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 me every other week as we visit the stories behind the wall-crawler’s major motion pictures leading up to his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in “Captain America: Winter Solider.”
This week we’ll be taking a look at Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 written by Stan Lee with art by Larry Lieber, and Amazing Spider-Man #121 & 122 written by Gerry Conway with art by Gil Kane and Marc Webb’s “Amazing Spider-Man 2” starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, and Dane DeHann.
Here we are, at the end of our journey (until the conveniently timed “Captain America: Civil War” in two weeks) with what I personally believe is the most unbalanced film in the Spider-Man franchise. But here at Superior Spider-Talk we’ve already covered this movie pretty heavily. Not only do we have a review written by sage of all things Spider and film related, Dan Gvozden, but Dan and Mark have also had a long conversation with Gerry Conway about Marc Webb’s “Amazing Spider-Man 2” and its adaptation of his and Gil Kane’s game changing issue, Amazing Spider-Man #121. So, in this space I’m going to take a look at how Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” adapted the same story and compare the two films’ handling of the source material. There is a little to get out of the way before we dive into the meat of things, so let’s get that taken care of first.
“Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a film about legacy: the legacy Peter’s father left him and Peter’s personal quest to clear his father’s name, the legacy of the Osborn curse and Harry’s battle with facing his mortality, Max Dillon/Electro’s obsession with his lack of a legacy and impact, and, in a more metafictional sense, Gwen’s legacy as a comic book character. Peter’s parents return in a flashback that opens the film, fleshing out the flashback that opened “Amazing Spider-Man.” Here, and later on in the film, we see Richard and Mary Parker acting less like scientists and more like spies – disappearing from their actual life on a private jet, uploading secret research to a remote database, and a high-tension battle on board a nosediving aircraft. Peter’s parents were first introduced as characters in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 in 1968 as double agents for the U.S. Government (later retconed as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in Untold Tales of Spider-Man #-1. Yes, issue number minus one) who were ultimately killed in a plane crash by the Red Skull.
Much like Ultimate Spider-Man #33 and the “Amazing Spider-Man” film, Peter uncovers a box of mementos and newspaper clippings of Peter’s parents that May and Ben kept. Most conveniently, the first one Peter picks up is a newspaper story reporting the death and treason of Mary and Richard Parker. This sets Peter off on a whirlwind trip to Algeria to uncover the truth.
Peter also kills a guy with a missile and gets shot in the head, but hey, what happens in the casbah, stays in the casbah…?
In “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” we have a Richard and Mary Parker who we learn are ultimately attempting to stop the weaponizing of Richard’s research by going into hiding. Angered by this, Richard’s research partner Norman Osborn frames him for treason and sends an assassin to silence him as well as steal back the research. Richard manages to upload a video, that would expose Norman’s nefarious deeds, to a computer in his secret underground laboratory and leave some Da Vinci Code-eque clues for someone to find it at a later date. It’s a little messier than Spider-Man hitting a guy with his own rocket and then forcing a tell-all confession out of him as he dies in a back alley (seriously, what was up with this Annual?), but the movie version needs to have this plot line tie into the rest of the film, less Webb commit the same mistakes Raimi did with “Spider-Man 3’s” Sandman.
Speaking of lack of tie-in to the rest of the film, Paul Giamatti’s Rhino came out of left field and despite, in my opinion, being the most enjoyable part of the movie, ultimately served no real purpose aside from set up for a future Sinister Six movie.
His design in the final scene is clearly derived from the robotic-suit flavored Ultimate Rhino, rather than the hide-like suit of Amazing Spider-Man proper, while his appearance in the opening scene is a modern-day interpretation of a Russian gangster, track suit and all (though, Rhino’s civilian name and nationality are later retcons, in his origin in Amazing Spider-Man #43, his benefactors are only known as “professional spies” and his nationality is not mentioned).
In typical Spider-Man movie form, great lengths were taken to make its main billed villain, Electro in this instance, seem sympathetic. In both the Amazing and the Ultimate continuity, Electro has always been painted as a jerk among jerks. His origin in Amazing Spider-Man #9 shows him bargaining to save a co-worker’s life only if he is promised a bonus beforehand.
Hardly the meek and walked-upon guy we see in “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” but as we’ve learned from “Amazing Spider-Man,” Webb’s intention with the series was not to recreate pages from the comic, but to make contemporary analogs. That being said, I can’t really find any precedent for this particular interpretation of Max Dillon/Electro in the Spider-Man mythos. His look is lifted from his second Ultimate appearance in the Spider-Man/Ultimates cross-over Ultimate Six, but the Electro of the Ultimate universe is perhaps even further from the fim’s Electro than the main continuity’s.
The only villain in the greater superhero mega-genre that I can think of that has a similar origin is Syndrome from Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles;” both characters idolize their respective heroes and turn to villainy after the feel like their idol has turned their back on them. So I’m not really sure as to why Webb decided on Electro, unless Sony was planning on having him in the Sinister Six film and thought he would be the best to introduce in this film. By my count, Lizard, Electro, Rhino and the Green Goblin had already been established, and Doc Ock and the Vulture had been teased by Easter Eggs in the penultimate scene of the film. That gives us all six members for the Sinister Six, but since Electro is apparently dead, we only have five. But that hasn’t been a problem in the past.
