Infinite Spider-Man 12.13: Religion and Politics

Posted by Mister Mets 10 September 2012

One question for the next Spider-Man writers and editors is how to depict religion and politics in the comics.  It's something that many readers take quite seriously, and for the most part, writers have been vague about the religious and political beliefs of the characters.

Paul Jenkins and J. Michael Straczynski sometimes had Spider-Man try to talk to God. But if Peter Parker ever goes to church, we don't really see that. In his Soul of the Hunter one-shot, JM Dematteis was more explicit about the religious beliefs of a Jewish friend of Peter's introduced in that very issue than he was about the beliefs of the main character. It was established in "The Other" that Aunt May goes to church quite regularly, although this seems to have been influenced by the character's depiction in Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie.

In the American Son storyline, Joe Kelly suggested that Peter Parker was quite happy to see President George W Bush get replaced by Barack Obama. That's hardly unique for a twenty-something New Yorker. And it's an exception that demonstrates how rare it is for the series to address political issues and beliefs. In 2007 and 2008, there was a long-running subplot about the mayoral election in which it was never made clear what parties the two candidates belonged to, or what issues were central to the election.

When controversial topics are brought up, it's usually as a way to raise questions rather than provide answers, or to present an extreme version of a situation which doesn't really address anything about contemporary debates. Readers could disagree on gun control, but we'll hope that Spider-Man can save schoolchildren from a shooter. There may be disagreements on the role of churches in family life, but there's a general consensus that cults are bad.

When a politician appears, Spider-Man generally respects the office, which is a bland and inoffensive position to take. Often the officeholder's role is nonpartisan. Sometimes a real-life political figure offers advice on how to avoid drugs, or how to find help if you're unemployed. If a fictional official abuses his power, it's not meant as an ad hominem attack on all politicians or against all members of a particular political party. We would all agree that it's not acceptable for a city councilman to take bribes from the Kingpin, or for a district attorney to order a witness killed.

The Spider-Man series does seem to be ill-suited to deal with controversial and complex issues in great depth. There just aren't that many pages available in an action-adventure series for characters to get into lengthy arguments about something that doesn't tie into the main narrative. And it's not especially interesting visually to have Peter and a supporting cast member argue for several pages about theological minutiae, or whether certain regulations will help the environment or hinder businesses.

Religion and politics can always be incorporated into the A-plot, although there's a tremendous potential for cheating as the writer gets to determine the right and wrong sides on issues that are usually much more opaque in real life, hence the disagreements. A conservative writer could depict a voter fraud conspiracy by crazed environmentalists, while his liberal counterpart could pit Spidey against Republicans introducing drugs to a primarily African-American neighborhood, a Catholic writer could feature God talking to the Pope, while an atheist could have Thor make a guest-starr appearance to reminisce about a mentally ill con artist he met two thousand years ago in Galilee.

One problem with specifics is that it often involves frames of reference which are completely alien to many readers. Evangelicals might understand the significance and context of a particular biblical lesson, but this would require more explanations for readers of other faiths. Republicans and Democrats will often have different conclusions about what could make the world a better place, which complicates political arguments. Then there's the question of whether Marvel would want the character to take a controversial religious or political stance. Many readers would be offended if Spider-Man expressed his belief that only Christians will go to heaven. Others would be upset if Spider-Man suggested that only fools believe in God.

The publication format makes it difficult to depict contemporary controversies. It takes a few months to publish a comic book, so any discussions about today's news events can end up quite dated. What was timely when the writer began work on the issue might be forgotten a few months later. In addition, Spider-Man's adventures will continue to be published for generations. Due to the sliding time scale, stories that were published decades ago are described as occurring a few years ago. So a storyline involving a specific political situation such as a Democratic President's difficulties working with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives could seem as anachronistic as a subplot about Peter and Mary Jane becoming volunteers for Ross Perot's presidential campaign.

