With Great Power Comes….Great Greed and Exploitation?
I have been reading about the latest dust-up between Disney and Sony as it pertains to who “owns” Spider-Man. How do I feel about it? Apathetic. I suppose the next question is why write about it? Maybe I do care, just a little bit. Spider-Man was a big part of my youth, along with many other characters, both Marvel and DC.
I bought my very first comic in July 1975: Captain America and The Falcon, Issue 187. It cost me a quarter. I was just 5 years old at the time. I still have it and all the others that I collected as a kid. If I had known better, I would have bought two- one to put in a sleeve, the other to read. If I had done that I probably could have retired by now. Oh well, that is not why I bought them anyway.
In the 70s, the choices were limited if you were a superhero fan, nothing like the CGI overload that we all enjoy today. You have to understand, I bought my first comic two years before my life (when it came to movies) changed forever, the day my big brother Scott took me to see Star Wars. For a kid who grew up going with his brother to Sunday Matinées like The Apple Dumpling Gang or Escape to Witch Mountain, Star Wars showed me that there was no limit to my imagination at a very young age.
Mind you, I was a voracious reader of comic books from the start. My imagination was already piqued by the likes of Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Avengers, The X-Men plus The Flash, Green Lantern, The Justice Society, way too many to list but you get the idea. I would read them from cover to cover, immersing myself into the story. I would ride my bike up to the local 7-11 when I knew it was time for the latest mag to come out. That is right, 7-11. Not a comic book store. They did not really exist back then, especially in small town West Virginia. I would get a string of Zots, a Slurpee, and a Spider-Man to go.
This was the time before cable, and before 24/7 cartoons. You had Saturday. That was it. So in between, I had comics. I was so into them that Scott’s buddy Joe gave me all of his mags. All of the sudden I had a collection, and a lot of catching up to do, so I dove right in. It was not long after that when my parents allowed Scott to paint Superheroes on my bedroom walls. Scott would go on to acquire a Masters in Fine Arts. We were all blessed with artistic abilities in my family in some shape or form, but Scott took it to the next level. He was still in high school when he did my walls, just one of many things he would do for me as I grew up.
I was lucky enough to come up during the “Bronze Age” of comics. It was a time when comics started to intertwine social issues like drugs, alcohol, race and even the environment into the stories being told. It was not just mindless entertainment; if you really paid attention, there were life lessons within the pages. Subject matter that made you think not just about the story being told, but what was happening in the world around you.
So you can imagine my excitement when in 2002 the film Spider-Man with Tobey McGuire came out. I laughed because there were critics questioning the casting of McGuire in this role at first. Obviously, these critics did not read comics growing up. If they had, they would have realized that McGuire was the perfect pick. That was the Spider-Man I knew: The awkward kid, not perfect by any means, struggling with his power and how to use it, all the while trying to figure out how to navigate life without the mask on.
When I finally got to see the movie, I was stoked. I felt like that kid who rode his bike to 7-11 all over again. The story was perfect. It is what I imagined all those years ago, not long after having my mind blown by Star Wars. I knew then that one day, my heroes would make it to the silver screen. I never dreamed it would explode into a billion dollar juggernaut that would churn out one blockbuster after another. Yes, there were a few duds mixed in there (like Edward Norton’s Hulk) but not many. It was like getting a second chance to experience something that was such a huge part of my youth. This time though, I got to share it with my daughters. I got to watch them get excited about it too- for the very first time.
“Dad, who’s that guy?” “Dad, what’s going to happen next?” Of course I had most of the answers, the back-stories. It was fun reaching into the past and bringing all that back to share with my girls.
Then Iron Man came along. Again, great choice by putting Robert Downey Jr in the role. Spot on. Of course there were some darker parts about Iron Man that were left out; mainly, his alcoholism and how he battled to overcome it. That is alright though. The movie did not have time to draw out a story like that, like you could in a comic book series.
Fast forward to The Avengers Endgame. Whoa! I know many attribute the explosion of the MCU to the release of Iron Man but I go back to 2000’s X-Men, then 2002’s Spider-Man. To me, that was the beginning of it all. Those movies spawned many more plus a few television series. Some of them epic (see Daredevil) that grabbed the attention of a whole new generation of fans.
I have truly enjoyed the last 19 years, getting the opportunity to relive my youth all while watching my daughters get hooked on the characters and their stories.
Seeing the reports about the disagreement between Sony and Disney when it comes to who owns Spider-Man, where he fits into the “MCU”, has left me feeling indifferent. They are making it about the money, about control. Not what is best for the fans. How much money is enough? How much “creative control” is necessary?
I was lucky enough to be a kid at the right time when it came to comics. I was able to see those characters jump from the pages to the screen as an adult and I was fortunate enough to share both of those experiences with my daughters. They are grown up now, young ladies in pursuit of their independent lives. The way I see it, if they stopped making Spider-Man Movies today yes, I would be bummed, but life would go on.
My love of comic books, of Spider-Man, has already come full circle. Now that it is all about the money, who owns the rights to this or that, oh well. Just like I will never again feel the thrill I did that day with my brother Scott in 1977 watching Star Wars, when those words scrolled up the screen, laying the groundwork for what was to come minutes later. I seriously doubt I will ever experience the same joy I did as a father getting to relive Spider-Man in the movies with my girls. The same Spider-Man I spent so many hours reading and re-reading as a boy.
I hope they get it straightened out. To me, anything beyond what I have already experienced is a bonus. Maybe I will go back through and read my mags now. I am sure they are not worth much since I did not sleeve them forty-something years ago. To me however, they are priceless. Like being able to step back in time to a place where life was much simpler. To let my imagination run again. To be a kid.
I can think of no better way to end a piece about Spider-Man and my experiences in the comic book world than to borrow Stan Lee’s favorite way to do so. “Stan’s Soapbox” was just another value-added feature to the comic book experience. Stan was ahead of his time on a lot of things, especially when it came to how he was viewing the world around us. Some of his words still influence me today.