Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

You ever notice that with Spider-man, things have a habit of getting a little extreme? It’s kind of like we love Spider-man so much, we have this bad habit of taking the things we love about him just a BIT too far.

For me, it was the nineties. There were some great Spider-man stories in the nineties. And there were some awful Spider-man stories in the nineties (Clone Saga…ouch).

I think, at one point, this thing got picked up where the focus was on examining- and even sympathizing with- a lot of Spider-man’s enemies. They would make it REALLY clear that the motivations that drove guys like Doc Ock and the Vulture was very human (LIKE, Spider-man). And a lot of them were just so sad and frustrated that Spider-man had been pummeling them over and over again…

And it started to become a little much, I think? I mean, okay, the two villains I just referenced were probably in the realm of ‘worked the best’ in stories that used this formula. For me, nothing gets me like when a crazed, cancer-diagnosed Adrian Toomes gets yelled at by Aunt May and just turns himself in.

But any more than this- I mean, are we really supposed to feel BAD for Spidey’s villains? Something about this feel to the comic doesn’t fit so well with me. It’s like Spider-man does Watchmen, or something.

And than there was clones. Wow…just. Clones.

I DO contend that there was some method to the whole Ben Reily madness. The problem the writers face is basically this- how can Peter Parker and Mary Jane EVER be happy and still have Peter struggling and learning the way he did when the comic got famous. If we gave them a happy ending how could Spider-man go on? With all his absurd and funny snafus where his personal life and his superhero life collide, head on? I mean if Peter grew up and was the responsible husband he needed to be, without any intimacy issues would people stop reading the comic, I wonder?

Well, I wouldn’t. But that’s partly because I’m a big believer in what I like to call the ‘Joss Whedon’ philosophy of character development. Namely things really DO change. For the characters. More than you think it will. People get older, grow up, and work &*$% out. But maybe other fans don’t agree. So the writers had this dilemma: how could Peter and M.J. be happy and still have Spider-man around? Enter- tada- Ben Reilly (or the ORIGINAL Peter Parker- at least, that’s how the story was intended before internet sites and comic book stores exploded in protest).

So yeah. I cut them some slack. They had their reasons. Now Gwen Stacey clones and other nonsense lying around out there? I have less to say on this issue. But I digress…

I DON’T think writing Mary Jane OUT of the comic was really a brilliant solution either.

There’s always going to BE some incarnation of Spider-man who’s a kid around, somewhere. Some ‘Ultimate’ comic, some ‘What If’ story, some animated television show…this story is being SOLD, out there, almost every day. I don’t think we have to give up on sixty years of canon just to satisfy our anxiety that people MIGHT forget what made Spider-man great. Right?

M.J. is also the kind of hot, funny, cool girl that Peter deserves, too. The banter between them is what makes her fit, I think. But of course, the constant dreary-painful-lives that was Peter and M.J.’s marriage became a little smothering. They had a kid. Anybody remember this!? It was during the whole Clone Saga business, actually. She had a miscarriage. Of course, it is strongly suggested that Norman Osborn played some small role in whisking M.J.’s baby away and drugging her, or something like that. Don’t think this story has ever been followed up on…

But God, yeah. I think it’s great to see a comic ABOUT marriage in the sense that marriage takes work. Peter and M.J. learn a lot, together. But seeing them get SLAMMED with misery and disappointment about each other over and over, to the brink of her leaving him (yes, they tried this too- before all this Mephisto craziness)…wow.

So yeah. I think we tamper and meddle with things that were already working for this comic, really. Of course, the thing this last decade is symbiotes. Yeah, symbiotes. This has gone a little too far too, at times, I think. Now, I DID dig the whole New Avengers arc where Doom dropped his ‘Symbiote Bomb’ or whatever all over New York. It was insanity. But it was cool.

I’m not sure about the whole slew of symbiote related characters that have been evolving over the last ten year or so, though. Carnage was as far as I think it should have gone. I liked the tension there- Venom is kind of the Anti-Spiderman. But by that, we mean, he isn’t EXACTLY evil- more like he wants to BE Spider-man. Carnage was a nice touch, I think. To really show you just how dangerous symbiotes could be.

And that’s the thing- they WERE dangerous. Venom and Carnage were scary because they could reform their shape to MOVE like Spider-man. And I always thought the whole ‘Anti-Spider-Sense’ thing with Venom was one of things that made him such a scary villain. Spider-man couldn’t rely on his best asset to avoid problems- he really had to FIGHT Venom. Which really played the ‘he has to fight a big, dark, scary version of himself’ thing up.

But now? It’s like Spider-man fights symbiotes every week. Eddie Brock’s ex-wife pulled a stint as ‘SHE-Venom’ (no, I’m not making this up), the ‘Life Foundation’ managed to find some poor, unsuspecting saps to stand in as superhuman bodyguards and merged them with some leftover symbiote goo they had lying around (wasn’t pretty). Carnage even bonded with the Silver Surfer and briefly wielded his self-dubbed Carnage Cosmic.

I do think Toxin (Carnage’s son) was interesting. His struggle to use the symbiote for something other than destruction made for kind of an interesting ‘addiction’ metaphor and made this short-lived Spidey spin-off title a little more sophisticated than you thought it might be. Kudos to co-creator and series writer Peter Milligan (who Toxin’s host, Patrick Mulligan, is aptly named after).

And, for what it’s worth, Spider-man: Web of Shadows, an underrated Spidey video game, featured a whole host of symbiote-seized heroes-turned-nightmares. And I gotta say- symbiote-Wolvie really was pretty cool and freaky.

(Side note- I kind of love the strange-buddy-picture thing Wolverine and Spidey have going these days? Never thought it’d be a team-up I enjoyed so much. But hey, if Cable and Deadpool had a book…)

And now Brock is ANTI-Venom (see picture)? Seriously?? What IS that? What does it even MEAN? I’ve been iffy about this whole Gargan (A.K.A. Scorpion) thing as Venom and Brock as…well, now this, I guess.

I really don’t know how to comment on this last bit. Anyone want to weigh in?