A post from my long-ago Marvel blog concerning how certain patterns often recur in the manner in which the audience reacts to change.
Here’s one of the things I’ve realized about this business: it’s all cyclic. The same patterns repeat themselves again and again, from generation to generation–not the specific instances, but the overall shape of people’ reactions.
I’m still reacting in part to some of the people I spoke to at the New York Comic Convention, as well as the e-mails that we’ve been getting. But it’s really driven home this idea of cycling.
For example: it’s not great secret that there are still people upset about the changes to Spider-Man. Fair enough, But in the space of a day or two, I got five-or-so comments lamenting the elimination of Spidey’s organic webbing, and the fact that there’s been no mention of the additional powers he gained during “The Other.”
Which comes as a bit of a shock, frankly, because the overwhelming majority of the reactions we saw at the time those two stories came out were decidedly negative! Nobody seemed to like the organic webbing, and people wrote long treatises about how Peter creating mechanical web-shooters was better, because this showcased his science skills. But just a couple short years later, we go back to the mechanical web-shooters, and it’s like we fire-bombed something.
Believe it or not, this is really one of the great things about the Marvel characters, one of the elements that allows them to survive and thrive over time. It’s just a guess, but one based in part on the internal evidence of those bits of correspondence, but it seems like the people who really dug the organic webbing were largely newer fans, people who’d maybe come into Spidey’s world through the portal of the movie. (Though one or two of them seemed more from the “more-power-for-my-favorite-character-is-better” school of thought–these tended to be the same people who lamented the loss of the “Other-powers” as well.) And if, in two years’ time, we go back to the organics, we’ll get a whole new outcry from readers about that.
Each generation adopts Spider-Man as their own, and that version is “their” Spider-Man. But Spidey himself is eternal (well, at least so far), which means that each successive generation accepts him in whatever state they find him. Right now there are likely a new crop of potential web-heads being generated by the cool new Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon.
And once you’ve formed that deep personal connection, I totally understand how a change of direction can befoul you. From personal experience, I can remember how I felt when it was first announced that Spidey was getting a new costume coming out of Secret Wars. It was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard! Spidey’s costume is a classic, the new, black design wasn’t in keeping with the character, and it was an alien super-costume to boot! I wasn’t reading Spidey at the time (having stopped just a few months prior to that), but I was nonetheless outraged–how dare Marvel ruin this classic character that I loved?
Of course now, that outfit itself is a classic, and is effortlessly accepted as part of the overall tapestry of Spidey’s life. A reader who began following Spidey even as much as twenty years ago never even knew a Spidey who didn’t have one. And that string of stories by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz look pretty good in hindsight as well.