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Re-Examining Spider-Man 07: Deconstructing Violence

I had catalogued the deaths of all Spider-Man characters between AF#15 to ASM#122. The bean-counting of the deaths was extremely time-consuming but the catalogue of deaths was important to establish a foundation to discuss the question of violence with regards to Spider-Man, a topic that has generally not received attention and focus. In this post, I’ll explore the relationship of superhero comics with violence, and how Spider-Man complicates the general discourse. In doing so, I think I can shed light on the nature of Spider-Man as a character with a substantially new argument.

This post is dedicated to Neal Adams, perhaps the most influential artist after Jack Kirby, and a union activist. He passed away two days before the publication of this post.

When people think of the word superheroes, their first thoughts are usually super-powers or cool costumes. The aesthetic of the superheroes — the logos, the outfits, the poses, the catchphrases — tend to define these characters in merchandise and advertising within the popular culture. What people usually don’t think of at first thought is violence. Even if, at their core, superheroes are violent characters.

The superhero genre over the decades has accrued a lot of criticism and observations from a myriad of observers. The earliest form of dismissal was simply as cheap juvenile junk fiction with poor art. Boys stuff you are supposed to outgrow. Frederic Wertham chimed in, words-to-the-effect of, “possibly homosexual, must investigate further,” only to half-ass his research anyway and submit bad data and declare victory, tanking his otherwise commendable reputation as a progressive intellectual, and doing great harm to freedom of expression in American culture [1].

From the 1980s, you have the genre of superhero deconstruction ushered in by Alan Moore and others. The actual value and worth of deconstruction is something one can consider separately, but putting that aside for the time being, the genre of the superhero deconstruction mainly focused on addressing the subtext of superheroes and the values they represent. And violence was the main thing they addressed. Superheroes came to be regarded the way policemen and soldiers in real life were seen, and the question of a life dealing with violence, a role that enables one to enact use of force for the greater good, lent itself to natural application to superheroes. A number of Deconstructive narratives focused on the violence of superheroes, mainly Superman and Batman.

For the purposes of this essay, I’d like to point out that the “superhero deconstruction” genre has a considerable blind spot. There’s one character who has mostly escaped deconstruction, and certainly has never had a defining spoof. I am talking of course about Spider-Man. How is that the most popular and commercially successful solo superhero, the mascot of the most dominant superhero brand, has yet to receive a defining deconstruction and paradigmatic satire? What are the unexplained structures in Spider-Man comics that insulate him from approbation?

After writing this post, I can’t say for certain I’ve found an answer yet but I do think I’ve identified some of the issues dealing with deconstructing Spider-Man.

PUNCHING UP SUPERMAN:
WISH I COULD FLY LIKE…

MAD #4 – Art by Wally Wood

There was a time when deconstructing and satirizing Superman counted for something.

When Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood satirized Big Blue as “Superduperman” in MAD Magazine #4, Superman was the #1 superhero in the market, and an icon of American culture, a quasi-surrogate father to kids reading in the 1950s, and very much the pillar of the establishment. Superman’s comics sold in high numbers in a time of high comics readership. He was also the face of a corporation, DC, that had used its legal muscle to stamp out rivals such as Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel that in the 1940s outsold Superman. The Fawcett/DC case has attracted a lot of attention but my position, which is relevant for understanding my argument, is that DC mainly sued Fawcett to kneecap a competitor rather than accept defeat in a fair fight decided by the hearts, minds, wallets of the reading public [2].

From Men of Tomorrow. DC President Harry Donenfeld reminds his IP mascot that in the real world, he works for LexCorp.

Superman, no matter how he came across in the pages of his fiction and no matter his roots as a populist icon in the Great Depression, had in the early ’50s become a symbol of a corporation using its mascot status to preserve its capitalist interests. A fact confirmed in this inter-office card poking fun at DC chief Harry Donenfeld by having him spank an “uppity” union-referencing Superman.

Superman came to assimilate and espouse the voice of mainstream America, which is to say 1950s mainstream America, and Superman in that time embodied the jingoism, flag-waving, patriarchal values, sexism, and in one comic where he goes back in time to swindle land from Native Americans, white supremacy and colonialism [3].

Superman as a character subsequently did change and evolve, in the 1970s in (RIP) Neal Adams’ classic Superman Versus Muhammad Ali, the Man of Steel was made into an ally of civil rights. He bro’s out with Ali who gets to be shown as an equal, intellectual and moral, of Big Blue. In wrestling terms, Superman got Ali over fair and square, and culturally helped canonize Ali as a real-world superhero with a stature equal to him, and on account of being real, acknowledging Ali as greater than him.

That’s all well and good. But the question needs to be asked, does that make up for raising 1950s kids (who grew up to fight and die in Vietnam) to think USA had manifest destiny and the right to use its power as it pleases, a war that Ali famously risked everything to oppose?

When Superman was the face of the establishment, it made all the sense in the world to have a go at him in popular culture in the form of satire and parody. Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s Superduperman attacked Superman in his home turf of the comics medium, and on his own field. The entire Clark/Lois/Superman love triangle is exposed as a male entitlement fantasy, dismissed with the revisionist moral: “Once a Creep, Always a Creep”. Laurie Anderson’s creepy “O Superman,” a 1981 avant-garde song imagined Superman as the force of “Death from Above,” the impunity of American power. The Kinks in their gentler song “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” imagined Superman abandoning the planet because the problems of the 1970s were too much for him to solve.

These satires are great works of art. Harvey Kurtzman and Wood’s “Superduperman” is aesthetically in terms of its art, its writing, and plotting, far greater than most legit Superman comics, and is considered one of the greatest comics ever made. These are satires of Superman that are punching up, attacking the symbol of established tastes, and as a fan of the character, you can appreciate it as a satire of the uses and misuses to which the character has been subjected to.

What’s confusing though is the fact that people still satirize Superman when he’s no longer the dominant superhero in popular culture and sales.

PUNCHING DOWN SUPERMAN:
IF I GO CRAZY, WILL YOU STILL CALL ME…

Superman has this status as a “founding father” of the Superhero genre, because it was the success of Action Comics #1 that led to the birth of the genre. There are myriad precursors to Superman in pulp fiction, Judaism, Classical Mythology, and folklore, but until Superman none of them coalesced into the distinct figure of the superhero.

The status of Superman as the ‘first superhero’ however can cause a lot of misunderstandings. Namely that Superman is, inherently the most successful superhero, and that the success of the genre depends on him.

  • The fact is that the period of Superman’s highest ongoing sales in comics was the 1950s to the mid-1970s. He’s had successes before and after, “a few good years” here and there, but it was that period when Superman can be said to claim a dynasty (in the Superbowl sense) when he really was #1.

Right – The Final Panel of Superman. Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, which is a homage to the poster on the left. In visual allegory terms, Peter is Brando and Clark is Sinatra, and MJ is Jean Simmons.
  • The minute Superman had real competition however, such as Fawcett’s Captain Marvel in the 1940s, Superman fell in the shadows, admittedly to a respectable and competitive second place to Billy Batson during WW2 but certainly not the ace. In the 1970s, Superman was dethroned by Spider-Man as the #1 Superhero, a fact which was commemorated in the landmark Superman Vs. the Amazing Spider-Man crossover (the best of its kind, bar none).

