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Pausing to reflect: vulnerability or irreverent humor – what makes Spider-Man enjoyable?
Guest Writer

Spider-Man: the movie
A distant reflection, a little bit of charm
by Neil Anderson

wooping high over the streets of New York, clutching a badly-wounded Spider-Man by the wrist, the Vulture makes evident his intention to release his grip and watch Spider-Man plummet to his doom.

"Before I do this, Spider-Man," says the Vulture, "I want you to know that I admire your courage. Anyone else would be begging for mercy right now. I'm almost sorry I have to do this."

Spider-Man responds by shooting webbing on the Vulture's wings. Unable to stay aloft, the Vulture begins falling to the ground, with Spider-Man still tagging along.

"Do something! Save me!" the Vulture screams. "I can't!" Spider-Man responds. "I'm too busy admiring your tight-lipped courage!"

They don't perish, of course. Spider-Man spins a parachute out of webbing, and they make a safe descent.

The above scene is taken not from the movie currently appearing in theaters, but from the comic book – as originally written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko.

For anyone who's familiar with the Lee/Ditko series, it's hard to imagine any other version of Spider-Man as anything but a pale imitation. The Lee/Ditko series lasted for the first 38 issues of the original series (1962-1966), and subsequent writers and artists in the past 36 years haven't done much but retell the Lee/Ditko stories.

In all the attention that's been focused on Spider-Man lately, one continually hears that what made Spider-Man original was the vulnerability of his alter-ego Peter Parker: his job problems, his girl problems, his school problems, his aunt's medical problems.

All true, but put like that, it makes Spider-Man sound like a self-pitying whiner. What really made Spider-Man enjoyable was the irreverent humor that filled every page.

Elvis impersonator: Peter Parker embodies a costumed Costello.

Spider-Man himself couldn't have been more atypical as a costume hero – small and wiry, unusual abilities (what other super-hero's repertoire includes the ability to stick to things?), a weird-but-not-silly costume (at least relative to other super-heroes), frighteningly articulate, and (again, relative to other super-heroes), surprisingly shrewd.

A costumed Elvis Costello.

Returning to the aforementioned battle with the Vulture, as they descend safely to the ground thanks to Spider-Man's web parachute, the Vulture gasps, "You had that planned all along!"

To which Spider-Man responds, "Darn straight! I don't let my wings do my thinking for me, like some people I could mention!"

The movie currently playing in theaters is a distant reflection, rather than a realization, of the original Lee/Ditko Spider-Man. But the movie has a little of the charm of the original, and that little is gratifying.

See more from Neil in our archives.

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