You'll never guess my secret identity

I don’t read comics regularly anymore; I don’t think I ever really did, but there were certainly times when I aspired too. But I do keep my ear to the ground about the recent big developments at Marvel and DC, and Spiderman was always my favorite superhero, so I definitely had to read up on this- Spiderman outs himself to the press:
In the latest edition of the Marvel comic "Civil War" on sale, Spiderman does the unthinkable and removes his Spidey mask to publicly reveal his hidden identity.
“Civil War” is yet another attempt to take the Marvel universe down a more serious path. Now, instead of mutants taking the brunt of the public persecution, the government is demanding that all superheroes register their names and secret identities so they can be policed as “living weapons of mass destruction.” Peter Parker supports the registration, and to prove it, he puts his money where his mouth is and reveals himself to the world.

The title of the Yahoo article is fairly suggestive- Spidey “outs himself”? Huh, that’s deucedly ambiguous of them. It’s like they’re trying to say when a guy tells everybody he likes to dress up in a colorful costume and beat-up strangers who are also wearing colorful costumes, that there’s some sort subtext going on. Like this guy is exiting some sort of wardrobe… If you proceed along that line, there’s some fascinating potential for social commentary. The GOP has basically done everything but label gays as “living weapons”- the whole Marriage Protection Act is certainly suggestive, as one imagines hundreds of thousands of covert homosexuals sneaking into suburban households, hiding wedding rings and covertly adding “Queer as Folk” sets in DVD collections between The Punisher and Quiz Show. The idea that our government, as deeply paranoid and contemptuous as it is of anything even remotely human, would want records kept on anyone who could apparently rip through the fabric of the American Dream simply by their very existence, isn’t beyond the realm of plausibility.

View it as a comic book story, though, and I have my doubts. Like I said, Spidey is my favorite; he’s funny, he’s a geek, and he’s making time with this smokin’ redhead, so what’s not to love? Also important- unlike Batman and Superman and others, he’s basically a nobody in his day-to-day life. This has diminished somewhat over the years (see afore mentioned smokin’ redhead), but at the character’s best, he’s got bills to pay, a lousy love-life, and his boss is making his life hell in and out of costume. One of the biggest problems Peter has faced in the past couple of decades has been the inability of writers to keep his personal life turbulent without resorting to extraordinarily convoluted lengths, including the pointless resurrection of a long dead arch-nemesis and the dread Clone Saga, who’s name can still set geeks like myself into paroxysms of fury. When they weren’t trying to solve the problem by making it worse, they were marrying Parker off, so the former loser- the guy who had such an everyday life outside of super-heroing you couldn’t help identify with him- was now hitched to a superstar model, and gliding down Easy Street.

This new revelation, well, it could go either way. Obviously it’s going to lead to some new complications in his life, which means story possibilities, but it also means losing Spidey’s status as an outsider, and I don’t think that’s such a good idea. If Peter Parker was the main character in a limited series of some sort, or a novel, or a movie trilogy, it would be a fine plot twist- but the problem with iconic characters in serial stories with basically no conclusions is that dramatic changes like this will inevitably be retroactively removed from continuity (retconned, for those in the know) the moment a new creative team comes on board and decides they prefer the “classic” Spidey. It’s basically impossible to trust any change that seriously alters the public perception of the character; like the infamous DC Deaths of the mid-90’s (okay, technically Batman didn’t die, just got his back broke, but you know what I mean), so many of these story events are simply short-lived publicity stunts designed to raise public consciousness of struggling series, at the cost of the patience of long-term readers.

This could work for a while, though. A few years back, J. Michael Straczynski had the balls to let Aunt May discover Peter’s secret, and it re-invigorated the character; for the first time in forever, May was a vibrant, dynamic personality, and not just a walking punchline. A bold step like this doesn’t automatically mean failure, and if the writers are able to use this new paradigm to revitalize Spidey and keep true to the core of what made him popular in the first place, this might actually be more than just comic nerd minutiae to scare the squares a decade from now.

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