Whenever a superhero is freshly rebooted into the modern world, there is always at least a slight murmur from people who want to bring the character back to its classic roots. “This modern Batman sucks. I want the Batman from back when dancing was evil and if you missed a movie when it was in the theaters, you wondered what it was like until you died.” And making a character more like its original incarnation works for some of them.
But not for Spider-Man. I recently took the time to read a bunch of classic Spider-Man issues, and what I found was a comic that was driven by screeching nonsense. If you’re making an adaptation of Spider-Man, you have a variety of sources to become inspired by, whether they be the one where Spider-Man is murdered by his 12th greatest foe, or the one where he literally ejaculates his wife to death. But if you love Spider-Man, please, don’t go “classic.”
The Women In Spider-Man’s Life Are Awful
It’s hard to gauge Peter Parker’s interest in women. The only one that he seems to like to hang out with is Aunt May, and even that’s only really because she’s the only person in his life that doesn’t try to shove him into the closest available locker all the time. At one point, Peter imagines what life would be like if his secret identity was revealed and he pictures Aunt May selling shoelaces for a dime, still not blaming Peter for the hell that he’s brought upon the lives of his friends and loved ones. You’re hoping that someone tears a shoelace on the streets of NYC and immediately thinks “Dammit, where are the homeless when you need them?” If there is any time that’s appropriate despair, it’s forced-to-sell-shoelaces-for-a-dime time, Aunt May.
Peter’s taken it upon himself to date J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary, Betty Brant, but he can’t be bothered to put any kind of effort into it. Even when he has moments where he could possibly redeem their sham of a relationship, he usually just sulks away from her. I understand that he’s a high schooler and that problems within high school couples are usually dealt with through intense pouting. I also understand that Stan Lee, the writer of classic Spider-Man, is trying to make a point. You can’t be a quipping superhero AND an outstanding boyfriend. But at least give us a hint that you’re kind of into her, Peter. Until they break up, it just seems like Peter keeps her around so that he has an excuse to frown once a day.
Betty doesn’t react well to this. Hell, Betty doesn’t react well to fucking anything. She constantly chooses the most extreme emotional option when dealing with Peter’s aloofness. And Steve Ditko, the artist, illustrates this really well by making Betty look like she’s gone right from sad mutters and straight into hysterical, all-encompassing breakdowns. She spends the first dozen issues running from Peter while crying…
….and it all culminates with this, which, in the psychiatry world, is referred to as an “Oh, holy shit, dude.”
In the comic, her brother was killed by criminals, and she fears that Peter is going down the same path, but Betty looks less like she’s having a depressing realization, and more like she’s just been told “Prepare for bees!”
Liz Allen, Peter Parker’s classmate, doesn’t fare too well either. Her opinion of Parker changes by the hour, and she’ll go from longing for a date with him, to ignoring his existence in the same amount of time that it takes most people to microwave a burrito.
To make matters worse, Liz also perennially dates “Flash” Thompson, a guy who I’m not even sure goes to class anymore. He just shows up to whatever room Peter is in, threatens to kick his geeky ass, and leaves.
If any comic book character represents the failings of the public education system, it’s Thompson. Unless he can find some way to major in Specifically Terrorizing A Single Nerd And Not Doing Anything Else, he is not going to make it very far.
Spider-Man Has The Most Annoying Entrances Ever
Spider-Man sheepishly saying “Hey, everyone,” in his introduction in the Captain America: Civil War trailer says more about his character than the last 200+ minutes of solo Spider-Man movies. But if they want to create a character that is “true” to the initial run of comics, they’ll have Spider-Man screaming potential catchphrases as he enters a location. Nonsense like “WELL, IT AINT FATS DOMINO!” as he flies into a room. Yeah, Stan Lee. Kids think that you’re just writing entertaining superhero stories, but then you give them the right cross of a sweet, topical Fats Domino reference. Excelsior, but only maybe.
Honestly, if Spider-Man doesn’t show up in Civil War by yelling that he is, in fact, NOT Fats Domino, I’ll consider it a travesty. You don’t just say that you’re making a comic book-friendly portrayal of Spider-Man and then have him not say that he’s not Fats Domino. That’s like taking away his web powers, or naming him Some-Eight-Legged-Shit-In-A-Two-Legged-Body-Man.
Either that, or he walks through the door frantically talking to himself about issues that only he knows about. Jameson gives Peter Parker hell because he doesn’t seem focused on his job or making the Daily Bugle more money, but can you blame Jameson? The only photographer that you seem to hire is a seventeen-year-old that is slowly devolving into insanity. Get your head in the game, Peter. You’re freelance right now, and that’s fine, but if you choose to go full time, you might want to stop going to work while intensely and obviously arguing with yourself about Spider-Man problems.
