The Dark Side Of Spider-Man

Art by John Romita, Jr.

One of the biggest gripes from detractors of the film The Amazing Spider-Man is that it has a dark tone. They blame it on the film studio, which wanted to emulate the mood of the recent, blockbuster Batman films. These critics complain that the character isn’t dark and this new interpretation of Spider-Man doesn’t work for that reason.

However, if anyone looks at the entirety of Spider-Man’s comic books, it can be seen that the character has had dark moments. He isn’t always this light-hearted, happy-go-lucky wise guy that breezes through life. A closer look will show that often his world is bittersweet. Just as often as he loses while he wins. Spider-Man may win a climactic battle against the Green Goblin, but his alter ego Peter Parker faces eviction because he doesn’t have the money to pay rent.

Or the web swinger faces public hostility and derision from the police who consider him an outlaw. Usually, stories in the comic books portrayed him as being persecuted by trigger-happy policemen.

Then there are the tragic periods in Parker’s life.

Dark Origin & History

To start, in his debut story (Amazing Fantasy#15), his uncle is killed by a burglar and Parker learns at the end of the tale that he is responsible for his uncle’s death because earlier in the story, he

Art by Ross Andru

selfishly refused to stop the burglar during an unrelated robbery. It may not compare with the agony of the Punisher’s family being gunned down by mobsters but it’s not anything lightweight. Actually most superheroes have some kind of tragic catalyst that turned them heroic.

Throughout his history, Parker has endured many hardships since he’s become Spider-Man. Probably the worst, after his uncle’s death, is the killing of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man #121. This affected him deeply for several years and is a monumental event in comics because it was one of the first times that a main character’s loved one was killed and marked the end of the silver age of comics.

Going Too Far To The Dark Side

Spider-Man has gone through several grim, brooding periods. Some were rather forced and done to sell issues. This happened in the early ’90s after his supposedly deceased parents showed up alive and well from issues #366-389 in the first volume of The Amazing Spider-Man. At the end of that storyline, they were revealed to be robotic doubles sent by his deceased friend Harry Osborn (a.k.a. the second Green Goblin) to basically screw with Parker’s head. For several issues afterward, the web swinger lost it, he gave up on his Parker identity and ran around town emulating a dark hero like Batman. These issues were poorly written because they went overboard with his psychotic reaction. Unfortunately, this events led to the infamous Clone Saga.

There was also the infamous undoing of his marriage that was done using  a convoluted meeting with the demonic entity Mephisto in the storyline “One More Day”. Going completely against character, the creators had Parker make a deal with the devil to save his aunt with his marriage to Mary Jane being wiped from history as a price. This incident probably damaged Parker more than any other because it showed that by agreeing to deal with the devil he lost part of his soul. He seemed much less heroic. It didn’t have to be that way, the editorial board could have just had him get divorced and move on with his life, but they tampered too much with Parker’s integrity.

Memorably Bleak Moments

Art by Mike Zeck

But the character has faced dark events that were successfully told. Take the classic storyline “Kraven’s Last Hunt”,  written by J. M. DeMatteis, where his foe Kraven the Hunter defeats him, puts him in a death-like state and even buries him alive. Later Kraven assumes Spider-Man’s identity and becomes a twisted, violent version of the hero. Parker has to literally claw his way out of the grave and face his inner demons afterwards.

Then there was issue #36 of the second volume of The Amazing Spider-Man. Known as the  “Black Issue” it’s the one where Spider-Man dealt with the 9/11tragedy. There wasn’t anything cheery or fluffy about this story or the character. In fact, it showed how helpless and angry the superhero felt and it worked because since Spider-Man is more of an everyman character, it was easy to identify with him. We all felt like he did during that terrible day.

The web slinger’s bleakest moment was obviously when he died in Ultimate Spider-Man # 160. In the “Death Of Spider-Man” story arc, the Ultimate Universe version of Spider-Man fought desperately against his greatest foes and met his end after defeating the Green Goblin. It was one of the character’s most unforgettable stories. Thankfully, readers still have Peter Parker to root for in the regular continuity.

