Monthly Archives: February 2014
(Part II) Moffat’s Shitty Epic Pretension: Narrative Experimentation Gone Awry.
Extremites, it happened again.
My Mac conked out and this time it was a fresh hard drive that failed. So Part II of Shitty Moffatisms has been delayed for more than a week.
All this extra time has had its bright side. It has given me a really long time to wrestle with the first Moffatism and how Doctor Who has changed for the worse under the Moffatocracy.
What I have come upon is a Moffatism that, I think, is an extraordinarily important misread, on the part of Steve, on how to create a powerful Who episode. Indeed, how to create a powerful drama. I am referring to Moffat’s incessant use of ‘Epic Structure.’
When I say ‘use,’ what I really mean is ‘attempt to use.’ Steven Moffat wrongfully applies a legendarily tough narrative structure to a show that is already a complex premise.
Doctor Who relies upon the clarity of simplicity to really succeed.
Let me ask you a question, darling Whovian: after you first watched any Moffat helmed episode did you truly understand what was going on?
I have never understood a Moffat helmed episode without further researching and reviewing what I saw. My first thought, half way through most of his episodes, is usually something along the lines of: “did I miss something?” I often feel like the show’s action begins after important motivations that are never established. Upon further viewings, I discovered that this ‘confusion’ is the result of one of the favourite Moffatite aspects of the show.
After speaking to many of you Moffatites, I have discovered that one of your favourite virtues of the Moffat tenure episodes is the way that they ‘hit the ground running,’ so to speak. They begin at a place of heightened conflict therefore creating a dramatic tension that thrusts its way to the conclusion.
Though I understand where your admiration comes from; who doesn’t love action, action without causation is mindless.
I’ll backtrack for a moment and explain what I mean by Epic Structure.
Let me take you back to English class and remind you of writers like Homer and Virgil.
You know, those guys who wrote the massive stories that seemed to go on forever?
Well, my dear Whovian, these works, The Illiad or The Odyssey in Homer’s case and The Aeneid in Virgil’s case, are called Epic Poems. The word ‘epic’ is not just an adjective describing the shear length of the poems, it is also a description of how the poem operates and, furthermore, the form the story telling takes.
Uniformly defined, an Epic Poem is a work that describes the acts of a hero in a heightened form. ‘Epic’ comes from the Greek ‘epos,’ which means ‘a series of events that are worthy of a long form narrative.’ By that definition, most over arching plot lines focused on one character (Harry Potter, Star Trek, The Hobbit) could be called an epic. Epic Form, or structure, however, is a more succinct description of how a story is put together.
Most modern dramatic works rely on Three Act Form. The Three Act Form has dominated story structure for the last 200 or so years.
You know it well… it can be reduced to:
- The Setup: a period of exposition, usually Act I or the first 16 – 18 minutes of a film.
- The Confrontation or the Rising-Action: when the protagonist attempts to resolve a problem incited by the first turning point and learn new skills to defeat the antagonist: the meat of the story sandwich. It usually encompasses Act II. Ending in the lowest point for the hero at a period of great strife.
- The Resolution: which ties up and finishes all plots and sub-plots.
Epic Structure, unlike Three-Act, departs from a more straight forward narrative and begins the action somewhere in the middle, (usually at a moment of great despair or peril); in Three Act Form this would be the end of Act II. Most of the narrative is spent on recounting how a protagonist got to this moment of despair. For instance, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the seminal English language Epic, the story begins with Satan falling to the lake of fire after being cast out of Heaven. It then moves backward to find out how he got there; moving toward to this bleak moment on the lake, then proceeding past it to the climax. Most epic poems operate this way or at least the ones that draw heavily on Greco inspiration.
Enough of the scholastic diatribe… Doctor Who!
Let’s apply this structure to one of Moffat’s most popular episodes: A Good Man Goes To War.
This is, I think, one of the worst episodes in Moffat’s tenure. The reason for this is you need to have prior understanding of the last episode, and about four others, to have an idea what is going on. As a singular episode it is convoluted and just plain confusing. A large reason for this is its structure.
