Friday, August 23, 2013

Fanboy Friday: The Personality of Peter Parker

So, if no one’s noticed by now I kinda like Spider-Man. Guy’s been my favourite super hero since I was very wee – I think there was about seven seconds when I was four that Captain America was my favourite super hero. But then Spidey showed up in the toy commercial and it didn’t matter that Cap had a sweet Cap-mobile with a battering ram. Spidey was my guy.

So, when Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man came out last year, I was pretty disappointed. Thing is, I was raised on Spidey up through the Clone Saga BS in the nineties and I’ve got every trade paperback of Brian Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man. The Peter Parker portrayed by Andrew Garfield in ASM bore very little resemblance to the Pete I was used to from the comics I read. Comics Spidey was an earnestly good, kinda dopey nerd who might have a mouth when he’s beating up criminals but at home like is the pinnacle of a stand-up guy. Genuinely nice, unassuming, decidedly not bitter and while he might be angsty, he’s definitely not angry. Andrew Garfield, despite being a damn fine actor played a very different Peter – one who’s still a high school outcast, but appears to be an outcast for being counterculture rather than dorky. Garfield’s Peter has a palpable sense of anger radiating off him which I found off-putting – he was playing a teenager who is angry at the world for no good reason (which, to be fair, is quite teenagery). He was sulky even before Uncle Sheen (pitch perfect casting) gets knocked off, and snarky even when he isn’t Spider-Man – which I didn’t like because I’d always interpreted Spidey’s wisecracking as being a byproduct of the introverted dork Peter Parker only truly feeling socially confident when he’s got his identity hidden. So, suffice to say, I was unimpressed.

Until, that is, this past year when I started doing a systematic read-through of all the old Stan Lee / Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man comics from the early ‘60s. I’d picked up the first two Marvel Masterworks reprint trades of them at BMV last year because hey, history. Upon reading the original Amazing Spidey 1-24, I’ve rethought my opinion of Amazing Spidey, the movie. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is significantly more accurate to the Lee/Ditko Peter than I’d thought.

While Peter is portrayed as a huge nerd in those original comics (who wears a suit and tie to high school? Huh? I think cool people. But jocks in the ‘60s obviously didn’t) he’s significantly more angry a character, even if it’s mostly in his internal monologue. An issue doesn’t go by without a panel of Peter, having just been mocked by Flash Thompson, thinking to himself “if only they knew my true power! I’ll show ‘em! I’ll show ‘em all!” like some kind of proto-Hayden Christensen. Come to think of it, Peter’s thought balloons in a lot of the early ASM comics reads a heckuva lot like the Superior Spider-Man’s thought balloons. There was a lot more of an angry, almost mad scientist quality to Peter Parker back in the Lee/Ditko books. Oddly enough this makes the whole “Peter Parker needs to learn to look out for more than himself” arc that is set off by Peter accidentally getting Uncle Ben killed a lot more prevalent because it’s an actual character flaw he’s working on eliminating rather than something that just disappears like poof when he learns “with great power there must also come great responsibility.”  

I always liked Peter Parker the Genuinely Nice Guy, but as I keep reading the Lee/Ditko books, more and more I’m getting to like the snarky egotistical kind-of-a-bit-of-an-asshole Peter Parker who will, eventually, grow up out of being a selfish teenager and become Genuinely Nice Guy Peter.
And, thus, I’m looking a little more forward to Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Paul Giamatti in a Rhino suit.

Oh, and one more thing – anyone ever notice that, despite supposedly being an irredeemable nerd, Peter Parker is swimming in ladies all the time? Not only that, he appears to basically be Archie Andrews. Though, in Stan Lee’s defense, at least he didn’t name the blonde Betty.