Thursday, January 10, 2019

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

In the salad days of my university education (mid-80s) I would decompress from the mid-term/end-term paper/examination boot-camp by reading schmutz. Dashiell Hammett was a recent discovery, but often I just reached for the nearest Louis L'Amour novel — or, if I was pressed for time, I'd re-watch the first five minutes of Silverado.

More often than that, though, I retreated to comic books.

It was the Dour Renaissance — thank you, Frank Millerwhich I was certainly digging at the time. But there was a single omnibus from 1971 that stood out as my go-to source of escapism. From one of the 'Peg's seedier comic book stores I'd picked up a used, super-cheap, extra-large edition of Spider-Man's “Six-Arm Saga.”
Stan Lee takes credit for the storyline, a claim that's probably not too far removed from the truth — it's goofy enough to be the sort of whimsy that occurred to him between his second cup of coffee and his morning walk to the office.

Following a run of misfortunes, Peter Parker decides he's done being Spider-Man. He retreats to the lab and pours chemicals from one test-tube to the next, until he finally arrives at — the formula that will cure him of his spider-powers! Throwing caution to the wind, Peter gulps it down, takes an impromptu nap, and. . .
The story that follows is an adroit balance of knowing camp and soap-opera melodrama. You can't take seriously a Spider-Man who suddenly grows two extra pairs of (very muscular) arms out of his rib-cage — especially not when he quips about becoming Kafka's punchline.

But then he climbs out his window and swings off to find a scientist who can help him tweak the formula to meet its proper function, and . . . he flies out of control because the extra weight of his (very muscular) arms throws him off his stride.

These little details matter.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gets all the little details — and there are sooo many little details — exactly right. And it walks the fine line of batty cartoon caper/serious coming-of-age drama perfectly. When I left the theatre with my youngest, our first impulse was to dive into the many ways this film highlights just how woefully the Disney-Marvel universe has painted itself into a tiny, joyless corner.

I might yet get into that. But for now I'm just grateful to have this film resurrect the cartoon goofiness and emotional earnestness that only Stan Lee could bring to the bedrooms of alienated shut-ins and deadline-frazzled university students alike.
"You know, this story could really use another pair of arms..."


Joel Swagman said...

I haven't seen the new Spiderverse movie yet, but...
I also got my Spiderman education in grad school. I spent hours reading Spiderman comic book collections in the library while I was supposed to be researching my thesis.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Library"?? Oooooo -- jealous! Most libraries were not yet hip to comic book omnibuses, and the other fellas reading comics at that time were not at all inclined to "loan out" items from their collections. These pristine babies were going to earn us a fortune, don't you know!

Whisky Prajer said...

BTW, Joel, I have no doubt you will have an absolute gas watching this movie. If at all possible, it should be seen on the big screen. I know that's asking a lot of a new father, but I'll just put it out there, regardless.

Joel Swagman said...

Yeah, I may have to wait for video on this one. But I will track it down eventually.