Sunday, May 20, 2012

On what happens when you give someone the job they were born to do

The idea of nobody dying in comics was really put in place by the Comics code - Most pre-code superheroes were quite calavier about killing the wicked, or simply not leaping to save them when they backed up off a cliff. After the Code, you couldn't even show a crime, so you'd see rubbers running from a bank which they robbed off camera.

So while all (mainstream) superheroes have a personal vow not to kill, Dan Slott has given Spider-Man one better - nobody will DIE on his watch. After a heart-rending adventure where J. Jonah Jameson's wife catches a bullet during a fight (a story about which I have previously kvelled), he vows that nobody will die as a direct result of one of his acts, or the collateral acts of his battles.

Riding the razor's edge between guilt and responibility, Slott has placed a great load on young Mr. Parker's shoulders, but he's also made it more possible for him to achieve said feat.  After nearly fifty years of adventures, Dan has played up on the fact that Peter is a scientific genius.  No longer a news photographer (Or heaven help us, a high school science teacher -- who is he, Fonzie?) he's gotten a job at Horizon, on of the Marvel Universe's biggest (albeit only just now introduced) scientific think tanks.  Now, finally made part of his life, he is using his mind to create inventions that will both help the world, and enhance his fight against crime and/or evil.  Over the last year, Spidey has created a number of specialty suits to fight certain villains and situations.  Like the pods of Thunderbird 2, he grabs the equipment he needs for the fight at hand - a stealth suit, extra- heavy duty armor for the more powerful villains, what have you.  In the hands of anyone else, this would seem like a cheap hotshot for a cover, or an obvious attempt to create something toyetic for the action figure division.  But Dan makes of perfectly logical, and logical from the point of the narrative.  Indeed, it's a throwback to the early days of the strip, when Spidey would tweak his web formula or cobble together a gadget to allow him to defeat a villain. 

By doing so, he's also addressed a point I've also gone on about in the past - the idea that superhero/villain inventions never seem to trickle down to society.  A fraction of the inventions Reed Richards has come up with could change the world, yet the only one he's seemingly passed down to humanity is a skin cream formula.  But in a recent issue, Peter Parker looks around and realizes his choice to work for Horizon has ALREADY changed the world, in small ways.  He realizes that the polymers he invented for his spider-armor has been licensed by the company for a new generation of bike helmets, his stealth tech making new and more efficient headphones, etc.  So not only has his choice to use his genius made being Spider-Man better, it's helped the people he's trying to protect.  In a very real way, Peter Parker is now contributing as much as Spider-Man.  One thing I very much look forward to is Peter's first royalty check, which, considering Horizon seems to be a very above-board company, will be sizable.  Yes, in the hands of a more I Want To Make A Point-obsessed writer, it could be a very SMALL check, leading to a talk about the contract Peter had signed, but that would effectively ruin the fun and positive environment he's working in, and ruin the potential of future stories for the chance to make a point once.  So I don't see that happening.
Dan has done a lot to shift Peter's life for the better, while not making it all sunshine and lollipops.  He's done something never before thought of for Aunt May - he's given her a happy ending.  rather than toss her into a hospital or a grave or some other ham-handed way of writing her off the table, he married her off, and to J. Jonah Jameson's dad, no less.  Seeing that Peter has finally started taking advantage of his gifts, she doesn't feel the need to protect him anymore, starts and cements a relationship with JJJ's pop, and moves to Boston to be with her family.  It removes her from danger and easy plot-device use, adds no more guilt to Peter's platter, and keeps her in the back pocket for the occasional visit.

Indeed, Peter's life, both in and out of the suit, is going SO well, that I fear what Minnesotans call "The Coming of the Other Shoe".  Someday, Dan will leave the book, ("Not for years", I can hear Johnny Ola saying) and I fear the new writer will see a need to bring the character Back To His Roots, which will (to him) mean sad, guilt-ridden, and near poverty.  So I choose to push those fears down deep, until I'm almost standing on them, and enjoy today for the joy it is.

If you have not been buying Spider-Man for a long time, or if you chose to Quit Comics Forever as a result of One more Day, it is time to come back.  Spider-Man is a bright shining star of fun in a still-gloomy universe of trouble and strife, and is well worth the investment.


  1. Hear hear, and I owe Dan a major apology the next time I run into him; for so long I've been thinking of him as "a really great funny-book writer," when he can do the serious stuff just as well.

  2. "A point I've also gone on about in the past - the idea that superhero/villain inventions never seem to trickle down to society."

    A phenomenon not limited to comic books. For example: the Tom Swift Jr. novels trumpeted about how Tom's inventions would change the world. Yet damn few of them ever made it out beyond the walls of Swift Enterprises.

    And now you've got me wishing we could afford Marvel comics again.