Good Man… begins “hitting the ground running,” to use a favourite cliche of the Moff himself, with Rory, in an unknown part of the galaxy fighting Cybermen, and the Doctor running around like a tweed clad headless chicken doing …uh… something on a ship that looks like the set from Star Wars. What ever it is he’s doing, it appears we are mid battle. But how did we get there?
The preceding episode — this was a two part arc, or at least meant to be — suggested no battle and ended with the characters in entirely different locales and situations. The beginning is jarring and when the Doctor finally cuts the needless unexplained action with a confusing vaguely expository speech directed at the ‘Eye-Patch Lady;’ (her actual credited name, though we’d later know her as Madame Kovarian) I was still as confused as I was in the opening moments.
This confusion results from Moffat’s attempted use of Epic Structure. He tries to begin in the midst of the action but forgets a crucial part of the shape: the retroactive look. It is never explained how they got to this point in the action. The story just moves forward, meaning the watcher has no understanding of the ‘stakes of the situation.’ It’s obvious characters are doing things — things that are very important — but no body can understand why this is by the information given.
You can find this problem in most of the Moffat helmed episodes of the Matt Smith era.
Why is any of it important? Well, because we are told it is. Take a look at the cold open: (Forgive the fan titles)
On the other hand, one of the major tropes of the ‘two-parter’ episode in the Davies days, and indeed older Doctor Whos, was ‘the cliffhanger.’ What made these cliffhangers better was the way the following episode would begin immediately from the preceding ending point and continue on. The connection of the supposed two part arc, that A Good Man… is intended to be, is never demonstrated. Essentially the Davies period two parters were long three acts. The first episode was Act I and II, cliffhanger at the moment of strife, and the following episode was Act III.
Perhaps, I may be giving Moffat too much credit.
Maybe, he isn’t trying to utilize Epic Structure in his episode creation at all. If that is true, then it just means that Steven Moffat has no understanding of television writing.
However I would never claim that because it would be wrong of a blogging bitch, such as myself, to conclude something without personal experience. I have never written an episode of Doctor Who. You may not have known this, but it is true.
I chalk this failure of narrative clarity to an overindulgence of experimentation for the sake of … well… experimentation.
Nor is it really correct of me to say that Epic Structure cannot be used in the creation of a television episode. Vince Gilligan, the astounding head writer of AMC’s Breaking Bad, famously uses it to create his episodes. The all important pilot of that show was structured like this: beginning with an action packed Winnebago’s jaunt down a dusty road and then retroactively showing how Walter White got to that race and where he’ll go from there. The reason why it works for Gilligan and not Moff is due to its simplicity. Though heavy action takes place in the opening of the BB pilot, it is not complicated action.
A Winnebago is flying down the road… why?… because it is running from sirens… why?… obviously because of something illegal. Easy, peasey, Japanesey.
Gilligan: B+A +C = Coherent Through Line.
Moffat Who: B+Nothing+C = An Unexplained Series of Events.
Keep it simple, stupid.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds
As always, this is part of a conversation about Doctor Who. For Sherlock criticism: go here.
Wait – that’s not love. Sorry, after so many Valentine’s Days, I have a lot of trouble separating the sweet scent of affection from the stench of commodified trash.
Is it just me, or do the salespeople responsible for V Day seem to be a perfect mimic of that girl/boyfriend that sits at number one on your list of shittiest people you’ve ever known? You know the one, sharing the uncoveted top spot with the crazy person who confessed their love to you after five minutes of conversation and smoking three of your cigarettes – possibly because, five years after you dumped them, they were that crazy person?
Some people just can’t handle rejection, but Valentine’s Day businesses seem to function as if they could never be rejected. They’re way too pretty and cool to be rejected, obviously: haven’t you seen the ads?
Advertisements with sexy girls in see-through nighties and skimpy Hallowe’en costumes that they couldn’t sell six months ago (how they ever thought a pumpkin could be sexy, no matter what time of year, is beyond me) occupy the same space with posters offering free trials of dating websites and psychological profiles intended to help you figure out what’s wrong with you so that girl that you have so much trouble talking to will finally smile when you stammer a joke (here’s a hint: write the joke down, deliver it to the mirror till you feel confident, and get a damn haircut. And stop drooling. It’s not helping).
