Aaron R. Davis
Last week, the first image from the completely unnecessary Spider-Man reboot hit the Internet. Showing Andrew Garfield in the costume (minus the mask), fandom was abuzz with something the image revealed. My only opinion, cynic that I am, was that the costume made Andrew Garfield’s head look even more too-big-for-his-reedy-body than it already does. But fandom collectively wet itself or the possibility that Spidey’s web shooters might be mechanical instead of organic.
To keep up with this meaningless fan debate, you have to remember an earlier meaningless fan debate.
Those of you of a certain age and even passingly familiar with Spider-Man may remember that after Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and his DNA altered to give him his arachnid powers, he developed two mechanical devices to wear around his wrist: his web shooters. This would allow him to shoot webs around the city that he could swing from, catch things in, use as a shield, etc. The webbing is a fluid, kept in highly pressurized cartridges, but when it comes out it has an incredible tensile strength. And it’s non-durable; after use, it takes about an hour for the webs to dissolve.
It’s a fairly standard part of the mythos, and as always happens in fandom, what is standard eventually comes essential and later becomes the only thing that’s acceptable.
When Sam Raimi was making the first Spider-Man movie less than a decade ago, he announced basically that he thought the web shooters were bullshit and that Peter would now just shoot webs out of his wrist. Organic webs. Which, from a science fiction standpoint, makes a certain kind of sense. After all, Peter’s DNA has been altered to give him some of the biological aspects of a spider. Why wouldn’t he develop the ability to produce webbing?
Hell, it even works with the symbolism of Peter’s teenage awkwardness. Didn’t we all leak a lot of mysterious fluids when we were going through adolescence?
Well, since fans are always sure they know better than the people who actually do the real work of crafting stories for a living, there was a lot of talk in the usual circles about what an abomination this was. Biological webbing? Ridiculous! Fans would only suspend their disbelief in a story about a kid exposed to radioactivity in his bloodstream that doesn’t die of leukemia so far, damn it!
Fans have a consensus on what the essential elements of each character’s story are, and even if they’re actively wrong (Betty Brant was Peter Parker’s first girlfriend, not Gwen Stacy) or just plain stupid (the existence of Carnage), fans will demand that those elements not be shaken.
But if you look at the biological webbing more objectively, I think it actually becomes more convincing than mechanical web shooters. The mechanical version … well, they make Peter Parker look like an imbecile.
The original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko issues of The Amazing Spider-Man are wonderful fun. They’re still better than about 95 percent of everything Marvel Comics has ever produced. And a big part of it is that Peter Parker is just a normal high schooler. He’s an outcast, yes, and very smart (he wants to be a scientist — shame he decided to be a freelance photographer for the rest of his life), and completely overcome by the burden of being Spider-Man.
He’s a harried kid, trying to balance his schoolwork, his responsibilities as a superhero and his home life, which completely revolves around caring for his frail Aunt May. There are a lot of stories that are simply motivated by his need for cash to pay Aunt May’s medical bills. Even in 1963, medication was expensive and it was easy to go bankrupt when hospital bills got out of control.
You know what would be a good way to make a fortune that would see Aunt May given all the care she needs around the clock? Why not develop a miracle adhesive, patent it and sell it? Find a way to get around the durability problem, and commercialize the damn thing. Think about the all the people who would want it! The police, the military, construction, car manufacture … it could be used for just about anything, and it might save a lot of other materials.
Peter Parker shouldn’t be working at the Daily Bugle (poorly, I might add), he should be sitting on the board of a scientific research firm and swimming in Bill Gates money.
If Peter Parker, high school student, can go to the store and pick up all the chemicals he needs to create his web fluid (getting his formula right on the very first try, instead of spending years in the research and development stage), making the adhesives breakthrough of the century at the age of 16 (something companies in the comics tried to reverse engineer and never could!), he’s probably got more innovations floating around in his mind. Any executive worth their golden parachute would jump on this kid in an instant and give him all the space and money he needs to start working on green technology or space exploration equipment or shielding (Spidey’s webbing is bulletproof). Hell, this kid might be able to cure cancer given the time to work on it!
Having mechanical web shooters actually makes Peter Parker look stupid. Because if he’s that kind of a genius, and can create that kind of technology in his bedroom after school, and all he can think to do with it is dress up in a circus costume and flip around taking pictures of himself while constantly almost getting himself and everyone he loves killed, he’s an idiot. Or he’s lying to himself about why he’s doing what he’s doing.
Having his DNA altered by a radioactive spider bite is actually believable in comparison to creating mechanical web shooters and web fluid.
I’m surprised that more fans want to argue about this than want to argue about the fact that Peter Parker won’t be working at the Bugle anymore in the new movie. (No J. Jonah Jameson? Your movie just became 40 percent less fun.)
But at least they aren’t arguing that the Spider Mobile needs to be included. That thing was just lame.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.