View current page
...more recent posts
Revisionism runs rampant these days: first we had Gerhard Richter as loving family man and now we have a non-creepy Spider-Man. (I haven't seen the movie yet, but please let me critique the hype.) First Scintillatin' Stan (Lee), Spidey's co-creator, gets a crack, in a New York Times op-ed: "I have often thought Spider-Man's worldwide appeal also owes something to his costume. Sharp-eyed fans are sure to have noticed that Spider-Man's costume covers every inch of his body. There is absolutely no skin showing beneath his oh-so-trendy red and blue fashion statement. When Steve Ditko first dreamed up our hero's threads, he created one of the most unique designs in comic-book history. But more than that, Spidey's costume is completely user-friendly. Any reader, of any race, in any part of the world, can imagine himself under that costume — and fantasize that he himself is Spider-Man." I'm not sure friendly, user- or otherwise, is the word I would use to describe those malevolent, pupilless eyes, muscle-hugging cobwebs, and black widow between the pecs, but Lee's "big, sloppy heart" (as Jonathan Lethem calls it) tends to make us forget such details. While you wouldn't expect the creator of a lucrative franchise to admit that it has any dark underpinnings, what's critic David Edelstein's excuse? Here's his take in Slate: "The Marvel Spider-Man comic was born at the beginning of the Pop Art era—its colors are primary. Unlike Bruce Wayne's Batman and Bruce Banner's Incredible Hulk, Peter Parker's Spider-Man has no metaphoric component. The spider persona doesn't emanate from any aspect of Parker's troubled psyche—it's just a cool conceit." C'mon, the kid looks like a Mexican Santo wrestler, creeps and crawls around buildings, has connections in the underworld (remember "Patch"?), spurts semen-like goo out of his wrists--sure, Lee and Ditko made him a lovable everyman with personal "hang-ups," but let's face it, the appeal of the strip was the "normal" kid flirting with the Dark Side. This was never stated by the Marvel's merry men (who were ever mindful of the Comics Code) but the message came through loud and clear to us 8-year olds who enjoyed the strip back in the day.
Another early-'60s creation that artfully mixed the heroic with the macabre was The Scarecrow, played by Patrick McGoohan, before he was the Prisoner or even the Secret Agent. This Disney-produced mini-series (later released as the feature Dr. Syn and the Scarecrow) had good guys fighting King George III to save the public from punitive taxation, but in costumes guaranteed to keep sensitive children awake at night. McGoohan's raspy voice and crooked smile, Hellspite's "leatherface" mask, and Johnny Banks' Evil Barn Owl get-up were the stuff of pure black nightmare. By day McGoohan was the mild-mannered Vicar Syn, hanging out with the aristocracy; by night he roamed the marshes on horseback, robbing the King's supply caravans. Today we would call him a terrorist, though all the violence in the show was implicit. The Scarecrow's specialty was psychological warfare: in an unforgettable scene his band of masked men judge and "hang" a traitor: at the last minute he is cut down, his near-asphyxiation serving as a warning. I saw the film in my late teens and was a bit let down but my childhood memories of the show are potent: I recently discovered a website devoted to the character [since disappeared] and got a case of goosebumps that wouldn't go away.