Infinite Spider-Man Part 7.1: 100% Superhero Action!

Posted by Mister Mets 26 November 2011



Most discussions about the ideal direction of the Spider-Man comics are based on the assumption that Peter Parker's status quo is important. But some readers ask why it’s so essential for him to have an interesting personal life at all. Why not just focus on the superhero action, possibly leaving the compelling private life to his supporting cast? Why should there be any issue to issue subplots at all?

One argument goes that since Spider‑Man’s superhero activities are infinitely more interesting than Peter’s personal problems, writers wouldn’t need to concern themselves with the Parker stuff, or which status quo would make his life the most interesting in the long term. All that matters for the stories is the quality of the main plots, in which Spider-Man faces some sort of great challenge. Peter's problems are just decorative.

Some of these readers still seem to be motivated by a preference for a particular status quo, but this isn't the case for all of them. If all you care about is the superhero side of things, it has to be annoying when stories like One More Day are done to change the components of Peter Parker's relationships, when the writers and artists could just have Spider-Man fight the Sinister Six instead.

Spider‑Man’s an excellent superhero, so the argument is understandable. He’s got a great costume, an excellent rogues gallery (either the best, or second only to the Batman books, depending on who you ask) and a unique set of special abilities, like spider‑sense, web‑swinging, wall‑crawling, et cetera. Plus, he plays off well against other heroes. That allows for awesome battles, and riveting rescue sequences, especially during the times his abilities fail him, such as when he runs out of webbing, when he can't stick to the wall of a skyscraper, when an enemy somehow bypasses his spider sense, etc. Meanwhile, if the supporting cast isn't the best, it's second only to the Batman books.

However, Spider‑Man's one of the books where his personal life is as important as the superhero action. Bruce Wayne is Batman. Clark Kent is Superman. But Spider-Man is Peter Parker.

It's one reason for the continued appeal and success of the character and something important would be lost if anyone tried to tell stories without it. Sam Raimi was chosen to direct the Spider‑Man movies over more high‑profile and bankable directors eager for the job, because he was one of the few who understood that it should be as much about Peter Parker as it was about Spider‑Man. The resulting films were astoundingly successful, because Peter Parker was so appealing, and the viewers were interested in what would happen next with the character.

The superhero part's an important aspect of the character’s success, and I hope that the future writers can present it just as well as Stan Lee, Roger Stern, Mark Millar and J Michael Straczynski, but you're not going to have the best possible Spider‑Man stories unless Peter's in a more interesting place.

Many of the best Spider-Man stories have been about how being Spider-Man affected Peter Parker. "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" would not have had the impact if the Green Goblin's hostage had no connection to Peter Parker. The Master Planner saga has some extra oomph because Peter was fighting for the life of a loved one. Kraven's Last Hunt showed the effect his disappearance had on Mary Jane. Key moments in the Sin-Eater saga involved attacks on Peter's friends and coworkers. These stories all had a long-term impact

A variation of the argument was that Peter Parker's not that important was the suggestion that Marvel could splinter the various aspects of his private life across multiple monthly titles. Marvel could have several monthlies dealing with a different aspect of Peter Parker. One may deal with Spider-Man at night, another may deal with Daily Bugle related adventures and a third may deal with Grad School. It was a rebuttal to the argument that Mary Jane was overexposed as a supporting character, when she was Peter Parker's wife. With this approach, she wouldn't even need to appear in every Spider-Man story or title. It would take longer for writers to run out of ideas for the marriage.

While the move would give 3-4 Spider-man titles separate identities, it would prevent any one book from featuring his private life in its entirety. No one monthly could feature everything people like about the character. This restricts the ability of the writers to tell a story that encompasses the disparate parts of Spider-Man's identity, such as an accurate “Day in the life” story.

With Marvel Team-Up and the latest iteration Avenging Spider-Man, Marvel sometimes focuses almost entirely on the superhero action. This way, readers who want to see Spider-Man fighting with and against people with super-powers will have a book available that doesn't focus on the private life. But that aspect is still important in Amazing Spider-Man. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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