I found "The Amazing Spider-Man" unnecessary, as its rehashing of Peter Parker's origin story felt unoriginal enough to merit claims the movie was a cash grab and nothing more. Its redeeming factor was the charming romance between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (both on- and off-screen). But at the end of the day, I don't have much desire to head to the theaters for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" because I've seen a bunch of Spidey stories already. I know Peter Parker, I know his world, I know who lives and dies in that world, and I understand that "with great power comes great responsibility."
To be fair, the "ASM" franchise has been tweaking the wall-crawler's formula somewhat. In the first film, Peter Parker learned that his separation from his parents was less a tragic accident and more a motivated act of villainy by corporate forces. Such revelations made his own spider-bitten journey towards heroism less the result of a freak accident, and more a moment to be atoned for and reckoned with. Gone was the idea that Peter was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Entering was the thought that his responsibilities were determined long before birth, not chosen as a milestone of maturity. This scenario laid on the guilt for Peter (as if his Uncle Ben's death wasn't enough), giving him more motivation, and grounding the ridiculous idea of being bitten by a radioactive spider in something akin to reality.
I find this change puzzling. The power in Spider-Man's narrative has always come from the fact that he was never destined to be anything great. He had terrible Peter Parker luck. Then an accident happened, and he needed to step up and do what he could to help others. This is a common structure for all classic Marvel tales. Bruce Banner is caught in a gamma bomb explosion; he becomes the Hulk. Matt Murdock is blinded while pushing an old man out of the way of an oncoming truck; he gains super-senses and dons the Daredevil costume. The Fantastic Four ride through space dust and get all invisible and stretchy and flame-covered and Thing-like. Contrast these "accidents happen" tales with the prevailing structure at DC, home to more iconic characters. Clark Kent is primed to save Earth because his parents sent him to a planet that would give him powers. Wonder Woman acts as ambassador to man's world because she proved herself the champion of the Amazons. Even in Batman, there exist stories where the mugger who killed his parents was hired to do so by a mob boss with ties to Thomas Wayne. Very little in DC's universe is random, whereas almost everything in Marvel's universe is -- or was, in the sixties when the company rose to prominence.
Spider-Man's conceit is not that he is destined to be a hero, but that he is a nobody who becomes a hero. Take that to its furthest conclusion, to a child's fantasy world. If Peter Parker starts out as a nobody, that means Spider-Man could be ANYBODY, including the reader. That is what makes Spider-Man attractive, that is what makes his popularity endure. He's less about how the pieces fit together, and more about how the chips fall where they may, and he'll do the best he can to rescue a situation.
That concluded, it's been interesting to track the PR campaign ramping up to the "ASM 2" release. Despite the essential changes already made to Peter Parker's story, the producers feel a strong loyalty to Spider-Man as a brand. In a recent interview, producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach vowed that only Peter Parker would don the footie pajamas and head sock in their series of "Amazing Spider-Man" movies. This promise was made after the two were asked whether or not Miles Morales, the Spider-Man of Marvel's Ultimate Comics line, would ever appear in their films. For those who don't know, Miles Morales is an African-American/Latino teenager, who received spider powers by accident after his felonious uncle deposited a stolen radioactive spider near him. Miles is scared when his powers emerge and hides his new-found abilities from his family. He only takes up the mantle of Spider-Man after witnessing Peter Parker's death. Upon his debut, Miles received praise and scorn. Some on the Internet cried "tokenism." Others appreciated Miles' sympathetic worries and guilt. In light of the 2008 presidential election, Marvel EIC Axel Alonso felt it was time to bring more diversity to comics, and believed starting with a flagship character made the most sense. I, for one, find Miles a great character; he is serious like Peter, and has two tons of integrity. His perspective is not one you see throughout mainstream comics. He lives in a predominantly non-white New York, and the pressure on him to succeed academically is enormous, far outweighing what Peter ever experienced. His tough relationships with his parents and amoral uncle were a big draw into his world for me, as was his relationship with his best friend Ganke Lee, a rabid Lego and superhero fan. Miles exists in a world that doesn't trust anybody in a costume, and his troubles are doubled when he crosses universes and meets the adult Peter Parker we know! The meeting of the two Spider-Men planted a corporate crossover seed I can't believe hasn't been harvested yet. What is the hold-up? That miniseries sold well; clearly, comics can support two Spider-Men. Why can't the movies? Shouldn't it be imperative they do so?
Ultimate Spider-Man scribe Brian Michael Bendis recently pointed out that he hears stories all the time about how children of color were never allowed to "be" Superman or Batman when playing at superheroics with friends. They could, however, play Spider-Man, because his body is always covered head to toe; no one in the public knows his ethnicity in the way they know Superman's and Batman's. Again, Spider-Man can BE ANYBODY. So why would the producers shy away from that possibility, disastrous Clone Saga aside? There's a whole potential audience out there that would love to see a person of color as Spider-Man. And just because the brand's always been sold with a white dude, that doesn't mean it needs to stay that way. The make-up of America is changing rapidly, and our stories need to change with that make-up. If the fantasy inherent in Marvel tales is less about determinism and more about potential, there's no reason Miles Morales shouldn't get a shot at the big screen, too.
Spider-Men #1: Brian Michael Bendis, Writer; Sara Pichelli, Artist; Justin Ponsor, Colorist; Cory Petit, Letterer.