Friday, November 10, 2006

For a good time, call...

Sean McCormick, my good friend, just returned to blogging. He's just a bit crazier than I am, so if you like me you'll love him.
He's going to start writing fiction on request.
Tell him what to write.

Charles Bukowski (9 minutes)

Moisture is the essence of wetness

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Spider-Man, Sigmund Freud, Sex and Violence

English 600, Literary Theory
Professor Paul Majkut
February 2nd, 2002

          Superman set the model for super-powered heroes in 1938. Following Superman was the non-powered hero Batman in 1939. This is called the Golden Age of comics. In the Silver Age, one year after the creation of the Fantastic Four in 1961, the Amazing Spider-Man made his debut in Amazing Tales #15. The Silver Era, or Marvel Age, was a turning point in comics when archetypes were stretched and reinvented.
          Though Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee, he has developed as a character under the control of many writers since then. He is similar to most long-standing comic book characters in this respect. Because of heavy publisher control over character development, the writer's creativity must be very focused. Story arcs are constructed in order for the writer to pick up the character where the last writer left him and put him through a series of events. These events produce either temporary results for the character and his world or they are authorized by the editor-in-chief and they are long-lasting. While individual writers and editors are responsible for Spider-Man's life, in this essay the responsibility for his life shall be his own. To readers and writers Spider-Man was released as a character and as art in 1962, since then he has grown through a network of developers. Readers write back and are often published with responses from the editors and occasionally the writers. Responses from the audience, and sales, are extremely important to the company. Economics, creative credit, and reader response are to be placed aside in this discussion of Spider-Man as a new archetype in comics.
          Superman set the ideal for super-powered heroes, or superheroes: a man with extraordinary, god-like abilities placed in our normal world, who rights the wrongs of our society. And though Superman claims to be a citizen of America and Earth, he is as removed from us the common people as Hercules or Zeus from mortals. Superman is unquestioned, never asked for his identity by way of finger print, birth certificate or any form of license. He is simply globally known as the red and blue god-like being who stops crime and disaster from bank robbers to floods. Superman is the pinnacle of superheroes. (In a Saturday Night Live act aired during the time of Superman's supposed death, Chris Farley as Marvel's Incredible Hulk stood at the podium and said, "Superman was my hero.") Given recovery time Superman can even defeat death. Superman aims to represent all that is good: "truth, justice, and the American way."
          Batman is very comfortable in shadows, even Superman's. Bob Kane broke the archetype when he created Batman, a dark figure that wages his war on crime as much through intellect and fear as through action and combat. Having witnessed his parents' murders at an extremely young age, Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to transforming his mind and body into Batman. Martial arts, stage-magic, and forensic science make up Batman's list of "powers," plus a seemingly unlimited inheritance and means for producing a variety of crime-fighting vehicles and equipment. Batman is out for justice but not like Superman; Batman seeks vengeance, street justice, and is not interested in truth (he wears a mask) and sees the American way as a cause of his parents' deaths.
          Spider-Man also seeks vengeance. His uncle Ben was murdered and unlike Batman who when this happened to him was a small child with no special abilities, Spider-Man had his powers and the chance to stop the man who killed his uncle but at the time he chose to leave that job to someone who was paid to do it. Batman fights crime to avenge his parents, Spider-Man fights crime to repent. Unlike Superman and Batman who grew up with their crime-fighting futures well-defined or predicted, Spider-Man was created out of an accident. The events that lead up to the creation of Superman (his home world exploding and him being sent to Earth) and Batman (an encounter with a murderous mugger) were accidents out of their control but they dealt with them and chose to become superheroes. Spider-Man was just a boy named Peter Parker who was bitten by a spider that was accidentally irradiated in a lab experiment. Parker was not an adult but he was a fully-formed normal human being with no thoughts of crime-fighting, even after his transformation.
          Upon becoming super-powered and starting to understand his new abilities, Peter Parker aimed for fame not justice. He was interested in wrestling matches and television shows, actively ignoring trouble. This could seem natural for a shy honors student with poor social life. The wrestling match was an experiment to test his new powers, all very logical. Only when a talent agent offered him money and glory did he forget his academic objective. Socially unaccepted, this offer was too much for him and he took it. Only when his uncle was murdered did his lust for acceptance and stardom fade. Spider-Man's origin is one of confusion not determination. Unlike Superman who was born with his powers and his sense of justice, and unlike Batman who earned his powers and had his sense of justice seared into him, Spider-Man developed.