Stan Lee Had An Even More Insane Cameo
Putting Stan Lee in a Marvel Comics movie is of the same importance as giving the film a climax. It’s an integral part of story-telling. He’s been a strip club DJ, a redneck, Larry King, and a more heroic version of Stan Lee. But his comic book cameos did not start with the films. He was inserting himself in weird ways back in 1964, with a story about how he sends Spider-Man’s artist, Steve Ditko, into a deluded frenzy every time he collaborates with him. The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 is mostly memorable for introducing the Sinister 6, but it should be remembered for the three pages it spent letting eight-year-olds know that if the people who create Spider-Man were to suddenly murder each other, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
We open with Stan Lee getting an idea in the middle of the night, and we move directly from there to hatred and resentment. And while this comic becomes kind of sad when you learn about what could’ve been real-life animosity between Lee and Ditko, the feud between the two doesn’t stop there. This comic is called “HOW STAN LEE and STEVE DITKO CREATE SPIDER-MAN!,” and it sort of shows that, with sparse drawings of Steve Ditko showing you how he makes drawings of non-Steve Ditkos.
But every few panels, Stan Lee calls up Ditko with some kind of outrageous request. Ditko does not handle this well, and eventually informs the operator to tell Stan Lee that he’s been drafted, because war and death would be a welcome respite from talking to Stan Lee on a daily basis.
The comic ends with Steve exclaiming that he’ll sleep for a whole week, and Lee waking up in the middle of the night with a new idea, which in all likelihood, is probably Betty Brant crying. Lee then writes to the readers that they’re only kidding:
Haha. Good one, Stan. Spider-Man action, allusions to Fats Domino, AND an inside look at a friendship crumbling under the weight of the editorial process? It really does have it all.
Haha(?) Haha(?) Ha(?)
The Villains Made Odd And Erratic Choices
Spider-Man has the most iconic rogues gallery of anyone whose parents weren’t murdered in Crime Alley, mainly because they’re all super identifiable, and they all have names that do a great job of describing exactly what their deal is. You could spend years wondering what a Mister Mxyzptlk or a Baron Zemo does, but when you hear a name like “The Lizard” or “Doctor Octopus,” you kind of get it right off the bat. Lizard stuff, and scholarly octopus stuff. When you name a character “The Rhino,” you’re basically telling readers “I don’t feel like wasting time describing this guy to you, so here. He’s a dude and he’s a Rhino. He’s The Rhino. Now let’s watch him run into cars.”
But despite how recognizable they are, some of their early schemes were questionable. I’m not begrudging the tropes of the time period. You couldn’t be taken seriously if you didn’t acquire your powers and immediately demand the world’s compliance. But Spider-Man villains would constantly get sidetracked by pointless stuff. For example, in the Sandman’s first appearance, he hides from the police in Peter Parker’s high school, and then, upon seeing the school’s principal, demands that he be handed a diploma.
Is this really a good moment to get your GED, Sandman? You’re running from the cops, something that you probably shouldn’t have to do considering that you just beat up Spider-Man, and are made out of sand. I get that you’re new to this, but eye on the prize. There are bigger fish.
Villains also made a nasty habit of trying to pair up with J. Jonah Jameson, the most important man in New York City, whenever the opportunity arose. And it always backfired.
Is exposure and some newspaper cash really going to help a flying man who’s named himself “The Vulture?” I understand that, in any sort of operation, marketing yourself is key. But this is Marvel Comics in 1963. If a crook decided to put on a funny hat, he’d be on the FBI’s most wanted list within the day, and bank guards would quit their jobs upon seeing him walk in. You’re a charismatic, superhuman bird person. For you, gaining exposure and/or money is a very natural and sudden process. It’s practically guaranteed.
Spider-Man Was A Clueless Douche
In the aforementioned Sandman story, Spider-Man decides to throw some sand into the air and take pictures of himself diving through it, to give off the illusion that he’s fighting someone. And it worked, considering that you never hear Jameson say “Remember when I fired that Parker kid for giving me photos of the dumbest thing that’s ever happened?” But that was par for the course for classic Spider-Man, an idiot that found out that with great power, comes great, awful mistakes.
Classic Spider-Man was never quite sure of what to make of his Spider Sense, so if he felt that a threat was coming, he’d walk right into its fist while trying to check it out.
And that was when he remembered to listen to his best superpower. Often, Spider-Man found his enemy by randomly bumping into them in the street.
The biggest example of Spider-Man’s ineptness came in issue #14, where he was tricked by the Green Goblin in their first encounter. And it wasn’t an intricate deception:
That’s it. A man dressed as a goblin, riding a fucking rocket broomstick, asked Spider-Man to star in a movie, and Spider-Man agreed to it with no hesitation. “You’ll be mighty sorry, little goblin.” No, he won’t, Spider-Man. You know why? Because rather than intensely question him or show any indication that he might be a threat, or do anything to indicate that you’re a reliable superhero, you readily accepted the invitation to star in a movie about you that you just heard about from a man dressed as a goblin that’s riding a fucking rocket broomstick.
It didn’t take this long for Spider-Man to star in an Avengers movie because of licensing issues. It’s because Iron Man and Captain America heard about stuff like this and were like “Invite him to join us? THAT moron? Hahaha, no. Not him. Crazed experiments that were built by our worst enemies, but no. Not him.”