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Flatiron Hot! News | August 17, 2017

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Flatiron Hot! Critic: Spider-Man No More? Why Marvel and Sony Deal is Bad for the Character

Flatiron Hot! Critic: Spider-Man No More? Why Marvel and Sony Deal is Bad for the Character
Eric Shapiro

News that Spider-Man and the Avengers will now share the same universe has been received enthusiastically by most fans. Under the new arrangement, Sony will share control of the character with Marvel Studios, aka Disney’s version of the Marvel Universe. The idea of the web-slinger hobnobbing with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and friends seems to be a delightful prospect. But on some level, it is a shame to watch the world of Marvel superheroes turn into a monopoly. Part of what made the “first-gen” of Marvel movies great was the diversity of style. Each and every franchise felt different in part because they came from different studios with varied creative approaches.

Movies from Marvel Studios, in contrast, have a certain uniformity that no director can completely overcome. The Amazing Spider-Man movies, for all of their failings, felt different from Marvel Universe entries. The fact that they were bad doesn’t prove that Marvel Studios should take the reigns; it proves that this particular iteration of Spider-Man was unsuccessful. Supporters of the new deal will point to what are likely to be superior Spider-Man films as evidence that it was the right choice. In reality, we’ll never know what Sony might have done with the character without interference from Marvel Studios. Perhaps their reboot would be a return to the quality of the first two Sam Raimi/Toby McGuire films. Or maybe it would have sucked. That’s not the point.

Fans have a short memory; they are all too eager to criticize a company for “screwing up” their favorite character while forgetting that, under different management, that same company did a fine job. They forget that X-Men, managed by 20th Century Fox, continues to fire on all cylinders, consistently producing memorable movies. In another ten years, Marvel Studios may be creatively bankrupt and Sony in much better shape to manage the franchise alone. Alas, at this point it will be too late to undo the damage of monopoly. Does anyone seriously think Disney will ever give Spider-Man up in the event of a creative slump? When multiple studios control Marvel “big guns,” one universe can suck while the others continue to thrive. Place all our superhero eggs in one basket, on the other hand, and they will all break when and if Marvel drops the basket. Except the X-Men, for now.

Even assuming Marvel Studios takes Spider-Man in a positive direction, who’s to say the character would not be better served in his own distinct world? Imagine if Jack Kirby seized control of Spider-Man from Steve Ditko in the character’s 1960s heyday. There can be little doubt that Kirby would have done a good job (he certainly has a far better track record than Marvel Studios), but Spider-Man would have lost the warped, Ditkoesque quality that makes him Spider-Man. Or perhaps a better example is John Romita taking over for Ditko. Most would agree that he rose to the occasion, but Spider-Man lost a bit of what made him so unique: the creative influence of the incomparably, brilliantly weird Steve Ditko. In essence, Spider-Man became a bit more like other Marvel heroes.

I’d rather have unique Spider-Man films and no crossovers than crossovers and a generic Spider-Man who blends in with the rest of Marvel. Of all Marvel characters, Spider-Man is the most fiercely individualistic. He was almost unique among the Marvel pantheon in that he never joined a superhero team (until the 2000s, with mixed results). His world always felt somewhat self-contained. Most of his classic Silver Age stories do not involve other Marvel heroes (with some notable exceptions). Do we really want to see a character who is in many ways the quintessential loner caught up in an endless number of  team-ups? Comic fans have seen what excessive crossover stories can do to a mythology, especially to characters like Spider-Man who thrive in a more intimate setting. Characters like Captain America and Iron Man thrive in crossovers. Spider-Man does not; his eccentricities and complexities get lost in all of that biggness.

Spider-Man guest appearances can be entertaining, but only when executed with restraint in a way that preserves the flavor of the character’s universe. Will Marvel Studios heed this wisdom? Judging by their current movies, probably not. A Marvel Universe film hasn’t felt self-contained since at least before the Avengers. The characters can barely walk without banging into a guest star. This approach works for, say, Captain America. It wouldn’t work for Spider-Man. Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane, Aunt May, the Osborns, etc,. should dominate Peter Parker’s world, not Nick Fury, Iron Man and Captain America. Most of the time, other heroes should remain on the periphery, illuminating Spider-Man’s dilemmas rather than crowding them out. It’s unlikely that Marvel, eager to cash in on fanboy’s crossover wet dreams and sell action figures, will respect Spider-Man’s unique place in the Marvel Universe. For better and worse (and yes, there will be some better), an era of the Spider-Man film franchise has passed and a new one is about to commence. Hopefully Marvel Studios will handle one of its best characters with care and not sacrifice what makes him special on the altar of merchandising.