          Peter Parker created the identity of Spider-Man. Putting a mask on to protect his identity, Peter hides behind Spider-Man. As Peter Parker he is free to live a normal life. Batman wears a mask to conceal his identity but also to scare his enemies. Superman wears no mask, he is the model superhero remember, but as Clark Kent he wears a mask of glasses. A man with two identities has many problems. The first is knowing which of the two personas is the true one, or at least the original one. Clark Kent grew up in Smallville and upon becoming a man and choosing his life, he moved to Metropolis. He did this in order to be in a more populated area so as to have better chances of saving more people. Kent became his secondary identity at that point, he transformed Kent into an awkward and inarticulate newspaper reporter. Clark Kent remained himself as Superman and instead changed the personality of Kent. Bruce Wayne too created a false identity out of his original and legal identity. Wayne grew up in Gotham City and from the time he watched his parents gunned down as a small child, he has dedicated his life to avenging their deaths. Wayne trained himself to become what Batman is. When Batman is pretending to be Bruce Wayne, he is clumsy and superficial. As Batman and as Superman, these two men live their real lives. When they transform into their civilian identities, it is actually those identities that are false.
          Metropolis and Gotham are fictitious recreations of New York City. Metropolis is highly modern with glorious sky-scrapers; Gotham is as its name suggests: gothic. It seems to be perpetual night in Gotham, perpetual day in Metropolis, they could be the same city at different times. But Spider-Man has no fake city to live in. He is a New Yorker. Spider-Man lives and works in New York City. Peter Parker is a photographer living in Soho with his beautiful model-actress wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker. Though Clark Kent existed in Smallville before he moved to the big city, Superman created his life as Clark Kent in Metropolis (like Gotham, an imitation New York created to give Superman more freedom as a character). Spider-Man was created by Peter Parker, and though Peter Parker has moved a bit throughout his life it was only from one part of the city to another part of the same city. In his time there, locals grow accustomed to him. "The friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" is how he signed his notes to the police which he would fix to webbed-up criminals he had captured. (Of course such "arrests" most likely would not provide any convictions but that is not our focus.) Within the reality of comic books the police are accustomed to super-heroes helping prevent crime and they know their local super-heroes from their local super-villains. Super-powered people are stereotypically all very territorial.
          An interesting story arc called "Acts of Vengeance" crossed titles from writer David Micheline's the Amazing Spider-Man to writer Gerry Conway's the Spectacular Spider-Man, Jim Salicrup edited and Tom DeFalco was the editor-in-chief for all Spider-Man titles in 1989. In this arc, four super-villains plot to take out each other's local super-hero. New York's Kingpin wants Spider-Man dead but Spider-Man has routinely defeated the Kingpin and his men, so they think that bringing in different villainous talent will work. At first it does, but then Spider-Man is gifted with additional power. In the Amazing Spider-Man issue #328 during the "Acts of Vengeance!" story arc, Spider-Man possesses powers in addition to his spider-powers. The Hulk smashes an ambulance to provide a distraction for his get-away and one of the paramedics says, "The stab victim in the back needs an emergency room! Fast!" Spidey says, "Don't worry—he'll get one!" And he flies the stretcher up into the sky. One of the paramedics says, "Spider-Man can fly?! Did I sleep through somethin'?" And though it was inadvertently Spider-Man's fault the ambulance was wrecked, the locals not only expect Spider-Man to do his job but they think they know exactly how he does it; the nature and extent of his powers are pedestrian knowledge (19).
          In "Acts of Vengeance!" Spider-Man is imbued with additional super-powers raising him to a level comparable if not above that of Superman. Normally Spider-Man has enhanced strength and speed equivalent to man-sized spider (he can lift 10 tons according to Marvel Universe), extraordinary balance and agility, the ability to cling to walls and ceilings, and his unique "spider-sense" which warns him of danger (27). His additional powers allowed him to fly, shoot rays from his eyes and hands, alter chemical compounds, and his strength was increased so far as to allow him to punch the Hulk into orbit. Of course Spider-Man's ethics would not allow him to let the Hulk die so he flew up and brought down the Hulk (who was so thankful he did not try to kill Spider-Man like he had been hired to do) (ASM #327, #328).
