The comics context of Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man

2012's Spider-Man movie revamp is already suffering venomous reactions, but are they from comic book enthusiasts or fans of previous movies? Here's why the The Amazing Spider-Man sticks closely to the comics...

The comics context of ASM

Hi everybody. Have a seat and make yourself comfortable, we’ve got some real issues to talk about today. This is an intervention on behalf of the comics industry and its readership for all fans of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie trilogy. We think you need some encouragement and we want to support you, and finding out more about comics is just the first step on the road to recovery. 

We’re not singly you out – we’ve been trying to make the Schumacher-Batman-haters realise for years that Frank Miller isn’t the be-all and end-all of Bruce Wayne, but it’s not easy when you’re so set in yourways. Together we’re going to confront a few of the reasons why you don’t want to give the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man movie a chance.

Let’s begin by talking about the character of our mutual friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Peter Parker.

Educating Peter

‘Andrew Garfield looks like a dorky toothbrush’

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Garfield exudes original artist and co-creator Steve Ditko’s rendition of Peter Parker as a gangly, quiff-haired wallflower. Not to knock Tobey Maguire’s performance, but Garfield is by far the better casting choice in terms of appearance. It’s science.

‘Emo Spider-Man is emo’

Some fans have criticised Garfield, and the tone of the footage and stills released so far, for being emo, too dark and trying to pull a Chris Nolan. Spider-Man has the ‘Parker luck’: just when things are looking up for him everything starts to go wrong. You’d probably be a little emo too if that was your lot in life.

Spider-Man is an orphan who also lost his father-figure uncle, a second role-model in the form of NYPD Captain George Stacy, and his first love. Peter’s parents Richard and Mary Parker were first introduced in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 in 1968. The couple worked for SHIELD – see the Iron Man and Thor movies or almost any Marvel comic – but this wasn’t truly revealed until a special flashback #-1 in 1997.

Not the joker we expected

Spidey still cracks jokes in the face of adversity so don’t write the character off just yet. Maguire didn’t get much humour in the Raimi movies, which was a shame as his voice acting in the Spider-Man games showed off good comic timing. Comic Con footage of Garfield apparently teased that Spidey will bring some laughs, so why so serious? Let’s just hope he doesn’t want to get nuts or he might get a rise out of the Dark Knight next year.

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Spider-Man loves Mary Jane

‘Who’s Gwen Stacy?’

If we’re going to be picky Parker’s first love interests were high-school flirt Liz Allan and Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant. Gwen was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #31 in 1965, 11 issues before Mary Jane’s first full appearance. The Night Gwen Stacy Died storyline in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 is as defining to Peter Parker’s character as the murder of his Uncle Ben. Putting Mary Jane in peril at the hands of the Green Goblin on a bridge, letting her live and then introducing Stacy after Peter’s dalliances with Mary Jane all added up to spoil the poignancy of the Spider-Man tale.

Such a departure from comics heritage marked Raimi’s movies out from beginning to end as bizarre. It’s been confirmed that Gwen won’t die in Amazing Spider-Man and that Mary Jane isn’t in the movie – a change for the better.

Scaling back the villains

‘The Lizard is lame’

Spider-Man has one of the best rogues’ galleries in comics. The Lizard was an early addition who was introduced in 1963 Amazing Spider-Man #6. Raimi’s third film would probably have benefitted rather than faltered from antagonist-overkill by going all out and just using the Sinister Six: replacing the by-then deceased Doctor Octopus with Harry Osborn’s Casual-Friday-goblin backed up by Electro, Mysterio, Kraven, Sandman and Vulture. Venom’s origins lay in the Eighties Secret Wars crossover and were very difficult to translate to screen.

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While The Lizard isn’t the best-known lethal foe of Spider-Man, at least we’re not getting Stegron the Dinosaur Man.

Directorial disputes

‘Sam Raimi built my childhood’

That’s great, but Stan Lee and Steve Ditko trump Raimi’s trilogy by decades. A lot of excellent comic book creators – Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Romita, John Romita Jr., Peter David, Todd McFarlane, Sal Buscema, Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley, to name a few – have added to the webhead’s backstory in that time. 

Limiting yourself to three movies of recycled plot is to ignore the magnificent source material. Yes, even the lamentable Clone Saga can be reclaimed if handled right – Dan Slott’s Spider Island event this year proved that, and Parker-clone Kaine returns in the promising Scarlet Spider #1 this January.

‘Marc Webb is an untested director handling a big-name franchise’

The critically acclaimed (500) Days of Summer was about a young man struggling for the attention of a young woman and eventually finding love elsewhere. Sounds like the Peter Parker-Gwen Stacy-Mary Jane Watson love triangle doesn’t it? Few would’ve imagined in 2004 that the director of Memento would make what many hold to be the defining Batman movies. Even fewer could have thought Raimi would deliver after James Cameron pulled out of his planned Spider-Man movie. Give Webb a chance.

