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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics


Once again Hollywood has kindly released a superhero movie during my spring term Superheroes course at Washington & Lee University. So my students abandoned our classroom and strolled downtown to our smallville big screen. Here’s their (SPOILER ALERT!) verdict.

Tyler Wenger: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2 found the perfect balance between comedy and tragedy. What Parker lacks in raw power, compared to his villains, he makes up for in his wit. Andrew Garfield portrays this comical side of the Web-head perfectly, a drastic change from the original Toby McGuire trilogy (sorry, old sport). He uses his comedy as a weapon—taunting Electro by calling him “sparky” and brazenly provoking the Rhino, causing both to attack rashly—and as a shield, protecting him and allowing him to bounce back from his many losses.”

Ali Towne: “The Amazing Spiderman 2, although in most ways a classic example of the superhero archetype, does break away from superhero norms. In one of its greatest divergences, Gwen Stacy, the love interest, is killed during a battle with the super villain Electro; Spiderman is not capable of saving her. This is entirely different from the normal superhero trope in which the superhero saves the “damsel in distress”.  By breaking this norm, the writers gave both Spiderman and Gwen a sense of fallibility, mortality and, therefore, humanity that is often lacking in many superhero narratives.”

Joy Putney: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shows that heroes and villains are two sides of the same coin, and that their differing motivations determine whether they use their powers for good or evil. Electro wanted to be noticed, and he felt the only way he could achieve that was to remove Spider-Man from the spotlight. Harry Osborn wanted a cure for his disease, and when Spider-Man would not give it, he tried to destroy Spider-Man too. Both villains were driven by selfish desires. Only Spider-Man was selfless; that made him a hero.”​

John Carrick: “The Amazing Spiderman 2 was an exciting film that had plenty of action packed scenes and just the right amount of added romance between Gwen and Peter.  I enjoyed how the plot allowed Gwen to actually help Peter in his role as Spiderman.  She was able to help him figure out that magnetizing his web shooters would allow them to hold a charge.  She also helps save him from Electro and helps Peter figure out that they must kill Electro by overloading his charge capacity.  Although, at the end of the movie, I was very disappointed that they actually let Gwen die.”

Sam Bramlett:  “The Amazing Spiderman 2 is an interesting film in that it follows many traditional superhero tropes to the letter yet twisting the outcomes of these tropes to create greater emotional impact. For example, both main villains (Green Goblin and Electro) are classic examples of friend turned enemy, the Green Goblin being an old schoolmate of Peter Parker and Electro at one point being virtually obsessed with Spiderman. Another example, it is clear that while Gwen Stacy helps Spiderman save the day, she is indeed a damsel in distress. However, the movie has greater emotional impact due to her failed rescue. Allowing them to set up the next few movies with a new motive and plenty of new villains to choose from.”

Chase Weber: “What makes Spider-Man so endearing to many fans is his humanity. The audience members can relate to the triumphs and failures of Spider-Man. This is plainly evident in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Spider-Man does not always win. As seen in the film, Spider-Man failed to save his love, Gwen Stacy, who Spider-man promises to her Dad he would protect. Spider-Man must deal with this guilt the rest of his life. This is much more relatable to real life. With audience members more devoted to Spider-Man, this makes his victories all the more satisfying. “

Flora Yu: “The role of women portrayed in the film interests me. Through his relationship with Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker learns that there are things one must abandon to persist in another; also, life is so fragile that sometimes even super power fails to it from mortality. Devastated by Gwen’s death, Peter eventually finds motivation for his next debut from two female characters—Aunt May and Gwen—both very important to him. He realizes he must bury grievous memories at the bottom of his heart and retrieve his other side—the side of hope and Spiderman.”

Faith Clary: “It’s interesting to me how death is such an integral part of who Peter is as a person. Death is present in all stages of his development – childhood with his parents, teenage years with his uncle, and now adulthood with his girlfriend and, metaphorically-speaking, his childhood friend. With Spider-Man’s disappearance from the city in the aftermath of Gwen’s death, this movie drives home even more than its predecessor that a superhero’s life isn’t just about soaring around skyscrapers and posing for the paper. When you put on that mask, it’s not just yourself who gets thrown into the fray.”

George Nurisso:  “After Uncle Ben’s death, Peter Parker’s realization that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ has been his motivating force. In addition to battling super-villains, Peter has inspired others with his bravery and kindness.  When Spider-Man rescued a kid named Jorge from some bullies and gave him some encouragement, he changed the boy’s life.  Jorge later became brave enough to stand down the ultimate bully, the Rhino. After Gwen Stacy’s death, Peter Parker learned that being a hero isn’t easy, but in the end the world is a better place because of it.” ​

Sara King: “What seemed distinct about this Spiderman movie compared to all the other superheroes we have read so far is the fact that Peter Parker’s secret identity is known by more than one person, thus causing him many problems.  His girlfriend, Gwen, is ultimately killed because she knows and his arch nemesis, Harry Osborne or the Green Goblin, takes advantage of the fact.  Is it possibly a problem that Peter Parker identifies more with his non-super identity than his super-identity, causing the movie to take a more eugenic turn?”

Chris Myers: “Although “Electrode” undergoes a startlingly abrupt transition from Spider-man fanatic to his worst enemy, I thoroughly enjoyed the development of Electrode’s powers. Traveling as a current and departing from his human form, manipulating metal with magnetic forces, and shooting currents of electricity make sense for an electrical super-villain, although his ability to create dubstep music does not. His motivation to stay within the confines of New York made sense (defeating Spider-man), and by the end of the movie, he seemed to have realized the extent of his powers.​”

Abdur Khan: “Electro’s motives for becoming a supervillain match perfectly with the usual tropes involved in villainous origins. Max Dillon is a shy, miserable man who’s constantly pushed around, and once he’s given the means to assert himself, he does so in a powerful and violent way. His motivation comes from his need to be recognized, to no longer be “invisible”, as one Oscorp employee calls him. His anger when Spiderman doesn’t remember him or when Times Square erases his face is arguably ridiculous, but in his mind he is completely justified.”

Joe Reilly: “After experiencing The Amazing Spiderman 2, my heart ached for the tragic injustice towards the villains. Where most movies can only sustain a single antagonist to challenge the hero, the indecisive Spiderman swings from one foe to another beating each antagonist before they have time to know what hit them. Forced to fight tooth and nail with one another for screen time, the injuries towards the rogues’ gallery lengthen with poorly contrived motives and cliché origins. Spiderman faces an obsessive and accident prone Electro, a Green Goblin whose butchered comic origins as Norman Osborn are scratched and dropped for no reason into the lap of his spoiled brat son, and added to the confusion a random guy in a ludicrous rhino suit who arrives far too late toobare any actually meaning or impact on the plot. With flimsy origins, repeated defeats to Spiderman, and pitted against one another, the only true victims I felt in the latest Spiderman movie were the villains.” 

Mina Shnoudah: “The movie tells the story of Spider-Man’s parents, the origin of the Green Goblin, Electro, and Rhino. The common superhero tropes such as dead parents, revenge, damsel in distress, and friend turned enemy were ever-present throughout the film. Harry is the friend turned enemy by his psychological obsession to not turn out like the monster his father is. Furthermore, the parallels between Peter and Harry in their origin stories are another common superhero trope: they are both motivated to avenge the deaths of their loved ones.”​

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