Jun
14

The Thrilling Adventures of the Absolutist Spider-Man

Posted by Chris Eckert on Thursday, June 14th, 2012 at 01:20:06 AM

So apparently “Ends of the Earth” wrapped up in Amazing Spider-Man today, a big story about Doctor Octopus wanting to murder seven billion people so that everyone will remember him after his death as History’s Greatest Monster: “a mass murderer worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, and Genghis Khan combined!” He actually says this.

Never mind that seven billion people puts him pretty safely into the realm of “a mass murderer worse than all mass murderers ever combined”.

Never mind that I’m not sure anyone — Hitler, Pol Pot or Genghis Khan included — ever sat down and went, “This is what I’m going into the history books for, boys. Being a mass murderer!”

Never mind the nauseating “heroes don’t torture, if you pretend that torture means cold blooded murder and nothing less” scene from a few issues back.

Never mind that the entire story felt like a video game with a bunch of ‘quests’ that were immediately invalidated because Doctor Octopus had secret contingency plan after secret contingency plan.

You’ll all be glad to know that Spidey saved the day, and kept Doc Ock from turning on his Doomsday Satellite and murdering 99.992% of Earth’s population. The good guys won! But don’t try telling that to Spider-Man!

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You see, back in the brutally childish but beautifully drawn Amazing Spider-Man #655, Spider-Man made a solemn vow to his dead Uncle Ben and everyone else he’s ever known that died:

nooneeverreallydies

No one dies! I’m not sure how he thinks that’s going to work. Obviously tons of people die every day, dozens in a city the size of New York alone. Maybe he’ll accept it when someone dies in a non-violent way, but what if it was preventable? What about accidents? Does it only count if it’s someone Spider-Man knows, or is in his direct line of sight? This is not explained. But for the past year or so, Spider-Man has vowed that “NO ONE DIES.” And despite thwarting a plan to literally burn all life off the face of the Earth, saving the very existence of humanity from the mad plan of his archenemies, Spider-Man can find no joy in victory. He can’t even find victory! For you see, Silver Sable might have died. She explicitly told him to go save humanity, and that she would willingly sacrifice her life so that billions more may live. We didn’t even see her body, so we have no way of knowing if she survived or not. But Spider-Man still puts this in the L column. No one should be surprised. Spidey’s been getting more and more hardline in his moral absolutism lately. Who can forget his tough love for Franklin Richards?

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Or this tense exchange with Captain America?

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And while I’m sure it was a fist-pumping moment for a lot of fans to see their hero lace into one of his biggest detractors, I wonder if Spider-Man wasn’t going a little too far in this scene with J. Jonah Jameson?

absolutist-spidey-jjj

This is the Spider-Man we have now. I’m sure Steve Ditko would be proud, if he was willing to express the weakness of human emotion, or read superhero comics.

Posted in Blurbs · Read more by Chris Eckert

18 Responses

  1. THANK YOU. Ever since that “brutally childish” issue (perfect way to say that) I have felt like I was the only person who saw the insanity of Slott’s characterization. May this be reblogged a thousand times.

  2. I dropped the Spider books after the JMS “One More Day” nonsense so I have no idea what Slott’s going for here, but I’m perfectly okay with exploring what that sort of absolutism does to a character. Kingdom Come took a short swipe at it with the Flash’s refusal to ever drop out of super-speed ever again. The later Kingdom short with his daughter opining on his being an absentee father as a result prodded at the human costs.

    Maybe that’s Slott’s goal, to explore that. It doesn’t sound like a task he’s up to, as you describe the rest of his story components, but sometimes our reach exceeds our grasp. I’m not even sure I think it’s a topic an ongoing superbook can manage.

  3. Peter stuffing his face while making Franklin feel bad… that’s brilliant.

  4. I agree that the “no one dies” pledge is childish, absurd, and philosophically nonsensical. But is it not possible that reader is supposed to find it misguided, and that eventually Peter will realize that? I ask as a genuine question rather than an argument–I read this issue where he made the pledge, but have read few subsequent issues dealing with it.

    At least in theory, Peter’s pledge calls to mind what Mark Waid has doing with Daredevil lately. After an extended period of just about every horrible thing imaginable happening to Matt Murdock, Matt just shows up one day and says “I’ve decided I’m going to be happy, so smiles all around, no problems here!” He’s wrong of course, terrible things have happened to him and many aspects of his life are thoroughly screwed up. But at least in that case, it’s clear to me as a reader that I’m not supposed to think that Matt is entirely right. Supporting characters note that his attitude is a departure, and that he’s even a bit delusional, and I trust that at some point, the facade is going to crack. In the meantime, however, Murdock’s semi-delusional state allows us to get some lighthearted fun, and creates some dramatic tension as we wonder how long he can keep it up.

    My initial impression of Peter’s vow was that something similar was going on–it was not supposed to be something that the reader thought was a great idea, but rather communicated that Peter had become slightly disconnected from reality, both Power-mad and Responsibility-mad, foolishly assuming he had control over such things or that he could live up to his obviously unachievable standards.

    Are you convinced that Slott expects the reader to believe that Peter’s pledge is not ridiculous, or do you think it’s possible this is just building to someone or some thing knocking some sense into Peter?

  5. I think Mr. Candycorn’s analysis is correct. This “absolutism” is clearly untenable, and treating these stories as though the author intends for his audience to go “HECK YEAH” the whole time is a pretty childish, simplistic reading. The scene with Captain America, in particular, illustrates this ambiguity pretty clearly (though I’m pretty sure Zeb Wells wrote that scene).

  6. I should point out that the last three ‘pages’ are ‘written’ by me. They were not actually published by Marvel. Well, the art was, but then I re-lettered it as a joke.