The counterargument is that truly three-dimensional characters would have nuanced political opinions, which could sometimes be an organic part of the story. But I don't really trust writers to accurately depict complex political positions contrary to their own beliefs, or to be truly objective when determining what positions a character would hold. They can't all be Dostoevsky. It's usually not a skill set that's particularly necessary for this series, especially when you consider all the great writers who have tremendous and obvious blind spots when it comes to political discussions.

Marvel's Civil War event a few years ago exemplified this problem. In the main mini-series, Mark Millar played fair with both sides of the argument: the pro-registration and anti-registration forces. But Paul Jenkins and JMS, who worked on the most prominent satellite books (including JMS's Amazing Spider-Man) clearly favored the Anti-Registration underdogs, while emphasizing the Pro-Registration side's atrocities. There could be similar problems in depictions of arguments between atheists and Evangelicals, or Democrats and Republicans.

I do have a wimpy compromise of how to deal with the character's political and religious beliefs. My take on it is that Peter Parker has never had the time to become informed about politics, or to think seriously about religion. For the last decade, he has had to balance work, school, his social life and his difficulties as Spider-Man. So he hasn't had time to read The New Republic, National Review, Mere Christianity or The God Delusion. I admit that this option may bother the readers who expect all Americans to be informed members of the electorate or active in their church, but it has the benefit of preventing anyone from using a fictional character's beliefs to bolster their own arguments.


Scarlet Spider #8

Posted by Mike McNulty, a.k.a. Stillanerd

Poor, poor Kaine. Not only has he inherited Peter Parker's DNA, he has also inherited Peter's propensity for bad luck as well. Last issue, he saved the life of (and slept with) the wild and sexy Zoe from an explosion at Roxxon Oil, only to find out she was the one responsible for the explosion in the first place. Even worse, she's also the daughter of David Walsh, Roxxon Oil's CEO. And if that wasn't bad enough, when Kaine goes to confront Walsh about secret experiments taking place on one of the oil rigs, in come the Texas-based superhero team, the Rangers, to apprehend him. So what happens to him next?


We begin with a flashback to "several months ago" in the Gulf of Mexico which shows David Walsh visiting one of the oil rigs where their "sinister experiments" have taken place and nearly caused an explosion. And apparently, one worker was somehow physically able to contain whatever the energy was within his own body!

Then the story cuts back to the present and Roxxon Tower, where Kaine is sizing up the Rangers--who are comprised of Firebird, The Living Lightning, Fifty-One, The Texas Twister, Shooting Star, and Red Wolf--and surmises that while he can take them out individually, together they'll pose a challenge. As Walsh tells the Rangers his spin on things, Kaine formulates a plan for him and Zoe to escape, and begins to fight back, his first move being to throw Shooting Star out the window into the arms of Texas Twister. The rest of the Rangers attack as Kaine grabs Zoe and swing out of the broken window. However, when he faces Fifty-One, he comes under a psychic attack which forces him to toss Zoe to him. This then allows Living Lightning to zap him, and Kaine, having blacked out, begins to fall, only to regain consciousness just in time and snatch Zoe away with his webbing. Firebird, Living Lightning, and Fifty-One give chase but lose them due to Kaine's cloaking mode via his suit.

Meanwhile at Roxxon Tower, Walsh is filing charges against the Scarlet Spider with the police, while Texas Twister believes there is more to the story than what Walsh is letting on, pointing out that Scarlet Spider is considered a hero, while Walsh isn't exactly "on the side of the angels." Walsh, however, reminds Texas Twister that Scarlet Spider is the villain because he's "kidnapped" Zoe along with all his other "crimes."

Later at Minute Maid Park, Zoe wants to thank Kaine via having sex with him yet again, only this time he refuses her advances, saying how she’s "unbalanced" and needs to be committed. Zoe, however, insists that she’s not crazy and that she still needs his help to stop her father. Reluctantly, Kaine asks Zoe about what’s going on at Roxxon’s Galvaston refinery, and Zoe says she'll show him how to get there. Seeing how Kaine cannot exactly web-swing all the way there, he spies a motorcycle, and he and Zoe take off on it.

