Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why Fan Boys are Wrong to Think Spider-Man Belongs in High School

Yikes, could I get more click-baity? I'd like to say I'm not here to start an argument, but that's exactly what I'm here for. Throughout the glory of the last year (finding out Marvel would take the creative reins on Spidey, getting a kid with some natural athleticism with acting chops cast as Peter Parker, and finally seeing Spider-Man face off against other superheroes and deal with Robert Downey Jr drafting him while flirting with his aunt), the one thing I've heard over and over again is that Peter Parker is "back in high school where he belongs".

Wait. What?

I can't be the only one that did a double take, right? "Peter Parker is a kid in the new movies like he should have been all along."

"Spider-Man is irreverent and mouths off in costume and he's a kid, exactly like he is in the comics."

You're full of crap.

Unless you're counting Ultimate Comics or the recent cartoons, canon Spidey was only in high school for three years.

That's it. Three years. He premiered in Sep 1962 and he graduated high school in Sep 1965.

Not to mention, there were only 29 or 30 issues of comics during this time for Spidey. He graduates in Amazing Spider-Man #28.

Now, a lot of his villains are introduced when he's in high school. We've got enough to populate the Sinister Six a few times (I'll bold-face the real big hitters): Chameleon, Vulture, Tinkerer, Doc Ock, Sandman, the Lizard, the Living Brain, Electro, Blackie Gaxton, Big Man (Frederick Foswell), the Enforcers (Fancy Dan, Montana, and Ox), Mysterio, the Headsman (retcon), Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, Scorpion, Princess Python (although she's part of the Circus of Crime, she was introduced in ASM #22 in March 1965), Spencer Smythe and Spider Slayers, the Crime-Master, and finally, Molten Man.

And a good portion of his supporting cast are introduced too: Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, Raymond Warren (brother of the Jackal), J. Jonah Jameson, Sally Avril, Betty Brant, Curt Connors, Martha and Billy Connors, Anna May Watson, Bennett Brant, Ned Leeds, Dr. Farley Stillwell, Norman Osborn.

But you know, very few if any of these characters achieve any sort of long-lasting story. For any characters that last, nearly all of their iconic stories are down the line (many while Spidey is in college). The stories that are here are mostly just rushed origins with some random mob crime thrown in (Spidey is a big opponent of organized crime ICYDK). There's an entire story with the Goblin taking over the Big Man's operation and luring Spider-Man to the desert with the promise of being in a movie, then Spider-Man accidentally stumbles on the Hulk. It's more than a little absurd, but hey, it was the 60s and these characters hadn't yet become the icons they soon would be. Fantastic Four and the Human Torch show up several times as well, seeing as how Johnny and Peter became friends (which we will never see outside the comics by the way: Fox owns movie rights to the Fantastic Four).

I also will say that it's nice that the Human Torch is a superhero friend of Spider-Man/Peter. I think it's nice that these characters have that relationship and play off of each other and it's too bad that there's no way in hell we will be getting that in the MCU any time soon (unless Fox gives up the Fantastic Four and Marvel somehow thinks the best way to introduce the Human Torch is as a friend to Peter in a Sony-owned Spider-Man movie . . . so yeah, never).

But you'll notice three names are off these lists: MJ, Gwen, and Felicia. You know, the most important names in Spider-Man. So important they don't need last names (or in MJ's case, more than her initials). Not to mention Harry Osborn.

I will say that MJ had been mentioned while Spider-Man is in high school, and she did discover his identity as Spider-Man before ever meeting him as early as his origin story (which we find out much later) and there's a shot of her with her face obscured in one of the issues while Betty and Liz are arguing over Peter.

Gwen and Harry don't show up until issue 31 (December 1965):


and MJ's famous intro isn't until issue 42 in November 1966:

Felicia actually doesn't show up until after he graduates college in issue 194:

So just how long was he in college? Until October 1978 in issue 185 of Amazing Spider-Man:

Like seriously? He was in high school for real world three years, in college for real world 13 years and one month, and has been out of college conceivably for longer than you've been alive (if you're younger than seven years older than I am anyway).

But wait, there's more. After college, he then went to graduate school. I honestly couldn't find how long he was in graduate school, but it is known that he took time off and he did finish. So if he takes at least as long as normal person (which we would expect him to take far longer for having to juggle work and you know, being Spider-Man), then he would be in graduate school until he was at least 24.

If somehow he finished in under a year in spite of taking time off to already have his degree by the time he marries MJ, then that would still take us to 1987 (Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21). If we go by the generally held belief that he was 24 around the time of Venom and Carnage, then that would take us alllllllll the way until 1992.

Wow, talk about an exponential curve. It took 3 years to graduate high school, 13 years to graduate a 4-year college, and another 14 years to get through a two year graduate degree.

So at this point in the Spider-Man mythology, he was a college student for 27 out of 30 years of existence, or 90% of the time. Tell me again why he belongs in high school?

