Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spider-Man Vs Ayn Rand... and Why the Greatest Spidey Movie Will Never Get Made

The Color of Money isn't just a Tom Cruise and Newman salad dressing film about the secret origin of Mark Millar and Grant Morrison's bromance breakup, but also a permanent shade in the wardrobe of Spider-Man's rogues. The Sinister Six could change their names to 6 Shades of blah if NuMarvel ever wanted to experiment with topical humor...

Odd man out Kraven missed dress rehearsal

Sweet Mountain Dew green was the choice for Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, Green Goblin, Scorpion, Vulture, Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, and those are just the ones created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

In recent years Steve Ditko's great contributions to Peter Parker and his web-slinging world have been recognized and celebrated more due to researched studies like Marvel Comics: The Untold Story and Jonathon Ross's  documentary In Search for Steve Ditko. Ross's interrogation of Stan Lee paints the Cameo King of Marvel out to be a villain of Bob Kane proportions, which is hardly comparable.

Now Smiley Stan is hardly an angel with a spotless record >cough< Jack Kirby, but Spider-Man never would have been the amazing, spectacular, adjective filled sensation without him and Ditko for thirty some issues of the greatest comics ever. If you took Lee out of the equation Spider-Man might have ended up more like an Ayn Randian, hippie protest hating, A is A, Rorschach's Journal: DoG CaRcaSS In aLLey, Objectivist billionaire instead of a hero who believes with great power comes great EXCELSIOR TRUE BELIEVER NUFF SAID MORE CATCHPHRASES THAN OL' CANUCKLEHEAD WOLVERINE COULD SHAKE A TAIL FEATHER IN CLAW CITY ON THE ADIMANTIUM EXPRESS!

So Steve Ditko is an unabashed Objectivist. I came to terms with that from the start, and while I pity his outlook on society, it doesn't get in the way of me being floored by his art. As to what an objectivist actually is you can read Atlas Shrugged or if you want to avoid an brain aneurism I suggest Ditko's  Mr. A.

Just how would Mr. A play Fallout: New Vegas?
After Ditko left Marvel for work at Charlton Comics where he was allowed greater creative freedom, which is when the Randian influence on heroes and villain is about as subtle as an episode of Gotham. His post Spider-Man heroes are the elite few who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and "don't need no handouts", yet naturally gifted, so how much struggle did you have in life being an upper class white male nostalgic porn of yesteryear. Blue Beetle is a wealthy inventor and big business owner, The Question's alter ego predates Fox News, and The Creeper is in his own category altogether.

 Gee, some of these characteristics seem familiar. Is your Spider Sense tingling yet? Evil scientists and corrupt businessmen who use the the press to spread lies and panic. Don't tell Jolly J. Johan Jameson or he'll have the Daily Bugle label me a public menace.

Did Ditko get tired of having working class high school geek Pete go up against titans of industry like Vulture, JJJ, Green Goblin, or hard working Jekyll scientists turn Mr. Hyde like Doc Ock and Lizard? Well, one of the deciding factors rumored as to why Ditko left concerned the Green Goblin's identity. Stan Lee apparently wanted it to be the hero's friend's father because that's good soap opera, while Ditko thought it wasn't realistic since it's a comic book about a kid who got bitten by a radioactive spider. Oh, silly realism.

Amazing Fantasy #15, not Amazing Realistic Graffiti
As a child reading a reprint of Spider-Man's origin from Amazing Fantasy #15 I was shocked to see how the early 60s didn't resemble an episode of Happy Days all that well. Sure, there were the varsity jackets, hot rods, and soda shops, but the anger, bitterness, and neurotic atmosphere around Puny Parker belonged to something out of David Lynch's Blue Velvet or Bruce Springsteen's Darkness On the Edge of Town. Later in college I got my hands on all the Ditko Marvel Masterworks collections, which I'm sorry to say to all the creative talent that has worked on the character since has not been surpassed.

Ditko's run is the purest distillation of the character with the greatest arc. Peter Parker starts off as a 15 year old smug loner (why I could relate to the guy so easily) thinking he's superior to his peers because he can't see past his own suffering, who tries repetitively to cash in on his powers and fame in ways that would put the Reality TV generation to shame. Pete does everything from selling photos of himself to starring in a Hollywood movie that goes bust, and to expecting the Fantastic Four to pay him a salary to join their team. Lee and Ditko take an everyman and transform into a proper and selfless hero over the course of years on the title.

It's a slow burn, but just look at the payoff!

Atlas shrugged, but not Spidey

Past movies hardly had the patience or guts for that. Despite my affection for Spider-Man 2 Toby Maguire's Peter Parker seemed too fragile without a self-righteous or angry bone in his body which the early character requires. Andrew Garfield would have been better off playing jock Flash Thompson or an extra in Twilight, but that's just one of many critiques with the recent films and I don't need to beat a dead or in Sony's case dying franchise.

For there to be a great Spider-Man movie it would have to be or start off as a horror film in the Alfred Hitchcock sense of tension building and suspense of knowing a bomb is under a table, but not being aware of when it will explode rather than splatter shock or torture porn. The Marvel Age of Wonder followed closely behind horror and monster mags, which both Jack Kirby and Ditko excelled at. The Hulk and the Fantastic Four's The Thing were monsters as a way for Lee and company to hedge their bets because despite the success of DC's revival of The Flash, Green Lantern, and Justice League of America Marvel wasn't sure if their readers would take to brand new heroes infused with distinct personalities. Amazing Fantasy #15's O. Henry ironic conclusion of the mugger responsible for the death of our hero's uncle was someone Spider-Man could have caught earlier ends in tears and oppressive shadows.

I can't pick a favorite Spidey villain because they work so well conceptually as a collective. It's Peter Parker versus the world or himself. Put him up against the brainwashed army of Ayn Rand's selfish worshiping Sinister Six and we can call it a day.

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