And yet somewhere in this cacophony of “don’t you feel lonely?” and “we can revive your sex life” and “buy her a ring before she gets tired of your smelly feet and shitty puns”, we’re supposed to find that connection we’re all looking for.
You know what I’m talking about, right? That emotion that keeps us all paralyzed; the feeling that supercedes all others, making the worst pain bearable, giving even the blackest stormclouds some illusory silver lining; the ever-sought and rarely-discovered continent of Love, wherein lies our heart’s purest desire.
It’s a neverending quest for that elusive feeling, the one we felt long ago in a hallway in grade nine when that girl or boy stumbled and threw their papers everywhere. You knew right then and there that that clumsy, awkward girl with the freckles or boy with the braces was perfect for you.
There’s a term for that feeling. Heroin addicts call it “chasing the dragon”. They say that your first high is the best, and the addiction stems from trying to rediscover the feeling that you first found.
Perhaps you think I’m too cynical about love, what with the nonchalant comparison to severely addictive narcotics, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I am, at this very moment, madly in love with a beautiful, brilliant woman whose smile seems to brighten the world every time I see it. Sometimes, I find myself in the kitchen at work, chopping onions or some such monotonous task with the stupidest grin plastered across my face, just thinking about something she said or the way she smells or how I like the way her butt sways when she walks–
She’s reading this, so I should probably stop there. I’ve got her pretty convinced I’m one smooth operator and I don’t wanna fuck it up for myself.
My point, folks, is that the feeling I get for my wonderful partner and the feeling that this embarrassment of a holiday is trying to convey are not the same thing. One is the result of an emotional connection built over time, while the other is…
Well, it’s just a chemical reaction in your brain.
The fact is that women, as a species – and I mean that sincerely, because that slight chromosomal deviation separates our genders as completely as dogs and cats – are holding all the cards. They’ve got us straight dudes all figured out, and all that advertising, all those rings and sexy outfits and chocolates and dinner reservations – they’re just keeping us in thrall.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming women one iota for this. Their power over us is as innate as the queen bee’s dominance over her colony. Their shape is designed for our pleasure, their movements hypnotic, their lips oh-so-kissable, their embrace more comforting than the warmest blanket.
And the sex…
Honestly, I wish I was gay sometimes, so that I could maintain some modicum of intelligence when I see a naked woman. Gay dudes seem to be so put together, whereas I just turn into a puddle of bliss every time I see side-boob.
But then, I can’t imagine what it’s like on the other side of things. Always being hit on, dirty smelly dudes constantly eyeing your special parts, leering drunk losers slurring some pathetic pick-up line any time you grab a drink at the bar – or on the way to the bar – or on the way back from the bar – or on your way into the cab because you can’t stand these mindless drunken apes anymore.
Hell, it’s no wonder most girls are as sick of V Day as I am. If they’re straight, they’re definitely holding the shit end of the stick – and you can take that metaphor wherever you damn well please, you perverts.
In reality, Valentine’s Day isn’t about love, or lust, or even connection. It’s another day where the corporate candy-men can offer us something we can never have.
And isn’t that what we all want? Is it love we’re celebrating on February 14th, or is it simply our eternal quest for the unattainable?
Enter Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips. They’ve chosen to bring this very subject to life – but not quite in a way I’ve seen before. Through their enticing storytelling and unmatched artistry, they’ve created a comic every bit as irresistible as its protagonist.
There is much, even twenty issues in (the newest just dropped this week!), that we still don’t know about Josephine – or Jo, as she prefers to be called. That said, there are a few things that are certain about her.
Number one: she is, as far as can be seen thus far, immortal. She has lived for at least five hundred years and she doesn’t seem to be aging at all.
Number two: she has a supernatural power over straight men, turning even the happiest married man into her personal slave within mere moments of meeting her.
Number three: Jo has been – and continues to be – chased by a demonic cult that has transcended the ages just as she has. They have been Nazis, religious fanatics, hippie cultists – pretty much any group that can fly under the radar and remain clandestine. Their leader is as enigmatic as Jo herself.
Lastly: Josephine has no idea who she is, why she can do what she does, or how to stop it. All she knows is that men will do anything for her … and to survive, she must let them.
