Special Features – The Superior Argument: The problem with the return of the Amazing Spider-Man

Anghus Houvouras on the problem with return of The Amazing Spider-Man…

We should applaud creators who deviate from the form, not condemn them…

I’ve been actively promoting that concept for a while.  Thumping my clenched fist against the pulpit, shouting loud enough for anyone willing to listen.  Creatively speaking, our most iconic comic book characters are severely limited, heralded over by corporate entities that allow very little deviation because of the revenue they generate.  Characters like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man are chained to a creative mandate, the creative teams behind them shackled to a limited range of storytelling.

These characters are not allowed to grow, trapped in a perpetual catatonic state.  When they do exhibit any signs of growth: marriage, children, tragedy etc., the rest button is hit and continuity is realigned like Bill Murray waking up over and over again in Groundhog Day.  They can’t die (and if they do, they don’t stay dead).  They can get married or have kids, but eventually fans or the editorial staff gets bored and everything is erased.  The comic books and the movies endlessly reboot these characters and start from scratch.  The truth is our favorite comic book heroes are caught in an endless loop of resurrection, never allowed to mature beyond the basic constraints of their construction.

And let’s face it, it’s kind of boring.

We’ve been dealing with Bruce Wayne as Batman and Clark Kent as Superman for three quarters of a century.  Seventy five years of the same basic storytelling tenants.  Parents Killed.  Krypton explodes.  Robin.  Lois Lane.  Batcave.  Fortress of Solitutde.  Joker.  Lex Luthor.  Eventually layers are added on.  A larger, more robust supporting cast.  More villains.  Newer versions of classic characters.  Then things start to become complicated.  Complexity breeds contempt.  The story has strayed so far from the original concept, and now there are only two options:  They can kill the character temporarily, like hitting the pause button, giving fans a temporarily respite or they can reboot.

Reboots have been quite popular since DC successfully retooled their entire line with ‘The New 52′, and Marvel has been aping the formula with Marvel Now, perpetually launching new titles and new takes on their characters.  Though the changes are far less radical.   One of the more inspired choices was allowing writer Dan Slott to shelve Peter Parker for a few years in favor of a Spider-Man under with Doctor Octopus in the driver’s seat.  Everyone’s favorite mad scientist successfully switched bodies with Parker and has taken over the role of Spider-Man.  Polarizing might not be a strong enough word.  Fans were outraged.  A Spider-Man without Peter Parker?  Heresy!  Blasphemy!  A seemingly endless stream of tweets spinning into infinity strewn with hate filled bile towards Marvel and Slott.  But then the book came out, and it turns out it was pretty damn good.  Sales spiked.  Interest was peaked.  For the first time in years, Spider-Man has been entertaining.  Simply because an editorial team allowed a writer to take a pre-existing character and deviate from the form.

We all knew it was temporary.  No one was under any delusion that it would last forever.  Eventually the novelty would wear off and the reset button would be hit.  And fancy that, it’s happening right around the time the next Spider-Man movie is coming out.

Peter Parker was great, but do we need Peter Parker forever? Are comics so beholden to the past that we can never get any growth? Comic books are so frustrating in how the most iconic characters are so ridiculously limited in their portrayal. And that’s why Superior Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man and even Scarlet Spider have been so damn entertaining: because we get to see what other people do when trying to be Spider-Man. You can’t change the foundation, but you can build something new that uses the groundwork to create something new.

The announcement of a new Amazing Spider-Man comic has gotten the old fans excited.  I’m not one of them.  To be fair, Dan Slott has earned my respect with what he has done on the Superior Spider-Man, and I will read the title because of his involvement.  However, I think I’m getting to the point in my life where I’m done with comics’ most popular characters because they have become stale.

It’s probably why I’m enjoying titles like Superior Spider-Man, Earth 2, and Justice League 3000.  I like these iconic characters, but I’m tired of the endless reboots and limited storytelling capabilities.  Even at their best, we will only get subtle variations on what has come before.  Titles like Superior Spider-Man have exposed flaws in our favorite heroes.  The characters don’t get to grow or change, and when they do we punish them by hitting the reset button and strip them of their experiences.

Our most popular comic book characters are locked in a Sisyphean state, and the idea of perpetual relaunches and reboots is getting old.  It’s probably why I gravitated towards Superior Spider-Man: because it took what had come before and built something new.  It showed there were new stories for an old character.  It bucked the trend of risk aversion with these protected characters.  The Amazing Spider-Man is coming back, but that’s the most predictable version of the character.  Give me the Superior Spider-Man.  Give me Miles Morales as the Ultimate version.  To me, Peter Parker is boring.  We will never allow Peter Parker to grow old.  To have a family.  To grow beyond the limited life cycle that keeps him trapped between puberty and the early years of adulthood.  We’ll never get middle aged Peter Parker, or one dealing with male pattern baldness, because the character loses his luster if he or she grows too much or strays too far from the original origin story that the character is known for.  They are stuck in the infinite loop of our Groundhog Day scenario.  But instead of rewarding them for personal growth, we punish them.  Too many good deeds, too many relationships, too many accomplishments, and we reduce them back to a simplified state.

There will always be a new readers and a new generation for whom these stories will seem fresh.  But for me, my tastes are starting to mature, even if my favorite characters aren’t.

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.


Around the Internet…

  • eliottsworld

    I was on the fence on Superior Spiderman for a while, but it’s become one of my favorite reads. It’s not just because its a different take on Spiderman, it’s a different take on a super hero in general. Otto is taking all of the typical villain tropes (spy robots, minions, blackmail) and using them on the “hero” side. It’s really unique, and I hope that Peter Parker’s return is something really special to make up for losing Superior.

  • Robert Harper

    I completely agree, and to be honest, I much prefer Otto. The whole scenario changes the game and loses the stagnant crap that’s been going on for so long. And now they’re rebooting (which just happens to be around the time of the new movie). Bunch of people-pleasing sell-outs. All anyone cares about these days is making a quick buck.

  • http://hckleinman.tumblr.com/ Howard Kleinman

    Spider-Man was successfully bucking this trend until One More Day killed his marriage, brought back Harry and made Peter a loser again.