Letters : Editor : 2002 : To the Editor 01/09/2002

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Date: Sep 1, 2002
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From Travis Cottreau

Regarding your rave Super-Hero Story in a previous issue, on the subject of "Let's Pretend vs. What If".

First, but there is a big mistake in paragraph 2. It was Arthur C. Clarke, not Isaac Azimov who said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'". But the point is correct.

I am thinking back through comic books I've read over the years and trying to remember which were actually some that taught a lesson and played "What If" rather than "Let's Pretend" - you're right, it is hard to come up with many at all. I think the successful ones were probably written as "Let's Pretend" and had a "What If" lesson in there by accident.

I don't know if you remember "With This Gun" from Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #71 - a Spider-Man story about guns, gun control and handgun deaths. It was ok, although pretty heavy-handed. In the author's defence, it's much more difficult to do a "What If" story than a "Let's Pretend", simply because it requires thought. The alternative is action, fighting and Spider-Man coming out the other side the winner.

Probably one of the better attempts at a lesson is the storyline where Kraven the Hunter puts Spider-man to sleep for a while and takes his place, playing the hero. The story of a villain trying to be a hero and applying his warped sense of justice to the situation was pretty interesting and one of the few true "What If" stories that succeeds in my opinion.

If you go beyond Spider-Man, there are a few more, but as you said, they are few and far between. Lots of the "Dreadstar" comics were excellently plotted and showed the financial security of war and why it pays to just keep it going rather than trying to stop it. It also examines the tactics of guerrilla warfare in a losing battle, the policies of a corrupt church and many more issues. One of the few consistent "What If" comics in existence. The writer Jim Starlin also examined death in some excellent stories in the "Death of Captain Marvel". As the geniuses of the world worked on saving his life, the one thing keeping Captain Marvel alive was also preventing his cure.

Coming back to Spider-Man, there was an interesting storyline in Spectacular Spider-Man #52 where the White Tiger almost died. What happens when heroes are targeted? Mostly an action piece as Spider-Man gets to the bottom of the attack on the White Tiger. The Punisher was also an interesting examination of "What if a hero likes to kill?" and he got his start with Spider-Man.

I'm sure that there are more, but I work from memory and don't have my former collection in front of me. I have to say, I really missed my collection after seeing the Spider-Man movie when the interest in Spider-Man was so strong, and was a frequent topic of conversation.

Thanks Travis, a great reply.

Of course, it's strange that neither you nor myself ever referred to the actual "What If" comic titles. There were two volumes of these, as I'm sure you're aware. But I think the fact that those books didn't leap to mind is a great example of the actual point we're trying to examine here. Just asking "What If" is not of itself sufficient. The question has to be "What If... then what can we learn...?"

Just because a story proposes a scenario different from what we have come to expect (e.g. Spider-Man becomes a killer, Punisher kills Spider-Man, etc., etc.) doesn't really make it any more valuable, unless it uses the postulated scenario to lead to some kind of enlightenment which would otherwise have been harder to approach.


From Cecil L. Disharoon, jr.

Your commentary on the literary value of Spider-Man reflected some of my own thoughts from across the years as to the emotional/intellectual usefulness of this hobby. I came back to full force by my first year of marriage, as soon as money would allow. We've never had cable in seven years together, but my wife and I have thrilled to Spidey's stories together many times through the years; she even read everything on Spidey in my collection up to 1996, in order! (What a gal!) Until they dropped MJ from the strip in ASM #13 she was there with me every month, so obviously, there's something to this business, even for those who didn't grow up with the character. But what?

Whenever I have tried to pick a few comics to introduce friends to affection for the medium, I've found myself caught by the same element you pointed up in your commentary: what of any philosophical value could arrest an intelligent adult mind, aside from the colorful and occasionally wildly imaginative scenarios? Fantastic, b-grade titillation intermingled with soap opera and fight scenes - the same stuff inherent in the deftly-done big movie - this predominates the 40-year patchwork play, as you so aptly put it. While that's at least as good as most of television's offerings, I also like to read about quantum physics, alternative fuel, history and political science and Zen; I like Dostoevsky and Twain, Pirandello and Fitzgerald, Homer and Dante, too, and such challenges to the thinker can eventually deepen the expectations beyond the 'average' comic book's abilities to deliver, too. By 'average' I'm also accounting for the various eras reflected in my mostly post-Silver Age collection, littered with Vertigo and the occasional Alan Moore offering, and while I'm no independent comic adept, I bought few of these offerings for any reason other than a childlike joy.

