The Amazing Spider-Man

When your heroes are creators of heroes

Artist Gary Frank puts the finishing touches on his sketch of Superman at the DC Comics booth at San Diego Comic-Con. Frank was just one of hundreds of artists at the convention that took place at the San Diego Convention Center this past weekend.
Artist Gary Frank puts the finishing touches on his sketch of Superman at the DC Comics booth at San Diego Comic-Con. Frank was just one of hundreds of artists at the convention that took place at the San Diego Convention Center this past weekend.

Most people dream of someday meeting their childhood idols, getting the chance to breathe the same air and shower praises on the people they looked up to since they were children. For many, this materializes in a musical artist, talented actor or sports icon.

This isn’t the case for me.

Growing up, I read my collection of “The Amazing Spider-Man” from cover to cover countless times, marveling at the precise strokes of the pencil that formed into the webbing ejecting from Spider-Man’s web shooters. I would stare in awe at the way artists would portray Superman’s red, majestic cape on the pages of “Superman.”

I had the opportunity to meet many of my idols at San Diego Comic-Con. This may seem like a pretty simple task, right? Just wait in line for a few minutes and hand over your copy of “Spawn” #1, and Todd McFarlane would sprawl his signature on the cover that he drew nearly 20 years prior. This is not the case at Comic-Con. My journey to acquire their scribbled names on a piece of paper included waiting in line for nearly two hours to board a pirate ship docked at the marina and running across the exhibition floor within the five minutes before I was kicked out at closing time.

Was it worth it? I can say, without a doubt, hell yes. I have never been as happy in my life as when Todd McFarlane signed my near-mint copies of “Spawn” #1 and “Spider-Man” #1. While I was probably just another wide-eyed fan to him, he was one of my biggest idols growing up.

Unfortunately, I come bearing bad tidings. Not all of these idols of mine lived up to expectations. Upon hearing Geoff Johns, current creative director at DC Comics, speak at a panel about “Trinity War,” a story arc currently unfolding across three of DC’s flagship titles, I couldn’t help but think that he sounded like a disgusted rock star. It was almost like he didn’t want to be there, among his adoring fans who spent an hour in line to gain access to the panel. As soon as the panel ended, I ran up to the front to get the convention exclusive print of “Justice League” #22 signed by him, upon which he illegibly scribbled his name.

Listen, I know you’re busy Geoff. But we are your fans. Your true believers. The ones that go to our local comic shop every Wednesday to pick up the newest issue of the multiple titles that you lend your talent to. Show a little appreciation for us.

Outside of Mr. Johns, the rest of the creative talent that I was able to meet and greet was very humble and grateful of our love for their work. I was able to watch another idol of mine, Gary Frank, sketch his rendition of Superman at the DC Comics booth. It was amazing to see the techniques that he employs to bring static images to life on the page.

Probably the most humble of them all was Scott Snyder, the current scribe of “Batman” and “Superman Unchained.” At a panel for the upcoming issues of “Batman,” Snyder expressed his gratitude for his fans, referring to us all as one “family.” From his description of the upcoming story, you can easily tell that he has been a fan of comics since he was a child. You can tell that he has had these ideas in his head for decades, and he couldn’t wait to get the chance to tell them to the world.

And maybe that’s why his fans love him so much – he’s just another dorky nerd like the rest of us.

 

(Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Back when Sony announced “The Amazing Spider-Man” as a reboot of the franchise after director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire bailed on a potential fourth installment, they might have been a little off. After all, a reboot implies a reinvention, and while “The Amazing Spider-Man” makes a few small tweaks to its hero’s origins, it’s really a remake of “Spider-Man,” a mere 10 years after that film hit theaters.

If you saw the 2002 original, or have any familiarity with Spider-Man’s history, you know most of the story already. The smart yet awkward Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a radioactive spider, one that gives him the ability to climb walls and impossibly fast reflexes. He learns the consequences of his powers after his Uncle Ben’s (Martin Sheen) death, and dedicates his life to fighting crime. “The Amazing Spider-Man” mixes in a few new elements, namely Peter’s interest in the circumstances that resulted in his living with his aunt and uncle. This ultimately leads him to Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose obsession with growing back a missing arm leads to his becoming the Lizard, a scaly, near-immortal beast.

In their reinvention of the franchise, Sony went with “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb. This could have been a total disaster, throwing a rookie director into very deep water, but Webb rises to the challenge admirably. His strongest scenes are still the bumbling, sweet moments when Peter and his crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) get to flirt with one another. However, Webb also delivers an exciting, satisfying spectacle of a finale, and his use of the film’s Manhattan setting, particularly as Peter is first learning about his powers, is a franchise best. Webb also made some truly inspired casting choices, ranging from Martin Sheen’s warm take on Uncle Ben to Denis Leary, whose role lacks his trademark bite but still manages to play out an interesting, vital character arc.

Garfield was an interesting choice for Peter Parker, cast long before Garfield started amassing Oscar buzz for his performance in “The Social Network,” and he nails the character’s trademark awkward charisma. His take on Spider-Man is much more humorous than Maguire’s, and much more fun to watch. Garfield plays Parker as much smarter than the original films gave him credit for as well, something that comes across in small details like Garfield’s boyish face in his father’s oversized glasses, or in the big ones like the web shooters Parker builds for himself.

Casting Stone was another bold move, especially when they asked her to play Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s love interest from the first three films. However, so early in the story, the characters are more or less interchangeable, and the gracelessly charming way Peter relates to his love interests is more or less the same with both characters.

A major problem with “The Amazing Spider-Man” is, frankly, that there’s no reason it couldn’t just be “Spider-Man 4.” The James Bond films get away with recasting their hero without much confusion, so why can’t superhero films adapt to the same standard? The Raimi films had also spent time setting up Dylan Baker’s Curtis Connors, who Raimi planned to transform into the Lizard this time around, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see Baker’s take on the villain. While Ifans is perfectly fine in the role, it seems to demand a subtle creepiness that Baker could have delivered.

More importantly, “The Amazing Spider-Man” spends half its runtime telling the exact same story that “Spider-Man” told just 10 years ago. Audiences may have short memories, but it’s still a waste of time to tell Spider-Man’s origin story if you’re just going to wheel out the exact same narrative with a few cosmetic tweaks to it. “The Amazing Spider-Man” may not be telling a particularly new or original story, but thankfully, Webb still keeps it exciting, coaxes strong performances out of each of his actors, and crafts a familiar but entertaining superhero film that will surely keep you sated until “The Dark Knight Rises” hits later this month.