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Gather Like Cattle, And Ye Shall Be Herd

I have been forbidden to ever watch Snow White And The Seven Dwarves with anybody in my family from now until the Second Coming.  The reason is because I have ruined the ending.  I point out that Snow White is in a glass coffin above ground where everyone will be able to see her rot (I know, I know, she's actually asleep, but they don't know that.  Otherwise, why put her in a coffin?).  Then along comes a prince who sees a dead body and decides to kiss her.  I have obliterated the warm fuzzies people get from the "love's first kiss" thing and all that jazz, and no one appreciates it.  It reminds me of Adrian Monk -- "You memorized the entire play after only one sitting?"  "I'm sorry."  It's not that it makes no sense, it's that, once you see it, you can't unsee it, and this revelation that was safely ignored for so long will never go to the back of your mind.

And so, the current Spider-Man story, One Moment In Time, ends.  It was to explain how the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson never happened.

Naturally, the fans are all upset.

I'm trying to understand why.

It's not because I'm not a general fan of superhero comics.  I understand all too well the appeal of them.  I can't say I have a problem with the genre.  The problem is with all the raging going on over...what, exactly?

I discussed editorial fiat before, so I'm not going to rehash it here.  Instead, I want to focus on something else.  All the fans are complaining that they want their Spider-Man back.  The problem is, what constitutes their Spider-Man is being married to Mary Jane.  They are overlooking a much bigger problem -- Spider-Man is a selfish prick.

In the art of writing, character is key.  And one of the most important aspects is motivation.  Ostensibly, a story depicts a character doing something they wouldn't or shouldn't normally be doing.  Otherwise, there is no story.  Nothing of note is happening, so there's no reason to focus on it.  Spider-Man had the initial standard superhero bit, where a person gets fantastic abilities thrown at them.  But it is the second twist that made Spider-Man what he was, the motivation.  It was a rewrite of the Biblical statement of, to whom much is given, much will be expected.  With great power comes great responsibility.

Ostensibly, this gave rise to Spider-Man as a noble hero.  He was doing what a person with superpowers should be doing, helping those in need.  And that's great from a rah-rah standpoint.

But the fact is, Spider-Man is psychotic.

I don't remember who it was, but a writer a few years ago basically suggested that Spider-Man's whole career was a case of survivor's guilt.  He throws himself into dangerous situations because he is punishing himself for not saving Uncle Ben, he feels he doesn't deserve to live.  It's suicide by proxy.  Does it fit?  Sure, but I think there's a more direct explanation.  Parker has always been a compulsive overachiever, frustrated by the limitations of his body and his life.  He does the superhero thing because he can't stand to think of himself as what he is, only what he thinks he should be.

When Parker becomes Spider-Man, he's cocky, he's a smart ass, he's victorious, he's a hero.  He's projecting an image, one that can be seen right through in the right circumstance.  It was early on when Daredevil and Spider-Man first met.  I'm pretty sure Stan Lee wrote the story, and was impressed with how he conveyed the differences in the characters.  Spider-Man didn't want to work with Daredevil for fear of being seen as weak or less than capable.  He was insecure.  Daredevil, by way of contrast, was a happy hero, well-adjusted and accepting of what he was and comfortable with his limitations.  Parker takes the "to whom much is given, much will be expected", juices it up with his compulsive overachieving, and is trying to be something other than a loser, whatever it takes.

Wally West, back when he was the Flash, had insecurities and made mistakes.  But those things never defined him, helping people and upholding the legacy of Barry Allen were important.  He didn't have to be everywhere at once (ironic, given that he moved fast enough he possibly could), and while he kept an eye out for trouble, he didn't obsess over it, watching the world like a hawk for an opportunity to become the Flash.  (This is after he no longer had anything to prove.  Before that, when everyone was comparing him to Barry Allen and how he would never equal him, he went passive aggressive and didn't bother trying.)  Wally was defined for growing and becoming a hero in his own right.  I wouldn't have had a problem with someone else becoming the Flash (in the history of the series, it's happened quite a few times), I just didn't like bringing back Barry Allen.  It smelled too much like, "Just kidding."

For all the talk of Spider-Man and what a great character he is, he is actually a deeply flawed individual.  If he had access to the information network Bruce Wayne has, he would probably plunge the world into chaos as he searches for anything to save people from.  It's not editorial fiat that makes the character a loser, it's that he will never move beyond it, even when things improve.  He marries a woman who truly loves him, and he throws the marriage away without consideration for her just to save his Aunt May who would have told him to let her die and get on with his life.  With his brilliant scientific mind, he could find a job as a chemical engineer or some other science thing (I'm sure he could get a gig at the Baxter Building -- hell, he could probably either save Aunt May or find someone who could!), but he's a newspaper photographer, making money from pictures of his own exploits.  He could still be Spider-Man, but it would be as a genuine hero, someone doing it because they can, not doing it from a corner he keeps himself in.  And anytime he does do something that he should do (I mean, come on, the robber who killed Uncle Ben was still robbing a guy who ripped him off.  Yes, the consequences are tragic, but without knowing what comes next, I not sure I would have done anything different) that will move him out of the loser column, he sabotages it.  It's not bad luck.  He likes being a loser.  He likes that differential between how great a hero he is and how pathetic everyone sees him as.  It's an inside joke for his own amusement, at the expense of the world.

I understand people who identify with and love Spider-Man.  And yes, the stories could be handled better.  But ultimately, these stories come about, not by editorial fiat, but because the character is such a mess, these stories CAN be told.  They DO fit with the character.  They DO make sense in the grand scheme of things.  People shouldn't be surprised, not because Quesada is trying to put his own stamp on things, but because the character has never advanced to a point where these things can't happen.

If you read the early Spidey stories by Lee and Ditko, Spidey was evolving, maturing, growing into being a hero.  But then the decision was made to keep Parker as a loser and go with the whole "illusion of change" thing.  Ditko left, and Spidey has been in the story ghetto ever since.  When any progress Spidey makes is undone, it's not editorial arrogance.  It's simply the nature of the beast.

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