          Spider-Man is a man. Before he was bitten by the spider he lead a normal life. He brings this perspective with him and though he provides for his community he still thinks about himself. When Superman takes off his Clark Kent mask he is fully Superman, but when Peter Parker puts on his Spider-Man mask he remains Parker beneath it. As Spider-Man swings into battle he attentively attaches a camera to a windowsill in order to take pictures of himself which he later sells in order to pay the rent. Peter Parker is a fighter and a lover. Unlike Bruce Wayne who loves the ladies in the public eye in order to maintain his alter ego of a billionaire playboy, Peter Parker falls in love with women. Gwen Stacey was his first love, she fell victim to one of his long-time enemies the Green Goblin, and Peter Parker continued to mourn her till just before he proposed to Mary Jane Watson. Spider-Man has feelings and worries like normal people. Mary Jane knows Peter is Spider-Man, unlike Lois Lane who Clark Kent longs for but never goes for. Lois loves Superman, and Clark loves Lois, and this is another problem in relating to Superman. Batman leads an almost monastic life in his cave beneath his mansion and this is simply his decision, but that Superman has and has not is troublesome. Spider-Man seeks love and loses but keeps searching and eventually does succeed. We see Mary Jane drawn very provocatively for a comic book character and we routinely see the young couple sitting and talking in bed, but that is where we are left. Marvel Comics remains oriented towards a general audience which often means children, which therefore ironically permits no children in the fictitious couple's lives. Sex is still glossed over (not so much as to ignore it as with Superman), but violence is now fully accepted to practically any extreme on nearly all levels of comic books and entertainment.
          Blood and broken bones may cover every page but so long as the key ethical rule is never broken: The hero does not kill. The classic trick around this rule is to have the enemies be mechanical or non-living therefore they cannot technically be murdered. Of course the goal of getting around the rule is to be able to show the extreme violence that it now takes to impress violence-seeking audiences. Another way around the rule is to have super-powered enemies. In the second issue of Spider-Man (a simple title, but the fifth in a series of comics devoted to the web-slinger) our hero is fighting the Lizard and he thinks that he kills him. The Lizard is super strong as well, and the fight seemed to be going in his favor. Spider-Man had fought the Lizard many times before and knew the beast was really an innocent doctor transformed. The omniscient narrator observes: "Blood! The Lizard is driven by the thought. Mind exploding—the creature must have blood! It slices through the metal doors like some savage carnivore tearing at meat. Spider-Man doesn't have time to think—only to react. Solid steel pierces unholy flesh and bones. Yet, the monster makes no sound. The evil spirits dance no longer." Spider-man kicked the Lizard back onto the torn metal doors. Spider-Man's thought process: "What have I done? Didn't think. The doc—the doc—didn't mean—Didn't mean—had to move—Protect myself—Sorry—I am—so sorry—doc please—forgive—" But then the Lizard is gone, as Spider-Man mourns his friend and with his hands covers his face (which is already covered by his mask) the Lizard disappears. And in a few pages returns, wounded but alive.
          The Punisher, a dark hero introduced in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #129, returns often and tests Spider-Man's ethical code. The Punisher kills people, he is basically cast from the Batman mold but with arsenal of guns and grenades instead of boomerangs and bolos. While Spidey and Punisher might have the same objective of stopping the bad guy from hurting people, their methods are different. Spider-Man won't kill. The Punisher says, "Stay out of my way." Our hero says, "With your itchy trigger finger? Count on it! But, look—I don't suppose you'd consider leaving the guns behind?" "Really, Spider-Man…this is no time for levity!" but Spider-man was not joking (ASM #330, 20). Spidey is one of the most humorous heroes, always insulting enemies as he assaults them. Superheroes, whether super-powered or not, have very high expectations of themselves, and though their objectives could overlap or be identical, they often criticize one another's reasoning and style. In order to work with various superheroes, the Punisher has modified his arsenal to include rubber bullets. This brings him up to the moral plane of Spider-Man.
          While Spider-Man will not change his methods, he will not kill, he will amend his reasoning. He sees wrongs to be righted but in the story arc "the Assassin Nation Plot" he is asked to go to another country to defend the character of his own country (ASM #320-325). At first he is skeptical.
          "Lady, I don't like you. I don't like your morals, I don't like—"
          "I'll pay a thousand dollars a day."
          "A thou?! Well, uh, maybe I could spare a long weekend…!"
          "Spider-Man thinks, 'My wife's out of work, moving is going to be expensive…and besides, if I go along, maybe I can temper Silver's methods! Yeah! While she's keeping the king from getting hurt, maybe I can keep her from hurting anybody else!' He relaxes, and if you were to accuse him of rationalizing, why, he'd just laugh. Nervously…" (ASM #321, 30)