The story is told in a noir-style, largely narrated by the men who have fallen under her spell, and each story arc carries with it the zeitgeist of the time it takes place in. Whether it is the hyper-seriousness of post-war America, the hazy drug-induced mania of the ’70’s, or the angst-ridden jeans and piercings of the turn of the century, each tale is told with true justice done to the period.
Normally, this might make a story choppy and hard to follow, but the constant is the art: Sean Philips’ shadowy depiction of Josephine’s world becomes the fulcrum from which the story tilts. Philips’ art is abundant with silhouetted scenes and whispers from the darker corners of the city, speaking of the secrets that lurk just beyond view, secrets that the reader all-too-often realizes would be better left in the dark where they belong.
For me, however, it isn’t the setting or the art that connects with me the most, even though they’re both breathtaking in their delivery; for me, the piece de resistance is the characters. Each man who finds themselves inextricably tangled into Jo’s mystery becomes a new narrator, and we see all of them not only drawn into her spell, but also fully aware that something is profoundly wrong. As they become more permanent fixtures in Jo’s life, the reader witnesses these men slowly losing their ability to reason as her supernatural desire brings them further and further away from themselves, and closer to becoming her slaves.
It’s like watching myself in high school all over again.
But as the mystery unfolds, as each of these men rejects their old life simply for the chance to be close to her, to feel her touch and see her smile – it steadily becomes apparent that Josephine wants no part of it. While most of us would relish at the chance to wrap our lovers around our finger as completely as Jo can, she is filled with sorrow with every man who crosses her path or meets her gaze. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t crave the passion and desire that she exudes so innately. What Jo wants, more than anything, is to be alone.
It’s the one thing she’ll never have.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Until next time.
I know, I know. You were expecting a Shitty Moffatism today.
Well… Writer’s block happened. I wanted to make the article as best I could so sadly, I must admit that, it will be a couple days late.
In the mean time, check out this buzzfeed! It asks the timely question, and perhaps stupid question, What If Doctor Who Was An American Creation? It then imagines what the show may have been like by expostulating fairly accurate american approximations of the iconic actors who played the role.
Read it and hopefully this will keep you warm while I finish the next article.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds
It’s really a Marvellous creation (pun intended) using clips from the Day The Earth Stood Still and the 60s Brit Fantasy Spy series: The Avengers, among others, to create the perfect trailer. Have a watch. It will blow your mind in the best way.
Until Next Time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds
Hey There True Believers!
It’s been a pretty busy week in general between the Super Bowl, Olympics, and the Lego Movie but I finally got a chance to sit down and watch the last episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. Before they take a brief hiatus and all I have to say is damnnnnnnnnnn… Seriously, I’ve said before that this show is somewhat of a slow burn and I’ll stick to that, but this weeks episode gave us quite a bit to move forward with, so on with the review!
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It was a week ago today that Phillip Seymour Hoffman tragically died. I’d like to lend my voice to the cacophony who will miss him.
Anyway, sadness aside, I want to keep all you fine Extremites abreast of what will be on the docket for this week’s posts. I will tell you for what we lack in new posts this week we will make up in quality.
This week, on Thursday, we have Part II of our hotly followed and uber popular series The Seven Shitty Moffatisms Destroying Doctor Who. Look out for that.
Next Sunday, Ben will be back with his sardonic and hilarious thoughts on the state of Modern Comics in a new article part of Ben’s Grim Corner.
When it comes to TV, all my favourite episodic shows like the CW‘s Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are sadly off the air because of that blasted closed minded exercise in ‘Bread and Circuses’ that is the Sochi Olympics. Who knows what will keep me interested for the next few days.
Anyway, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Kudos for you who saw this coming (and my condolences to those still hoping that it would be Agent Coulson). Today, it has been announced that Paul Bettany will be playing The Vision in the upcoming Avengers movie: Marvel’s ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron. For those unfamiliar with Bettany, you may have seen him in films such as The DaVinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, and A Knight’s Tale. But he isn’t new to the realm of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, since he’s also the voice of Tony Stark’s armor AI, JARVIS.
I feel this is a logical approach for introducing The Vision for the Marvel movies, since JARVIS has been part of the MCU since Iron Man 1. Also, Bettany has the chops to pull off the wall-phasing android. If you agree or disagree, let us know in the comments.
