September 16, 2014 1 Comment
I posted to Facebook on Saturday about how much Benjamin loves Ultimate Spider-Man, which we watch together on Netflix.
Nick Ford wrote in the comments, “I’ve heard really mixed things about USM. How do you like it, Bk?”
I find that I can’t track down anything on Facebook that’s older than a week or two, so it makes sense to me to move some of my longer thoughts back over to this blog:
I have really mixed feelings about Ultimate Spider-Man, but none of them make the show any less entertaining. It is very smartly put together and cleverly written. Benjamin absolutely loves it, but he loves other shows that I can’t sit through 5 minutes of. I find USM a pleasure to watch. Any kid who has seen Marvel’s recent movies will be happy to see the Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor visiting the show. Even Wolverine has made an appearance, though unfortunately he was wearing the silly yellow costume. This can’t be done on the big screen yet, because Marvel doesn’t hold the feature-film rights to Spider-Man: they licensed those rights to Sony, who holds onto them tenaciously.
For kids who don’t already know Spider-Man or the Marvel universe, USM is especially well done. Peter Parker is still in high school, struggling with the tamer side of teen issues, and constantly breaking the 4th wall to chat with the viewer. More than that: even in the middle of what would otherwise be intense scenes, the show will shift into Peter Parker’s mind, where everything looks like video games, anime, and juvenile comic-strip characters — including a big-rounded-headed sort of Muppet Babies version of Spider-Man. In the main story, Spider-Man is self-centered and overconfident; in Parker’s head, he’s goofy and self-effacing. The show knows how to switch back and forth with a timing that never lets things get too intense for 8yo Benjamin, or too goofy for his dad.
My main problem with the show is its premise: Spider-Man and his teen-hero comrades are all government agents. Yes, JJ Jameson still libels him as a criminal, and the cops consider him a vigilante at best, but in the end he’s a G-man with the full force of Nick Fury and SHIELD as backup. He even has access to the high-tech gadgetry of SHIELD’s equivalent of Q division.
I wrote a blog post last January about Batman vs James Bond. In that dichotomy, I think Spider-Man should be much more like Batman. But “Ultimate” Spider-Man is James Bond Junior.
Nick read my Batman vs James Bond post and disagreed vehemently:
Now that I’ve read your article I realize we have some pretty strong disagreements here…
For one thing I don’t think Batman fights for the people (as much as he might claim this sometimes). He fights for himself and his own idea of justice as well the idea that no one should suffer what *he* went through.
As far as I can tell Batman is a revenge on Gotham. It has done nothing but attract more people to the “challenge” of Batman. He attracts way more villains than he defeats and Gotham always represents darkness, paradise lost and defeat. It notably doesn’t represent success even if Bruce himself does (while, notably, most of the population seems to live in destitution or barely getting by).
“…but I can’t recall Batman ever even picking on drug users.”
I know you were probably alive in the 80s (and I certainly wasn’t) so I am surprised you never saw Batman beat up drug users. Comics certainly have a infamous history of depicting drugs and alcohol (think: Tony Stark’s infamous alcoholism and Green Arrow’s sidekicks addiction to heroin, etc.). Batman and Anarky (a favorite character of mine) both attack drug users in Anarky’s debut issue.
“For Batman, as for libertarians, a crime isn’t a crime without a victim.”
This isn’t true either. Batman has *constantly* interrogated “criminals” who he only *suspects* are doing something wrong. He does this in The Dark Knight Returns and he does it almost everywhere. He does it even when they aren’t violating rights or even if he just thinks they have some information that he needs. Batman tortures…a *lot*.
An example of this (though it’s Dick Grayson under the cape and cowl, not Bruce but whatever, the MO remaisn the same):
I’d also argue against that The Dark Knight Returns *doesn’t* depict a libertarian Batman.
At this point in his life Bruce is an outlaw, true. And the government doesn’t like him much and he rebels against that, also true. But there’s no libertarianism here. Just because the government doesn’t like someone and they’re doing something they declare illegal (vigilantism) doesn’t mean we should consider them libertarians.
Batman has nothing *inherently* against the structure or order that the government and police have set up. Sure, he may not want “corruption” but as soon as James Gordon takes over it he pretty much takes it for granted (with some exceptions of course) that the police and him are working together to rid the streets of Gotham with crime.
Batman more actively works together with the state and its agents then against it. And even when he *does* go against it it isn’t for any libertarian reasons. He just wants to be a vigilante and that doesn’t mean he’s a libertarian.
On another note, Frank Miller is a goddamn fascist personally (see: his comments on Occupy Wall St and his book “Holy Terror”) and I very much doubt he had anything more than the lone-hero and rugged individual in mind when he wrote TDKR.
“But while WayneCorp may well have risen on government contracts, Batman is not on the payroll. Bruce Wayne is spending his own money to fund his war on crime. This may put him in the ranks of the feudal warriors, but it sets him apart from agent 007.”
Due to how intertwined big business and the government is I don’t think you could reasonably contend that Bruce is only relying on his money for these things.