It's not surprising that Spider-Man: The Animated Series (the 1994 cartoon) decided to set him squarely in college (it's not clear if undergraduate or graduate, but he is shown teaching at one point in Season 2 or 3). This was the version of Spider-Man that most people my age were introduced to outside the comics and it's the version anyone that had been following Spider-Man for any length of time would have been familiar with.

So to recap, if you were an original fan of Spider-Man, he was in high school for 3 years before going to college. If you were any other fan picking up the series between 1965 and 1992, he was a college student. If you were a kid when the 1994 animation series was on, then he was a college student for that. And if you picked up the character when it was turned into a major motion picture in the 2000s, he was a high school student for about 20 minutes before being a college student for the remainder of the three movies.

Amazing Spider-Man the movies kept him in high school the longest with one movie plus about 15 minutes of a second.

Why does anybody think high school is the "right" place for him? Because he got his powers in high school? Jessica Jones got her powers in high school (I think she actually got them before Spider-Man, but you know, they're the SAME AGE and went to the SAME SCHOOL), does that mean that Netflix series should have been set in high school?

Um, hell no.

I 100% agree that he should be a kid compared to the rest of the established superheroes, but there's not a single other superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is portrayed as under 30 with the possible POSSIBLE exception of Wanda AKA the Scarlet Witch (who is played by a 27 year old actress).

If they put him as an 18 year old kid in college, then the next closest superhero is about ten years older than him (1-2 generations difference depending on how you define generations). He can still be the fish out of water, the young kid being the superhero when everyone else around him has more life experience and is beyond amazed that some kid is hanging with them.

Now, one thing I will say is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is apparently moving in real time. It's been five years since Cap woke up both on the screen and in the screen. If we get a new Spidey movie every other year, then it's very likely that they won't be able to do more than two Spidey movies in high school. If the schedule is even slower, then maybe just one. I'd love a Spider-Man movie every year for the next ten years if they're good. So I totally understand casting Spider-Man in high school. It gives you more time with his character as a kid before the cinematic universe would catch up and surpass where his character is in the comics . . . (the current state of the comics is depressing; I won't go into it anymore than that).

I get that putting him in high school gives Marvel options, but I am sick of hearing, "he should be in high school."

Spectacular Spider-Man put Spidey in high school and did an AMAZING job bringing characters and story arcs into the high school world that we don't get until years (or decades as the case may be) later. I don't particularly like making Betty Brant as a college aged character, but I liked seeing her still considering going out with Peter. I thought everything they did with Liz Allan was fantastic and even Flash was great. Hinting at the college relationship Peter has with him even though he's pretty much firmly the school bully and modifying so that he's part of the group of kids that Peter was friends with before drifting apart in high school.

There's so much that that show did well that it boggles the mind to be honest. (edit: at this point, I go down the rabbit hole of reminiscing/critiquing how Spectacular Spider-Man the animated series handle bringing characters and arcs into his high school years. I'm not really sure what caused me to go so in-depth, but you can probably skip until the next line of stars ***)

So Gwen and Harry sort of work in this particular high school universe. They change it so that the three of them are friends right from the get-go. I never really understood how Peter was simultaneously unpopular with EVERYONE, a loner, a professional wallflower, and somehow made both Betty Brant and Liz Allan fall in love with him to the point of fighting over him, not to mention Jessica Jones having a huge crush on him before being hit by a car and going into a coma, (but you know, comics), but by having him start the series with friends, it makes his character somehow more mainstream. If he's capable of having friends like Gwen and Harry, then why does he need that escape that Spider-Man offers him? This could have been a bad thing, but he ends up losing his friends through the show so it actually adds to the cost of being Spidey.

Anyway, Gwen is a science geek like Peter, and it takes the entirety of the show's run for her to start physically resembling the Gwen Stacy of the comics (who was a beauty queen in high school). I was pretty much fine with that, although it was jarring whenever she straightened her hair (much more of a change to a cartoon character that never changes than you'd expect).

Now, in the comics, the Master Planner steals a serum that Peter needs to cure his Aunt May from radiation poisoning (that she got from him, natch), and Spider-Man goes on a rampage to get the serum. This is the first time in the comics that his incredible strength is hinted at and he's shown being able to lift cars. Eventually, the Master Planner's lab falls around him and it's only by remembering his Uncle Ben and wanting to save his Aunt May that he is able to lift the rubble to get to safety. This is done during the famous "If this be my destiny . . ." arc that ended Ditko's run on the webhead.

If anything, it's more incredible when in the animated series, we have Gwen Stacy taking the place of the serum. Here we have Spidey being amazing in order to save the girl he loves. It does lose something that he's not really in any way responsible for her being kidnapped like he was responsible for Aunt May's radiation poisoning, but it's still incredible and they did a perfect job of adapting the artwork too.

(edit: Found a clip on YouTube:

It was nice seeing her progress throughout the series. If anything, she's the second best Gwen Stacy we've ever had (after Emma Stone's; third being Ultimate Spider-Man and lastly being canon Gwen Stacy . . . yikes, do I really dislike canon Gwen Stacy that much? Well maybe if it wasn't for the fact that she had sex with Norman Osborn and then was pregnant and abandoned her kids? I haven't read enough of Spider-Gwen to form an opinion, but I do love her design).

