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“I stopped needing to save the world.”

Spider-Man 2

Is it a lovely romantic comedy or a superhero-action flick with delusions of seriousness? Unfortunately, pieta scenes and speechifying crowd out the superpowered romance, which is much more compelling.


I’m with David Fiore, “superhero” is no good. I’m sure it’s fine as a genre for commerical purposes, but as a critical genre, it mutates and limits the discourse in ways that are not useful to me. David’s “neo-existentialist romance” mutates and limits the discourse in ways that I find more interesting. I don’t know if he cares about this at all, but I’d be interested in some study of how the generic necessities of superheroism/crime-fighting distort the “neo-existentialist romance” in his interpretation of the Gwen Stacy clone saga. “Superhero” stories, like any fantastic stories, use fantastic elements to create pleasing and meaningful resonances with real-life stuff. (Well, that’s what I think fantastic stories do.) The generic expectations associated with “superhero” tend to calcify the potentiality of fantasy and make the resonances in “superhero” stories dull and predictable, which is how Spider-Man 2 became a movie that aches so heartbreakingly to be a romantic comedy but ends up overwhelmed by hoary old ruminations on the importance of heroes.

The Iron Giant

Now, I have to admit my favorite “superhero” movies is one about heroism. But The Iron Giant comes at the theme from an unfamiliar angle: the Giant rejects violent confrontation with “bad guys;” he wants only to protect people and rescue them from danger. It’s so refreshing to have a hero whose code of justice isn’t based on vengeance and punishment.

“Saving is what misers do.”

Is that profound or does it just make no sense? Despite my ill-advised participation in some of the debates on the artistic/critical worth of “superhero” comics several months ago, I find most “superhero” stories actually pretty dull. Most of the really good ones either ignore entirely the standard trappings of heroism and saving the world, or they shine that “existential spotlight” on heroism and find it seriously problematic. Not usually because it’s fascist so much as because it’s miserly. “Saving is what misers do.”—forget Watchmen, The Invisibles has my favorite critique of superheroic ethics.


  1. David Fiore says:

    it’s definitely something I would like to consider Steven (the impact of generic expectations upon the Gwen Stacy clone sage, I mean)–I never did get around to writing anything systematic on that fascinating moment in spider-history…but I will! Of course, right now I think I’d be tempted to argue that the genre was an almost perfect fit in that particular case (if you are willing to read the Green Goblin and Jackal’s respective roles in the drama as, somehow, mandated by Peter’s own secret desires–i.e. killing Gwen, and them making up for it by bringing her back, etc…) I like neo-existentialist romance because it allows me to align the (for me) best “superhero” narratives with the hardboiled detective novel, which is another obsession of mine… sidenote–I finally got a chance to look at a few installments of Sin City (spurred, like everyone else, by the astonishing trailers for the film)…suffice it to say–I’m completely revising my opinion of Frank Miller (although I still don’t like that first ninja-filled run on Daredevil…the good stuff starts with Born Again!)

    I do agree with you that the “standard superhero story” is a pretty dull affair indeed (as I have often mentioned–I tend to skip fight scenes…and I just say no to “good vs. evil”). It’s New Frontier, I guess…and, well, I’m not gonna say another word about that! Not right now, anyway… And yeah–Spider-Man 2 should’ve been a romantic comedy (and I did my best to twist it in that direction, from my seat–but no, there’s nothing you can do with that damned crowd-surfing scene!)


    — 9 January 2005 at 8:15 pm (Permalink)

  2. Bryan Lee O'Malley says:

    I really DO forget Watchmen. Invisibles had ten thousand times the impact on me. However, I did read them both for the first time when I was 23.

    — 9 January 2005 at 8:44 pm (Permalink)

  3. Steven says:

    I didn’t read Watchmen and The Invisbles till I was 21 and 22, respectively. But I didn’t really start reading comics at all till I was 21.

    I haven’t read Sin City, because it seemed like the kind of super-masculine booze-broads-and-bullets noir story I find terribly silly—I imagine the worst excesses of the ninja-filled Daredevil run turned up to 11. (Although I think that first Daredevil run, uninteresting as the narrative is, is still very much worth reading simply to observe the maturation of Miller’s wonderful, weirdly static visual style.) Maybe I’ll check it out someday.

    As for Spider-Man 2… the crowd-surfiny is unfortunate, but that scene where Peter woos Mary Jane with “The Song of Hiawatha” could get me to forgive anything! Well, it can’t quite get me to forgive the pieta, but oh well.

    — 9 January 2005 at 9:47 pm (Permalink)