks me for several reasons. First, there's Peter Parker, who's the most average of all the heroes I've encountered. He's constantly short for cash. He's trying to work his way through school. Everyone sees a geek when he's not in costume. He has girl troubles and job troubles. I identify with him far more than I identify with gods-on-Earth like Clark Kent or high-powered business people like Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark.

Second, there's a larger-than-life quality that at the same time seems highly real, as if it were real life polished, not real life exaggerated. I know this is not true (A man with intelligent robotic arms fused to his back? A man who can turn into sand?), and that Spider-Man has the same shiny, bright, unrealistic world as a lot of the comic franchises, but somehow it doesn't feel like it. I don't even think I suspend less disbelief for Spider-Man than I do for any of the other heroes I've discussed so far (or will discuss in the future). Perhaps it's that Spider-Man doesn't take itself seriously, where some other franchises do? I don't know.

My final reason for loving the series goes back to the first, in a way. I've never felt the stories to be about a superhero. They're about a guy who happens to be a superhero. There's little sense of "Look at me. Aren't I awesome? My CGI team rocks!"* There's a whole lot of "My life SUCKS. It would suck considerably less if I wasn't a superhero, but what can you do?" Peter even tries to quit. It doesn't work out. The movies are about Peter's life and Peter's problems, and how Spider-Man complicates them. Peter's life rarely intrudes into Spider-Man's in the same way.

Detailing these points has made me realize two things.

  1. The first superhero comic I pick up this year will likely be an Ultimate Spider-Man (if it's not Bendis's Powers).
  2. The stuff I love about the Spider-Man films has found its way into my WIP. In a general sense, of course. It's about a guy who happens to be a superhero, and he's kind of a dork, and it's realistic but with kooky details.
Tobey Maguire will always be my Spider-Man, I think, even when I read the comics. He was my first encounter with the character, after all, and I've watched the movies enough times to ingrain him in my memory. But that won't stop me from watching next summer's reboot, just to see what they do with the story and if Garfield's any good in the role. And, like I just mentioned, it won't stop me from picking up the comics, either. The movies as a gateway? Wasn't that the plan?

* Except when applied to the villains. They love their grand-standing, those villains.


Amalia T said...

I think part of what makes Spider-man feel more grounded in the real world is that his story is told in a real city-- instead of Gotham, or Metropolis, or some generic made up place, Spider-man lives and engages with his enemies in New York City, complete with the skyline we all know and love. Is that maybe the element that you couldn't quite put your finger on?

Anonymous said...

The Ultimate's version of Spiderman was designed to bring new readers in and the Ultimates Universe was designed to kick off the movies (hence a black nick fury) you couldn't start off better than ultimate Spiderman if you are just starting the series. But you should look at the cost effectiveness of getting the hard cover volumes that collect 14 mags at a time. Its the best way to start and that is why they make them.

Anassa said...

Amalia - I think setting Spider-Man in New York itself is part of it, certainly. I get a similar feeling with Iron Man and the X-Men, and they're both "real world" series as well. Perhaps it's part of the Marvel brand?

Anonymous - Good to know that the Ultimates were intended as an entrance to the series! I'd already planned on getting the anthologies, preferably from the library or a used bookstore. I'd much rather have an actual book, since I do most of my reading on commutes. Thanks!