I think it was an issue of New Avengers where Spider-Man lamented that the villainous force behind their latest struggles was “one of his.” I can’t for the life of me remember which issue it was, or even which villain, but the idea struck me pretty hard then. Heroes in the Marvel Universe do, in a way, have ownership over their villains. Even when they occupy the same city as other heroes, it seems that the baddies of the Marvel-U tend to latch onto one hero and spend most of their time menacing them. So much to the point where if, say, Green Goblin were to go mess with the X-Men for an issue, it’s either going to be a big deal or intrinsically tied to an event that effects the Marvel U across the board (which happened when Norman Osborn became the Iron Patriot and took over… basically everything during Dark Reign).
Many of the heroes have these villains that are almost unique to them – Cap has Red Skull and Arnim Zola, Iron Man has the Mandarin and Whiplash, Wolverine has Sabretooth, and so on. It’s Spider-Man, however, that seems to have the biggest and most personal rogues gallery this side of Batman. Thinking about what makes Spider-Man such a magnet for evildoers got me to thinking about one of my favorite pages in comics.
It’s from “Peter Parker: Spider-Man #47, and it’s written by Paul Jenkins and drawn by Humberto Ramos, who debatably went onto be the current, modern Spider-Man artist. There has actually been a ton written about this page, and I’ve got no philosophy or emotional resonance to add to the cacophony of deserved praise. I do, however, have a comparison.
First, here’s the page:
The first thing I noticed here was, besides being hilarious, is that Norman Osborn is a human… and Spider-Man – despite this dude terrorizing him, threatening his family, and killing Emma Stone in the next movie, probably Gwen Stacy – treats him as such.
And then, I began to draw a parallel. Let’s go back to that Batman comparison. Spidey and Bats are truly unique in that they’ve got multiple arch-nemeses who are equal amounts of obsessed with them. But then, at the core of it, there’s the one. Batman has got the Joker. And, no matter how much Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, Bane, etc etc think they may be the one… it always goes back to the clown. Same for Spider-Man. He’s got the Sinister Six, for Christ’s sake – a collective of villains whose primary goal in life is to @#$% with him. And yet… it all goes back to the guy who killed the girl: Norman Osborn.
This scene in particular made me think of one of the defining Batman/Joker stories: The Killing Joke. Here’s how that one ends*:
* Though, if you’re reading a website about funny books, you probably already knew.
Grant Morrison recently went on a whole thing about how this page means that Batman killed the Joker. I don’t know if there’s any weight to that whatsoever, but I did think it worth mentioning, as the real resolution that follows the “Mr. Coffee” joke in the Spider-Man story spells out why Spider-Man won’t kill Osborn. But killing aside – it’s all in the laughter.
In each page, the villain – the villains – tells his hero a joke. Together, they laugh. Despite the villain in each having cause the hero endless pain, they laugh together. Together, they share this one light moment, knowing that, once it’s over, they’ll go back to their endless dance. It’s fascinating from a character standpoint, and I think both stories shed some light on the villains, but more on the heroes. In Joker’s pursuit of Batman’s downfall, and in Goblin’s pursuit of Spidey’s misery… they have each created relationships that no one else, hero or villain, can understand.
That’s… messed up.
PAT SHAND writes Robyn Hood, Helsing, and a bunch of other things for Zenescope Entertainment. If he were to be a villain, Mr. Coffee would be pretty apropos. He knows how to foam a meaaan cappuccino.