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? You’ve been with me every other week as we’ve counted down to “Captain America Civil War,” and now it’s time to get into what every Spider-Fan has been waiting for.
After all the hype, all the waiting, and all the reveals, it’s here: Spider-Man’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oh, and Captain America has a new movie too. I guess that’s worth mentioning. In previous editions of this article series, I juxtaposed panel to screen, talked about could-be relationships when the pieces didn’t fit quite right, and tried to find every reference Raimi or Webb squeezed into their films. Since “Captain America Civil War” isn’t on home video yet I might not be able to dive in as deeply as I have in previous articles, but I’m still here to talk to you about movies, comics, and everyone’s favorite wall crawler.
Civil War was a huge comic for Marvel, and as Dan and Mark went over in their podcast recently, a huge comic for Spider-Man too. It’s interesting to note that Spider-Man’s debut to the Marvel Cinematic Universe adapts a from a story during an era of rebirth and renewal for Spider-Man, both literal, metaphorical, and metafictional. As well read Superiorites might know, after Spider-Man finished his business with clones in the ’90s, the character had some difficulties finding a new direction that captured readers. After a critically disastrous attempt to reboot the character, Babylon 5 writer J. Michael Straczynski took over writing duties for Amazing Spider-Man and renewed interest with a series of controversial stories that re-imagined Spider-Man’s origins (I’m sure a particular film also had something to do with it).
JMS’s tenure as writer of Amazing Spider-Man was also marked by a constant struggle with editorial. Most known to butt heads with JMS was Marvel’s Editor in Chief at the time, Joe Quesada, who had a very specific image of Peter Parker – one that JMS was trying to steer away from. Perhaps the biggest point of contention, was JMS’s attempts to “age” Peter, which ultimately ended with “One More Day,” perhaps the most controversial Spider-Man story ever written. JMS felt strongly enough about “One More Day” to have his name removed from the cover and now also refuses to speak about his time writing the book.
In the early issues of JMS’s run, Peter and MJ reconcile their strained marriage and renew their relationship. Peter gets a full time job as a teacher at his old high school. Later on, the old Parker home is destroyed, which can be read as a symbolic destruction of Peter’s youth and childhood. Huge changes occur. Spider-Man’s identity is revealed to the New Avengers; Peter, MJ and Aunt May move into the Avengers Tower; Aunt May becomes romantically involved with Jarvis; and Peter dies and is reincarnated with the spirit of the essence of Spider, or something like that. What I’m saying is that a lot changed for Peter very quickly, and while these changes ultimately did not stick, they did drum up interest for a character who had gone through the wringer for about a decade.
Directly after “The Other,” a series in where Peter is literally killed and reborn, Amazing Spider-Man transitioned directly into Civil War, wherein Tony Stark approaches Peter and offers to make him his protégé. Whether or not this idea came from JMS, Mark Millar (Civil War‘s writer), editorial, or a committee involving some combination of the three, it was a smart move. By establishing a master/apprentice role between Tony Stark and Peter Parker, Peter is able to retain some aspect of youth despite JMS’s maturation of the character. By the very nature of a master/apprentice relationship, Tony Stark is able to serve as a wiser, more level headed foil to Peter’s brashness and it’s this very relationship that we end up seeing in “Captain America: Civil War;” Peter full of enthusiasm and youth as directed by Tony Stark.
So what exactly do we get from Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War,” considering the comics version had decades of build-up to arrive at the story? Well, first and foremost, Peter Parker is in one scene, and Spider-Man is in another, so there really isn’t too much Spider-Man in this movie, nor does he play a particularly large role. But there is one part of the Amazing Spider-Man comics that makes it into the film. During Peggy Carter’s funeral, Sharon Carter delivers a moving eulogy that seems to reaffirm the convictions of a conflicted Steve Rogers. As it should, because they were originally his words!
In Amazing Spider-Man #537 Peter Parker is still dealing with the fallout caused by his public unmasking and subsequent defection to Captain America’s side of the superhuman civil war. Despondent, he meets with Captain America one evening and asks him how he deals with doubt. The next few pages are devoted to Cap explaining what group represents “the country” and ultimately tells Peter that in the face of doubt, in the face of people telling you you’re wrong, you need to find what is truth and “plant yourself like a tree next to it.”
