The Mask’s The Thing: Thoughts On Spider-Man And His New Look
Being a Spider-Man fan is akin to being the languishing antagonist in a blues song. Every reboot of the franchise, every convoluted plot overstuffed with villains and CGI, every tease of a diverse casting choice for Peter Parker that turns out to be just that, a tease, is like sipping a bourbon on the rocks in a sweaty, suffocating room while Billie Holiday’s “I’m a Fool to Want You” vibrates from your stereo. What other lyrics besides “time and time again I said I’d leave you” resonate more with readers of Spider-Man comics?
Like many in my generation, my love for the character started in 1994 with the Fox animated series aptly titled Spider-Man. From that moment, I read every Spider-Man comic I could get my hands on, including back issues collected in large volumes or stuffed into plastic bags and filed away in boxes at my local comic book store. I was engaged in the swashbuckling adventures of Peter Parker and his constant romantic foils, my first introduction to the world of soap opera. But more than that, I was mesmerized by Steve Ditko’s original design of the character. Ditko, the comic-book artist who created Spider-Man with Stan Lee, drew Spidey with large, exaggerated eyes, outlined in black. The simple red-and-blue costume. It’s iconic—in the traditional sense of the word, not the way the word is thrown around today—for a reason.
In 2002, when Sam Raimi’s version of Spider-Man was released, Sony Pictures gave the costume a modern update. Spidey’s eyes, while exaggerated, were more silver in tone than white. And the entire costume was covered in a metallic webbing design, in order to make it more sleek and sexy like blockbusters of the late ’90s/early ’00s necessitated. The similarity to the original design, however, is what indicated that Raimi would be faithful to the comics, and his movies reflected that. By contrast, the Marc Webb reboot of Spider-Man tinkered with the costume again, to diminishing returns. Spidey keeps the mask off for most of the film, anyway, to showcase Andrew Garfield’s cheekbones (stunning as they may be), and the new look didn’t really feel like a nod to the past, despite the high school setting of The Amazing Spider-Man. The sequel was a critical bomb, and no one was too excited when Sony announced it would reboot the franchise again, only with the help of Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This time, fan campaigns for a diverse Spider-Man started; either that, or give us Miles Morales. But, Sony being Sony, they went with Tom Holland, an 18-year-old British kid, and everyone’s faith in the future of Spidey was dashed once more. Within 15 years, we’d seen two different versions of Spider-Man, and the one people responded to most was the half-black, half-Hispanic Spider-Man in the comic books.
But what’s the thing about love? Even when it’s bad, you’re still addicted? Fervor for Captain America: Civil War has built, and despite it being filled to the brim with cameos from nearly everyone in the Marvel Universe, the idea that Spider-Man might appear in the movie was exciting. Disney hasn’t disappointed like Sony has. Could Disney help guide Sony’s depiction of Spider-Man to a place fans might love? Yeah, it could.
When Spidey pops up in the new Civil War trailer, he’s very much reminiscent of the one you first fell in love with. When you see those Ditko-inspired eyes, enlarged almost to Deadpool lengths (itself a parody of Spidey’s costume), every other costume redesign fades from memory. And that’s how love works, isn’t it? When things get bad, you remember the good times. After countless film disappointments from Marvel’s best-known superhero, taking him back to his roots is the best way to get everyone excited about him again. So when Spidey stares at the camera, bats his bulbous eyes, and says, “Hey, everyone,” he’s not just talking to the Avengers, he’s talking to us. So we welcome him back into our hearts. And hope he won’t hurt us again.