This week, Keb continues his look at how writers break superheroes with a reading of Mark Millar's work on the Wall Crawler.
Okay so I recently dug up the first twelve issues of Marvel Knights Spider-Man by Mark Millar and the Dodsons (and Frank Cho). Obviously it’s a story about Spider-man’s secret identity being discovered by one of his B-list villains and then having his life turned upside-down in the process.
I will credit Millar for making a very interesting Spider-man story even if it wasn’t the most prolific I’ve read in years. What I really enjoy about the story (aside from the standard Mark Millar gratuitous violence) is how Peter beats the crap out of himself internally for letting someone discover his secret identity. While the repercussions aren’t nearly as extreme as in Daredevil: Born Again, Peter manages to keep his life intact and I really have to appreciate that Millar didn’t absolutely destroy Spider-man in the name of storytelling.
Much like Bendis does in his Daredevil run, Spider-man and Peter Parker both find themselves surrounded by supportive people. Mary Jane, as ever, stands by Peter’s side and the Black Cat even returns to lend a helping hand. These characters that surround Peter help him keep his sanity and prove that one extremely important element to destroying the superhero through his secret identity is to take away his support system.
It becomes apparent that if even one piece of that support group comes loose, the hero begins to fall apart. In this story, Norman Osborn and the mysterious B-lister kidnap Aunt May and taunt the shit out of Peter after he puts Norman behind bars. The kidnapping of Aunt May eventually spirals into another group of messes that Spider-man has to effectively clean up without falling apart at the seams.
The element of Millar’s story that I love most is how sacred Spider-man’s identity becomes in his world. When J. Jonah Jameson issues the five million dollar reward for a picture of Spider-man without his mask, the entire city turns against Spider-man not because of he is evil or mean, but because at the heart, the inhabitants of the city are only concerned with themselves. It brilliantly highlights the selflessness of the superhero and the ungratefulness of those he sacrifices himself for.
Pair that with the fact that Spider-man’s villains are trying to find ways to destroy him from inside and out, and you actually have a pretty swell Spider-man story. My only fear is that everything happening to Spider-man seems to be just for the simple joy of the writer pulling him apart. Millar knows how to break superheroes and does so with Spider-man in his run. However, the intentions of the story arc aren’t simply to break Spider-man but to also reveal a more sinister plot behind Spider-man’s rogues. This subplot of how villains came to be and the idea of Norman Osborn “knowing where they buried the bodies” feels like Millar trying to up the ante in his story.
This is what bothers me about most of Mark Millar’s work. There has to be an extremity to it, as if the stakes weren’t high enough, he takes everything overboard. What it actually does is leave Spider-man in the cold with no idea of how things really work. However, knowing this doesn’t put Spider-man at an advantage or disadvantage in any way. In fact, it has absolutely no effect and seems like an excessive plot point that Millar just threw in to kill time.
What bothers me about this story is how it does not change anything. After a subpar battle with Norman Osborn that has Mary Jane replacing Gwen Stacy and a brainwashed Doc Ock acting as the X-factor, we see Spider-man go right back to his normal life. Not even the knowledge of who backs his super-villains affects his outlook after this story arc. It really makes me wonder if Millar’s intention was to really break him or to just write the Spider-man story that he wanted to write. At the end of the story, it doesn’t feel like Spider-man was broken at all.