Some more news about the upcoming Fantastic Four film. I gotta say I am all for changes and off kilter casting but the changes that are happening with this film seem like a group of people who are disregarding the source material entirely.
Trek Through Trek — Part VIII
Have you watched The Twilight Zone?
Apparently everyone who became a nerd, of any sort, did when they were kids.
I never did. I cannot remember why; as the old syndicated show and the modern redux both figured heavily on the tubes of my childhood television. I cannot remember if it was ignorance — kids are stupid and this one was doubly so— or parental guidance that was the reason behind my not watching of the show. I doubt it was the latter as my parents let me watch some pretty foul stuff as a child. I saw Schindler’s List at a young age and was guided into the brilliance of the film by them. It must have been the former: I was just a stupid kid.
When I grew into a smarter person, I watched the show and fell in love with it. This is a good thing because this episode, Charlie X, seems to be heavily influenced by that show.
Jerome Bixby’s It’s a Good Life is considered one of the seminal episodes of The Twilight Zone. It’s a about a young boy, named Anthony, who possesses omnipotent powers with which he holds the small town of Peaksville, Ohio hostage. He can read every thought of the people that surround him meaning he immediately reacts to any negative idea that they hold. Anthony punishes these unfortunate thinkers by changing the offender into something else. At one point he punishes a person for thinking a terrible thought by changing him into a lizard. Because of this this child’s ‘thought policing,’ every Peaksvillite must go through life in a constant stupor believing everything is “good.” For example, when Anthony’s mother says ‘it is too hot because it is summer,’ Anthony responds by making it snow. His father tells Anthony that the crops will die from the early snow:
“...But it’s good you’re making it snow. A real good thing. And tomorrow… tomorrow’s gonna be a… real good day.”
Needless to say, this episode is extraordinarily unsettling; like all the best Zone stories were. It’s a Good Life left ripples that echoed across 50 years of Sci-Fi. Perhaps, you may better the story from The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror II. In Bart’s nightmare, the second portion of the episode, he takes on the role of Anthony and holds Springfield hostage in a similar way. The early Treehouse of Horrors would borrow heavily in a fantastic fashion from The Twilight Zone.
William Shatner, our beloved Captain Kirk, got his television start on the Zone in one of the most iconic episodes Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, again parodied by Bart in Terror at 5 1/2 Feet, as the man who famously sees a gremlin on the wing a plane. In this episode he uttered probably one his most famous lines in television history: “There is _ something_ out there!” It is his performance that put him on the radar of Gene Roddenberry, who then gave the fairly untested Canadian Shakespearian his most iconic Star Trek role. Strange how these things all tie in.
Charlie X, like some of the other early Trek episodes, is once again a rather cooky premise realized brilliantly by actors. The Original Series was peppered with actors who were not afraid to really go for it. Guest actor Richard Walker plays young omnipotent being Charlie Evans. Richard is in top form here. Grace Lee Whitney, in her wonderful memoir of the period, says Lawrence Dobkin, who is the director of this episode, told the entire cast on the first day of shooting that Richard is not to be spoken too. This odd off camera direction came from the fact that the young actor was method. He wanted to remain separate from the crew of the ship to create cold distance between him and them. Surely enough it seems to be present every time Charlie Evans is on screen. Distantial alienation is perfect for this plot, for without the wonderful acting, would come off as a cheap copy of It’s a Good Life.
Compare the plots: Charlie X is about a young boy who has been given omnipotence by a supposedly extinct race, called the Thasians, and he uses that power to exact his wants and a needs on the people who surround him. It is, subtract the mythological alien race, It’s a Good Life. The similarities are much too close to ignore.
The marvellous aspect thing about this episode is that it conveys a new side of Kirk. So far Kirk has been emphasized as a swashbuckling commander; a captain who is more Flash-bang then thoughtful. However, when the lost Charlie Evans is looking for a father figure to guide him through his new experiences with human interaction, he latches on to Kirk, naturally, being the best example of Star Trek masculinity on board. Charlie has never met a woman before and Kirk tries to help him understand the complexities of sex relations. There is a wonderful scene that takes place in the ship gymnasium that offers a glimpse into Kirk’s nurturing side and also shows how insanely fit William Shatner was in the 60s.