Art by Mark Bagley

Of course, not every storyline is bleak and dreary. The comic books balance the mood all the time with gritty stories like “Kraven’s Last Hunt” to more fun-filled yarns like “Spider Island” and even heartwarming ones like “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” (The Amazing Spider-Man #248). Actually DeMatteis’ Spider-Man tales often took on a philosophical and poignant bent with memorable stories like The Amazing Spider-Man: Soul Of The Hunter a sequel to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and “A Death In the Family” (The Amazing Spider-Man #400). The bottom line is that throughout many tales, he faced many moral dilemmas and almost always rises to the occasion.

A Light Misconception

The general public has this misconception that Spider-Man is some kind of goody two shoes and that is largely due to how he is portrayed outside of comics. It probably all started during his first cartoon series in the ’60s and when he appeared in silly live-action segments of the kids’ program The Electric Company. Then whenever he appeared in other animated shows, the more grimmer stories couldn’t be used. This however led to lightweight shows like Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films also contributed to this lightweight perception. In the first two films, the character swings around New York yelling out “Wahoo!” with swooning fans cheering at him (a rare occurrence in comic books) and leaves behind perfectly typewritten notes saying “Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. The movies were enjoyable but felt cheesy at times. Things took a turn for the worst with Spider-Man 3 where the attempts to have the character go dark were as laughable as anything seen in the Joel Schumacher Batman films. This isn’t a slight against Raimi, his first two Spider-Man films are fun to watch. If anyone is to blame for this perception it could be the marketing people who want to make sure the character is kid friendly in order to sell more merchandise.

Regardless of marketing efforts, it was refreshing to see the character in a more realistic light during the recent movie which balances thing out. After all, like it or not, sometimes life is dark, even for Spider-Man.

Lewis T. Grove

Total Recall Is Easy To Forget

Let’s get to the point, the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall is better than this new one with Colin Farrell. I have to admit I never read the source material by Philip K. Dick that both films are based upon. So I judged this film on how it compares to the 1990 version and the level of satisfaction I get from watching it.

The original sci-fi classic is superior because of Schwarzenegger’s forceful type A personality, which is both abrasive and appealing at the same time. He has action-motivated comedy timing, delivering lines with a unapologetic Austrian accent. That movie had your classic Schwarzenegger lines and Arnold’s nature blended perfectly with Paul Verhoeven’s stark vision of the future. It was easy to buy that Schwarzenegger’s character of Douglas Quaid grew into a freedom fighter, he was someone you could cheer. In the new version of Total Recall, Farrell’s character is more of a scared loner and less heroic. It’s largely the same premise, a bored factory worker in the future tries to have exciting memories implanted into him but learns he’s some kind of super spy and involved with a wide conspiracy with everyone out to kill him including his wife. On a side note, one of the few things I liked about this Total Recall were the two main women. Kate Beckinsale (Quaid’s wife) and Jessica Biel (his lover Melina) are incredibly attractive and captivating.

The new film also lacks Verhoeven’s cynical humor that made the first one so memorable. Gone are the mutants and the Mars setting. Although we do get a few nods to the original such as the three-breasted hooker and that old lady that was really Quaid in disguise when he arrives on Mars that kept saying “two weeks,” makes an appearance. But I found myself missing Mars, it made the original film seem more massive and epic. Another thing missing is a memorable and powerful soundtrack that the original had. I can’t even remember the score to this new version of Total Recall but to this day I can clearly remember Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the original film.

The production design in the new Total Recall is spectacular to look at. The transportation system used to travel between two cities on opposite sides of Earth was really interesting. Basically in this version, Earth is a toxic, uninhabitable wasteland except for two cities (The United Federation of Britain and The Colony-formerly Australia). The only way to travel is to use a gravity elevator that actually goes through the planet’s core. It reminded me of that great underrated gem The Core. As a passenger approaches the center of the planet the gravity reverses since the elevator is headed to the opposite side of the world and the chairs in the elevator have to rotate. Several interesting scenes take place in this setting and was one of the film’s few highlights.