  • Within DC, Teen Titans outsold him in the 1980s and then Batman dethroned Superman (commemorated symbolically in the climax of The Dark Knight Returns). For nearly forty years and counting, Batman has had a dynasty of consistent ongoing success greater than Superman ever did.

  • Superman comics declined in sales from the 1970s to the present day, barring “a few good years” of exemplary success (John Byrne’s The Man of Steel series and the 1990s event The Death of Superman by Dan Jurgens and Co),. In the 1990s, Neil Gaiman’s arthouse urban fantasy Vertigo series The Sandman outsold Superman comics [4].

Across his publication history, Superman has far more frequently been a comic out of favor with the reading public than embraced by it. It’s indeed poignant, and a bit sad, to realize that it was the patriarchal, white-supremacist, sexist Superman of the 1950s, when that character most fully assimilated into the propaganda of mainstream America at its most vacuous and hypocritical, that attained the character’s greatest success, and became the great icon and representative figure of superhero comics.

Heat Vision is now Superman’s most iconic superpower.

As such, it’s no surprise that Superman since the 1980s has become more often a figure who inculcates a feeling of empathy, vulnerability, and even protectiveness among a lot of fans, taking on the aspect of the “picked-on kid.” In this context, deconstructions of Superman come off as punching down based on the outdated idea that Superman’s status as the first superhero means he’s still the defining and most successful superhero. Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys parodied Superman in a comic written in the 2000s. The Amazon Prime adaptation featured an even more vicious Homelander than Ennis and Robertson’s original, and they deconstructed Superman in the late 2010s at the height of the domination of the MCU. Then you have movies like Bright Burn, a horror riff on Superman. DC themselves have gotten in on the action with Elseworld takes on a Superman turned evil or authoritarian as in Red Son, Injustice, and Snyder’s DCEU movies which pivot on the fear and expectation of an evil Superman.

The general idea in such deconstruction narratives seems to be, that superheroes are a dangerous concept when they are Superman, and not when they are superheroes. And indeed it’s an irony that these deconstructive works are far more hegemonic than Superman is these days. Time was the most famous and iconic of Superman’s powers was his ability to fly. The tagline for the 1978 movie is “You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly”. These days the most iconic power of Superman is heat-vision and the most iconic pose of Superman is his eyes going red in anger which is not only reproduced and popularized by stuff like Zack Snyder’s films, the Injustice games. We also see it in the “Evil Superman” riffs like Bright Burn and Homelander from The Boys. It’s the deconstructive idea of Superman which emphasizes the laser eyes over his more wish-fulfillment powers.

At the end of the day, Zack Snyder’s Superman isn’t making nearly as much money as Homelander’s making for Jeff Bezos’ Amazon. As obnoxious and absurd as the “Release the Snydercut” moment was, the sad fact is that Snyder for all his Randian strivings has conjured a more anti-corporate sentiment than showrunner Eric Kripke achieved in his mockery of Superman. Deconstructing the superhero genre by focusing on a character whose last defining impact in popular culture was in the 90s (in a story whose success stemmed from the fact that the general public truly believed Superman was dead, I might add) is fundamentally not contributing anything. I like The Boys as excellent pulp entertainment but at the end of the day, unlike Kurtzman and MAD, it’s not seeking, “humor in the jugular vein.”

MAKE MINE MARVEL

Rick and Morty is a fun satirical science-fiction romp. It has its weaknesses and flaws of course like everything else but it will likely last on the best episodes of the show. Like a lot of people, I came to the show through its third season, and especially the episode: “Vindicators 3” which was a mean-spirited spoof of The Avengers (mashed with Guardians of the Galaxy). A lot of fans didn’t like the show’s attack on the Avengers and I am not here to take a side on it, or whether that episode is one of my choices for its best. What is significant is that Rick and Morty is the first major pop-culture show whose default idea of a superhero is Marvel and not DC! The go-to superhero references tend to be Marvel more often than DC. In doing so, Rick and Morty exemplifies a changing of the guard of a trope’s standard-bearers.

With the dominance of the MCU, the superhero genre is now centered around Marvel Comics on a level far beyond DC. Most people’s idea of default superhero isn’t adventurers with secret identity in a fictional city and a colorful rogues, it’s now quippy narcissists who joke their way through melodramatic action sequences with villains who wax dimestore social science theories.

The question then arises, can Marvel be satirized? Has it been satirized?

When Marvel arose in the 1960s, it created a persona for itself as a brand. They were “not your grandpa’s superheroes.” As Jonathan Lethem put it,

Superheroes, when you looked into the subject, appeared to spring from a few stolid figures and then to degenerate into a fractious and enthralling rabble. That’s to say, I’m forty-five years old, and for me, Superman and Batman were pretty much like my parents. The anchor DC characters were heartening to have around, and good in a crunch, and sometimes, with their long histories, still surprising when you dug their old photographs out of the trunk—you hung out with people that looked like that? You dated him? But, increasingly, dull and taken for granted. (Wonder Woman, Flash, and Aquaman were your aunts and uncles, familiar without being vivid.) Marvel’s first-order characters were pretty established, too, but they still had the alluring scent of their fresh invention over them. They were something like cool kids who’d lived on your block in the decade before you started playing on the street and now were off at college or in the army, but their legend persisted. I’d put Thor and the other Avengers in that range, and the Fantastic Four, and Hulk, and Dr. Strange. Spider-Man was your older brother, of course—a great guy, an idol, but he didn’t belong to you.

Jonathan Lethem “Supermen: an Introduction” The Ecstacy of Influence [5]

Marvel on first appearance appeared to be the “Anti-DC,” they were associated with edginess and grittiness, and presented flawed heroes. Some of the tropes of Marvel heroes appeared to be parodic updates of the DC heroes. The Fantastic Four had no secret identities and wore no masks for instance. Spider-Man was at the outset a case of “what if Robin was Batman/what if Jimmy Olsen was Superman” i.e. the default sidekick-type becoming the outright superhero without any adult-mentor filter.

So did anyone ever manage to deconstruct Marvel? Well there’s Marshal Law.

Marshal Law Takes Manhattan (1989) – Art by Kevin O’Neill

Created by writer Pat Mills and artist Kevin O’Neill, Marshal Law revolved around a “hero hunter” in dystopian post-apocalyptic San Futuro where superheroes have become public menaces and the title character hunts down superheroes who he despises and seeks to murder in painful ways. Mills-O’Neill created the series as a satire/deconstruction of the genre and it’s in many ways the nastiest and most brutal of such satires, next to which stuff like Miracleman, Watchmen, The Boys, The Authority are positively nostalgic. Marshal Law was also unique because of its episodic focus parodying different heroes in different story arcs. Starting out with attacking the Public Spirit (Superman/Captain America), Private-Eye (Batman), Secret Tribunal (The Legion of Superheroes and the X-men).

