Monday, September 17, 2012

Broad Discretionary Powers

We can excuse a lot of things in those early issues of Marvel comics, where the characters were just getting off the ground and their characteristics and abilities were still being written from the hip. Even Spider-Man, as uncomplicated a power set as you might think a character could have at first glance, had some aspects to him that really needed to be nailed down when his stories took off with readers and continuity started to be established. Today, we tend to laugh at the concept of continuity, where the characters have strayed so far from their histories and abilities; but for such an intriguing character as Spider-Man, as he was when he first appeared on the Marvel scene, having a definitive list of his powers was as entertaining as his monthly comic.

Yet, it was all very informal back then, and there were times when a Spidey story might take liberties with the character which might raise eyebrows but were nevertheless met with a shrug (for instance, an inconsistency with his spider-sense). Of course, Marvel swung that door wide open by giving readers those wonderful features at the end of certain issues which let them have an inside look at the title character(s). Spider-Man got his own comprehensive look in his first annual comic:

Pretty good publicity for the character, when word-of-mouth came into play--and it was a great addition to the annual, a full nine pages of everything you ever wanted to know about Spidey's powers, costume, and tech gear. And fortunately, the feature had the good sense to include this little disclaimer:

As we'd see in future stories, not only in Spider-Man's title but in others, "dramatic license" would occasionally need to be called into play. For instance, we'd long ago learned the "secret" of Spider-Man's mask:

Yet in this early story of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy, where Peter Parker realizes the circumstances of his Uncle Ben's death (and before we knew anything about Spider-Man's mask), somehow Peter's surprise and anguish had to be displayed, even through his mask eye lenses:

Yet as we've seen repeatedly, there were ways for even a masked character like Spider-Man to be expressive when the situation called for it. Whether it's profound sadness:

Or deep grief and loss:

Or sheer rage:

No beady eyes necessary in any of these.

Today, of course, dramatic license would be getting quite a workout, given the convoluted history that Spider-Man has had where his abilities are concerned. In fact, we'd probably have to retire the term altogether in favor of something more apt, for all of Marvel's characters. Take this scene, where the Black Widow and Maria Hill take a multi-story plummet off a roof to crash onto a car, resulting in no apparent injuries whatsoever:

The last time I checked, neither Hill nor the Widow were super-strong or had the slightest degree of invulnerability. So, yeah, maybe a new creative term for this kind of story-telling is called for.

What do you think of "carte blanche"?


Warren JB said...

I prefer 'hack work'.

Winter Soldier said...

What is the name and number of the comic of "the secrets of Spider-Man"?

Comicsfan said...

WS, you can find that Spider-Man insert in the very first Amazing Spider-Man Annual.