Another Year, Another Spider-Man Movie
That’s a far angrier title than I was expecting myself to write. But let’s be honest: Spider-Man is sort of doing a lot of film work recently. So much that it’s not even clear if he has time to do any superhero-ing.
Spider-Man (not always the same one, mind you) has appeared in six films over the last four years, between his solo experiences (Spider-Man: Homecoming and recent launch Spider-Man: Far From Home); his various appearances in several team-based outings; and his animated outing Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse. Go back a few years more and we have Andrew Garfield’s 2012 and 2014 The Amazing Spider-Man movies and just looking at those numbers is making me feel somewhat spidered out.
But maybe that’s not an entirely bad thing..
Spider-Man in his various forms has continued to be one of the most accessible and approachable comic-book characters of all time. I say this from the outside looking in: X-Men have always been my first stop, and I have to be honest and say that Spidey never did too much for me. Perhaps it’s because things have always been that bit more vanilla and approachable.
That’s not to say that Spider-Man isn’t an outsider; just that he manages it a hell of a lot better than some characters do.
And certainly better than some of use readers/viewers are.
I guess my issues with Spider-Man has always been the positivity, the inspiration, the acceptance of such a character. Sure, he has his episodes of darkness, his unaccepted beats, his heartache. But I’ve never been able to accept these beats as anything more than an opportunity to learn from.
Perhaps that comes from the dual-sided elements of the character: Spider-Man is but a pseudonym for Peter Parker, and depending on who knows the truth behind the character’s identity, inspires how much love, or hatred, the character receives.
But my readings of Spider-Man have always been stories of positivity, of hope: at his darkest moments, Spider-Man can find an escape in Peter Parker’s world, or vice-versa. Or can find some support and acceptance from friends and allies. Even when you consider the cast of characters in a Spider-Man comic, or movie, you think of the “supporting characters” and that phrase says it all really: support.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t read the entire Spider-Man back catalogue, or anything like it. But I’ve never been able to identify Peter/Spider-Man as an Outsider. Nor have I seen him feeling particularly low or depressed about something: he sort of nods and deals with it and then, sort of…gets on with it?
How very fucking dare he?
This is an alien concept to me, and I’m not sure if that says more about me, or just my reactions to comic books and heroes, than anything else. Sure, Spider-Man has his heartbreak, whether it’s Uncle Ben or that time he was effectively responsible for the death of girlfriend Gwen Stacy. (Yeah, that’s how I read it; that ain’t no mistake.)
But in amongst all of this heartache, he has encouragement (whether as Spider-Man or Peter.) He has support. Whether he knows or appreciates it, he has people who care about him, and they are very willing to tell him and show him this.
Maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to properly get close to Spider-Man: he’s just too damned privileged for his own good and, even at his darker moments, he is cared for.
Different representations obviously pitch Peter in slightly different patterns, but recent cinematic takes on Spider-Man are the ones that have really hammered this point home for me. I can relate to him in some way, and I’m not entirely sure how or why.
But I can’t relate to him as an individual. Or maybe I just don’t want to, and I dislike him for that fact.
Or maybe I just dislike myself for it.
Peter is very much the Everyman of the Marvel Universe, both in cinematic form and traditional publishing. That speaks to his success as both a character and a subject: he is relatable and accessible for many viewers and readers, and it seems somewhat telling that the character’s basics have been amended ever-so-slightly to be made even more accessible. I’m looking at you, Gwen Stacy-as-Spider-Woman and Miles Morales, addressing any gender or racial issues that might be brought up when questioning if Peter could truly be an Everyman.
Sure, some part of me reads both of these characters as cultural marketing ploys to address problems regarding the absence of heroes of colour or gender.
But they also work, and are powerful statements because of it.
This entire post feels like I’m writing to have a moan about Spider-Man, and I’m not. At least I don’t think I am. As a matter of fact, I discovered when watching Spider-Man: Far From Home today that I like the character and his narrative far more than I had given myself credit for.
It was also during those moments that I realised why; it was entirely because of that Everyman feel. Even though I couldn’t see myself in Peter’s shoes trying to wue MJ, I could see myself following similar steps; I could see myself feeling upset about the passing of a mentor and friend; I could see myself making mistakes.
Perhaps the cynical part of me seeing so many Spider-Man appearances finds that awkward and irritating: after all, how come he gets to shine when my favourite characters don’t?
And yet, when he does shine, he is embraced and relatable.
For some part of me, that’s not what I want from my superheroes.
But maybe from another part, it’s exactly what I, and most of us, need.