Perhaps it's the fuzziness of adolescence in an age torn between immature pop culture and the frontiers of knowledge, but I find a place in my heart for the wall-crawler that never wanes. He is a symbol of a stance between that dizzying need for entertainment and wisdom, and looking back over my collection, it's easy to see how relatively few times the character's been used to face the unknown with any kinds of intellectually stimulating returns. I could go on at length bullshitting you about the sophistication of his place in culture, but super hero comic books rarely break the barriers of literature, owing much to the demand to replenish youthful energy - a quality I'd be sad to see lost to them, after all the hope and escape they've given me through the years.

Peter David and John Marc DeMatteis are probably two of the writers you might consider to have challenged the material to speak on the human condition with humor and spiritual reflection. The sheer gaudiness of the medium often overshadows believable characterization and revelation - and when the pressures of being the over-exposed serialized flagship character to a comics line occasionally subject to bad business decisions and lack of thought-provoking quality stories are applied, it is a wonder the care put into Spider-Man continues to refurbish our generous attitudes that bring us back with hope year after year.

That said, we have had Claremont and Michelinie and DeFalco and Stern and Wolfman all trying to deliver something worthwhile about people and life on occasion, bringing in adult touches and the occasionally interesting moral dilemma to try to raise the standards of a largely ignored medium. Even Conway and Wein (humorous but more notable for suspense than philosophy in their 1970s run) and Mantlo (*sigh* oddly mawkish and pulpy in even his more considerate efforts... but a plotter with a sense of fun and conscience) tried to give Spidey that idiosyncratic breath of life that makes him appealing and human; their work might seem dated, but one cannot deny they entertained many more thousands of readers than today's circulation can cull. Except for the undistinguished swath torn through the character's existence going back to Stan Lee's 'off' efforts, it seems unreasonable to be uncharitable towards the many brightly colored years of reading that the character has given us.

That's what it's about, really: oftentimes, Peter/ Spidey transcends the thrill-a-minute world of intrigue without which his milieu would not have continued all these years, to remind us to look to the best in people while we absorb the perpetual worst with eyes wide open, too. If happy endings aren't 'literary,' (excuse me - Paradiso and the Odyssey, anyone?), then surely there've been plenty of Spider-Man stories thoughtful enough to see through the difficult choices that inhabit the world so like our own; Stan Lee virtually went out of his way to leave life off-kilter as the plots would wind up monthly. I can't deny the work of the visual artists in providing a dual basis for tempo and symbolism made it an easy substitute to television-as-preferred-casual outlet, and while not everything comes up like Neal Adams or Michael Golden or John Williams, even the 'old-fashioned' draftsmanship of a Ross Andru can still absorb the eye and refract into private moments of intense energy that obliterate boredom. Let's face it, escaping boredom is how we defend our tenuous grasp on liberty, and extend the frontiers of intellectual freedom.

I wasn't sure if the reference to Philip K. Dick was reverential or suggestive of an exemplum of off-handed literary value, but that writer, I understand, occasionally did not do more than entertain, though the works of his I've read were so philosophical and, in places, mystical, as to challenge my closely-held convictions of multi-valued logic within our reality.

It is difficult for a corporate-owned character, at the center of marketing mayhem, to stand up to much scrutiny beyond nostalgia-arrested affections. I can't help being touched, however, at the passion I've found in numerous letters pages that assure me there's something stirring to readers of all ages and experiences. I never attend conventions - maybe someday! - but I identify with young and old through those missives, in that there is something worthwhile about ol' Webhead that inspires more individual impressions and fantasies of interpretation than any other of Marvel's way-out, occasionally wacky and sometimes compelling characters in its 40 years of life. There may be even more kids who've played Superman or Batman through the years, but who has inspired more imaginary comic book story runs in the minds of fans than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? (The spider's an ancient, cross-cultural storyteller totem, after all.)

Despite the stereotypes that serve to caution fandom of the pitfalls of immaturity, many complete, professional and sage individuals will never outgrow an acceptance of that spark of life that informs the ideal wall-crawler who stands beyond his various interpretations. His three chief handlers today, I hope, will hang in there with the recovering numbers and keep putting Peter Parker underneath that colorful mask of innocence for a new generation. Mr. Dick once replied in an interview (I'm paraphrasing here) that he saw science fiction fans as highly imaginative individuals who often had trouble adapting to the world around them (so set against emotional and intellectual reason as often it is), people enamored of abstract ideals and willing to adopt eccentric points of view to search for the truth. If ever there were a better way to describe Peter Parker - or the millions who've really made up the essence of his secret identity - it never negated that definition!

