Friday, August 2, 2013

The Defeat of Spider-Man!


In the early days of its titles, when Marvel was trying to sell its readers on its new characters like Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four, its covers would resemble something like a circus sideshow--with dramatic graphics and bold captions enticing you to take a look inside and see what the act was all about. And since super-heroes were the feature attraction, what could be better than proclaiming a hero's defeat:



Issue 9 of Amazing Spider-Man marked the first appearance of the villain Electro, but apparently it was going to have another first--the defeat of Spider-Man. Call me gullible, but I took that to mean that Spider-Man would be defeated by Electro. You wouldn't slap a claim like that on a cover without the drama of an actual, lasting defeat, would you? In other words, a definite win for Electro, a definite loss for Spider-Man? After all, there have been other advertised defeats that held up under such proclamations on the cover. Two in particular come to mind:



In both instances, the FF were indeed beaten by their respective foes--and while, in the later issue with Dr. Doom, Reed Richards played on Doom's ego in order to get him to depart, there's little doubt that Doom would have crushed the FF had the battle continued. So in both instances, the FF covers were on the mark.

But in Spider-Man's encounter with Electro, Spider-Man ended up blundering into his own defeat:



Getting up, dusting yourself off, and going about your business isn't exactly what I'd call a defeat, especially since Spider-Man's fall wasn't the result of any aggressive action by Electro.

To further refute the impression that issue's cover gives us, Spider-Man wraps things up with Electro with no harm done, to either his state of mind or his win/loss ratio:



If you leave a battle whimsically reflecting how "life sure is funny," you're probably not crushed with feelings of defeat.

A better execution of such a cover might have been Spider-Man's third battle with Electro, where the battle is more desperate, and Spider-Man definitely doesn't come away unscathed. Nor is Electro inclined to wait for Spider-Man to do his work for him.





Spider-Man sizes up the situation pretty well. Electro is working for someone who wants Spider-Man finished, so he has financial incentive to make sure that Spidey doesn't leave this fight by any means short of a stretcher. I don't know why Electro never made the big leagues as a villain, because he's really got all the power he needs to clean anyone's clock, and his attitude's as vicious as it comes. But Spider-Man has repeatedly proven resourceful against him, and this time is no different:




The battle has taken its toll on both men. But while Electro staggers off to lick his wounds, Spider-Man takes the battle more personally, due to the circumstances of his life:




Consequently, while the earlier story flagrantly bends the truth to be in the neighborhood of a "defeat" for Spider-Man, the closing panels of this later story skirt just close enough so that this ending is perhaps more true to that earlier cover's intent. Electro, like the last time, didn't aggressively deliver the coup de grĂ¢ce that felled Spider-Man, but it's a moot point. Peter certainly doesn't look like a winner; he has no beaten foe to hand over to the police; and he's too discouraged looking at a glass half-empty to whimsically reflect on anything. This is Spider-Man in the aftermath of a pointless victory, and nothing to show for it.  That may not be a defeat as we know the term, and it's not much of a win--but for this hero, sometimes it's as good as it gets.

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