The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Monday, January 11, 2010

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility...

That's always been Spider-Man's motto. It's a shame that very few of the men and women who have become custodians of this character take it to heart. I have followed various comic books and franchises for a long time, and it never ceases to amaze me how our favorite wallcrawler from Queens is criminally mishandled. I'm not just talking about the comic books. I'm talking about television, and the movies as well.

Let's start with the comic books.

Joe Quesada decided that he didn't want Peter Parker to be married to Mary Jane anymore. He felt it aged the character. He felt readers could no longer relate to the character. From a business stand point, I can almost understand this. From a creative standpoint, I cannot. Not to mention it's all bullshit. I knew of no one with trouble relating to Peter Parker, married or not.

So, what happened? They had Peter Parker make a deal with Mephisto to trade his marriage for Aunt May's life in a story so bad, J. Michael Straczynski wanted his name taken off of it, and left the book right after.


Since then, we've gotten stories making Peter Parker out to be a loser. And not like the old days where we knew he wasn't a loser, they're really beating us over the head with it. His new supporting cast is not the slightest bit interesting (and that's the nicest thing I can say about some of them). The new villains are dull and uninteresting retreads of better villains.

A new Kraven... again? Come on, Marvel. Bring Sergei back... you know you want to. Since when is death sacred in comics? (No, I don't want him back, but I am sick of all these Kraven wannabes).

Oh, and of course, how can I forget the great Michelle Gonzalez. A character who will live on as the worst supporting character ever in any comic book. Peter's cunt of a roommate who he had drunken sex with (only later we discovered he wasn't drunk, he drank seltzer and apple juice). Who punches him in the face, who is completely psychotic, and yet, somehow, a criminal lawyer. She's like a racist comic relief caricature from a Michael Bay movie, except that much worse.

I don't relate to this guy. No one does. If Marvel tried to turn Spider-Man into a bad sitcom, they failed.

Now, let's take at Spidey on television.

Sony's animated series, "The Spectacular Spider-Man" gave us, what is arguably, the best Spider-Man we have gotten in any medium for at least two decades. It did what it set out to to do. Tell great Spider-Man stories, beautiful animation, wonderful characters. This is as good as Spidey gets, and it had the potential to get better than that.


But, as with the comics, the handling here has been a disgrace. Creatively, the show was a phenomenal success. It kicked ass in the ratings when it was on KidsWB. Sony renewed it for a second season months before it premiered because they had that much faith in it, and that faith was more than justified. Greg Weisman, Vic Cook, Sean Galloway, Jamie Thomason, Josh Keaton, everyone involved did this perfectly. I even got to visit the studio on a few occasions, and was very impressed with this team.

Then KidsWB collapsed, and DisneyXD won the rights to re-run season one, and air season two. Okay... a minor cable network that many providers didn't carry. That's weird. What's this? You're not going to start airing the show till March. Well, contracts and all that, we understand. Oh, look, Canada and Australia are already airing it. Wait, you're going to re-run ALL OF SEASON ONE FIRST??? Okay, you aired half of season two, and you're going into re-runs already? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU AIRED THE SECOND SEASON FINALE WITH NO DIALOGUE!!!!!!!!

Supposedly no decision has been made about a renewal yet, and the excuse we've heard is because of Disney buying Marvel, everything has been crazy. Sony is out of the picture, and Marvel and Disney now own the series.

I hope they do the right thing and pick it up, but for a series that hasn't been in production in over a year, that's hardly ever a good sign. Still, Greg Weisman is a friend of mine and when he tells me it's officially dead, I'll accept it as officially dead. Until then, everyone buy the DVDs and the action figures. I got a Vulture for Christmas, and like it a lot.

Speaking of Vulture. Let's talk about the movies.

On Saturday, the Vulture was officially announced as the villain of "Spider-Man 4" and that John Malkovich would play him. Today, it was announced that the entire movie had been canceled, and Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire had cut their ties with Sony. A reboot returning the character to High School is expected in 2012.

Let me get this out of the way. I didn't love this movie series. I liked the first movie A LOT. Still do. I liked the second one... less. I hated the third one.

Tobey Maguire never sold himself as Peter Parker to me. He nailed a lot of aspects of the character, but he just wasn't funny. But, maybe I am being hard on him when I should be blaming the script and the directing for that.

I hated Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. Dunst just isn't that talented an actress. And I always felt they combined the characters of Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy into a single, very dull character instead of giving us two very interesting characters. It got worse when Gwen was introduced for no reason in the third movie and acted more like Mary Jane Watson than Mary Jane Watson was.

James Franco as Harry Osborn was quite good, actually. Although Harry was never really the cool guy that the movies turned him into. But Franco nailed the character he was cast to play, and I enjoyed him. Except for that amnesia in the third movie. It was fine in 1960's comic books, but you can't get away with that today.

Willem Dafoe was perfect as Norman Osborn, even if I didn't care for the split personality angle they swiped from the 90's TV series. Dafoe was god in that movie.

Alfred Molina was as good a Dr. Octopus as you'll get, although I wish they didn't give him the Lizard's story. This guy is supposed to be the Master Planner! Not the tragic victim of his own science.