Well, that certainly set a new high-water mark for academic critique amongst our letter pages! You wisely leap very quickly from my original question (which has been done to death at this point) into a more general discussion of the literary merits of Spider-Man, and his super-powered, angst-ridden, pseudo-literary ilk.

You make a number of powerful points, but what really puts the interrogative cat amongst the metaphysical pigeons is, "How come this discussion is even taking place?". Why are educated people like ourselves (and there's more than a few of us out there, I can confirm) even reading these "books for people who can't read", as my wife calls them? My spouse, I should add, does not share yours' affection for Spider-Man in any shape or form.

Do 'edjumacated' folks (like I flatter ourselves to be) read Spider-Man because it has some deep intrinsic value? Or do we like to imagine that it has this value because it demonstrates some reassuring concept like "there's worth in everything"? Perhaps we imagine ourselves so worldly that we can find truth in fiction, and beauty in the most prosaic of works? Or maybe we're just kids at heart, and it's only by arguing the unseen merits of these books that we can cope with being jeered by our more mature peers?

My personal guess is that it illustrates that comic books reach a sufficient narrative, contextual and structual complexity to support a dualistic (or higher-dimensional) fabrication and interpretation. But I think we can just leave the question at that point. Select the answer you like best. Just remember that whatever you choose, if you find yourself 'round at my place one afternoon with a glass of Chardonnay in your hand, I'll expect you to vigorously defend the stand you've taken.

But just to close off one last question, let me say that Philip K. Dick was not chosen at random by any means. While my sci-fi reading has taken a definite back seat to Spidey as of late, I still have a bit of time for a bit of speculative fiction. Sure, Dick doesn't achieve quite the burning focus of the short story writers of the 60's, and doesn't achieve the soul-melting elegance of Bradbury, but his legacy of novels still represent to me some of the most searching, lateral, and challenging writing of the late 20th century.

And to anyone who has seen "Blade Runner", and thinks they know what PKD is about, may I gently suggest that you purchase a copy of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", and see how Ridley Scott managed to make a pretty cool film, whilst nearly completely missing the point of the book.


From Brian Lopez

I was reading a magazine when I noticed sketches of future Spider-Man movie costumes. I noticed the bad guys of Spider-Man 2 are: Dr. Octopus, Electro, Venom, Rhino, Mysterio (possibly), and Black Cat.

I'm sorry I have a limited amount of information but hey, I'm just an 11 year old Spidey fanatic!

Hey, thanks for the update. Of course, if you really want to keep up with the latest in Spidey-Movie happenings, you need to visit Spider-Man Hype for the latest gossip. We leave the movie news to those guys. They're just too good to be able to compete with!

Of course, it's a commercial site, so you can expect your screen to fill with pop-up advertisements!


From Nick

I was wondering do you know anybody who makes cartoons? If you do can you ask them to make a Spider-Man the Movie cartoon please! It would be so cool to have a Spider-Man the Movie cartoon & if they could put it on ABC Family. Or make more episodes of Spider-Man Unlimited.

Well... in that case you'll be happy to know that MTV has bought the rights to Spider-Man the cartoon. We haven't been keeping too close an eye on that story, but the rumour mill is currently saying the following:

  • The show will air in 2003.
  • The show will "pick up where the movie left off".
  • Brian Michael Bendis is scheduled as co-writer.
  • Neil Patrick Harris (aka Doogie Howser) will voice Peter Parker.
  • Lisa Loeb (Singer/Songwriter) will voice MJ.
  • MTV is planning to use MTV pop-stars for the other voice actors.
  • The graphics will mix traditional cartoon with CGI.

Personally, I'm expecting something quite slick, and visually pretty - MTV are a pack of shallow commercial scum-bags, but they have deep pockets.

Oh, I also note that ABC Family Channel (formerly Fox Kids) are planning to re-run the '95 cartoon episodes. Now, if only I could get cable!


From Jimbo

I am desperatly trying to find information and or a copy of the 1996 Byron Preiss (Windows) Spider-Man - The Sinister Six. If you could please tell me where to find a copy of the game i would deeply appreciate it.

Well, we can't normally help with this sort of stuff - but you're in luck this time. I just bought a mint condition copy for US$5 from SoftwareCheaper.Com. They specialise in out-of-print budget PC games like these.


