Spiderman is a fictional comic hero created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Unlike most other comic books heroes, Spiderman whose alter ego is Peter Parker is in high school and not a grown up. This presented Lee and Dikto with unique opportunities to explore the adolescent angst involving homework, boy-girl relationships and relationships with adults. Peter was an orphan who was raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben until his tragic death which ‘motivated’ Peter to become the superhero. Spiderman used to be my favourite comic superhero until the last decade when poor storytelling, mediocre artwork and endless reimagining of his origins turned me off the series completely. I have often sympathized with Peter – his endless money problems, his secret identity and his personal insecurity which makes him a wise cracking superhero.
He is a young man who seem to be crushed by life yet never gives up. One of my most vivid comic book frame was Spiderman/Peter Parker being pinned under a building devastated by his battle with Doc Octopus who happens to have stolen the radioisotopes which is to be used by the doctors to treat Aunt May’s cancer. Though exhausted and bruised, there is this full page picture frame that is forever etched in my memory. Against impossible odds, Spiderman lifted the building off himself! Needless to say Aunt May is saved.
The last decade has Peter Parker graduated and teaching science in a high school, his disastrous marriage with Mary Jane and his willingness to be a pawn for Tony Stark/Iron man in the Civil War storyline (apparently for financial security and comfort!). The origin of his superpower was also explored. There were some story arcs that it was not the radioactive spider bite that gives him his power but that he belongs to the ‘spider force’ like the Spiderwoman. There is also more recent reworking of the source of his powers. Somehow I felt that Spiderman franchise has lost its way in more ways than one and in the process lost many of his fans.
There has been a few attempts to reboot the franchise, not least of all the highly successful movies; Spiderman 1 (2002), Spiderman 2 (2004), Spiderman 3 (2007) and recently The Amazing Spiderman (2012). Each of these movies have tried to recount Parker’s search for his own identity, his sense of responsibility to help others in need and how his secret identity may hurt the people he loves. Basically it is all about choices and these choices have consequences. Most of these consequences affects the people we love. I have commented on this in one of my sermons which I preached in 2004, comparing his decision making to that of Joshua and Jesus. My sermon transcript may be found here.
Spider- Man 2, the movie is one of the summer blockbusters of 2004. In a way, spider-man, conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1961 is the antithesis of a hero. He is Peter Parker, a teenager who was bitten by a radioactive spider gain fantastic powers like ability to climb to walls, strong webbing’s that shot out of his wrists, agility and strength of 10 men. Yet Spider-Man/Peter Parker is driven by guilt and self-doubt. He blames himself for the death of his Uncle Ben because he failed to stop the robber who shot him. He wants to do the right thing, but is not always sure what that is. He is constantly forced to choose between helping others and helping himself. In Spider-man 2, Peter Parker is struggling to make a choice – to remain as spider-man and reject the love of his childhood sweetheart, Mary Jane because as spider-man, he will have many enemies and will put Mary Jane’s life in danger or to give up being spider-man and live life as a ‘normal’ man with the woman he loves. A movie poster shows spider-man/Peter Parker at the top of the city looking down and holding his mask. It was titled ‘choice’. Spider-man reminds me of the Christian life. Out of the blue, he was given superpowers when he was accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider-man. We too are given ‘super power’ when we are born again and receive the Holy Spirit. Like Peter Parker, we too have to make a choice- to live a new life in Christ who means we have to sacrifice some things or to live life as ‘normal’ not using the gifts God has bestowed on us. The elder Parkers often give good advice. In the first movie, Uncle Ben teaches Peter that with great power comes great responsibility. In Spider-Man 2 Aunt May teaches Peter that sometimes, to do what is right, we must give up what we want the most, even our dreams.
The above is the story arc by John Romita in which Peter Parker gives up being Spiderman, something he enjoys and felt he is able to do some good in order to protect the people he loves. That is a tough decision. All of us may be called upon to make such decisions in our lives. Though we do not swing around in spandex ( I hope not!), we are all called upon to make responsible choices or decisions. Will it involve getting a lower paying job with less prestige to stay at home and look after our children, give up an addiction for the sake of our families and even give up some activities that is productive to focus on our main calling? Choices have consequences.
The Amazing Spiderman movie seems to approach the same questions, only with a more contemporary feel. Unlike the former movies and story arcs where there is more introspection and discussion, Peter Parker seems to be more driven by the need to know who his parents are and why they abandoned him, The elder Parkers do not seem to offer much advice except to worry about Peter. It was a wise Captain Stacy who asks Peter to promise to protect his daughter by staying away from her (a promise which Peter implies he is willing to break). While the audience may be wooed by the awesome special effects that include realistic web swinging through the roof tops of New York, one cannot be but saddened by the values that seem to permeate the movie. It is not so much about Spiderman as about Peter Parker who is a narcissistic and self-absorbed individual; rules are meant to be broken and the ends justify the means. Give such an individual superpowers and one hesitates to think of the consequences.