But then Harry doesn't really work as well here. He starts friendly with Peter and they rapidly progress to the idea of him being a bad guy. His substance abuse problems are switched to the Green Goblin formula (because we can't have high school kids drinking and doing drugs in an animated series), and I think we lose something major with him. The idea of Harry being friends with Peter is never really actualized and you never get the feeling that Harry actually likes Peter, instead coming away that Peter is just the best Harry can do at Midtown. It's not like Harry was a good friend and Peter drove him away by being Spider-Man.

And then there's MJ. She comes in with her iconic entrance and I loved the whole "Aunt May says she has a nice personality" aspect of her introduction. It built it up better than I thought it would. I also liked the idea of her pursuing acting by switching schools to attend one with a prestigious theater program. But then, well, there's the rub. She's adult MJ as a high schooler.

Although it makes sense for an 18 or 19 year old MJ to have already developed that veneer that she shows the world and be fun and flirty and never committing to anything, that *was* a veneer. In reality, she acted that way because of problems with her home life.

I'm not saying a 15 or 16 year old can't be that far progressed into presenting a fake image to the world, but it seems like much more of a stretch. How is she that amazing and that well-adjusted that there aren't cracks in the veneer or the veneer isn't fully realized yet? And also, she rapidly falls for Mark Raxton, err, Allan. How did that not scare MJ away? The MJ we know would run away from those feelings. Or maybe because she was still in high school she wasn't as guarded? I don't know.

It feels perfect as you're watching it, but as you think about it, you start to wonder what exactly is her character? Is she MJ or just an imitation of MJ?

And finally, Felicia. The one character that refuses to be in high school. I can't imagine what she would even be like in high school (besides trouble). In the Spectacular Spider-Man, they never say how old she is and we don't get to delve into her character much, but it's hard to believe she's in high school doing the things she's doing. In Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, she vomits upon discovering she kissed a high school student (a big eff you to Felicia fans and one of the low points of the series). Of course, in this, she's almost unrecognizable as Felicia Hardy outside the Black Cat persona. She can't be any younger than her late 20s as she's portrayed as an adult adult.

******************************************************************* (end of Spectacular Spider-Man reminiscing/critiquing)

By casting Tom Holland as a 15 year old, they almost remove any possibility of Black Cat showing up until at the very earliest Spider-Man 2. And we are desperately in need of a Felicia Hardy in Spider-Man movies. Even if you don't ship her with Spidey, she's such a great supporting character. Honestly, I would love if there's the whole Spidey wants to be with Cat and Peter wants to be with Gwen/MJ. It doesn't even need to be resolved right away. I don't think you should ever make Peter a cheater, but if he's with MJ especially, their relationship takes a bunch of twists and turns so I can see them going on a break and then the webhead gives in to Cat's flirtations, yet still is wary of her and wants her to be full-on a good guy. Take two or three movies. He doesn't get married until he's out of college and part of the thing that made Spider-Man so compelling was the twists and turns between him, Harry, MJ, and Gwen. When Gwen and Harry left the picture, it was left to MJ and Cat.

It would give Spidey superhero back-up that's not tied to the other Marvel properties and she's just such a great foil for him. Please don't ruin her. On second thought, I don't care if they put her in high school, just do her character justice, please! Don't pull a Sam Raimi!

Oh, and don't put cat eyes on her chest.
Aaaanyway, sorry for the long digression.

Please do not be the people that continue to say, "I'm so glad they put Spider-Man in high school—that's where his character belongs."

It's perfectly fine that he's there. Spectacular Spider-Man did it about as well as you could hope for and that was well, spectacular. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man much less so, but there were still interesting consequences and storylines precisely because he was in high school.

To date: if we assume Peter was in college until 1992, then he's been in high school three years since his creation, in college 27 years, and post-college for the last 24 years. That's 5.6% of the total time of the character in high school with a whopping 50% in college and 44% after college. If he belongs anywhere, it's college. That's where the character became the character we know today and where many of his iconic storylines came from.

And I'll agree that Spider-Man is iconically younger than many other heroes (for the most part, obviously there are new heroes all the time and he was about the same age as many X-Men and the Human Torch) and he's also notoriously on his own (again, for the most part). He's a kid trying his damnedest to do the right thing because when you have his powers and you don't do anything, and then bad things happen, well then they happen because of you.

He's a younger character for sure and I'm not arguing that isn't part of his appeal, but younger in this case means college—at least in 50% of the years his characters been published.

And as for where he belongs? With a character that has been in the zeitgeist for the last 54 years and has become one of the most popular characters in the world? I'd say he belongs in some version of a happy family with MJ:

But that's what I think. What do you think? Thoughts? Questions?

How great was Spidey in Civil War? Future Spidey posts include a retrospective/review of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 1 and 2 (the only two Spider-Man films he made; the third doesn't exist); thoughts on Spidey in Civil War; just how attractive is Peter Parker supposed to be?; and thoughts on the actors that have played Spider-Man (Tobey, Andrew, and Tom). What do you want to see first?

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