It’s a fantastic way to highlight the difference between the two characters, both as characters at large and in the Civil War story. Peter Parker, both in his civilian identity and as Spider-Man, has always been brash and instinctual – perhaps because self-reflection leads Peter to dwell on his mistakes and shortcomings. In the film, Steve hears the same speech and is reminded of the same thing; that it should be you and the truth, not anyone else, that decides your moral compass. While Spider-Man did not get to play a large part in “Captain America: Civil War,” at least we got to see some words from his comic play a pivotal role in the film.
Speaking of words, we also get an indirect play on the typical great power – great responsibility line which seems to be tweaked slightly to fit the themes of the film. But before we get to that, let’s talk about what we see in the first few shots. Peter Parker is clearly a high school student. He’s living with his Aunt May in a small apartment in Queens. His room has a retro vibe to it, with what looks to be an Apple II computer (ironically worth around the price of a new computer these days) decorated by a few knick-knack flash-in-the-pan fad toys from the early ‘00s (a blue Poo-Chi was clearly visible on top of the computer monitor in a few shots). Let’s all take a minute to ignore the fact that I misplace my keys at least once a day but I can remember the Poo-Chi by sight, despite never having one, not knowing anyone who had one, and their production ending in 2002. All right, moving on!
I’m not going to deny it, but Robbie Thompson’s Spidey series seems to be channeling some of the Peter Parker we see in “Captain America: Civil War,” while the Spider-Man segments are clearly indebted to Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man and his constant sarcasm and verbal jabs.
That’s not to say that Spidey is devoid of banter, but the smack talk is so quintessential to Bendis’ run that it’s hard to call it anyone else’s. But the out of costume segments seem to be informed, at least in my opinion, on the more excitable and dorky Peter of Spidey rather than the loner bookworm of Amazing or the picked-on bully magnet of Ultimate.
What is taken from the pages of Amazing is the aforementioned relationship between Peter and Tony Stark, although one more implied than directly stated. Like the pages of Amazing, Tony develops a suit for Peter, but we don’t really know exactly how much of it is Iron Man and how much of it is Spider-Man.
We know that the web shooters are both mechanical and Peter’s own invention, but it appears that Tony might have modified them somewhat due to Peter’s surprised reaction to the spider-signal shining out from them in the after-credits scene, just like they did in the 60’s animated Spider-Man series.
The Iron Spider suit was constructed as a present for Peter from Tony Stark to thank him for accepting the apprenticeship offer, as well as a means to control him if Spider-Man went rogue (something that backfired on Tony). It was made of nanomachines and gave Peter the visual changing powers of the black suit, three robotic arms, was bulletproof, and hooked into Tony Stark’s computer system. The suit from the movie looks to be made out of a cloth fiber and relatively low-tech, though it does have some sort of textured belt which might contain spare web cartridges but might also have some tricks inside. It retains a more traditional Spider-Man color pallet, rather than the garish red and gold of the Iron Spider costume.
There is an interesting flicker of an inversion of the master/apprentice relationship between Peter and Tony in the film though, and it centers around Peter’s mantra, “if you have the power to do something, and you don’t, that makes it your fault.” The realization on Tony Stark’s face is brief, but there. It illustrates that guilt is still a motivating factor for Peter, and that most likely the Uncle Ben death is a big part of his origin. But it also serves as the first chip against Tony’s firm conviction that he’s in the right, giving Spider-Man a small moment of impact.
I wish there was more, but that’s about it. Spider-Man’s appearance is pretty much an extended cameo and a teaser for what’s to come later. Aunt May has a few lines of dialogue, we know that Peter is smart enough to believably be the recipient of attention from Tony Stark’s scholarship fund, and that he’s had his powers for around six months. There’s not much explicitly teased for “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” but if I was a betting man I’d imagine it will look something closer to Spidey than Ultimate Spider-Man or Amazing Spider-Man. But that’s all she wrote folks! Spider-Man across six films with stories taken from every decade except for the ’10s…. and the ’90s. But did we really want to see a movie version of the Clone Saga? I didn’t think so.