          Spider-Man has morals that he has learned from his family and his society. Sigmund Freud could call this the superego, a facet of every individual's mind that thinks in terms of community and acceptance. Peter Parker and Spider-Man are very close, closer than most superheroes and their civilian identities. Parker earns his living taking pictures of Spider-Man for the local papers, he even published a coffee table books titled Webs. As a newspaper photographer, Parker must be on the scene. He is there as Spider-Man, not Parker, but behind the mask of Spider-Man he still remains Parker (and his stationary camera does the money-making). Freud could argue that the identity of Peter Parker is his ego, the decision-making aspect of the mind that chooses between rules imposed by the superego and society, and the survival instinct which Freud called the id. Spider-Man's id is clearly revealed by his spider-sense.
          Clearly cutting lines and making such distinction is difficult if not entirely impossible. There are five different comic books that produce stories monthly, sometimes biweekly. The Amazing Spider-Man, the Spectacular Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, Spider-Man and the longest and most descriptive title of all Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man...all of these titles, a couple still aiming for their first centennial issues but most closing in on 400 issues each, they produce a volume of stories about this man. In attempting to establish certain facts about him, individual issues must be examined more closely. "Acts of Vengeance!" was a story that crossed many titles, when it began in Amazing Spider-Man #326 little was foreshadowed except that various villains had exchanged enemies in order to outwit the heroes. Comic book intertextuality is an economic ploy but the result of it is a fabric of stories that together create a grand story yet unwoven still hold great stories. Between the end of ASM #326 and the beginning of #327, Spidey is given the magnificent "Power Cosmic" (which is the disembodied power of Captain Universe who/which chooses various heroes in various crucial times to house his power) but the only explanation is a note from editor in response to Mary Jane saying, "We haven't the slightest idea how!*" he got his new powers. "*But you do—if you read Spectacular Spider-Man #158!" And we go on to see Spidey defeat a range of foes that were once counted out of his league.
          Through the streets of Manhattan, though he can now fly Spider-Man swings from his webs out of habit. Amazing Spider-Man #329 is the final issue of "Act of Vengeance!" and on page 8 before the plot escalates, a man robs a couple at gun point. Spider-man saves them and thinks to himself, "A simple mugging? Why do I bother? I mean, I could maybe save the world! Why I waste my time saving nobodies? Lord, what am I saying? I may have godlike power—but I sure don't have godlike wisdom! I can't judge who deserves to be saved and who doesn't! Sheesh! And I thought life was complicated when I only had spider-powers!" With the final foe vanquished in a glorious display of power, Spider-Man is once again himself. At home with his wife, he recollects, "I can't help thinking I should have done more, Mary Jane. I mean, with all that power I could have stopped Khadafi! Ended apartheid! Something!" And of course she consoles him (29-30). "Stop raking yourself over the coals, hon. You did more than most people would have tried! And more importantly—you did everything that you, Peter Parker, could do." When the dust settles and the job is done, he goes home to his wife who absolves him of guilt and reaffirms his identity as a man who has chosen to be a superhero.
          With the theme of extra super-powers concluded, some issues go by and then the antithesis: Peter decides that since his aunt May lost his uncle and most recently a fiancee, he couldn't risk his life therefore risk his death causing her a fatal shock, so he opts to give up his powers. Amazing Spider-Man #342 is the second part of this story arc and again back home, Peter says to M.J., "Just because I gave up my spider powers, that doesn't make it any easier to turn my back when people need help!" Again she consoles him (2-3). "You did what you could! All you could! Peter, you had Dr. Turner take away your powers for a reason! […] You did what you thought was right!" Spider-Man is forced to jump back into action even without his powers. When the couple comes across yet another mugging, held back by M.J., Peter brakes a store window to set off the alarm. But when super-villains specifically call him out, he puts the mask back on and without spider-strength or spider-sense he risks his life. Of course by the end of the arc he is forced to regain his powers in order to save everyone. Atop a building, to Black Cat (his former lover and now friend) he says, "I can't give up Spider-Man! The powers, the costume, even the name…yes. But Spider-Man is more than that—he's Peter Parker, and what Peter Parker is inside! And that won't go away! Bottom line: if I don't restore my powers, sooner or later, I'll die doing what I have to do!" (ASM #343, 8).
          Even without his spider-sense to warn him of danger, which ultimately was his most missed power, he still went into battle. Sigmund Freud's survival aspect, the id, was still with him even though his powers were not. But maintaining that his spider-sense represents his id, even without his id to ensure his survival, he still chose to risk his life fighting for what he believes is right. What society deems right, the superego, prevailed even without super-powers. Comic books are archetypically meant to entertain and improve their readers; Spider-Man's code of ethics, his personal logic of what is just, that is more concrete than his powers. His ego and superego are stronger than his super-powers which may come and go, increase or decrease, but his moral base is always solid.

