I started watching Season One of Spectactular Spider-Man. It’s pretty good. It could be great except that I could never get past certain elements of the Spider-Man character. Mostly, it’s that everyone Peter Parker knows seems to either be menaced constantly by supervillains or transform into supervillains. It probably wasn’t intentional. It just sort of happened by accident, as writers developed his universe. Still, it’s annoying and dumb and probably the biggest weakness of the character.
But this is beside the point because, as ridiculous as I find that aspect of Spidey, it is irrelevant if I’m actually enjoying the stories. And Spectacular Spider-Man is enjoyable. It captures the essence of the character. It also dares to be fun. It isn’t silliness. Well, other than the silliness of people in funny costumes with weird powers fighting each other. But that’s innate to superheroes, who are all pretty damn stupid if taken at face value. Superheroes are fantasy.
The thing about Spectacular is that it proves that you can create great superhero stories with maturity and intelligence and (lest we forget) fun! You don’t need sex or blood or gore. And the notion that these elements are necessary to tell a great, intelligent story is just plain wrong.
Don’t misquote me. I’m all for sex and gore where appropriate. Some of my novels have more of this than others, but it’s not something I think a lot about. If it belongs there, I put it in. If it doesn’t, I don’t. I don’t include “mature” elements just because I’m supposed to, and I don’t exclude them for fear of offending. But I do leave them out sometimes because I find they don’t really add anything.
Ultimately, the inclusion of any element doesn’t really make or break a story. Sex and gore can be implied without really losing anything. None of my books have any real sex in them because I find nothing interesting to be written about sex. I’m perfectly comfortable with seeing two characters embrace and cutting to the afterglow. I did have a sex scene, of sorts, in Gil’s and Monster. Neither is particularly graphic. And, ironically, both are written to illustrate a rather dull sort of relationship between the couples in question.
Spectacular Spider-Man has nothing much sexual, aside from an unrequited crush here and there. But it’s really about the emotions, and in that way, we see characters interact on that level. But what about gore?
Spectacular has none of that. There’s no blood, no guts. The violence is cartoonish, which is just fine by me. On the other hand, when The Lizard makes his first appearance, he is portrayed as a vicious creature who would happily eat people if Spidey wasn’t there to get in his way. The threat of The Lizard is implied, but just because we aren’t treated to a in-your-face view of him eviscerating little children, it doesn’t make him seem less dangerous. It’s clear that without Spidey, things would quickly get messy.
This has several elements I like. It keeps me from having to despise The Lizard, a good man who is a victim of well-intentioned science. This is important to me as recurring villains who are unrepetent monsters just aren’t fun. A Joker who menaces Gotham but is foiled by Batman is fine by me. A Joker who kills hundreds and yet is allowed to rampage unopposed is an exercise in hypocracy. It also brings up the whole point of superheroes. Superheroes save people. They try to make the world a better place. Superheroes who just clean up the messes, who merely punch out the bad guy after he’s killed and maimed, isn’t anything special. The fantasy of the superhero is men and women of action who save the day. Superheroes who fail to save the day regularly are just people with weird powers who fail.
In The Lizard episode of Spectacular, Peter Parker debates seriously taking an antidote that would remove his powers. In mainstream Spidey comics, I don’t see why he would hesitate. His superpowers have only made his life harder, and they haven’t helped him help those around him either. His friends die. His supervillains continually menace him. He’s barely a stopgap and most of his actions are meaningless. He’s worthless as a superhero. He’d be much better off as a regular guy, free to pursue his education and career.
In the Spectacular episode though, he realizes that it was Spider-Man who kept The Lizard from becoming a monster. It was Spidey who saved a family the grief and pain Spidey has had to suffer. And that not only makes Spider-Man actually seem like a person with responsibility, it also makes him likable. His life might have ups and downs, but there’s a nobility in putting the needs of others before yourself.
Yet the Peter Parker on Spectacular doesn’t fall into sadsack territory. He doesn’t mope that his life is tough. He bears the weight of his responsibility with dignity and self-respect. It’s not an easy path, but he walks it because he’s a good person who sees the good he can do. This is sophisticated stuff. This is great stuff. This is stuff that makes me like Spider-Man. And that’s no easy feat.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,