Blah Blah Blog – Reader Mail

Another post from my 2007-2010 Marvel blog, this one answering questions posed by the readership.

Reader Mail

April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

So I figured, given the response of the last few days, it was time to either do some more reader mail segments, or to finally write about how Spider-Man is about youth. But I’ve got a Spidey summit in the middle of this week, so let’s go with the less labor-intensive of the two.

Here’s a post that got my attention just this morning:

>I forgot to add
I forgot to add Mr. Brevoort that I would LOVE to debate you on the issue of Spider-Man’s treatment in the pages of Marvel comics.
My position is that there has been a concerted effort (intentional or otherwise) to ruin, lessen, and destroy Spider-Man in the eyes of comic readers by making him into ( I don’t even know how to put it into a single word) the Beoooach of the MU.
I would venture that your official position contradicts this POV, to look into it?

Posted by horatiorome on 2008-01-14 00:22:32>

It’s funny , Horatio, but if you were to replace Spider-Man’s name with that of the Hulk, or Thor, or Iron Man or any of a dozen other characters, it’s a letter that I’ve already read many, many times before.

I suppose it’s just a reflection of the fact that we identify with our favorite characters so strongly that we always want them to win, always want them to come out on top, to be stronger and better than everyone else. And anybody who doesn’t love them with quite the same intensity as we do is wrong, or evil, or part of a massive conspiracy to belittle the thing we love.

As I say, I’ve heard this complaint raised by fans of any number of other Marvel characters–the Thor, Iron Man and Hulk fans in particular over the last decade. And I think it’s poppycock. I’m interested in stories, rather than statistics.

This is one of the things I never liked about the MU Handbooks–the insistence on attempting to quantify everything. And often, in a skewed fashion. You know where Spidey’s ten-ton upper strength limit comes from? It’s that one Lee/Ditko story, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33, in which he lifts Doc Ock’s big doodad off his back to bring Aunt May her medicine. But elsewhere, Spidey was routinely depicted as having a tough time fighting ordinary human beings like the Kingpin, or the Enforcers.

But in the Handbook, that one act of ultimate heroism became the baseline. Rather than something that Spidey did once under the most harrowing of circumstances, it began to be treated as a casual thing, especially on the part of the fans. Oh, ten tons, no big deal.

And then, the fans who studiously keep track of all this stuff, and who demand an absolute and rigid adherence to such statistics begin to chime in: why should Spidey have a hard time with the Kingpin? He can lift ten tons. And then, the leap: this must mean that the Kingpin has super-strength too! And everything escalates from there.

Now, for myself, I don’t think the thing that makes Spider-Man interesting or heroic is the number of pounds he can lift. I think it has a lot more to do with his personal struggles, with the fact that he tries to do the right thing, that he makes mistakes, that he’s fallible. I don’t think Spidey would become a better character if he could suddenly lift twenty tons. And I certainly don’t think he’d be a better character if he was suddenly like the Hulk in relation to Captain America or Daredevil (and certainly Stan Lee never wrote these characters in that way.)

It’s the character of the characters that makes them interesting, not simply the statistics and the power levels, at least in my view.

More later.

Tom B

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One thought on “Blah Blah Blog – Reader Mail

  1. I’d suggest there’s an underlying point that’s valid. Spidey is far, far, stronger than an ordinary human. Much beyond merely peak human, with “the proportional strength of a spider”. Putting aside the exact value, it’s clearly a large amount. Back in ASM#1, Spidey gets into a tussle with the FF, and easily breaks out of a containing cage, and tosses The Thing around without overly exerting himself. Now, as expert fighter characters often monologue, training, skill, and technique matter, aside from raw strength. But still, there’s strength differentials where the battle is almost certainly going to the strong. Given Spidey’s strength, plus enhanced agility, speed, and reaction time, he should simply wipe the floor with Kingpin in any simple fight. Doing otherwise is just violating the premises of the characters, even if it makes for a dramatic scene. This isn’t overquantification, about “10 tons” vs some other number. It’s a basic qualitative difference, that Doctor Doom should trivially stomp a pack of squirrels.

    Yes, practically, the sheer amount of stories needing to be written means keeping consistent isn’t going to happen. But plot holes are still plot holes, and people aren’t wrong for pointing out some of them make a story unreasonable, or even unsatisfying to those readers.


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