The Spider-Man Who Dies

Curator's Note

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a smart work of fan service. Viewers smile at the in-jokes and enjoy the company of several charming iterations of the Spider-Hero: Miles Morales, the half-Latino/half-black teenager, a son of a police officer and attendee of one of New York’s magnet schools; Peter B. Parker, the just-short-of-middle-age Jewish man with a tragic sense of humor; Spider-Ham, whose name is self-explanatory; the Japanese Peni Parker; the sullen Spider-Gwen; and the goofy Spider-Man Noir. In the after-credits sequence, we meet the limited-animated Spider-Man of the late 1960s television series. Then there’s a blonde, blue-eyed 26-year-old Peter Parker, voiced by Chris Pine, Hollywood’s most boring leading man. Peter B. Parker, who self-medicates by overeating after a devastating divorce, calls him “perfect.” Most of the Spider-Somethings are goofball misfits. Three have clear non-white-Anglo-Saxon markers. Two are female. One is an animal. One is voiced by Nicolas Cage. They get to live. The master-race Spider-Man is boring. He dies in the first act, which is just fine with me, and most Spider-Agonists.

Spider-Man is not Superman. He’s the superhero who could be you. The film updates the phrase for a more inclusive era: “Anyone can wear the mask.” I hear “Anyone” and I think “Everyman.” Everyman is mortal. Everyman suffers. Everyman dies. When Superman was introduced in the 1930s, Scott Bukatman writes that he “appeared with his invulnerable body: the body that retains no marks, on which history cannot be inscribed.” JoséAlaniz, in his study of death, disability, and the superhero, notes the tensions between the economic impulses to deny popular superheroes their mortality, as well as the increasing presence of death and the aging process that marked the Silver Age of comics in the late 1950s and 1960s. Death stalked Spider-Man throughout the first ten years of his career, in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man.His uncle died, as did the father of Gwen Stacy, his love interest, and then Gwen herself. Spider-Agonists simultaneously believe and disbelieve in their heroes’ mortalities. The only Spider-Man whose death they can accept is the Spider-Man who is “perfect,” who is No-Man.

José Alaniz, Death, Disability and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

Scott Bukatman, Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20thCentury. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

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