Speaking of the Sinister Six, how’s this for a left-field source: Adam-Troy Castro’s Sinister Six prose novel trilogy. After Gwen’s death, Harry Osborn is incarcerated at Ravencroft Institute and is visited by a man who Harry instructs to gather a group of people to take down Spider-Man. The film credits lists this character as Gustav Fiers, also known as the Gentleman in Castro’s novel. The Gentleman is a slowly aging ne’er-do-well of seemingly infinite funds who had a hand in every major war, atrocity, and piece of organized crime in the 20th century. In the Sinister Six trilogy, Fiers bankrolls and assembles the Six to further his own financial gains. I cannot say what exactly Sony was planning for Sinister Six, but this was certainly an esoteric source to pull from.
So that leaves us with “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” Which is actually unfair to put up just by itself. Amazing Spider-Man #121 is actually a two-part story, the first being “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” and the second being Amazing Spider-Man #122, “The Goblin’s Last Stand.”
On their own, #121 lacks an ending and #122 lacks a beginning, and yet when “Spider-Man” and “Amazing Spider-Man 2” went to this story for an adaptation, they both only took half of the pie.
#121 opens with Peter discovering that Harry Osborn has once again fallen to hard drugs and as a result has developed schizophrenia. An enraged Norman Osborn blames Peter, MJ, and Gwen for his son’s condition and removes them from his home. Destroyed by worry for his son, Norman’s own shaky mental foundation crumbles and his repressed memories of the Green Goblin persona emerges. Picking up where he left off in their last tumble, Norman rushes to Peter’s apartment only to find and kidnap Gwen. Spider-Man, finds them, gives chance, and Gwen is pushed off of the Brooklyn Bridge (calling it the George Washington Bridge was an error by editorial, revealed in our original interview with Gerry Conway), and dies as a result.
Amazing Spider-Man #122 deals with the immediate fallout with the Goblin escaping and Peter lashing out as Spider-Man. Using his contacts in the Daily Bugle, Peter finds Norman Osborn and they do battle, ending with a comic book death that lasted until the ‘90s.
“Spider-Man” leans more on #122 while “Amazing Spider-Man 2” barely touches it, instead focusing on the emotional impact of Gwen’s death. “Spider-Man” obviously did not kill off Mary Jane when the Goblin threw her off the bridge, but the scene was still there because Raimi wanted to showcase not only the personal stake Peter had in the heroics, but that Spider-Man was a double-edged sword – he had the power to protect people but that very power also endangered those he loved.
“Amazing Spider-Man 2” had similar themes, but as I said, the movie was about legacy and so Gwen seems fated to die, ever since Captain Stacy’s dying request to Peter. And so, for fans of “Spider-Man” that know the history of the character, the movie drops hint after heavy-handed hint (including Gwen’s bizarrely morose valedictorian speech) alluding to her ultimate fate, lending the movie a sense of foreboding and doom. Peter and Gwen take on the role of forbidden lovers, unable to escape each other and their fates.
Of the two films, I would say that “Spider-Man” did the two issues more justice – the locations are more or less the same and the themes present in the comics are present in the film. In “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” while the idea of danger for those close to Peter is present (it was spelled out in the ending of the previous film) the relationship between Peter and Gwen itself takes precedent over this idea. It’s why we don’t see a showdown with the Goblin after Gwen’s death like we see in “Spider-Man” after Peter rescues MJ and the trolley. That part doesn’t matter to the adaptation, what is important is the fallout from Peter finally losing Gwen, compounded by the guilt felt knowing that it was his fault she was dead – though the film does diminish this somewhat by having Gwen assure Peter that she is the only one that can make decisions for herself. Still, when was Peter one to skip out on a self-imposed guilt trip?
I’ll try to save you my opinions on the film and remain as objective as possible, but this is also where we see the greatest difference in the two films. The Spider-Man/Peter Parker of “Spider-Man” was defined by his relationship with those close to him – to MJ and Harry and to a lesser extend, May. Each of the three films has the relationship between the characters move back and forth to create drama and compel the viewer. The “Amazing Spider-Man” film series all but drops Harry (awkwardly shoehorning him in to the second film) in favor of an intense focus on Gwen and Peter and their star-crossed relationship. It makes for perhaps easier drama, but demands different things from an adaptation, even if the same story is being adapted. It would have been interesting to see where the film series went after “Amazing Spider-Man 2” since it was defined by the relationship between Peter and Gwen. Clearly, Sony was setting up for “The Sinister Six,” but that was supposed to be a spin off. But we’ll never truly know now, will we?
That’s it, Superiorites. That’s all the Spider-Man we’ve got until “Captain America: Civil War” comes out next month. What can we expect from it? The Marvel Cinematic Universe has not really been one to adapt wholesale like the Raimi series did, so I think we are going to see more of the Webb-style adaptation where ideas and themes from the comic are taken and tweaked to fit more of the artist’s vision rather than a marriage of vision and tribute. Only time will tell though, but I’ll be keeping you informed. Until next time!