    If Spider-Man was actually expressing ideas as insane as the ones in those ‘pages’, I agree, it would be leading to an important lesson about how Spider-Man needs to wise up. But they aren’t.

    My reading of “Ends of the Earth” doesn’t leave a lot of room for giving Slott the benefit of the doubt in terms of subtlety or thoughtfulness. His understanding of “torture” is facile, the main villain’s motivation is incredibly simplistic and ‘evil’, and there’s been no indication that Spider-Man’s pledge that NO ONE DIES is anything but a noble hero’s quest, one that allows him to take the moral high ground in arguments with friend and foe alike. This could all turn around somehow, but I am not expecting it.

  7. First of all: MEA CULPA! I totally didn’t get the gag, because my screen’s too small to read most of the joke balloons and I was basing my thoughts on the actual blog post text, along with my memories of reading those issues over the past year. But I feel like a real dummy!

    Speaking of dummies, your thesis here seems to be that Dan Slott is an idiot. Setting aside the torture thing (it’s not as though it’s not worth talking about, but it does seem like a whole ‘nother can of bees), my experience reading about forty zillion Slott stories makes me believe otherwise.

    But that barely matters. I don’t really need to give him “benefit of the doubt” here because it’s just plainly obvious (to me) in the story that Spider-Man is foolishly clinging to an impossible ideal. As for whether this will “all turn around somehow” I have no predictions about what will happen next, but even if he doesn’t have a huge come-to-Jesus moment where he says out loud that he’s taking his sense of responsibilty too far (or whatever), it will still have been crystal clear that that is the case. And kind of the point of this whole set of Spider-Man stories.

    But I do agree that Dr. Octopus’s evil plan is totally “evil.”

  8. a well-deserved mocking of this weird and poorly thought-out sub-storyline.

    I rather enjoy the actual plot *concepts* that Slott presents in ASM, but his characterization seems frequently grating and sometimes even inconsistent with how he’s previously depicted characters in his stories. It’s been one of the worst parts of what has actually been a surprisingly enjoyable revamp of the series since One More Day put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

  9. So, Spider-man is going to walk down the road that Daredevil had before Waid took over, right? That’s where this is headed?

  10. I’m in agreement with RF and Candycorn, I think you’re not giving Slott enough credit, however, there is a bit of meta/pass-agg in the way it attacks other creators and superhero stories (Whether I think those creators deserve the attack is irrelevant). In the previews for No Turning Back Spider-Man’s all like, “The Lizard killed his son and all those people for months AND I LET IT HAPPEN!” Hey, Dan, it’s not like you were powerless to bring that up in the editorial meetings about “Shed”. Or how he openly mocked the premise of Dark Reign in his books… why didn’t he bring that up in the retreats, then?

    BUt overall I think Slott is doing a pretty good job on Spider-Man, and deserves the benefit of the doubt.

  11. [...] Hey there. Massive week of panels for This Week in Panels, though there’s a lot of overlap from different contributors. I’m joined by Gaijin Dan, Jody, Was Taters and Space Jawa. Jody continues to read Amazing Spider-Man, which gives me an excuse to post a link to Chris Eckert’s take on the latest issue. [...]

  12. I’ve enjoyed Slott’s Spidey run so far. I think the ‘no one dies’ decree makes sense from Peter’s point of view, that he wouldn’t want his actions ever causing someone’s death, coupled with the fact that Marla Jameson and Johnny Storm died at around the same time.

    It’s an oversimplification yes, but it’s certainly more in keeping with Peter Parker’s character than his “I’ll leave you alone, if you leave me alone” deal with Venom in the 90s.

  13. Sure, but SOOOO many things are better than Venom in the 90′s. :)

  14. I am SO glad that I found someone who, at least on some levels, feels like I do about Dan Slott’s Spider-Man.

    http://douglasernstblog.com/2012/06/23/dan-slotts-spider-man-worlds-dumbest-super-hero/

  15. The real problem is that ever since One More Day (or at least in the random 2-3 dozen issues I’ve read since then) Spider-Man has wildly inconsistent and at times overblown characterization.

    From what I know, there’s not really any point in latching onto him as a “moral absolutist”, because you could just as easily latch onto him as an “irresponsible airhead” or “the world’s most pop-culture-saturated science nerd”. His characterization is all over the place. But I guess the moral absolutism must stand out lately or something.

    Lastly, what’s with the shot at Ditko? Seems like a predictable kneejerk reaction to assume that the guy isn’t emotional. Based on Neil Gaiman’s reaction to meeting him in that documentary, Ditko in person is a nice guy. There are no tales of him barking at people or being mean to them the way that Moore and Miller have done. Yeah, he’s a Randian, but from what I know Ayn Rand herself was pretty personable and even frisky with people. You don’t have to demonize every aspect of people whose politics you don’t like, dude.

  16. [...] Random Thought! In case you missed it: Chris Eckert’s “The Thrilling Adventures of the Absolutist Spider-Man.” [...]

  17. First off, I want to say I was probably being unfair in my level of mockery of this plot point; Slott seems to acknowledge in interviews that “NO ONE DIES” is untenable, though it’s treated as a noble, rational thing to declare.

    As for the shot at Steve Ditko, I have obviously never met the man, and I don’t think he’d be particularly mean — meanness is a human emotion too! — but given his last several decades’ worth of creative output and his repeated utter disinterest in Spider-Man or his fandom or anything else to do with Spider-Man, I can’t imagine he would actually care about any of this.

    He could be quite cordial about not caring, but he still wouldn’t care.

  18. how dare we get an interesting flawed hero!
    we demand boring comics!

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