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Untangling the Web?

We take a tongue-in-cheek look at the glut of web-spinners on the stands

By Arnold T. Blumberg     April 17, 2002

Cover art to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #15
© 2001 Marvel Comics
The impossible has happened. Marvel has seen several of its major properties adapted in some solidly entertaining motion pictures, and now, after decades of waiting and wondering, we are about to see the flagship hero of the Marvel Universe swinging his way into theaters. Spider-Man is about to arrive at long last.

Ah, but not entirely. Naturally, this isn't the same Spidey I grew up with, nor is he the one who's been kicking around the current Spider-titles of late. This is an all-new "movie" Spider-Man, and as we all know, comic book fans can be very touchy about this kind of thing, particularly when it concerns a character they hold close to their webbed little hearts. But organic web shooters and Power Ranger-style Green Goblins aside (grr, still can't get over that one), this movie Spider-Man looks pretty damn close, and the basic plot does seem to preserve the elements that made the original Spidey's origin so potent.

But what happens when a fresh-faced moviegoer who has never so much as cracked a Spider-cover walks out of the theater this summer and says, "Wow! That Spider-Guy was amazing (heh heh)! I simply have to read more!" He then dutifully strides into the nearest comic shop, pores over the racks for that familiar red and blue suit, and finds...what exactly?

Aw, isn't he the cutest thing? Heads up, true believers, it's the Mangaverse SPIDER-MAN. Cover to #1 pictured.

Well, for one thing, he'll see the comic book movie adaptation by Stan Lee and Alan Davis. "Ah yes, there he is! But this is the story I just saw, what else can I read about this spectacular superhero?" He might then pick up an issue of AMAZING. "Hmm, not quite the same suit, but he must be...no wait, this Peter Parker is much older...married to Mary Jane? Separated? What the..."

His search continues, and he finds an issue of something called ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. "Hmm, this seems right, but he's a bit too young. Hey, that Goblin looks like some kind of monster! What's this over here? MANGAVERSE??? Why does Spider-Man look like a hydrocephalic midget?"

And as the camera pulls up and away from our hapless new comic shop consumer, copies of every incarnation of Spider-Man swirling around his feet as he shakes his fists at the skies and screams "Noooo," what then are we to learn from this little parable? Simple: While Marvel believes they're ready to capture the hearts and minds of all those filmgoers primed to seek out stories about this arachnid adventurer, they've set themselves and the customers up for some serious heartbreak. Exactly which Spider-Man are they meant to find?

The first appearance of the Green Goblin in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #14.

Sure, industry types would have you believe that a new reader will walk in cold, understand that all these different versions of the same character are meant to provide newcomers with a hero tailor-made for them, and logically select their favorite. But some of us believe that this is wishful thinking. If there was only one choice - one true Spider-Man, as there was in the Old Time - there would be a much greater chance of some of these people sticking around to read a few issues. But I doubt this will happen. It's likelier that faced with the frustration of not knowing where to turn, these prospective comic consumers will simply shrug, walk back out, and wait for SPIDER-MAN 2 to hit theaters. That's the Spider-Man they know anyway.

Spider-Man and newfound ally Ezekiel battle Morlun in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #34

Back in the day, of course, there was only one Spider-Man. That's right, one Spider-Man and one Peter Parker, and I'm not even talking about the Spider-Man Era BC (Before Clones). No, I mean there was only one Spider-Man for every Spider-Man title on the stands, and he was a busy little arachnid. Forget the WHAT IF? permutations - the main continuity featured a single wall-crawler. But in the last few years, the floodgates have opened and the sort of multiverse proliferation that once made DC editors panic has taken over the Marvel way of thinking.

First, they handed Spidey off to Retcon Master John Byrne, who proceeded to assassinate the classic continuity with the debacle that was CHAPTER ONE, an attempted reset that was so awful, Marvel now denies it ever happened and quietly works under the policy that CHAPTER ONE does not apply to the current "mainline" Spider-Man. Evidently the Clone Saga taught them something.

Then the ULTIMATE line was launched, supposedly to reintroduce classic Marvel heroes to new, younger readers, although sales and reviews would suggest that the real reader base is composed of old-timers eager to see a new take on their favorite heroes. Under the stewardship of scribe Brian Michael Bendis, the younger ULTIMATE Spidey is an exciting character, but he presents a problem for those who wander into that hypothetical comic shop expecting to find one comic book about Spider-Man.

The 2nd SPIDER-MAN movie one-sheet.

Ah, but it gets better. The recent MANGAVERSE launch has introduced yet another alternate Spider-Man, this one a rather cutesy would-be samurai warrior who shares the original Spidey's loyalty and dedication to justice but is otherwise an entirely different character. Now, with the arrival of the feature film adaptation of our beloved wall crawler - and you knew the movie would have to be translated back into comic book form, right? - we have an even more pronounced dilemma. For the foreseeable future, we will certainly have the movie Spider-Man as well as the multiple versions of Spidey that appear in the countless comic book series on the market. Let's not even talk about the forthcoming new cartoon spin-off of the movie universe (sort of) that's also on the way, and let's try to forget that somewhere out there, if you're lucky enough to have a newspaper that runs it, there's a Spider-Man daily strip that also maintains its own independent continuity. What's a fledgling Spider-phile to do? Run away in blind fear, most likely.

Perhaps Marvel should consider providing comic shops with some continuity-savvy interns to stand at the doorway and guide the movie converts in their selection of that perfect Spider-Man for their reading needs. After all, it's Marvel's fault that there are so many versions to choose from, and if they wish to exercise the power to generate so many alternate Spider-Men, they have to remember: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.


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