From SportsPlaya

i like to collect some of the symbiote spiderman comics because i think he looks cool like that. but also when i can, i collect the venom comics. i hardly ever see any venom comics, but the acouple i do have are really good ones, like leathel protecter #1. should i just give up on collecting the venom comics or should i continue when ever i can and try 2 find some of the symbiote spiderman comics? p.s what do you think of the comics with carnage in them?

Yeah? Great! You think? Can't say. You decide. Mostly crap.


From Deanna

I have a friend who is a big Spider-Man fan. He would like to see how the original comic strip was done. Is there a video out there that can show him how it was done. Thank you very much for reading this in advance.

Well, back in the 60's, first of all there was no such thing as home movie cameras, and secondly the guys who did Spidey didn't know it was going to be a huge hit, so they didn't think of making a movie of their job.

However, there is a brand new DVD just released called "Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels", which you can find at Amazon. That's all about the creation of Spider-Man. I haven't seen it yet, so I can't recommend it, but it might be worth checking out.


From Robert

I recently picked up a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man #24. I think I've got every issue since #18, and this series is incredible. I wondered about Nick Fury's excuse for not helping Peter out. Was that a little contrived, not being able to spy on Americans on American soil, or would that be about right in the espionage business? Maybe if Norman was Muslim they'd do more? Did I say that?

Ouch! You want to be careful saying things like that. Remember, the U.S. government has recently adopted the right to hold dissidents indefinitely - without trial, charges, notification, or access to legal consul. I'm not sure of the details, but it's something to do with protecting people's rights.

I wonder what Spider-Man would have to say on that subject?


From Matt

How about this for an idea for a new section to your site?

A section devoted to the story of a newbie in the world of not only Spidey comics but comics in general. It could be a written piece every week/month/etc on how he/she is progressing with their collection, which releases they thought were good/bad, what new and/or old methods they have found to help them with their collection in general or to find that one elusive issue they have been looking for.

Well yes, I am going to say that it's me who can write this for you!

Well... that's mighty kind. We get a good number of suggestions for new parts of the site, but unless they come with an offer of help, they generally just get tossed in the bin.

That does sound like a real handy resource to have on the 'net. I'm sure there are a lot of people in that position, and being able to learn from somebody else's experience sure can make it a lot easier to get started in the treacherous world of comic collecting.

Unfortunately, the site really can't take on any more montly sections right now. Heck, you can see for yourself that even with what we have right now, it's a constant struggle to achieve our self-imposed deadlines. Even if you did the writing, it still needs to be edited, proofed and formatted - so we're going to have to decline your offer.

But if you do make a "Beginner's Guide to Collecting Spidey" web page, we would of course be delighted to link to you. Good luck!


From Alex

Hi there. I wanted to ask you. Where is Spiderman? i am in Manhattan looking for him. Could you help find spidreman. I would like to see him. My daddy and mommy say Spiderman is not real, but its not true. Could you help me find him?

Quick... look up, on that building! No, over there on the left! Oh, too bad, you just missed him. Still, keep your eyes open, and I'm sure you'll see him soon.


From Alla

I am contacting you from Heavenly Lace Lingerie, a beautiful lingerie site and would like to be added to your site as a link and banner. Heavenly Lace Lingerie sells designer Sexy and Elegant lingerie. Petite to Plus Sizes. WorldWide shipping.

Let me know how I can do that.

You want us to link to you? Simple! Just get Kirsten Dunst to model some of that lingerie, and I'm sure we can work something out!

BTW, perhaps you can help me out. Can you drop my wife an email and just explain to her that when she came into my study and found me surfing your site, that it was all part of my research for SpiderFan.Org? That would be great, 'cos I'm a bit fed up with sleeping in the guest room.


From Elliot

Hey, here's a photo of me and some friends heading out to the Spiderman movie in full costume. I (Elliot) am Doctor Octopus, Phil is Spiderman, Jay is the Green Goblin, and Makenzie is Mary Jane. All the costumes were homemade.

Wow, that rocks. The pictures are up on our Fans : Costumes page, along with an updated pic from one of our regular costumed guys... Peter Norbot.


From D. Barnes, Jr.

How do I go about e-mailing drawings I made for the fan art section? Maybe it said it somewhere on your site, but I didn't see it.

A great question! Anybody wanting to submit fan art, just use the online mail form to drop us a note, and we'll reply with an email address that accepts attachments.

This month, we have great new fan pictures from D. Barnes, Jr., Kerry Wessell, plus an updated pic from Tom Baker. They're all up on our ever-popular Fans : Art page.