One of the best Spider-Man moments

September 27th, 2012 by | Tags: ,

This is something I wrote for a group post that ended up not going up anywhere, so I figured I’d share it here. The theme is “Favorite Spider-Man Moments,” in honor of the character’s 50th anniversary. I’m not sure how old I was when I first read this. It would’ve been ’89 or ’90, I think, which means I was six or seven. It made a real impression. I still like when heroes lose or freak out. It feels more honest than unshakable courage in the face of horrendous danger.

Anyway, Spider-Man was created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Thank you, fellas.

One of my favorite Spider-Man moments comes from the first comic I ever owned, David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane’s Amazing Spider-Man 316. I didn’t know it at the time, but the comic was the big return of then-new Spider-Man villain Venom. It’s a pretty wild ride for a first comic. My moment comes toward the end of the issue, when Spider-Man goes off to confront Venom. He locates him in a slaughterhouse, they fight, and Venom manhandles Spider-Man. At one point, Venom dumps a vat of offal and blood onto Spider-Man, and Spidey panics. He flips out, crushes Venom under a few machines, and bugs out, accidentally leaving his address behind.

This is so great because it sets up Spider-Man as something other than a super-man. He loses, and on top of that, he panics. He loses control. He gets freaked out. The man beneath the mask was revealed, just for a moment, and he rejected the horrors of superheroic life on an instinctual level. This scene is extremely humanizing, and just good entertainment besides.

I like this scene so much because it feels so true to Spider-Man. When the people in charge of his stories bring their A-game, Spider-Man is Peter Parker first and a superhero third or fourth. He’s not an everyman, not at all in thinking about it, but he is a regular man. He’s meant to be someone we can recognize slivers of ourselves in, and that makes it easier to buy the hijinks he gets into. This scene is just one of several great examples of how Peter Parker is the best superhero ever.

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5 comments to “One of the best Spider-Man moments”

  1. Years ago, I read a book about writing by Peter David and he had an interesting bit where he talked about the pitfalls of the concept of “acting out of character”. There’s a balance between acting human and acting as a pre-determined, solid set of traits. The example he gave was how an otherwise good person might accidentally drive into someone in the middle of the night, panic and speed off. They’ll feel horrible about it later and maybe turn themselves in or try to make amends, but in that fight-or-flight moment, they freaked out. But if you had Mary Jane do that? Readers would be PISSED and claim that she would NEVER do that.

    Or another example is when Batman killed the Joker in Elseworlds: The Nail. They went out of their way to put Batman in a position where he was pushed far over the edge by the Joker’s actions, even worse than in Dark Knight Returns and Death in the Family, and in a moment of intense rage killed the Joker. He spent the rest of the miniseries and its sequel depressed and self-destructive, but in the moment acted out of believable emotion. And yet I’ve still seen people say that Batman killing the Joker in that instance was completely out of character.

    I’ve recently realized that that’s one of the reasons why I’ve always dug Eddie Brock’s origin. It’s logically unconventional, which is what makes it real. It’s easy to point out how Eddie should have zero reason to hate Spider-Man for being superheroic and doing his job, but that’s how impudent rage works. When it’s part your fault and part fate, you’ll find anything else to blame and stick to it. When I’m late to work, it’s the fault of the guy in front of me driving the speed limit and not me taking my time getting ready and the random schedules of traffic lights.

    I’m not saying something like Captain America deciding that torture is okay is okay, but sometimes you have to give characters leeway when they’re in the heat of the moment.

  2. McFarlane sure was hard to fuck with when he was still young and hungry and not obsessed with owning balls.

  3. I just downloaded my GITcorp copy of this issue and watched it. I had a different takeaway than you did.

    Peter was proactively seeking out Venom to protect his family from a major and continuing threat. They found each other, engaged, and Peter freaked out and ran away, claiming that he couldn’t beat Venom on his own – immediately following the vat of guts being poured on him.

    That came across as cowardly as hell, to me – admittedly, someone 20 years the senior of your younger self.

  4. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve run across more “this was my first comic” stories about one issue or another in this exact story on the Internet than any other comic/story. (Granted, that only applies to a single generation and those who still care about comics, but if you look at what was running opposite to it with a presence in other media – X-ecutioner’s Song, IIRC – you can tell why this one kept people coming back while everything else isn’t memorable.)

  5. There is something astounding about those tiny little “Heh! Heh! Heh! Heh!” captions sinking down the page at the end there. Astoundingly creepy.