Marshal Law Takes Manhattan (1989) – Art by Kevin O’Neill

One story was called “Marshal Law Takes Manhattan” (1989) and it’s largely Marshal Law versus The Persecutor (the Punisher) but along the way, the comic skewers the whole Marvel Universe, now reimagined as “The Institute,” an asylum for mentally disturbed heroes, a parody on Lee promoting Marvel Superheroes as more neurotic and flawed than DC characters, now taken to the literal extreme of them being too insane to actually be effective. The spoof of Marvel ranges from the mild to the nasty. The most hilarious is the dead-on parody of Reed and Sue’s marriage and its sexism by having the Invisible Woman be a literal figment of Reed’s imagination.

Marshal Law Takes Manhattan (1989) – Art by Kevin O’Neill –
G-Force is something that cannot meaningfully exist in superhero stories.

The stuff parodied in this issue includes the alliterative names, the Punisher’s violent vigilantism and its ties to real-world white supremacy (which given Jan 06 rioters using the skull logo is prophetic), the Avengers’ pompous hypocrisy and holding trials on fellow heroes (a reference I think to Hank Pym’s trial), and also attacking Marvel superheroes violating physics especially in a rather cruel attack on Daredevil.

Mills/O’Neill were attacking the tropes associated with Marvel, the NYC setting, the neurotic attitude to superheroes, the over-introspection (Captain America-spoof spends most of the issue narrating in thought bubbles constantly asking why he doesn’t act) arguing that the real-world analogue to the Marvel Shared Universe is an asylum common room with everyone having delusional fantasies. Within comics, the phrase “lunatics running the asylum” has often been used to describe superhero fans who come to work on their favorite heroes, and that phenomenon really took off with Marvel whereas DC’s classics comics were worked on by pulp writers from a variety of fields. The trope of superhero fans working on superheroes really came to be seen with Marvel, with Roy Thomas as the first instance. So Marshal Law‘s spoof is funny and quite apt in the general though perhaps not so in the case of the particular.

Spider-Man generally comes off better than others in this spoof, mostly because he’s hardly there in the comic. In one panel, Mills/O’Neill comment on the Spider-Analogue and it’s pretty interesting.

Marshal Law Takes Manhattan (1989) – Art by Kevin O’Neill
Spider-Man #13 – Todd MacFarlane –
Funtime at Casa Parker

Published in 1989, it’s interesting that O’Neill/Mills take the married status-quo of Spider-Man as a given. They describe Spider-Man as a “shy and sexually inhibited young man” and the main topic of attack is Spider-Man’s web-fluids being a symbol for ejaculation, which is essentially low hanging fruit and not something any fan of Spider-Man need upset themselves over. As for Spider-Man being sexually inhibited, it’s a bit hard to make that case when the married Spider-Man during Michelinie/McFarlane’s run was quite shamelessly kinky at the time of Mills/O’Neill’s issue.

I’ll return to this issue when we catalogue the other spoofs/parody/deconstructions of Spider-Man some time later.

The Persecutor (Left), Punisher (Right). O’Neill takes Punisher’s Skull logo and adds in RIP logo-joke and an American Flag and a Crossbones on the groin era, and a swastika in the forehead just to drive it home.

But for the time being, Marshal Law Takes Manhattan‘s spoof stands as the first major deconstruction of Marvel, and on the whole, it’s still one of the best.

That said the question is whether it’s a representative spoof, i.e. something people could recognize in the 1980s?

The main focus for this issue is The Punisher but at the time of Marshal Law‘s publication, the Punisher wasn’t adopted by right-wing supremacists, just yet. That happened in the 2000s, ironically enough, thanks to Garth Ennis’ gritty revisionist take [6]. It’s a bit odd for a Marvel spoof in the 1980s to choose The Punisher as the representative hero to attack when at the time Marvel’s top titles and characters were X-men and Spider-Man, and historically speaking, the Punisher isn’t a long-tenured character having made his debut in 1974, and he didn’t get a solo ongoing until 1987, so it’s a bit like parodying Marvel today and choosing a recent character like say, Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan as an object to spoof the whole company.

One reason why attacking the Punisher was of interest to Marshal Law is that The Punisher along with Wolverine were the two most violent superheroes in Marvel at the time. And Marshal Law is a violent comic that believes that superhero fantasies are inherently violent and are reflections of real-world violence. In Marshal Law: Public Spirit (Superman) is held as a villain for his pro-war propaganda, The Persecutor (Punisher) was a CIA operative who taught agents how to torture in South American conflicts and his family was murdered by rebel militias targeting him for revenge. Superheroes are in the real-world corporate IP and its power fantasies make it inherently an expression of US Capitalism and the military it uses to project it around the world. And Marvel as the company that made heroes edgier and more believable more directly tied superheroes to real-world contexts of violence, since many of its characters are Army weapons projects, super-soldiers, scientists on government projects.

Most Marvel characters though do have an element of fantasy to keep them remote. Between the two, Wolverine with claws protruding from his wrists between his knuckles is the more fantastic figure whereas Punisher’s got no fantastic affect at all. He’s pure violence incarnate. The Punisher shoots and kills people with guns and bullets. And that’s part of the reason why Punisher ultimately came to have baggage as Marvel’s most controversial creation, though ironically enough he was the creation of a writer who identified as left-wing (Conway) and his most defining modern run was by a Northern Irish liberal (Ennis).

FORMS OF VIOLENCE

Cover by Neal Adams (RIP)

Every superhero comic from the “golden age” to the present — whatever changes you can see in technique and standards — has to have action which usually involves a few panels of someone being punched, a fight scene here and there. Now of course one can argue that superheroes are no more violent than children’s cartoons like Tom and Jerry and their many descendants of “cartoon violence”. What counts is the “aesthetics of violence” or the forms of violence.

  • While superheroes are violent, not everything about superheroes lends itself to violence.

  • Superhero stories endure most frequently with aesthetics and these aesthetics need not prioritize violence.

  • In the Silver and Bronze Age, Superman was mainly the guy who could fly, who had super-hearing, and X-ray vision, and he was invulnerable to bullets. None of them are inherently violent powers. Being invulnerable to bullets is a survival fantasy and not a power fantasy, it’s defensive not offensive.

  • With Batman, his aesthetic was originally driving a cool car, wearing a colorful costume and having a utility belt that produced ridiculously specific tools. Aside from the batarang, most of Batman’s classic gadgets aren’t characterized by violence. The swashbuckling aspect of Batman is that he’s an eccentric but resourceful tool user, against people with guns and death-rays armed only with his wits. This makes him feel like an evenly matched professional who wins his victories fairly, rather than say an over-advantaged man punching down.

The big divide between the “golden” and “silver” ages of comics and the more contemporary “dark” and “modern age” is that the violence which was kept at remove from the superhero aesthetic gains increasing priority. The current tendency of superhero stories, which emphasize violence and action over all, favors violent fantasies over all others.

It’s not an accident that the deconstructions of Superman feature him exclusively using the “heat-vision” power and the default concept of Superman nowadays seems to be person with glowing red eyes. This makes a character intended to be a calm comforting figure into a threatening inhuman being. Heat vision is also a bully’s power, it represents “death from above” a power-move that no one can fight back and which allows its user to stand at a distance.