Works Cited
         Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics, August 1962
         Amazing Spider-Man #s280-380,
         Marvel Comics Comics: Between the Panels, Dark Horse Comics, Inc. 1998
         Freud, Sigmund, "Creative Writers and Daydreaming." (1907)
         The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Bedford Books, 1989: 651-656
         Hero Special Edition: The 100 most Important Comics of All Time, May 1994.
         Millennium Edition: Dectective Comics #1, DC Comics, 2000
         Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #s200-280, Marvel Comics
         Richter, David H., "Sigmund Freud." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Bedford Books, 1989: 650-651
         Spectacular Spider-Man #s90-190, Marvel Comics
         Spider-Man #s1-34, Marvel Comics
         The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide 29th Edition, Gemstone Publishing, Inc., 1999. p.211-218
         "The American Comic Book: 1897-1932 In the Beginning: The Platinum Age" by Robert L. Beerbohm and Richard D. Olson, PhD. copyright 1999.
         The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide 29th Edition, Gemstone Publishing, Inc., 1999. p.226-233
         "The American Comic Book: 1933-Present The Golden Age & Beyond The Origin of the Modern Comic Book" by Robert L. Beerbohm and Richard D. Olson, PhD, copyright 1999.
         Web of Spider-Man #s80-105, Marvel Comics

Sunday, November 05, 2006


On a rare occasion, I ventured beyond PB for the night. I think my homies and I hit four different bars in OB and in the last one there was this simply perfect little blond girl. She couldn't have been more than 5'1" and dressed in a t-shirt jeans and sneakers she was the best looking woman I'd seen all night. I was checking her out while she was being hit on by two other guys. A drink or two later, I can't help but see her dancing with this old dude. There was no one else dancing, and he was at least 60, but more likely 75. They danced and danced, and yes I was totally jealous of his old ass. He was a good dancer and my homey told me that he'd decided he needed to learn how to dance. Haha, yeah, it was that good. But this girl, woman, angel danced and flirted with this old man and absolutely made his night. Vicariously, she made my night too. After their dance, she quickly disappeared, but I honestly don't know if I'd've had the nerve to try. Oh well. Shit! Not oh well, she was hot. I'm drunk and ready to pass out, entertained but unfulfilled, so ... good night. And it was good, but far from great. Cheers.