Heroes Never Rust #24 by Sean Ironman
Many years ago, I went to Universal Studios with a few friends, and we rode the Spider-Man ride. Toward the beginning of the attraction, J. Jonah Jameson points out the Spider Signal, a circular image that looks like Spider-Man’s costume with black and white eyes large in the center. The image appears against a building on the left. One of my friends, one who calls himself a Spider-Man fan, said, “What the hell is that? Spider-Man doesn’t have a signal. He’s not Batman.”
Growing up, I didn’t read Spider-Man. I read most of Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man a few years back, as well as the first hundred issues of Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man, but for the most part I only know the major events in the character’s history. Lately, I’ve been interested in the comics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and last week, I purchased the Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Volume 1, which contains about forty of the first issues with Spider-Man in them. And what do I see get used time and time again? The Spider Signal! It’s attached to his belt and he displays it right before he pounces on the bad guys.
Also, Uncle Ben never says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” In fact, Peter Parker never hears that line from any character. It appears in a caption that reads, “And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility!” The Amazing Spider-Man film with Andrew Garfield was beaten up in reviews for having Uncle Ben not say those words.
Reading these early issues of Spider-Man got me thinking about what assholes fans are. We end up classifying characters and stories. We decide who a character is—what they can do and what they can’t do in order to stay true to their character. For example, we decide Uncle Ben’s death caused Spider-Man to no longer think of using his powers for personal gain and he swears to help people. He’s a hero. The end. But two issues after Uncle Ben dies, in Amazing Spider-Man #2, Spider-Man only goes after the Vulture, who is on a crime spree that seemingly consists of flying around and grabbing briefcases people are carrying, because he can take photos and sell them to J. Jonah Jameson. He shows no interest in stopping the crime spree or any feeling about the victims of the Vulture. He’s out to make money. In the process, he ends up stopping the Vulture, but it’s secondary.
I follow Dan Slott (Spider-Man writer) and Tom Brevoort (Senior Vice President of Publishing at Marvel Comics) on Twitter, where they answer fan’s questions. They get a lot of shit. I feel bad for the guys. They do good work, but don’t seem to get the respect they not only deserve but have earned. Most of the fan’s complaints seem to stem from this problem comics’ fans get into—deciding what parts of continuity to ignore and what to keep. Fans have decided what has happened and what hasn’t. I don’t see this issue in other mediums, but it may be there. In comics, if something is published involving a character, a question of continuity comes up. Some comics are considered in-continuity, which basically means they actually happened to the character, while others are set out of continuity. Some comics like Batman: The Killing Joke hold a kind of in-between status. At times, it’s obvious before a book is published whether it’s in-continuity or not, especially if it takes place in an alternate time or dimension. Other times, it seems to come after and fans get to decide. If the comic was well-received, then it seems to have a greater chance of being in-continuity.
I like to think everything is in-continuity. It doesn’t make sense to me when things aren’t. If it takes place in another dimension, then so be it. It’s in-continuity in another dimension. I don’t understand the in-continuity question. If it happened, it happened. The end. But fans change things. Or perhaps it’s just memory. We forget they happened and decades later, it’s like they never did. Creators change things too. Captain America fought for years after World War II, but Stan Lee changed that when he created the Avengers. Captain America, he said, fell into the ice near the end of the war and was frozen. What happened to all those adventures fighting Communists in the fifties? In X-Men #4, Professor X, in a thought bubble, told readers about his love for Jean Grey, who was underage at the time to top it off. That was quickly forgotten. I understand when new readers get confused about characters. Each character seems to have had something taken out of continuity.
We fans are hard to please. It’s like we’re at a restaurant and sending back food until it’s good enough for us. Whatever we can’t send back, we just leave there, refusing to acknowledge. I don’t think this problem is necessarily a problem, though. Well, maybe if you’re a creator like Dan Slott and Tom Brevoort who must deal with fan’s complaints. Comics, whether realistic or fantastical, are escapism. All stories are in a way. Even memoirs. Even literary works. A story is an escape from our life into another’s. In comics, like in life, people die. Friendships fall. Jobs are lost. Bad things happen. But in comics, we can control that. If something happens we don’t like, we don’t have to deal with it. People can return to life. Decisions writers regret can be undone. We can create the lives we want these characters to have. We can make things right. If Grandma dies, she can be brought back. That issue might not have sold as much. More could have been done with that character.
And if the writers and editors refuse to acknowledge what fans want, we can always yell at them on Twitter.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.