The James Clayton Column: The more Spider-Men the merrier
As The Amazing Spider-Man swings into cinemas, James celebrates the character’s rich, ever-changing mythos…
Andrew Garfield is Spider-Man. This may come as a surprise to you if you’ve not been keeping up with pop cultural current affairs and are attached to the idea that Tobey Maguire is Spider-Man.
In case that’s the case I’ll briefly break it down for you. The Spider-Man franchise has been rebooted and Tobey Maguire is no longer in the red-and-blue threads and sitting pretty in the title role. He’s not the figurehead and web-slingin’ fingers of the series so if he wants to front a franchise he better get to work on Seabiscuit 2.
And what about Sam Raimi? Raimi is busy with Oz: The Great And Powerful (a fresh prequel to The Wizard Of Oz) and the power-people at Sony Pictures decided they’d restart the series anew and go for a complete do-over with a new director and a new cast. That director is the suitably-named (500) Days Of Summer helmer Marc Webb and our new Spider-Man is young British actor Andrew Garfield who you might remember as being excellent in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go.
The Amazing Spider-Man is the film and it’s now out in cinemas. It has the same title as the 1977 tele-feature in which former Von Trapp Family member Nicholas Hammond plays Peter Parker but that shouldn’t trouble you or cause any difficulty. Neither should The Amazing Spider-Man’s close proximity to the Raimi trilogy of the last decade.
(As an aside, I recommend the 1977 adaptation of The Amazing Spider-Man as a gloriously craptastic low-grade Spidey spin-off. Imagine a ropey low-rent version of a Starsky & Hutch-style show with shades of A Clockwork Orange and Luke Skywalker’s psychic twin playing Peter Parker and you’re getting somewhere close to its kitschy greatness.)
If you do have a problem with the arrival of the new cinematic reboot I’d urge you to calm down, take a step back for perspective and remember Spider-Man’s roots as a comics character. Spider-Man, after all, is a concept, a symbol or - to use an ugly but appropriate word - a brand that, by nature, is made to be remade and reconfigured time and time again. And he has, throughout the ages across different mediums since Steve Ditko and Stan Lee first spawned the character in the early ‘60s.
Complaining that a different actor is now playing Peter Parker strikes me as a little like whinging that a different writer or artist is now producing the Spider-Man pages. It overlooks the fact that ‘change’ is such an innate feature at the core of the character’s composition and goes against the aforementioned truth that the concept is king.
It’s worth noting that on several runs in the Marvel Comicsverse, the role of Spider-Man is currently being played by Miles Morales - an African-American schoolkid - now that Peter Parker has been killed off. That serves as an example of how many different versions of Spidey continue to do the rounds in print and that’s before we’ve even got to contemporary cartoons and films on top of the back catalogue of movies, animated and live-action TV shows, videogames and non-canon international knock-offs from the past. (The excellent late ‘70s Japanese tokusatsu series Supaidaman deserves special mention simply for the fact that Spider-Man rides around in a giant robot called Leopardon.)
Ultimately, it’s a highly baffling and bizarre tangled web that’s been weaved but it’s a lot of fun to crawl around, especially if you imagine all the various Spider-Men joining together to form a dodgeball team to take on every version of the Incredible Hulk.
The Hulk is another Marvel character who’s had reboot and recasting hassle over recent years with Mark Ruffalo now hulksmashing as Dr. Bruce Banner after the rapid succession of Eric Bana and Edward Norton. The complaints the recasting generated seem petty (especially after The Avengers’ massive success) and miss the point which I’ll reiterate once again - the concept is the crucial thing and not the actor inhabiting the role, even though it’s an important part of the magic.
I see parallels to Doctor Who and the 007 series - you may have a particular favourite Timelord or James Bond but it’s the sheer idea of the character and all the mythos surrounding the titular hero that’s pre-eminent. Likewise - to jump publishing houses and cast our eyes across the DC Comics multiverse - it’s the same with Batman. The notion of Gotham’s Dark Knight is bigger than any of the actors who’ve played the Caped Crusader or arguably any of the comics creators who’ve written or drawn him.
The existence of various different versions of, say, Spider-Man, Batman or Bond also offers audiences a lot of liberation to pick and choose depending on their mood or inclination.
Within the 007 series there’s so much variety and pretty much a film to suit every feeling or fondness. If you fancy campy sci-fi you can watch Roger Moore in Moonraker. If you’d like a post-Cold War actioner there’s Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye or there’s always Sean Connery and From Russia With Love if you’d like to spend time with a vintage gentleman’s thriller of the old-school kind.
Multiple variations on a concept bring freedom for fans and this is very true of the comic-book blockbuster franchises. Personally, my favourite print version of Batman comes in the comics written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Lee Bermejo and Christopher Nolan’s films are the closest in terms of tone and attitude. That doesn’t mean I have no time for other Batworks, however, and there are occasions when Tim Burton’s twisted toytown Gotham or Adam West serials (“holy costume party!”) hit the spot better than another highly-serious trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.
We should embrace them all and that’s why, to turn again to the webslinger of the moment, I’m excited about the arrival of The Amazing Spider-Man, rebooted with Andrew Garfield in the title role, set to swing into action in another separate strand of Spidey-lore.
It doesn’t matter how many different spin-offs, reimaginings or reboots across a range of formats there are. What’s most important is the idea of Spider-Man - the idea of a humble human teenager gaining incredible arachnid-like powers and using them to become a costumed hero. It’s an exhilarating fantasy and just as long as The Amazing Spider-Man captures that vital essential spirit, it’ll be fine with all us true believers.
And it only has to be half as enjoyable as an episode of Supaidaman to be alright with me. Welcome back Spider-Man. Excelsior!
James Clayton swings across the web but doesn’t have a homemade red-and-blue costume and doesn’t constantly bleat on about “great power” and “great responsibility”. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.
You can read James' previous column here.