Tuesday, November 17, 2015

This Hatred Unceasing

J. Jonah Jameson's obsession with putting an end to Spider-Man often seems as essential a part of Spider-Man's profile as everything else we've come to associate with the web-slinger, from his circle of friends, to his Aunt May, to his bizarre rogues gallery of enemies, to his identity as Peter Parker. Without Jameson, Spider-Man probably wouldn't have the distinction of being an outsider, an outlaw--and since he's always been focused on crime-fighting, he likely wouldn't be so distanced from law enforcement, with his only links to sympathetic figures in the police being in the form of George Stacy, or Jean DeWolff, or others willing to cut him some slack.

To bottom-line it: Spider-Man, without Jameson, just might be a hero. Which opens the door to a question which has puzzled readers for decades:

Just why does Jameson hate Spider-Man?

What's the reason for his relentless hounding of the wall-crawler, his incessant drive to turn public opinion against him?

As a character unto himself--that is to say, absent his obsession to hunt down Spider-Man like a dog--Jonah Jameson remains one of the more brilliant character creations of writer Stan Lee. Influential, irascible, direct, and often misguided, Jameson is accustomed to throwing his weight around, with sometimes embarrassing results:

Such a character, particularly with his ties to news and frequent run-ins with organized crime, is an essential component of Spider-Man's one-man activities in New York, especially since Peter has chosen to be an integral part of Jameson's newspaper, the "Daily Bugle." Yet there's Jameson's irrational hatred of Spider-Man in play as well, and it needn't be. In fact, there have often been examples where Spider-Man rates a story in the Bugle absent its publisher's agenda, instances which didn't factor in Jameson's malice toward Spidey but instead focused on his instincts as a newsman in pursuing the details of a hot story, whether it reflected badly on the subject or not. And when he's in his element as a no-nonsense publisher who has a paper to run, Jameson is irresistible.

Jameson has also proven himself to be a compelling character even without Spider-Man being in the picture, whether it has to do with social issues or corrupt politicians. The point is that Jameson, as a viable character, needs no motivational factor to be relentless or hard-nosed in pursuing a story; in other words, his distaste for the way Spider-Man often works outside the law need not translate to unfounded hatred. Spider-Man can still be a worthwhile news item for the Bugle, and he can still be the occasional target for a story which reflects badly on him, while allowing Jameson to operate within the confines of his flaws and remain a provocative character--hot-tempered, blunt, insistent, annoying, miserly, and always looking for an angle which will boost newspaper circulation, even if at times it treads on sensationalism.

It hasn't been often when Lee or other writers have addressed Jameson's hatred of Spider-Man head-on, perhaps reluctant to let the genie out of the bottle and risk taking the wind out of Jameson's sails. Instead, that hatred is couched in print, in what Jameson's dogged editorials against the wall-crawler have labelled as "the Spider-Man menace," an open-ended term which allows Jameson to express his obsession while brandishing the credentials of a journalist and appearing to be committed to exposing a fraud. Such diatribes have been delivered from Jameson since day one; in fact, if we take a look at such a sequence from Amazing Spider-Man #1 and compare it to another from issue #50, we see how little has changed in the style and content of Jameson's delivery.

As much of a reputation that Jameson has of being a tightwad, these are startling lengths the man goes to in order to raise public awareness about his opinion of Spider-Man--renting halls to deliver lectures, as well as sponsoring television programs in order to give himself a forum to broadcast his vitriol. We do, however, get a sense of why Jameson has at times expressed disdain for other super-powered individuals and their activities (though with considerably less vehemence)--in his eyes, their sensational exploits eclipsing the heroism and achievements of the average man, and in particular his astronaut son. Yet Spider-Man, for some reason, has been elevated above the others in Jameson's mind.

Very early in Spider-Man's career, that reason was given form by Lee, and seems to have been intended to be the definitive disclosure of the cause of Jameson's hatred of the web-spinner. The moment even receives cover billing:

It turns out to be an anticlimactic moment, with Jameson's reason amounting to no more than--of all things--jealousy.

It's an acknowledgement of personal failures and flaws that doesn't mesh with the unapologetic, forceful, and at times egotistical character we've come to know in the pages of the book over the years. In just a few panels, Lee makes Jonah Jameson an almost pitiable figure, and adds complications to future stories where Jameson's actions toward Spider-Man come into play. For instance, when there's a story involving Spider-Man having reached his limit with Jameson, where should our sympathies lie?

Much later, writer Gerry Conway appears to make an effort to redefine the root of Jameson's over-the-top obsession with Spider-Man, shifting its focus back to his regard for the accomplishments of the common man. It bears mentioning, however, that the scenes from both Lee and Conway which seek to pin down Jameson in this way have one thing in common--Jameson's love of and admiration for his son, whose accomplishments are, from Jameson's perspective, overshadowed by the seemingly attention-getting antics of Spider-Man.

And having Jameson as a sort of unofficial crusader for the common man would not have been a bad way to go with such a character, who serves as both antagonist and comic relief and whose flaws are on display for all to see. In this way, Jameson need not come after Spider-Man with a pitchfork and television spots that declare him a menace who must be caught at all costs--unfounded accusations delivered with such bile that they make Jameson seem almost psychotic. Instead, Jameson could have continued being Jameson, but balancing his dislike of Spider-Man's methods and questionable judgment with a surly attitude that would have let him air his grievances involving the web-spinner among his reporting staff and in the columns of editorials that called Spider-Man to task without eviscerating him--and without calling for his head on a platter.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I think Lee jumped the gun in Spidey #10 with Jonah's explanation of why he hates Spider-man. But I'll cut him so slack because back in those early days, every issue had to have some kind of big revelation or secret in order to keep the kids buying. I know it worked on me.

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