Kirk’s guidance ultimately fails to help Charlie assimilate and this is where the core conflict of the episode resides. Since Charlie is unable to achieve his desires, he goes on a rampage using his powers, taking control of the ship and zapping crew members off into the netherworld.
Speaking of crew members there is a rather hokey and, likewise, iconic scene that focuses on the camaraderie of the crew. Uhura sings an impromptu song about the Enterprise with Spock accompanying her on a harp. I believe it was this scene that inspired J.J. Abrams to create the romance between the two crew-members members in his New Star Trek; proving, that J.J.’s research consisted of a couple youtube clips. This relationship in the new films seems wrong because it has never been present before and serves to cheapen the characters. It feels imposed upon the films.
Though this episode is really entertaining to watch; once again, where it falls apart is the drawn out ending. The Thasians, witnessing the swath of destruction Charlie has left, catch the ship and forcibly take Charlie back into their command. It’s a haunting ending mainly because of how Richard Walker plays it. His sorrow at being cut off from humanity is palpable beyond belief, but it is also an extraordinary drawn out scene full of exposition and what I like to call Star Trek extrapolation: that’s where all characters on the bridge, mainly Spock and Dr. McCoy — who has once again found a reason to be on the bridge when he should be at his station — digest what is going in front of them. The scene served to deflate a very powerful performance and the easy fix of the ‘Thasian reset’ did not leave me with that all-important pit in my stomach that the aforementioned Zone episode achieved.
The Twilight Zone is one of the most important television shows in the history of television and Science Fiction. If you haven’t watched it yet I sincerely suggest you get on that. It will give you an expanded understanding of shows like Star Trek and The Simpsons. Plus, it’s just a good watch.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds
The Episode We Are Watching: Charlie X (Episode 2 of Season 1 of The Original Series: September 15, 1966)
My Rating Our of 5 Tribbles: 3 1/2 Tribbles who just want to be liked.
My After Episode Thoughts: “Way to rip off Twilight Zone, Star Trek.”
Pros: Wonderful Performance from Richard Walker and William Shatner. The effects are great and you really feel the power of Charlie Evans.
Cons: The story is the same as Jerome Bixby’s It’s a Good Life and doesn’t quite reach the haunting heights of the Bixby because of a drawn out and unfocused ending. Yeoman Rand is once again the damsel in distress.
—> Part IX
Journey Into Marvel – Part 43
Extremites, I am sure you were like me: when you suffered the endless torture that was adolescence: you secretly wanted to be a superhero. You wanted to stretch out those gangly mismatched arms and smack those bullies into their own stupefaction. You wanted to clobber their asses. You wanted to uh…. Iron their uh… man.
Well, maybe not the last one but you get my point.
Teenagehood was hard. Especially for those who found themselves on the wrong side of high school. You know, the side that never gets a romantic partner or seems to become victimized for the clothes they wear or their affinity for reading or, in my case, my love affair with the theatre.
Probably, like me, you found your solace in realms of fantasy. Naturally, this need for fantasy led to comics. I assume it led to comics because you are here.
However, I don’t think comics were originally intended as ‘escapes for the disenfranchised teen.’ Take a look at Batman: he’s a rich playboy who gets all the girls and then goes on murderous rampages at night. That’s a character that is hard to sympathize with and one that doesn’t necessarily reflect those who read him. Sure, his parents are dead, and that’s sad, but his house is gorgeous and women love him.
What about Superman, his alter ego is a nerd, right?
Clark Kent is a character Kal-El puts on. He’s not really a marginalized person. Clark is just a person who looks nerdy because of some glasses. He’s just an alien pretending to be nerdy.
You’ll find these problems throughout the comic book medium. Unless, of course you have already encountered Spider-Man.
When Spider-Man debuted, in 1962, he was a wholly original super character. There was no direct DC counterpoint to Pete Parker as there had been, up to this point, with most of the new creations at Marvel. Pete was incredibly unique.
If you have followed this series on the regular you will have noticed that I often claim that the Human Torch is a forerunner to Spider-Man. This is accurate in regard to the fact they are both teenagers, and young sarcastic men, but it is inaccurate in regards to their social standing. Johnny is a popular daredevil type that functions as a kind of class clown, whereas Pete is a “bookworm.” He’s a young man who, rather then socializing, prefers to study his quiet pursuits. Naturally, this makes him the butt of anti-intellectual bullies like Flash Thompson.