PSYCHOLOGIES OF VIOLENCE

Art by Janson/Varley

Even when violence is not emphasized more often than before in action and emphasis on powers, characters are written with more emphasis on violence in their psychological makeup.

With Batman, you have the origin of a child seeing his parents gunned down and then dedicating himself for all his teenage and early adult years towards honing his mind and body for the sole purpose of fighting crime. In the Silver Age, the emphasis on violence was toned down by de-emphasizing his origins. It wasn’t brought up too often and by focusing on Robin, one skirted the brooding Batman in his cave that’s now his default. The modern contemporary take on Batman which began in the 1970s under Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams (RIP) is based on psychology, and greatly emphasizes his origins, which define Batman and his world as one of inescapable violence.

  • For reasons of editorial interest, Batman doesn’t kill his villains because that would limit the viability of merchandise derived from his unsurpassed rogues gallery. But the modern Batman’s heavier emphasis on violence means that psychologically his reluctance to kill isn’t terribly convincing.

  • A person who sacrificed his youth to dedicate himself to violently wounding and physically hurting people cannot be considered a pacifist. Knowing all the ways of hurting a person, for the sake of fighting in the real world (as opposed to a career in boxing or wrestling), means that at his core Bruce Wayne is a deeply violent person. On that level, it would make more sense for him to kill. His avoidance exists mostly for commercial interests rather than true psychology.

  • His use of violence in the Tim Burton films which are the least burdened by the demands of serialization of all Batman films made the most sense. It reaches hypocrisy in the case of Nolan films (Leaving Ra’s to die in Batman Begins, shrugging his shoulders at Selina gunning down Bane in Rises, using the weapons on his own Batpod moreover) and reaches true incoherence with Snyder’s films.

Matt Reeves’ The Batman 2022 finally brings a long overdue reckoning to the violence that modern Batman inevitably cultivates, which he directly and indirectly escalates by his actions, even if he’s never personally lethal himself.

SPIDER-MAN:
FORM AND PSYCHOLOGY OF VIOLENCE

Art by Ditko. ASM ANNUAL #01

What makes Spider-Man distinct is that where Superman’s powers lend itself to violent application quite readily quite against the original intent of his creators and custodians and Batman’s psychological make-up has an in-built predilection to violence that comes out in more realistic stories, Spider-Man’s form and psychology is less open immediately to violent application.

  • If you look at Spider-Man’s powers and abilities, the fantasy is primarily acrobatic, i.e. crawling on walls and swinging from a web. Of his super-powers, only super-strength counts as violent, while other abilities such as “spider-sense”, speed and agility, do not lend itself to violent use at all.

  • When we come to the story of Spider-Man, Peter Parker himself is at his core a non-violent person. Peter’s origin in Amazing Fantasy #15 starts with him using his superpowers in a non-violent manner, seeing it as a means of self-expression and artistic pursuit (i.e. becoming a showbiz performer).
  • The irony is that it is his superhero origin to essentially see that as “selfish” and that his real duty is a life of violence dedicated to fighting “crime” i.e. the world of dark warehouses, street alleys, rooftops. As readers of the superhero genre, we are conditioned to see Spider-Man’s origin as a “mission”, a moral awakening, which means we see stuff like peaceful artistic expression and non-violent creative application of superpowers as “immoral”.

That’s the logic of the superhero genre at work, it’s built on violence and sees all other application of superpowers as non-viable alternatives. It’s curious that we don’t see deconstructions addressing this topic. In fact the deconstructionist emphasis on violence is probably why it’s been co-opted into the “Dark Age” of comics of the 90s.

Adaptations of Spider-Man’s origin invariably prioritize the violent demands of the genre for the sake of streamlining, and Spider-Man/Peter comes across as a more violent figure in the movies than in his original comics.

  • Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 1 when adapting the origin has Peter using his powers to get back at his bully Flash as a vicarious revenge of the kind we don’t see in AF#15. The outs for Raimi is that Flash attacks Peter first but it’s still framed as revenge of a sorts. We see something similar in the TASM movies, where Garfield’s Peter-meets-Holden Caulfield approach emphasizes him as someone moody and getting into fights before being bit by the spider.

  • The MCU is quite honestly a vague mess, but if the implication (Post-NWH, not including future retcons) is that Spider-Man wanted to be a superhero out of emulation of Iron Man, then that still means that Spider-Man in the MCU saw violence as the primary application of his powers, and he chose the most violent of MCU superheroes, a weapons-manufacturer who created an armored tank-jetpack, as his role model. The pacifist turn of the character in NWH requires viewers to forget that Spider-Man came up with the plan to kill Ebony Maw and used lethal force on Thanos’ army in Endgame.

Within 616 Spider-Man, Peter Parker is framed at his core as an essentially non-violent person. When given power, while he did not use it responsibly at the outset, he did use those powers for creative non-violent exhibition of skills, for entirely harmless purposes. A moment of selfishness brings him into the violent world of superhero adventures. When he becomes a superhero he’s set on a path of violence.

But that very setup creates a problem for the character and his genre: how do you make a person unused to violence of the criminal variety, endure that world while still being true to himself?

The double aspects of this character, a violent life for a non-violent person is arguably the true definition of Spider-Man’s unique nature as a character and a hero.

It also creates this weird tonal issue in the comics where you have to balance a status-quo that’s essentially comedic and domestic (the Peter Parker side of things) with one where the character has to deal with life-and-death issues as a superhero. The nature of navigating this tonal divide is a problem across various Spider-Man comics and is one of the many issues with Spider-Man in the wider Shared Universe of Marvel and developments across his continuity.

THE SHARED UNIVERSE DOES NOT EXIST FOR SPIDER-MAN

The Marvel 616 Shared Universe is easy to misunderstand. The general pop-culture impression, thanks to the MCU is that the Marvel Shared Universe is this huge intricately connected sandbox that merges together the world of Norse Gods, the Mutants, Cosmic Empries (Kree, Skrull, Shi’ar, Eternals, Celestials), International Threats (Doctor Doom), Super Science (Fantastic Four), and gritty street crime (Daredevil, Punisher). Douglas Wolk’s book All of the Marvels, which I reviewed here, takes the cohesiveness as a given, and certainly this is what Kevin Feige promotes via the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This impression in my view is false, and not at all representative of the reading experience of these comics.

What is apparent in the Marvel Universe is the appearance of cohesiveness but never the actual thing. Many of the Marvel Universe “event stories” i.e. the big stories (Secret Wars, Civil War) are stunningly anti-democratic. It’s almost always the case that the big villain and threat is done in by Avengers’ Big Three (Cap, Tony, Thor) or by Reed Richards and his family, who occupy an aristocracy in the Marvel order. In these stories the likes of Spider-Man and X-Men are relegated on one-side or side-shows (given a tie-in here and there).

Now this is a generalization. There are exceptions here and there. It’s also the case that event storylines in superhero publications only really came into existence since the mid-to-late 1980s, and only really became the central engine of comics from the 2000s. The classical era of Marvel (1961-1987 or 1992 say) does not at all cohere to this schema in any way. But since then the Marvel Shared Universe has become a caste system. It’s not a truly shared enterprise.