J.K. Simmons is J. Jonah Jameson, and if any one actor returns for this reboot, I hope it's him.

That being said, none of this would have happened if Sony let Sam Raimi do his thing. They were all over "Spider-Man 3," forcing new supporting characters and villains in there that Raimi didn't want to use. Raimi hated Venom, didn't want him, but the studio forced him in, and we ended up with a mess.

Then they promised Raimi oomplete creative control over "Spider-Man 4," and Raimi assured the fans he had that. But, the rumors leaked, script re-writes and mandates. Felicia Hardy being introduced, not as the Black Cat, but as the Vulturess. It was another train wreck waiting to happen...

... the latest in the web-head being criminally mismanaged, and outright destroyed by suits. Maybe Norman Osborn is behind all this. It's the only rational explanation besides complete incompetence.

Will this reboot be successful? Too soon to say, but I don't have much faith in it at the moment. I hope they will at least let Spider-Man be funny this time. Maybe a better Green Goblin costume too. I hope John Malkovich as the Vulture sees the silver screen yet. And while I'm dreaming, I hope they give Greg Weisman and Vic Cook a call, and make them creative producers. Their track record is the best in two decades.

In the mean time, Spidey, we're still here, we still love you, and we hope for the best.


  1. A lot tocover here, so I'll take it in the order you tackled it.

    I'm only reading a few comics here and there at this point and the Spidey books are not among them. This is unfortunate because I do have a huge soft spot for the character. But like most mainstream superhero comics, the Spider-Man titles don't seem to be offering much I'm interested in. in terms of comics, Marvel and DC have both become the snake that eats it own tail, chasing a smaller and smaller group of the most hardcore fans to the detriment of the rest of their audience.

    I will say this: I think Quesada may have had a point that went beyond the business end. Not if he was mistakenly thinking that readers couldn't relate to a married Peter because they were too young and couldn't fathom the issues involved in a marriage. My impression is that the average comics reader is not so young to make that an issue. But I could see where Quesada was coming from if he was thinking that this character is supposed to be somebody who readers can relate to because he has all the problems of an average person compounded by the problems of being a superhero and having him come home every day to a hot supermodel wife was not exactly reflecting the trials of the common man. Maybe the comics had gotten away from something that was essential to Spider-Man.

    All that said, I do not like the method in which Quesada went about "fixing" the book. I know people whose opinion I trust who have liked some of the stories that followed "One More Day," but I think the whole "deal with the devil" idea managed to upset everyone across the board. And I don't think that being married to M.J. really destroyed Peter anyway. I think that if comics are going to be serialized stories and not stand-alone tales with no continuity. they ahould allow for growth and change in their characters. Of course, I don't think the serialized story idea really works for lon running comics anymore, but that's a much bigger issue and this is going to be a long response anyways.

    Not much to say on "Spectacular Spider-Man," as I agree with you and share your hope that the show continues in one form or another. If not as a series, maybe Disney/Marvel would be interested in having some more direct-to-DVD releases to better compete with the ones from Warner/DC.

    I liked the first "Spider-Man" movie. I didn't think it was perfect and I wasn't as enamored of Dafoe's performance as you are, but I felt like it got a lot more right than it did wrong.

    I liked the second movie even more and I think that part of the reason is that the problems you had with Doc Ock are some of the problems I had with the portrayal of the Green Goblin. I do feel like the series became too enamoured of the "sympathetic villain whose mind is being manipulated" motiff. But I was a lot more willing to feel sympathy for Al Molina's Dr. Octavius than I was for Dafoe's Norman Osborn.

    Completely agree on J.K. Simmons.

    I would love to see you talk about more of the past incarnations of Spidey: what's worked and what hasn't. Aside from the Lee/Ditko/Romita stuff, two of my favorite takes on the webhead and his world in comics form are "Untold Tales of Spider-Man" and the "Mary Jane" series.

  2. A few thoughts...

    I still don't really understand what Quesada was trying to achieve with OMD. A lot of his arguments didn't really ring true with me. Like the argument that being married made Pete's life too easy and uncomplicated. I don't know what planet Joe's from but I hope I can move there some day.

    Another critique I have of OMD that doesn't get picked up on enough is how ridiculously out of character Mephisto was but this is about Spidey so I'll get into that some other time.

    Needless to say I totally agree with you about TSSM, that show deserves better.

    As for the movie reboot I'm going to take a wait and see approach before I make any predictions.

    I'm not to upset about Raimi's departure. While I generally liked the movies more then you did Greg, I do think they were starting to get a bit stale and repetitive.

    If it was up to me I probably wouldn't have gone for a total reboot but some new creative blood would have been necessary to avoid a terminal case of sequelitis.

    And in all fairness Tobey can be pretty funny when the script gives him good material. The tie-in games gave him a lot of fun one-liners...

    "I think I had a bowl of Mysterios for breakfast this morning"

  3. Speaking of which I'd like to make an....apology. A few years ago I was in the "norman should have perished in final curtain" camp and kinda spammed your youtube about it. I'm sorry about that; I was annoyed seeing Norman get off scott free after everything he'd done and at the very least the guy should have had some visible injuries. As time passed I can understand why Norman was kept alive and think that maybe his plan would have been good.