Reading Spidey’s debut I am surprised to see the similarities of Johnny Storm to Flash. He’s brash, thinks he is the most interesting guy in the room and also smarmy as hell. Flash is introduced in the first panel accosting Peter because a girl invited him out to dance. This is uncalled for abuse, not unlike the relentless abuse Torch hurls at Ben Grim in every issue. Torch is a bully. Flash is a bully. This is important.
What sets Peter Parker apart from the rest of Marveldom is that he understands what it’s like to be the little guy in the room. The guy that everyone picks on just because he dares to both think differently and be different. This explains why, after Pete gets bitten by a radioactive spider, he doesn’t immediately go on either a rampage or a justice fuelled quest. Rather, he becomes a wrestler to make some cash. Peter seeks out both applause and recognition for being ‘amazing.’ This is the ultimate goal of one who is marginalized in the teenage world, at least it was for me. Peter just wants to be loved, I just wanted to be loved.
In other articles, I have also suggested that the Human Torch’s solo adventures served as a kind of experiment to the youth oriented Amazing Spider-Man. That is not entirely correct, either. This debut predates the solo Strange Tales features, but it is not an official solo debut. Though Stan Lee and Steve Ditko intended for Spidey to be a bimonthly feature, they never thought that he would get his own focused title. He was meant to head the Amazing Fantasy title. Because of this story Spider-Man inspired a major fan response that led Marvel to pick him up on to a bimonthly solo title.
His sudden popularity stems from two aspects of the debut: first, the inherent relatability of the character and, second, his originality.
Out of the already presented heroes: Hulk and Fantastic Four — Ant-Man doesn’t count because his debut was not intended to be an origin story— Peter Parker is most like the readers.
Sure, I am generalizing some here, as there were plenty of readers who were both adult and female, but the nerdy male was a huge buying crowd, especially for the still niche Marvel comics. Peter Parker is a reflection of those readers. He is not always defined by idealism, like Superman or Batman, and he has a penchant to be petty. Notice the selfishness when Peter uses his newfound abilities to make cash before using it for good. It is not until he suffers his own variation on the Batman origin story that he realizes the great power he possesses.
The Uncle Ben vendetta motivation that fills the bulk of this story; but, unlike the later retellings, Ben’s death is given one passing panel where a police officer describes how a criminal killed him. The vagary of the narrative is the result of an ethics code of the period that meant the story could not show death unless it be of an alien or some other clearly nonhuman character.
The Uncle Ben story is what makes Spider-Man so very original. Peter Parker causes Uncle Ben’s death. It’s an indirect causation, but it is causation none-the-less. This is what separates Peter from Bruce Wayne. Little Bruce did not make Joe Chill kill his parents. Spider-Man allowed a criminal to pass him by who later went on to kill his beloved Uncle. This is unique among the superhero world, thus far, and that, wrapped up with Spidey’s relatability, turned Spider-Man’s rather unassuming debut into a massive fan explosion.
There we have it.
Spider-Man is now on the scene and I can finally talk about the early days of the Marvel Universe, accurately.
Extremites, rather then continue to do what I have been doing in this series, jumping ahead to issues further in the Silver Age and off setting that by returning to the issues I missed early on because of my inability to find them, I am just going to continue ahead with these missed issues and finish them before going into 1964
Don’t be annoyed if I cover some familiar territory. I promise I’ll get to Daredevil, eventually, but it’s wrong of me to ignore the work of 1962/ Winter 1963 for more popular characters like X-Men and Daredevil.
With that I leave today’s journey here.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “Spider-Man” (Amazing Fantasy #15, Aug. 1962)
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5.
Pros: The excellent realness of Peter Parker, the coherent simple storyline, the unexpected originality.
Cons: Flash Thompson feels two dimensional because he is. This remains a problem for the next many Spider-Mans.
Previous Review: “The Terror of the Toad Men” (The Incredible Hulk #2, July 1962)
Upcoming Review: “The Stone Men From Saturn” (Journey Into Mystery #83, Aug 1962)