The Infinite Spider-Man Part One: Hero Unlimited

Posted by Mister Mets 14 February 2011

Spider-Man rocks. At least five comic books constitute additions to the Western Canon: Watchmen, Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts, Maus and Amazing Fantasy #15, if not the first 67 or so issues of Amazing Spider-Man as well.) As this essay touches on the appeal of the character and the series, hyperbolic terms such as excellent and greatest are going to be thrown around a lot. As should be the case.

The character is probably the best in comics, topping even Scrooge McDuck. While he's hardly in a position to be objective on the matter, I think Brian Michael Bendis was absolutely correct to compare writing Ultimate Spider-Man to adapting a Shakespeare play; Peter Parker is a character with enduring appeal on par with iconic figures like Macbeth and Hamlet. He is the lead of a story which has been ongoing since June 5 1962 and successfully retold in various formats. The core is just so brilliant: an intelligent, likable and witty young man atones for an early screw up at great cost to himself, unable to articulate his inner dilemma to the outside world.

And then there's all the other stuff that works so effectively. Marvel Manhattan is simply the best fictional setting in speculative fiction. If the Rogues Gallery isn't the greatest, it's up there, competing with Batman, Doctor Who and maybe Dick Tracy. Likewise if the supporting cast isn't the absolute best in the comics medium, they merit an honorable mention. The power-set (super-strength, webbing, spider-sense, etc.) is perfect for an action series in a visual medium.

Several years ago, I wrote a series of essays for another website about Marvel's choices going forward with the Spider-Man franchise. These options included maintaining the status quo, giving Peter & MJ a child, divorce, the death of Mary Jane, ending the Marvel Universe, and variations of the magic retcon. JR Fettinger (AKA Madgoblin of the Spidey Kicks Butt website) praised it somewhat, writing in his take of One More Day that Mr. Mets penned several essays cumulatively called Spider-Man Forever that take an anti-marriage position in a reasonable and non-condescending manner."

Others correctly noted that I have no life.

For some time, I've considered rewriting the series, as it's somewhat out of date three years after One More Day, with over a hundred issues of practical applications of what was once theoretical. New arguments have arisen and new issues have been considered. As the Brand New Day era gave way to the Big Time era, Alex Alonso became Editor in Chief of Marvel and Joe Quesada became Chief Creative Officer. And frankly, some of my writing at the time sucked. As a result, there will be some changes in terms of structure and points of contention.

The series was originally called Spider-Man Forever, which now has slightly different connotations, due to the X-Men Forever series. The approach with that book was to allow an acclaimed writer to return to a title he once left, and take the series in a different direction from their point of departure. Considering the occasional discussions on message boards over whether there should be a Spider-Man Forever series to showcase whatever direction the readers would have liked the writers to explore, giving this essay a similar title might be misleading. Especially since it's possible Marvel might one day release such a title, a topic which will be addressed later.

New titles I considered for the essay included the Enduring Spider-Man, the Accelerating Spider-Man, Spider-Man Accelerating, the Effective Spider-Man and whatever words resulted when I looked up words like advancing, forward, momentum and progressive in a thesaurus. I settled on infinite, given what it suggests about a character approaching fifty years of successful publication, without the loss of almost infinite potential.

It also echoes what Harold Bloom said of Hamlet, one of Spidey's competitors for the title of best fictional character:

Here is a bewildering range of freedoms available to Hamlet: he could marry Ophelia, ascend to the throne after Claudius if waiting was bearable, cut Claudius down at almost any time, leave for Wittenberg without permission, organize a coup (being the favorite of the people) or even devote himself to botching plays for the theater. Like his father, he could center upon being a soldier, akin to the younger Fortinbras, or conversely he can turn his superb mind to more organized speculation, philosophical or hermetic, than has been his custom. Ophelia describes him, in her lament for his madness, as having been courtier, soldier and scholar, the exemplar of form and fashion in all of Denmark. If the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is Poem unlimited, beyond genre and rules, then its protagonist is character unlimited, beyond even such precursors as the biblical David or the classical Brutus. But how many freedoms can be afforded Hamlet in a tragic play? What project can be large enough to contain him?

I began work on the first version of this essay a few years ago, due to a slight dissatisfaction over the shape of the Spider-Man books, and the questions of where the series should go and what needed fixing.


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