Spider-Man exists in the Shared Universe, but the Shared Universe does not exist for Spider-Man.

GENRES CATEGORIZED BY CASTE

Within the superhero caste system, there’s a hierarchy that separates “cosmic-level threats”, “national-level threats”, “paranormal threats” and at the bottom of the hierarchy is “street-level threats”.

Spider-Man occupies the “street-level caste” alongside Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, the Punisher and a few others who usually flow in and out of the caste group. The street-level group involves superheroes on patrol, saving civilians, fighting anything from ordinary muggers to crime bosses and individual solo supervillains (who have at most one or two gadgets or gimmicks). These crimes are seen as “below the pay grade” (as Downey Jr’s Tony put it in Spider-Man Homecoming) of the big heroes of the Marvel Universe.

If you were to read the Marvel Universe as a “true” shared universe you would in practice have to normalize a fairly repulsive casteist hierarchy, however fantastic.

It would be the equivalent of saying US Marines are inherently more heroic than any First Responder when in real life such a judgment would be considered callous, if we are being charitable; sociopathic if we are being honest. The Marvel Shared Universe hierarchy inherently places some genres higher than others in a manner similar to the “classical” division of tragedy and comedy where the criteria was that rich rulers and aristocrats were worthy of tragedy (i.e. seen with seriousness, their problems worth crying over) whereas the poor orders were fit only for comedy (often shown unsympathetically, their problems are subject to mockery and laughter).

  • The nature of the Marvel Universe and its hierarchy is visible in the stories and stakes different characters face and the level of violence in these stories. The Avengers have characters who deal with conflicts that often have deaths on a grand scale. In Kurt Busiek/George Perez’s “Ultron Unlimited”, the AI-robot commits a genocide that wipes away the fictional European nation of Slorenia from the map and massacres all its citizens to the last person. Having Spider-Man in such a story would be hard, given that the qualities we associate with Spider-Man (a comedic-domestic genre) would hardly last upon contact with such a story.

  • The Avengers are also fundamentally violent heroes. Captain America is a super-soldier at origin, there’s never a point where Cap’s powers could be imagined outside combat and there’s none of the elementary fantasy you see with Superman and Batman. Thor is of course the real-world god of the Vikings, who are famously associated with warfare and violence. Iron Man is of course a weapons manufacturer whose armor is a violence dispensary. So those characters lend to stories of higher levels of violence than Spider-Man.

HARDCORE VERSUS SANITIZED

Much like real-world caste systems, the “street-level” caste-genre has subdivisions and sub-categories.

  • Within the ‘street corner’, you have gritty stories that for the most part are written in ignorance and indifference to the shared universe. For Frank Castle, the Punisher, the Avengers and other heroes might as well not exist.

  • The same is true of Daredevil. While his stories do bump against the wider universe, the default note is the conclusion of Born Again which sees the Avengers intervene to public applause while Daredevil does the invisible, unacknowledged, and unheralded heroism in the background on the margins.
Art by Mazzucchelli.
Iron Man doesn’t get a caption, lol.

The problems with the “street level” Marvel Universe is that as little sense as they make within the Marvel caste system, they don’t cohere any better with each other.

  • The Punisher is a character who kills his enemies with real-world weapons. His aesthetic is to be a militia-man who is proficient with weapons and knives that one can find in the real world and buy off the rack in various states with loose gun laws (not an issue in real-world New York State but does seem to be the case of 616 New York).

  • The Punisher shouldn’t co-exist in the world of Matt Murdock Daredevil because Kingpin should be dead several times over as well as Bullseye and Typhoid Mary. These characters lack superpowers and are ruthless dangerous murderers and yet Frank Castle exists in the same world as them. I enjoyed Jon Bernthal’s performance as Castle in Daredevil Season 2 but the minute I saw him and Fisk together I kept shouting (to the distress of my friend) for Frank to waste the Kingpin. It didn’t make sense to me that Castle and Fisk can breathe the same pocket of air and for Castle to not kill Fisk.
  • On the other side, the existence of Punisher poses a problem for Spider-Man, Daredevil, and other heroes because their no-kill rule looks hypocritical any time they collaborate with Castle or they refuse to bring him down. At times it seems the Punisher exists as a disclaimable asset who can do the wet work that the morally pure heroes don’t want to stain their reputations over.

If Castle can said to occupy one extreme, Spider-Man occupies the other end of the spectrum.

  • Peter’s an inversion of Castle, in that as much as he inhabits the shared universe with Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage among others, he cannot be contaminated upon contact with them.

  • Jessica Jones was inserted into Marvel 616 in Bendis’ Alias as a classmate of Peter Parker’s in Midtown High School who later became a minor-league superhero called Jewel before retiring after being kidnapped, mind-controlled, tortured by Purple Man as an unwitting accomplice to his serial rape of many women. Alias was published in Marvel’s MAX imprint meant for mature readers and while it’s set nominally in 616 (with cameos by Spider-Man, Captain America), their appearance and presence in a comic with Jessica Jones’ stories often felt jarring to a reader.

  • As a rule, Spider-Man’s comics feature science-fiction threats and minor-league street crime but almost never touches on realistic crime stories of the kind we do see in Daredevil comics, The Punisher, Jessica Jones and others. We see problems and travails in Spider-Man but we almost never see real suffering and true hardship.

In effect, the shared universe doesn’t actually exist. Not within the wider Marvel Universe, and not even inside the smaller street-level genre-caste.

The Punisher is too hardcore. Spider-Man’s corner is too sanitized.

THE SANITIZED SPIDER-MAN?

Many might find the idea of Spider-Man as “sanitized” a contestable notion.

  • If we compare Lee-Ditko Spider-Man to Lee-Kirby’s Fantastic Four or their X-Men, one can argue that Spider-Man was grittier in comparison.
  • The so-called “end” of the so-called “silver age” is after all a Spider-Man story with the Death of Gwen Stacy.
  • It was in Amazing Spider-Man #129 that Frank Castle/The Punisher was first unleashed upon the world.
  • From the pages of Spider-Man came Venom and Carnage, two of the most violent and murderous characters to ever come out of Marvel Comics.

There’s truth to many of these claims. But one can also argue that such examples are taken out of general context. A case of exceptional variables privileged over the steady constant.

When we consider Spider-Man in his “classic era” between Amazing Fantasy #15 to Amazing Spider-Man #122, as I did in my previous post, you can observe a number of patterns. For me the point about violence in the classic era isn’t just its very existence but its representation, its style, and the level of realism with which it was treated.

PERSONALLY COMPILED DATASHEET

In general, most of the major acts of violence are done indirectly. Of the 27 deaths catalogued in the Silver Age, 13 qualify as attempted murders, and 12 as actual murders.

  • The one listed as accidental accessory is the case of Mendell Stromm who Norman Osborn attempted to murder by means of sniper rifle only for Stromm to die in a heart-attack as a response to a shock.

