Along Came a Spider

Our next scheduled stop on the Treasury and Tabloid route is Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. Before we arrive there, however, I want  to discuss a couple of more contemporary Spider-Man collections which I read over the Xmas holidays (  already receding into memory!)

Lewis Marvel Encyclopediia

My friend Jason’s wee boy Lewis is devoted to the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon. He’s six and he likes White Tiger and  Iron Fist (“His name is Danny”, he reminded me). So do I. Isn’t it incredible that after fifty years, Peter Parker still has an appeal for kids?  Superman just doesn’t seem to resonate in the same way. Why Marvel doesn’t produce a mainstream comic-perhaps New Avengers?- with this line-up astounds me. Above, you can see us reading the Marvel Encyclopedia. Lewis, tellingly, also likes most 90s characters, such as Onslaught, Exodus and Venom. ( One of my S2 kids loves Venom. And Carnage).

Spider-Man also lends himself to reinterpretation, like Batman.  2005’s Spider-Man: India was produced by Gotham Studios Asia for Marvel and is a re-imagining of the Lee/Ditko masterpiece, in the style of DC’s Elseworlds.

Mumbai teenager Pavitr Prabkhar is given his powers by a Brahmin-like figure ( a lot like the wizard Shazam). He loses his Uncle Bhim to a criminal act and goes on to fulfil his karma facing Nalin Oberoi, a megalomaniac industrialist who has been transformed into a raksha or demon. The Indian version of Doctor Octopus is a many-armed  demon also and so the series has echoes of recent interpretations of Captain Marvel ( cf. Trials of Shazam).


Pavitr’s rural background makes him an outsider but his imagination is coloured by the Bollywood industry. His Spidey-outfit with its dhoti and pointy sandals makes an organic design element but aside from a slight Manga influence, the look of the book is very dark and Nineties. But then so is ninety per cent of the New 52.

India is set to overtake China as the most populous place on Earth and its young people are greedy for American brands. How exciting would it have been for Pavitr Prabkhar to be an original creation (perhaps Dharma or Deva?) tapping into the fecundity of India? Particularly for Britain, where we  consume Indian cuisine, cinema, literature and the Bhangra sound. Also, how daring would it be to pit a young super hero against the corrupt  globalisation of trade and sweat shop labour?

I feel much the same way about a second re-imagining of the web-slinger. Ultimate Comics, like the New 52, was a “soft reboot” of  Marvel’s stable of Lee/Kirby/Ditko characters. Over a decade ago, it was decided to jettison nearly forty years of continuity and begin afresh with a modern sensibility and an eye on marketing the characters to the film and tv industries.

And it worked: Avengers Assemble is informed far more by Mark Millar’s Ultimates rather than Thomas, Englehart, Shooter or Stern. But the Ultimate Universe was always a dark and nihilistic setting and its most high-profile casualty was its longest-running and most successful character Peter Parker. I’ve blogged about Brian Bendis and his Avengers tenure on Place ( short version: actually, mostly necessary and entertaining). The introduction of a successor for Peter  is certainly one of Bendis’s most controversial achievements.


Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Who is Miles Morales tells the story of  a black-Latino adolescent who acquires spider-powers and how his guilt over the death of Spider-Man causes him to take the mantle. It’s a charming story, inspired by the multi-racial make-up of the writer’s own family. Miles is only thirteen and through a lottery, has been accepted into a progressive school ( not Xavier’s!). When visiting his uncle, the criminal Prowler, he is bitten by one of OzCorp’s mutated spiders and gains a venom blast and camouflage powers. An encounter with Spider-Woman and the Ultimates sets Miles on the path of super-hero-dom.

Much as I liked Andrew Garfield’s lanky ( and randy!) nerd Parker, I rather wish Miles’s version had reached the Big Screen. However, I would also rather that the biracial wall-crawler had been an absolutely original creation. There are plenty of moribund names at Marvel: how about Yellowjacket or better still, The Buzz? The milieu  of the hero is refreshingly different from the exclusively all-white world of mainstream Marvel and DC and I think this story would speak to a global audience.  While I think it would be better invent new heroes, however, I recognise that we live in a world of revived Merlins and Sherlocks : one where even Doctor Who, like Spider-Man,  is fifty.

Coming soon ( honestly) Superman Vs. Spider-Man

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners


2 comments on “Along Came a Spider

  1. Kid Robson says:

    At the time of DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths (’85/’86), Marvel creators crowed that they didn’t have to re-imvent their characters because Marvel had got it right the first time. I thought there was some truth to this. Then, some years back, John Byrne (who had once been the man for restoring the feel of ’60s Marvel) started to tinker with Spider-Man’s history, making one atomic incident responsible for more than one origin. That was the beginning of the end. Then came ‘Ultimates’ and out went Marvel’s credibility with me. I refuse to acknowledge any different ‘take’ on characters that isn’t in line with Lee, Kirby, Ditko and Heck’s view of how they should be.

    Marvel had to have done something right to capture readers back in the ’60s and keep them right up into their adult years. Every new change seems to be an admission that the last one was wrong. The only change I’d like to see now is one that goes ‘Back to Basics!’ and returns the heroes I knew in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – not ones that merely bear a vague resemblance to them.

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