Forty-five minutes later, the Rangers arrive at the same spot, and Red Wolf tells them Scarlet Spider and Zoe were there. Texas Twister again voices his skepticism about what really going on, pointing out that not only are the police actually grateful for the Scarlet Spider, but that Rodriquez has told them about how he also saved Houston from being destroyed. When Shooting Star angrily points out how Scarlet Spider threw her out the window, Texas Twister notes that Scarlet Spider had intentionally threw her towards him, and also reminds them that Roxxon Oil has a dubious reputation, if not engaged in criminal activity themselves. Firebird, however, still notes there is "darkness" in the Scarlet Spider that "disturbs" her. It is then the Living Lightning arrives and tells them an alarm went off at a Roxxon's Galveston refinery, and that it has to be the Scarlet Spider.

Back at Roxxon Tower, Walsh has also been told about the alarm at the Galveston facility, and is on his way by helicopter. Walsh states that, because the Scarlet Spider made himself look like a criminal with his actions, they are now free to kill him without impunity as a means of covering up their activities. When pointed out that Scarlet Spider still has Walsh's daughter, Walsh says he doesn't care if she or the Rangers stand in his way--he'll kill them along with Scarlet Spider, as well.

At the refinery, we see that Kaine has tore his way through the facility to where Zoe says several bodies from Roxxon's experiment have been kept, only to find an empty room. Zoe can't understand why nothing is there, while Kaine laments how he's screwed up his "second chance at life," that he'll be a wanted fugitive all over again. Suddenly, the Rangers arrive and proceed to attack Kaine. But just as he's about to escape via cloaking again, Fifty-One creates a charge of energy that collapses the floor. When everyone comes to, they find that Zoe was correct, that there are several dead bodies on the ground, all of them from Central America. Texas Twister apologizes to Kaine, as they confront a group of shocked scientists. One person is inside a device, and the scientist tells Kaine and the Rangers that the bodies can't contain "it" anymore. When Kaine tells the scientist to shut down their experiment, he is told it's too late, as energy begins to consume the test-subject. Then, enveloping the test-subject is a monstrous humanoid creature made of pure energy, making a worried Kaine tell the Rangers "This one's all yours." To be continued...


To be honest, I wasn't entirely familiar with the Rangers, even though I have heard of them before. Not to mention, it seemed silly that just because they are a Texas-based superhero group, this also means they (with the exception of Living Lightning and Fifty-One) have to adopt a "Western" motif. Nevertheless, Chris Yost does a decent job in showing their individual, if rudimentary, characteristics--particularly Texas Twister, who, like a cowboy version of Captain America, comes off as a principled leader and voice of reason, and the mysterious Fifty-One, whose character design and blank speech bubbles radiate unease. Also, Kaine's tactical analysis and first impressions of them are also the funniest moment in the book.

Yost also shows just how much Kaine has developed since the start of the series. Before, Kaine couldn't wait to leave Houston; now, wanted by the authorities and the Rangers, he dreads the possibility of being forced on the run yet again. While he wouldn't admit it, Kaine has fully come to accept Houston as his home just as much as Peter has accepted New York City as his. Likewise, his problematic relationship with Zoe Walsh continues to be fun and engaging as it was last issue, especially as she's clearly become infatuated with him while Kaine is increasingly regretting their one-night stand by the hour the deeper into trouble they get.

That being said, it's not an perfect issue. David Walsh comes across like just another stereotypical and two-dimensional "evil business tycoon" who, of course, only cares about protecting the company at the expense of even his own daughter. Also, while Khoi Pram's art is serviceable, it doesn't nearly have the energy or vitality compared to Ryan Stegman, especially when compared to his excellent cover. Which is a shame as the opening action sequence would have been otherwise fantastic had Stegman penciled it instead.

Still, the overall story, thus far, is engaging and the ending cliffhanger certainly adds even more questions as to just what Roxxon has been trying to do all this time, and just who or what is "Mammon." Hopefully, we will get a satisfactory conclusion, especially with what in the world Kaine is going to do about Zoe afterwards.


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