  • Most of Spider-Man’s other major rogues (the Chameleon, the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, the Sandman, the Lizard, Electro, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, the Scorpion, and the Spider Slayers), certainly contemplate harm and threaten violence but we never see them openly murder anyone in their vicinity. Deaths happen around these villains, like the scientist Farley Stillwell chasing Scorpion up a building and foolishly realizing that gravity exists for normal civilians in the Marvel Universe.

  • Doctor Octopus is of course responsible for George Stacy’s death but it was still collateral damage to a fight with Spider-Man (albeit a fight he started and a situation he forced into existence). So he’d likely be charged with second degree murder than first degree. Bennett Brant was of course killed by a stray bullet in a closed room that went off in a room full of fights. So that falls under incidental and collateral damage.

  • Some of the deaths are caused by Spider-Man or fellow heroes like Ka-Zar but they can be said to fall under self-defense. The Crime Master shot by the police while resisting arrest can also fall under this category.

  • The single most murderous individual in the entire Silver Age Spider-Man is Morbius who when given to vampirism falls into an orgy of mass murder, and is credited with five deaths alone. Morbius is not a traditional member of Spider-Man rogues and he later became an anti-hero, and in Thomas’ story is framed as a reluctant vampire.
ASM#113 – Art by Romita Sr.

The most interesting element is that outside of Green Goblin, most murders are done by henchmen and random one-shot figures. Peter’s Parents were killed by the Fixer who sabotaged the plane, the burglar killed his Uncle Ben, it was one of Kingpin’s henchmen who killed Frederick Foswell, rather than Fisk himself. Since most of the major interactions and beats are with the big rogues, readers can vicariously enjoy the battle without real threats of violence and death, since lethal force is never deployed around Spider-Man. The random henchmen who dish out violence are essentially anonymous forces of death, of threat to people who don’t have Spider-Man in the vicinity but not to Spider-Man himself, so violence is kept at a remove from him.

ASM#37 – Art by Ditko

Even with Green Goblin, his first attempt at killing Mendell Stromm is staged in a completely odd way where the art clearly suggests Stromm was shot by a sniper but the dialogue claims that Stromm died of a heart-attack on the “shock” of being shot. Which suggests, that consciously or unconsciously, Lee and/or Ditko did not want Spider-Man’s regular enemies to be made outright murderers.

Most of the deaths in the Silver Age Spider-Man are staged awkwardly, as collateral damage or accidents, or in some cases outright teases, so there seems to be an awkward attempt to have violence but never stage it realistically in the pages of ASM, or never have Spider-Man deal with realistic violence.

In his five decades since as editor/writer of Spider-Man, Lee was interviewed numerous times but he never sat down to explain his philosophy about violence, though in one notable case, he expressed opposition to extreme violence in Garth Ennis’ Fury MAX series [7]. Steve Ditko for his part pitched a story where Betty Brant would have died in ASM but she would have died in a common domestic accident, i.e. “falling down the stairs” because Ditko was bemused that these kind of normal household deaths don’t seem to happen in superhero comics [8]. Anecdotally, it does suggest that both were looking to avoid dealing with direct conflict-related violence.

Art by Gil Kane.

The nature of this invisible repression perhaps best explains the “snap/fall” issue of Gwen Stacy’s death in The Night Gwen Stacy Died, where the dialogue and staging clearly indicate that Gwen died because she fell from a great height after being rammed off the bridge by Goblin but at the last moment, Conway added in a tiny sound effect that made it seem as if Gwen’s death was a case of Spider-Man’s webbing snapping her neck. From the perspective of other bizarre Spider-Man deaths in the Silver Age, i.e. Mendell Stromm dying off a heart attack, Farley Stilwell suddenly turning suicidal in demonstrating that normal people don’t have spider-powers, Silvermane taking the fountain of youth and dissolving into a sub-uteral stage, the “Fall/Snap” death is of a piece.

It’s an attempt to defuse the violence of the scene, i.e. Green Goblin murdering Gwen but doing so in a theatrical manner of dropping her off a high bridge rather than stabbing her outright or dropping a bomb to her face. The fall killing Gwen as the dialogue states is an unusual death to say the least, but given that she was unconscious and Goblin rammed her off the bridge at top speed, it’s not unbelievable. The “snap” killing her though goes against the obvious intent of the story and introduces a completely subtractive layer to the story, so much so that it cannot be acknowledged.

SPIDER-MAN THE KILLER

The nature of the sanitized nature of violence in Spider-Man as in the case of the approach to death and violence in these comics comes down to the fact that Spider-Man is never treated as a murderer or someone who kills, even if in the Silver Age he has used lethal force in self-defense on three occasions.

  • The first is the case of Karl Fiers/The Finisher where Spider-Man deliberately directed missiles aimed at him to Fiers’ limousine. Upon the explosion, while the driver survived and escaped (thus ensuring that Spider-Man doesn’t have the blood of a ‘civilian’ on his hands, though considering that civilian drove the car of a supervillain who ordered rocket attacks, how innocent can he be?), Fiers survives long enough to confess a flashback montage of the death of Peter’s parents, while Peter doesn’t bring him to first aid, and then stands triumphantly over his corpse.

  • Then we have the case of Gog, an alien-monster who Spider-Man faces off in the Savage Land, who maybe doesn’t qualify as sentient being. Killing Gog would not be any different from slaying a rampaging beast, or stamping out a fly. At least in the context of the original story.

  • Then we have Smasher in ASM#118, a character who’s a victim of a science experiment that turned him into a monster. Spider-Man fought him knowing that the longer he fights the more he’ll overload and this leads to the Smasher having a fatal aneurysm.

Now generally speaking, these three deaths (two of which have been retconned, with Smasher still on the books) are in self-defense and not murder. Spider-Man didn’t go in with intent to kill at first or last resort, his opponents used lethal force on him first. Generally speaking, I don’t think on paper it’s a problem if superheroes use lethal force in the course of their crimefighting. After all Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars is a beloved popular hero and he showed no compunctions against using lethal force in all three of the films. Most heroes, Batman especially, aren’t psychologically convincing as pacifists and the smallest element of realism in these stories would reveal a considerable amount of collateral damage kept invisible by convention.

The problem with Spider-Man, is that psychologically, his stories cannot acknowledge the facts and realities of violence. The three instances I cited above do not stick nor are they acknowledged as instances where Spider-Man was a killer. Similar controversy exists with a later story like Spider-Man V. Wolverine #1 (which I’ll go into on another day). These incidents are buried over, and covered up, and not acknowledged in the stories that follow.

The bizarre nature of Gwen’s death is especially glaring. The stories that came after simultaneously treat Green Goblin as the murderer and Gwen’s death as coming from the neck snap caused by Peter’s webline. It’s an inversion of “Schrödinger’s cat” where Gwen is simultaneously killed by Green Goblin and Spider-Man and the story treats both facts as true, depending on the demands of later stories. A number of AU and later scenarios when revisiting Gwen’s death, often frame it that had Spider-Man made a dive and caught Gwen mid-flight and then webbed away he might have saved her.

Art by Ron Garney.

