Spider-Man was my gateway drug to comics.
Let me back up a bit. I wrote a little about my personal experience with comic culture back when the “Captain Marvel” film was announced. Now, as I stated when I wrote that other piece, superhero culture surrounded me in every way, shape and form as I grew up — TV, movies, comics, the works. My journey to this point has been a long, winding path, peppered with incidents that sparked and solidified my interest in the superhero genre.
My most vivid recollection is of “Spider-Man 2” back in 2004, when I was an overeager teenager who dragged her unwitting friend to the movies with her. I remember sitting in the theater, blown away, utterly transfixed by this film; it’s one of those moments that made me fall irrevocably in love with the genre. As the credits rolled and the angsty tones of Dashboard Confessional filled the theater, I remember turning to my friend to say, “That was the best movie I have ever seen.”
And you know what? I’d still stand by that today, if only by force of sheer emotional attachment. However, there’s a reason why the character of Spider-Man resonated with me more than, say, the X-Men (who, for the record, I love). It boils down to one simple factor: youthfulness.
As excited as I am for personal reasons, Spidey’s new lease on cinematic life under the Sony/Marvel deal is just as beneficial for films like “Avengers.” Up until this point, each character that’s flown under the flag of Avenger — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye — has been a seasoned veteran with at least some life experience under their belt. Though characters like Captain America and Black Widow scale towards the younger side (at least relatively), they are not youthful, per se, as both have seen war and atrocity in their time as fighters.
Spider-Man, on the other hand, is perpetually young. Though he’s aged to the ripe old age of 28 or so in the comics, he’s popularly known as an eternal student, bouncing between high school and college in most non-comics versions of the character. As a student, he faces all kinds of antagonism, especially in the form of bullies. Where the Avengers have arch-nemeses with world-shattering abilities, Spider-Man, especially as Peter Parker, must often face down his peers without force, an approach that reflects a different kind of heroism — a kind that will engage a younger audience on a much different level than the other Avengers can.
Additionally, Spider-Man will be the MCU’s first real mask. That is, he will be the first superhero to truly maintain a secret identity. Though a well worn trope, with over 75 years of history, this is the first time movie goers will see it enacted in Marvel Studios’ world of open heroes. It’ll be fascinating to see how the other Avengers deal with this turn of events, and even more so to see how Spider-Man himself copes, particularly with “Captain America: Civil War” looming in the not so distant future.
Unlike Captain America or Iron Man, Spider-Man worries about his bank account and personal life; he must balance work, life, school and vigilantism in order to fight the good fight. He may not have waged wars against Nazis or invading alien forces, but he knows the struggle of just barely scraping by with what he’s got. The same could be said of Steve Rogers, of course; however, that phase of Cap’s life has long since faded away, leaving in its wake worry about bigger things, like Loki’s latest scheme, or Hydra’s terrorist plots. Spider-Man, however, has to deal with both world-ending plans and paying his bills. As portrayed in the films, though part of him will always be that skinny kid from Brooklyn, Steve Roger’s struggle has evolved, from getting by to world-level threats. On the other hand, the personal struggles continue to be part of Spidey’s ongoing battle, making him all the more grounded in comparison.
In sum, Spider-Man has the potential to be far more relatable than any of the other Avengers. That isn’t to say, of course, that the other Avengers are a group of god-like, aloof and perfect beings; on the contrary, each of them is well-rounded and absolutely engaging — even the one who is an actual god. However, they’re all of them larger than life, at least in comparison to Spider-Man (he’s billed as being from your friendly neighborhood for a reason). Hopefully, Spidey won’t be the only hero to take on this sort of place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — we’ve got those Netflix series on the way, after all — but he will be the singularly youthful character that the MCU has on their roster, primed and ready to spin tales about a different kind of courage than we’ve seen previously.
What’s more, the with Spider-Man in the MCU, Marvel is presented with an amazing opportunity to reshape the timeworn — if reliable — legacy of the title. With the new deal, Andrew Garfield is reportedly out; with the new deal, perhaps Miles Morales will be in? If Marvel Studios and Sony truly want to start fresh, this may be the single best opportunity to do so. Miles making his movie debut would immediately and effectively divorce the idea of Spider-Man from his long, solo tenure at Sony, allowing the MCU version to join the overall mythology with his own tabula rasa. Further, it would allow the solo film to cover new ground, providing the chance to present an origin story that fans aren’t tired of seeing. Plus, Morales would shake up the studio’s overwhelmingly white roster of heroes. Every iteration of Spider-Man wears a mask, so whoever is under it wouldn’t alter the perception of Spider-Man as a hero in the eyes of New York — and it shouldn’t alter our perception of him either. Donald Glover has already put his name in for the role; I think it’s long past time for Marvel and Sony to give him a call.
Spider-Man’s influence will extend beyond the hero himself, to boot. He brings with him a slew of interesting supporting characters, from Gwen Stacy to Mary Jane to the entire Daily Bugle staff. The Bugle, in particular, brings with it some interesting ideas that could factor into films like “Captain America: Civil War,” particularly in a post-“Avengers: Age of Ultron” world. With its notorious anti-Spider-Man attitude and general bias, the Bugle could impact the way the public views and interacts with all of the Avengers. There’s a world of potential for the MCU to mine in Spidey’s network of characters.
Whatever the case, count me in for the long haul as Spider-Man finally joins the MCU — so long as J.K. Simmons reprises his role as J. Jonah Jameson, that is!
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