Some of the other future tech was also neat to look at. For example, they use phones that are imbedded into palms and the robot police that pursue Quaid were really cool and would’ve fit in perfectly with Verhoeven’s Robocop.

But this film lacked Schwarzenegger and it suffered; it just wasn’t very interesting. There was not enough comedy relief- or compared to Schwarzenegger, not enough signature comedy by the leading actor. I don’t blame Collin Farrell though; Arnold is one of a kind. I knew Total Recall was in trouble because of the fact that I fell asleep twice while watching it. Even Ice Age: Continental Driftis a better film than this one. So IOW, (using a thick Austrian accent) “Get your ahss back to Mars.”—at least, on blu ray or DVD- with the original Total Recall.

GEO

Remaking Sci-Fi Films

People have been grumbling lately about remakes or reboots and their validity. The common gripe is that many of the remakes are unnecessary and don’t offer anything new. The new version of Total Recall is a topical example. For producers they offer, in theory, a way to bring in new audiences without trying to explain what happened in the original films and supposedly improve on the original films’ concepts. In the case of Total Recall, it’s hard to justify the remake having nothing to do with Mars and all of its outlandish mutants. But that’s for viewers to decide.

While there are some remakes that are outright duds (still cannot forgive anyone involved with the tepid Rollerball remake), some are actually excellent and outshine the original (the 1986 remake of The Fly comes to mind). Whether or not the reboots/remakes are good or add anything comes down to the talent and vision behind the scenes. But that’s not a guarantee. Look at Tim Burton’s remake of Planet Of The Apes which was a big disappointment. It had the talent but somehow it didn’t gel together. Gone was the original’s poignant social commentary although the makeup was better. OTH, years later, Rupert Wyatt, a virtual unknown, helmed the surprisingly great Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and the film functioned as any good reboot should: it kick started the dormant franchise. Another film, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, will be out in 2014.

  

When successful, reboots/remakes take the franchise into a new direction and sometimes make viewers forget about the validity of the originals. Going back to The Fly, director David Cronenberg’s remake reinvented the film’s premise with  updated science and the result was terrifying. The main character Seth Brundle had his gene sequence rewritten and was morphed into a sickening human/insect hybrid that spat acid. Consider that in the original where a human’s head was transplanted onto a fly, while the human body ended up with the insect’s head; it’s obviously hokey. But the original film was very well done for its time and the horrifying reveals at The Fly’s end still work.

Unfortunately there are many remakes that are DOA. Last year, two remakes of ’80s classics (Conan The Barbarian and Fright Night) were box office failures. That wasn’t necessarily a reflection on the films’ quality. A lot had to do with marketing and when they were released. Both films were dumped into the tail end of summer when the fervor for movie going dies down. Some remakes are failures just because they are so poorly executed or the changes made to them are unpopular. Fans quickly catch on and without their support the films will die a quick death in theaters. Look at the American remake of Godzilla. Diehard fans complained about how the giant behemoth was re-imagined. Gone was his distinctive radioactive fire and force-of-nature quality. Then there are the various remakes of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. While the 1978 version was successful the ones that followed (Body Snatchers and The Invasion) produced shrugs from viewers. The same thing happened with The Thing. John Carpenter directed a superior remake of Howard Hawkes’ 1950s classic but it was remade again last year and was quickly forgotten. Other remakes are bonafide hits but reap scorn for various reasons. Case in point Steven Spielberg’s remake of War Of The Worlds and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. More often than not, remakes turn out to be unremarkable and are quickly forgotten. The list of such films is long and includes The Island Of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, and Invaders From Mars.

We shouldn’t automatically dismiss remakes (as some have done with the new Total Recall). There is always the chance that they will present new ways of looking at a film’s concept and take it into a new direction. They help keep franchises alive or revive the popularity of the originals. The bottom line is that with Hollywood, which is prone to run out of ideas quickly, the easiest thing to do is to recycle old ideas that worked in the past. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Lewis T. Grove