The problem is that before and after Gwen’s Death, Spider-Man in a variety of instances used the web lines to catch people mid-fall with no adverse effects. In all these instances, it was random civilians and the scene wasn’t a bridge. In one of them, in Back in Black, Spider-Man hurls a criminal informant off the side of a building to catch him mid-fall as a form of intimidation, indicating great control and confidence in his webbing to cushion anyone from whiplash.

However, in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man when Green Goblin throws Mary Jane off the bridge, Spider-Man saves MJ by diving after her in a moment that’s intended to convey “if he had done this, Gwen would live.”

Art by Dodsons.

So we have in the continuity simultaneously two total contradictions existing at the same time. And it stems from the divide of Spider-Man as a non-violent personality involved in violence. The violence that surrounds Spider-Man and which he witnesses can never be of a nature that overwhelms his character and personality. He can feel guilt and regret but never actually acknowledge that his webs snapped Gwen because that would mean he can’t use webbing in the way he traditionally does.

THE PARKER LUCK

The concept of the “parker luck” is a nostrum that’s often traded by editors/writers especially Tom Brevoort and Dan Slott to justify the idea that Peter Parker is a character who’s meant to be a screwup or a loser, who can never have too many good things happen to him. In essence, it’s a nostrum used to justify the erasure of the marriage.

The entire concept of the “Parker Luck” rests on the idea that Peter Parker’s problems and bad luck are of a serious nature that it stands in the way of general happiness. However, when you look at the attitude of violence in Spider-Man comics and compare it to the content of The Punisher, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, X-Men and so on, it becomes clear that “Parker Luck” is a concept that’s essentially fake.

  • Spider-Man Comics generally don’t feature prostitution, sex-work, child abuse, rape. There are some exceptions but even then not in depth. Content of this kind appears in Daredevi, Punisher, Jessica Jones, X-Men and others and dealt with it in more detail there. Per the shared universe, they all co-exist with Spider-Man but there’s no crossover with the content and genre.

Daredevil Born Again. Art by Mazzucchelli
  • While Peter has had to deal with problems with the bills many times, he’s never had to face real poverty and financial hardship. For instance in Daredevil: Born Again, we see Matt Murdock brought down socially and economically by Kingpin’s machinations of capitalism and the legal system propped up by capitalism and Spider-Man’s never fallen as low as that. Pretenses of hard times faced by Spider-Man can often be unintentionally comedic as in Zeb Wells’ first solo issue where Spider-Man wanders into NYC after months “off-the-grid” in hobo-chic regalia in a manner and situation that would, in any degree of realism, make it impossible to live in that city. Aesthetically, it’s important that Spider-Man stay in New York City and be around Manhattan, even if sociologically, it strains credulity that he operate in the city.

In sum, Spider-Man is a domestic-comedy story disguised with superhero action, and the source of the charms of these stories is the characters, their interactions, their relationships with each other.

Analyzing the form and psychology of Spider-Man best encapsulates the differences in kind and degree between Spider-Man and other characters, and why there’s so much more inconsistency across his publication history than other characters.

CONCLUSION

This was a fairly hard post to put together. I am not sure I’ve managed to make any grand universal statement. I have been interested for some time now on the idea of deconstructing Spider-Man and why it’s been hard to do and achieve. I made a preliminary attempt to define the problem here but I am sure I’ll arrive at it later on.

Spider-Man can be looked at a myriad of ways and in putting together this post, I had to leave out a bunch of stuff that went in tangents. Focusing entirely on violence and representation in the classic era, and the ties to the psychology and form of Spider-Man, made a bit more sense. There’s more to consider when we revisit how Spider-Man comics changed when it became more violent in the 1980s and beyond. For the time being, I’m glad I’ve conveyed as much as I have, especially on a topic for a character that is not often commented.

REFERENCES

  1. Itzkoff, Dave. “Scholar Finds Flaws in Work by Archenemy of Comics”. New York Times. Feb 19, 2013.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/books/flaws-found-in-fredric-werthams-comic-book-studies.html

  2. “How DC Sued Their Competition to Keep Superman as the #1 Superhero” by Alex Grand Created: September 28, 2017. Comic Book Historians.
    https://comicbookhistorians.com/how-dc-kept-superman-super-litigation-attorneys/

  3. Cronin, Brian. “That Time Superman Made Sure That Native Americans Lost Metropolis” CBR. Oct 27, 2016.
    https://www.cbr.com/that-time-superman-made-sure-that-native-americans-lost-metropolis/

  4. “The Sandman ended 25 years ago – and is more relevant than ever”
    By Chris Arrant published September 24, 2021.
    Games Radar.
    https://www.gamesradar.com/sandman-comic/

  5. Lethem, Jonatham. The Ecstacy of Influence: Nonfictions Etc.
    Part IV: Film and Comics,
    Chapter: “Supermen!: An Introduction”
    [Online Edition]

  6. Abraham Riesman. “Why Cops and Soldiers Love the Punisher”.
    Vulture. June 2, 2020
    https://www.vulture.com/article/marvel-punisher-police-cops-military-fandom.html

  7. “Garth Ennis’ Punisher Ruins Other Superheroes”.
    PopOptiq. November 21, 2013.
    https://www.popoptiq.com/best-marvel-runs-garth-ennis-punisher/

  8. Blake Bell. Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. Fantagraphic Books. 2008. Page 58.
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11 thoughts on “Re-Examining Spider-Man 07: Deconstructing Violence

  1. The big irony with Rick and Morty’s Vindicators episode, that I’m surprised few others have pointed out, is that R&M co-creator Dan Harmon has inadvertently been massively influential on the MCU. Specifically through his previous show, Community: The people at Marvel Studios were HUGE fans of Community, and numerous writers from it have been brought onto the MCU in various forms, especially the recent streaming series like Loki. Most famously, the Russo Brothers were hired for Captain America: The Winter Soldier because they had directed many episodes for the series, leading to them eventually directing some of the highest-grossing films in history AND becoming two of the most powerful producers in Hollywood. All because of Dan Harmon’s little show, who himself did some Dr. Strange rewrites.

    I’m still wary of calling Zack Snyder “Randian”, in that he’s made it clear in interviews that he’s just an average Hollywood liberal in terms of politics. I guess there’s a debate to be had over personal politics vs. the ones in your work, but that’s a much bigger discussion I am not at all equipped to debate on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks again for your observations, Harry.

      You are right that calling Snyder a Randian might be “personal politics v. politics in your work” but on the other hand he’s Randian-adjacent in a lot of ways and there’s enough commentary dealing with it. But I am planning to talk a bit more about Rand and personal politics when I get to Ditko and the “third great rumor” (which will be sometime this year).

      Dan Harmon’s work being appropriated by the MCU (and arguably Rick and Morty being appropriated and mainstreamed subsequently) is par for the course of deconstructive ideas being co-opted by comics which I mentioned here. At the end of the day, Rorschach was a more successful Randian-superhero than Mr. A was even if Moore intended to counter it. Garth Ennis sees himself as a superhero-hating truth teller who dismisses most superheroes with powers as fascist fantasies but it was his run on The Punisher that has had the largest impact on its adoption by right-wing militia who sported the Punisher logo when they stormed the Capitol on Jan 06.