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Spider-Man 3

Yeeeeeeeah, speaking of giving director’s a chance… Spider-Man 3 was a thoroughly bad movie after two reasonable ones. Rose-tinted spectacles aside, ladies and gentlemen of the furore, and there’s no saving it. Badboy Spidey’s not even that fun to watch like Batman & Robin‘s wholesale bastardisation of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. 

It would be a triumph of bad cinema if Amazing Spider-Man turned out any worse than the garbled story of I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Hobgoblin enacting his revenge on Spider-Travolta while Beachboy sulks and – look up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an alien symbiote conviently blowing a crater in Central Park.

Michael Bay might manage to get away with the panspermia-opening in Transformers, but at least he blew shiz up so loudly that you were left more worried your face could melt off before the third act. Wait – there was a third act?

Filling Spidey’s reboots

‘Oh great, back to square one after only 5 years’

Spider-Man 3 was universally decried, so forget that and go on the far better Spider-Man 2. Batman & Robin was eight years before Batman Begins; Spider-Man 2 was eight years before The Amazing Spider-Man. Are you following all those numbers? It’s an arbitrary length of time and doesn’t make much difference.

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The real issue is the studio putting its backing behind a new movie that doesn’t have the creative team approved by the loyal audience the first three movies built up. If you’re a fan of anything that’s going to be remade though, doesn’t the adage of only being as good as the last hit hold true?

Retcon = reboot 

The general public unfamiliar or uninterested in comics might not be aware of the retcon, or retroactive continuity. They should start getting familiar with it, as it’s creeping into other media more and more like a Bobby Ewing nightmare. In comics, to revisit something from a different perspective isn’t exactly a reboot, and is often done with some affection for the original story being reimagined. Watchmen – the most respected superhero story of all time to both comics veterans and ingenues alike – is just the Charlton Comics superhero line retold by Alan Moore.

“The untold story” 

Last weekend’s teaser poster mystified some with its tagline of “The untold story”. Look to the comics for an answer. Untold Tales of Spider-Man was a late Nineties series, written by Kurt Busiek with art from Pat Oliffe, that wove new stories into some of Parker’s earliest adventures. Marvel Studios’ Avi Avad told Entertainment Weekly that this was the purpose of the new film, saying “It’s not a comeback. You have to look at it this way: do you want to know more about Spider-Man? This movie is going to tell stories that you didn’t see in movies 1, 2, and 3.”

Where the costume change, webshooters, Curt Connors change into the Lizard and Gwen Stacy fit into Arad’s view is unsure, but heck, roll with it. In conversation with Busiek on Twitter recently, Marvel big-wig Tom Brevoort confirmed that the whole run of Untold Tales of Spider-Man would be released in omnibus form. It’s now listed as pre-order for March 2012. All the cool kids will be picking up a copy in advance of the movie.

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Amazing Spider-Man is a stupid title’

It’s been the name of Spidey’s main comic since his second issue in 1963. The Amazing prefix was on his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 too, and Stan Lee’s tendency for sensationalism resulted in comics with names like Invincible Iron Man, Mighty Thor, Incredible Hulk, and Uncanny X-Men that have sold for fifty years. Amazing Spider-Man was also briefly touted as the name for Spider-Man 2. Isn’t it slightly better than sticking a number on the end? Spider-Man 4 sounds like a wacky round of golf gone wrong.

Doing whatever a spider can

‘That costume!’ 

Like Superman Returns before it, Amazing Spider-Man has the difficult task of juggling elements of the Raimi films’ look while finding its own style. Makeover time! Spidey’s had several costume changes in the comics and sported a truly mangled version of the classic black suit in Spider-Man 3. Amazing Spider-Man‘s snazzy threads resemble the redesigned costume of Nineties clone of Peter Parker, Ben Reilly. Reilly took over briefly as Spider-Man and wore his webshooters on the outside of his suit – fitting for a return to mechanical versions in the new movie. Just be thankful you’re not a fan of The Man of Steel‘s disappearing under-over-pants.

‘Mechanical webshooters are dumb’

They’re the original status quo for Spidey and lend Peter Parker credibility as a boffin, someone more than just an average teenaged boy who happens to gain superhuman powers.

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The producers have made a bold decision to feature mechanical webshooters of some form and explain something that deepens the character instead of glossing over him with macguffins.

The technology may be just to guide Spider-Man’s own ability to generate webs, but let’s wait and see the movie first before we judge. Before Raimi’s first movie an online petition, No-Organic-Webshooters.com, was started to protest against the then-controversial decision to include webs-au-naturale. Less than a decade later and the opposite applies.

‘The teaser trailer made my eyes bleed’

I seem alone in having enjoyed the teaser trailer’s first-person rooftop climbing and webslinging sequence. It captured the experience of Spider-Man’s abilities far more successfully than the magical, levitating Spidey did in three full-length outings. The teaser hinted at the secretive Parker family history too. 

Come into the parlour

We’ve covered a lot of things, and hopefully those of you who were introduced to Spider-Man by the Raimi movies will take away something useful. Maybe you’ll even decide to give Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man a chance when it’s released in July 2012. Remember that with great power comes great responsibility, and there’s nothing more powerful than the choices of an informed audience.

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