Swinging from the page to the screen, Spider-Man has been the focus of five feature films over the years. But what about the comics that inspired these movies? Join Cain Winstead every other Sunday as we visit the stories behind the wall-crawler’s major motion pictures leading up to his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in “Captain America: Civil War”.
This week we’ll be taking a look at Amazing Spider-Man #50, by Stan Lee & John Romita Sr. and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2″, starring Tobey Maguire, Kirstin Dunst, and Alfred Molina.
“Spider-Man 2“ is unstoppable. It is an absolute juggernaut of a film and seeing it in 2004 cemented my status as a life-long Spider-Man fan. There are so many angles to approach this film from that it’s difficult to pick just one, but luckily for your keyboard clackin’ contributor Cain, we’ve already laid out the format for this article series, so let’s get to talking about the inspiration behind one of the best movies in the superhero genre.
“Spider-Man 2” is, for the most part, its own creation. Unlike the previous “Spider-Man“, it picks and chooses scenes, panels, and plot points to adapt rather than to adapt wholesale like “Spider-Man” did with Amazing Fantasy #15 and Ultimate Spider-Man #1. However, at the center of “Spider-Man 2” is Amazing Spider-Man #50, which is about as close as the gets to the “source material”. While “Spider-Man“ established the character and then built a villain from the ground up in order to test him, “Spider-Man 2” focuses more on Peter’s personal struggles, tackling the creeping doubt coming over him as he comes to terms with his “great responsibility.” Adopting the idea of Peter giving up on being Spider-Man, Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargent create a story focusing on self-doubt, the role of heroes, and personal sacrifice using Amazing Spider-Man #50 as its backbone.
Better known by its title “Spider-Man No More!”, Amazing Spider-Man #50 delves into the mind of Peter Parker and gives us the kind of introspective story that elevated Marvel over its “Distinguished Competition” in the ’60s. The issue opens with a scene of Spider-Man stopping a payroll robbery, only to be met by fear instead of appreciation. Back at Empire State University, a brooding Peter gets news from Harry Osborn that his Aunt has fallen ill, and, as he always does, Peter chastises himself for spending too much time in the tights and not enough time with his surrogate-mother figure. This guilt causes his grades to slip, and as the issue goes we see more and more problems pile up on good ol’ Pete. This culminates to perhaps the most iconic scene in Spider-Man history (save one red-head’s introduction): Peter Parker, storming out of an alley in the pouring rain; in the foreground – the Spider-Man costume wadded in a garbage pail. It’s such a strong image that Raimi chose to reproduce it almost exactly.
In the film, Peter likewise feels like he has too much responsibility in his life. As his doubt grows, his powers wane. He dreams of Uncle Ben, who again reminds him that “With great power comes great responsibility” (as the film puts it). Peter replies with a negative, saying that he is just going to be Peter Parker now. While Peter of Spider-Man 2 rebukes Spider-Man, Peter of Amazing Spider-Man #50 merely believes that it is more responsible for him to give up being Spider-Man. He says himself “in order to satisfy my craving for excitement – I’ve jeopardized everything that really matters– Aunt May – my friends – the girls in my life….”
While Peter eventually comes to his senses after rescuing a night watchman who reminds him of Uncle Ben, in the film it is Aunt May that convinces Peter (indirectly) to return to his life of web swinging adventure, a beat borrowed from Amazing Spider-Man #18 (another story that addresses Peter being fed up with the responsibilities that come with being Spider-Man).
It isn’t long in both the comic and the film that someone discovers the discarded costume and brings it to an elated J. Jonah Jameson. In the comic, a child rushes into Jonah’s office while in the film it is a garbage collector (I always wondered why a seemingly well-off kid would be rooting around the garbage).
While the film allows JJJ a moment of redemption, realizing that perhaps Spider-Man WAS a hero (something the comics would not see until years later in Ultimate Spider-Man), the comic never gives us this. Instead, JJJ enters his office one morning only to find Spider-Man back in costume, legs kicked up on his desk.
Visually, there are a few more parallels from perhaps a few more “deep cut” issues of the Lee era. The film opens with a shot of Mary Jane on a billboard advertising a brand of perfume, much like how Peter daydreams of Gwen on a perfume billboard in the opening pages of Amazing Spider-Man #95.
Also in the opening is Peter’s scooter, first seen in Amazing Spider-Man #41 (though, in the film he sports a helmet, something he doesn’t pick up until Amazing Spider-Man #54).
The final battle scene between Ock and Spider-Man also has a small visual nod to “The Final Chapter”, Amazing Spider-Man #33. In the comic, Peter is famously trapped in an underwater base belonging to Dr. Octopus, and, after deep soul searching, finds the strength within to free himself. In “Spider-Man 2”, the final battle takes place in a makeshift laboratory on an abandoned pier that begins to sink into the river. One of the walls collapses on MJ, only to have Spider-Man grab it at the last moment. After affirming that, yes, he can indeed find happiness in his life as Spider-Man, he finds the strength to push the wall off his back.
Otto Octavius, also known as Dr. Octopus, was more or less rebuilt from the ground up for the film. Taking no cues from his Amazing or Ultimate origin, this Doc Ock serves as a mentor figure for Peter, delivering sage advice and wisdom to who he believes is an extraordinarily gifted yet lazy young man. Both Amazing and Ultimate have Doc Ock’s robotic limbs attach to him via a girdle that wraps around his torso while the Octavius of the film has an exo-skeletal spine that anchors the arms to his back and provides a direct connection to his brain. These sorts of changes are necessary in order to streamline story elements for a two hour movie. By showing the film version of Doc Ock’s arms directly interfacing with his central nervous system, Raimi does not need to spend time explaining how the arms function. He did it visually.
While he did not use the established characterization for Doc Ock, Raimi did borrow a few visuals the last few pages of Ultimate Spider-Man #14, the debut of Octavius as Dr. Octopus. While it is not a one-to-one reproduction, Ultimate Spider-Man #14 and “Spider-Man 2” both feature Octavius waking up in a futuristic looking surgical stage to discover that he has been transformed… both end quite violently. Another thing to note is that in the film, Dr Octopus is wearing a trench-coat with his chest exposed underneath, the very same set of clothes he was wearing in Ultimate Spider-Man #15 before breaking into Silvermane’s office. Apparently that particular panel resonated with the “Spider-Man 2” crew.
Again, “Spider-Man 2” is not as beholden to its source material as perhaps “Spider-Man“ was. Instead of taking Amazing Spider-Man #50 and adapting the comic for the screen, “Spider-Man 2“ weaves its tale around the frame work of “Spider-Man No More!”, using the iconic imagery from the comic to serve as the emotional turning point for Peter.
That’s it for now, Spider-Fans! Tune in in two weeks for my coverage of the massive “Spider-Man 3”! Did I miss any visual nods in “Spider-Man 2”? Make sure to tell me (and demand your No-Prize!) in the comics section!