Sometimes, Web Fluid Isn't Just Web Fluid

I was pleasantly surprised on Saturday when I took my eight-year-old to see Spider-Man 2 as a treat for participating in a recent provincial swim meet. I expected the usual comic books for film fare. Something in the neighborhood of the X-Men rather than like the graphic novel adaptation From Hell. What I got was a film in the tradition of the comic book, but with some sophisticated flourishes.

[some spoilers here]

So, we get Peter Parker's familiar guilt about the death of his Uncle Ben, and we revisit his decision to use his supernatural arachnid powers to bring evil-doers to justice. We also get Peter's now familiar regret about sacrificing his relationship with Mary Jane to protect her from the enemies he creates.

However, Peter begins to suffer from impotence--as a superhero. He discovers a startling loss of powers, including the inability to produce web fluid. He is counseled by his physician who sees through Peter's awkward admission of his dysfunction. He tells Peter he is physically sound and that it's probably "all in his head." Peter vows to give up his Spider-Man persona and reclaim control of his life. Easier said than done.

A more controversial accent in the movie depicts Spider-Man's rescue of the passengers of a runaway subway train. Spidey stands at the nose of the train, fires webs at the buildings he shoots past, then restrains the train, arms outstretched, until it at last comes to rest. He assumes the crucifixion position, suffering for those he safeguards, then collapses and is brought into the train by the passengers. He is gently laid to rest in a kind of Subway Pieta (cf. Michgelangelo's Pieta; note wound). He bears lacerations to his lower chest in further homage to Christ's suffering.

I assume that the symbolism in these passages owes its presence to Michael Chabon, who co-wrote the story. Chabon also wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay. The novel was set in Manhattan of the 1930's and 40's during the rise of the comic book industry. Two young cousins, Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, develop a character called the Escapist, a hero who releases the oppressed from their overlords. The book overflows with symbolism about escape, and also uses the Judaic story of the Golem as a metaphor for the boys' creation of their comic book character. The origin story and subsequent Escapist escapades described in the novel have now been adapted into comic books in their own right, by Dark Horse Comics and the full collaboration of Michael Chabon.

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