      Still Vindicators 3 is quite a nasty satire and probably a way for Harmon to mock the franchise of which he was an unintentional midwife.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One reason Spider-Man has been immune to deconstruction is that, at least pre-OMD, Spider-Man stories always beat everyone to the punch. Take for example JMS’ deconstruction of all the reasons Peter never told Aunt May he is Spider-Man. Even since then, Peter not telling May has been treated as ludicrous. Bendis followed that up with his own version of “The Conversation”. Then every version since then has either built up to Peter telling May or May finding out on her own. The Ultimate cartoon, the MCU, the Webb films, and the Insomniac games all had had find out or (at the very least) flirted with the idea.

    But if the JMS issue never happened, and subsequently all the other Aunt May reveals never happened and we still lived in a world where Peter is lying to a naive Aunt May in all mediums, would someone have deconstructed that and poked fun at Peter not telling May? They probably would have. But since Spider-Man comics called it out first, it’s harder for a non-Spider-Man story to call it out now.

    Thats just one example of how pre-OMD Spider-Man stories were cosntantly growing and self-adapting that there was no need for deconstruction.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I think You are wrong on one aspect that MCU Spider-Man wanted to be Superhero because of Iron Man.

    Spider-Man was already Spider-Manning before he met Iron Man in Civil War. It also implied that You gotta do things because something bad can happen. That’s why he is superhero. Not because of iron man.

    It’s something small which I think many people misinterpretes.

    Although You are right that MCU is biggest offender for non violent nature of Spidey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I did mention that MCU Spider-Man was vague, but since NWH removed Uncle Ben (pending future retcons) the implication is that what inspired him to do good is his adulation of Tony Stark and Avengers. Based on all the movies.But that’s my interpretation.

      Thanks for your response anyway, and yeah the MCU movies are odd because a lot of the superheroes are open killers and Spider-Man is the only nominal pacifist (though even then you need to ignore some stuff).

      Like

  4. I’ve been thinking about these topics lately, violence in comics and deconstructions of Spider-Man, so this article is very well-timed. It is surprising for how popular Spider-Man is as a character, there hasn’t been any successful deconstructions of him. For everything we take given in comics, it’s not like Spider-Man is any different, so what about his character manages to avoid these deconstructions?

    I like that you pointed out Peter Parker is a non-violent person entering a world of violence, it’s something that’s always bothered me when people want to see Spider-Man as a violent figure. It does make me think, in adaptations, Flash’s bullying is often made physical from the get-go (whereas in the Ditko era, it’s rarely physical and when it is, it’s mutually agreed upon like the boxing issue) and so Peter’s a victim of physical bullying. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s more of a violent person compared to the comics, an element of getting back at his bully is generally introduced. His Ultimate comics and TASM incarnations probably reflect upon this the best, their bullying was pretty severe and they’re some of the more aggressive adaptations

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The entire concept of Spider-Man as a showbiz entertainer isn’t something that ever gets adapted anywhere, because it’s a bit dated and tied to ’60s TV culture and it also creates issues of time (it’s never made clear how long Spider-Man’s on TV) and the movies need to contract time since the runtime comes with a premium.

      I do think Flash did bully Peter physically, certainly in the boxing issue he physically knocks down the glasses off Peter’s face and it’s staged like he did it before.

      But nuances tend to thin out in adaptations and various media.

      Like

      1. The showbiz aspect is pretty true, we typically see Peter bitten by the spider and then after some experimentation he enters a world of violence. He never uses his powers in a mostly acrobatic or expressionate way. TASM is an exception, with him using his powers for parkour and skateboarding but, besides the fact it felt very forced, it wasn’t a transitioning point to him becoming a superhero. There’s none of the contrast you get in the comics from self-expressionism / violence

        That’s true. I had forgotten that. Flash knocked off his glasses. I guess it’d be more correct to say in adaptations, he’s often made more physical and his relationship with Peter is less nuanced, so Peter can still get back at him with his powers. I’m kinda going off on a tangent now lol, but I think this could also play into how adaptations tend to play up Spider-Man as a more violent figure, a character like Flash is often reduced to solely an antagonistic role so there’s a power fantasy when Peter gets his comeuppance

        Also, I had just been thinking, Spider-Man 1 features a case of sanitized violence with Uncle Ben’s killer. Peter hunts him down, attacks him (and it’s one of the most violent scenes in the movie), and corners him to a window. What ends up killing the burglar is him stumbling backwards and falling to his death, but it’s a situation that Peter created to begin with. What are your thoughts on this? I’ve always wondered why include the burglar being killed since it’s an element introduced to this origin story (when in 616, it occurs way after the origin story), and they never explore the ramifications of the burglar’s death – does Peter feel any guilt or remorse?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The burglar’s death is accidental since he clearly stumbled back (although that scene goes so fast some might have the impression Spider-Man hurled him out). I honestly don’t know why Raimi felt the Burglar should die but I guess the screenwriters and others felt they didn’t want the Burglar’s “trial” and so on to be a thing that occupies time and also they had Spider-Man confront him maskless (but also the fight manager as well…meh) so I guess to preserve the drama of it, they killed off the burglar so the thread doesn’t continue.

          In a monthly serial comic you can close threads and not have it show up years or decades but in mainstream movies you kind of need to close all loops from the get-go.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. The confrontation with the burglar in Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN seems to merge their original encounter from AF 15 with that of Wolfman/Pollard’s ASM 200. In both instances, Peter reveals his true identity only for the burglar to conveniently die (in the movie, a fatal fall; in the comics, a heart attack, but both prompted indirectly by Peter’s aggression).

            Films tend to favor superheroes unmasking at key emotional moments anyway, so that’s probably the main reason why it happened (with the burglar’s accidental death being a bit of an afterthought, a happy accident for Peter’s secret identity, much as it was in ASM 200).

            Spider-Man’s powerset is actually the most ideal for creative non-violent solutions: spider-sense and agility for dodging blows and projectiles (tiring opponents and drawing their focus away from civilian targets), and webbing for restraint. But his temperament makes him more prone to short, sporadic bursts of intense violence; he doesn’t generally want to hurt people but he also tends to react from his gut.

            Bruce Wayne is more committed to violence on some level but also more disciplined–or at least, he can be, depending on the interpretation you’re going with. Post-Miller takes tend to focus on Bruce’s aggression but up until the 80s he was pretty chill and primarily concerned with stopping criminals as efficiently as possible, but not beating them up as a form of ill-advised therapy.

            DC could, if they chose, focus on Batman as a creative problem-solver and still create visually interesting scenes, like him taking out the SWAT team coming after him in Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT or (for the most part) the climactic scene of Reeve’s THE BATMAN.

            Honestly, I buy a little more into the idea that Peter would occasionally lose it and brutally attack a villain; the final fight with Green Goblin in Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN rings truer for me than the Batman interrogation scene in TDK (of course, it also has the advantage of being lifted directly from an iconic comic moment). Pete is generally less predisposed to violence–but he’s also not as consistent.

            Matt Murdock is actually the character that most people seem to think Bruce Wayne is–compelled toward violence for its own sake, and pretty much anything is on the table with the exception of murder.

            Liked by 2 people

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