Always a Hero

Did not see that coming.

So I finally saw Spider-Man: No Way Home (waited to catch it with a friend), and then spent some time thinking about it.

SPOILER ALERT. I’m going to assume, as late as I was, that anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it isn’t planning on catching it in the theater.

First, let me unburden myself of the one real complaint I have about this movie; Dr. Strange.

Really? I mean really? I understand why Peter asked Strange to cast a spell altering the memories of everyone on Earth to make them forget he was Spider-Man (and altering reality to some degree in the process, considering the spell had to also erase the video evidence that had been dropped on the net and downloaded a jillion times). But for Strange to say, “Okay, I’ve got a handy spell that could potentially break reality, but I’m the GOAT and I can handle it,” is . . . simply insane.

But moving on, since this decision had to be made to give us the fantastic movie we got . . .

NWH was amazing. I don’t know if Tom Holland has more Spider-Man movies in him, but I hope so. I love the current cinematic continuity for our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. NWH accomplished something I’d thought impossible, or next to impossible; it was a work of pure fan-service, while at the same time giving us a compelling movie. This was one of the rare times that I wished a Marvel movie could have been longer. Why? I wanted flashback scenes for both McGuire-Spidey and Garfield-Spidey, showing just a bit of what they went through getting drawn into a strange New York City. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have seen McGuire-Spidey kissing his MJ and swinging out to patrol the city before getting sucked into an inter-reality vortex? And Garfield-Spidey stumbling up to a kiosk and reading a Times Magazine headliner about the outed Spider-Man, complete with comparisons between him and the Avengers. The what?

I’ll bet fanfic-writers are already busy fanficking these scenes . . .

A certain death in the movie was very jarring (I’ll avoid one spoiler), but I thought the meeting of the Spider-Men was incredibly satisfying. Mostly because the framework of their meeting was essentially a redemption-arc for one villain I’d felt great empathy for (Doc Oc) and secondarily for McGuire-Spidey and Garfield-Spidey; both of them got to make saves that . . . didn’t change anything in their timelines, but nonetheless addressed their own failures and regrets. Having Garfield-Spidey catch a falling MJ and save her was deeply satisfying.

I didn’t enjoy all of the Spider-Man movies produced with McGuire/Garfield, but both had turned in memorable and relatable performances as the wall-crawler and so it was cool for Marvel to write their realities into the multiverse and give them some closure.

But the movie inspired a meditation on Spider-Man as a hero, and why he is so enduringly popular. I mean, serious, eight movies in less than two decades? McGuire swung onto the silver screen in 2002, and the franchise survived the wreckage of his Spider-Man 3 and Garfield’s Spider-Man 2. What is it about Spider-Man?

Thinking about this inspired me to drop an informal survey on the Wearing the Cape Facebook page asking responders to name their favorite cinematic superheroes. Here were the results:

Captain America: 4
Black Panther: 3
Spiderman: 3
Superman: 3
Shazam: 1
Thor: 1
Batman: 1
Iron Man: 1
Quicksilver: 1
Scarlet Witch: 1
Daredevil: 1
Hancock: 1
Kickass: 1
The Tick: 1

I wish I could have gotten more replies, but it was enough to establish a theory; the best-loved superheroes are superhumans who have always been heroes.

Cap led the list, because Marvel understood him so well and showed him to us, from the beginning, as a man who–even when his body limited his ability to act–instinctively acted heroically to the point of self-sacrifice. (I mean come on, throwing yourself on what you think is a live grenade to save a bunch of mooks who’ve done nothing but rib you and dunk on you since you joined their squad? Really?) Spider-Man and Superman, from the beginning of their stories, unselfishly used their powers to help other. There was no question. (Well, in the beginning Peter acts unheroically with his new powers, but he gets over that very quickly, and shifts into serve-and-protect mode rather than dark avenger mode, for which we give him props.) T’Challa practically exuded nobility.

The other superheroes on the list can be described as flawed heroes. (Well, I’m not sure about The Tick.) They learned and earned their heroism. Arguably this makes them more human and relatable, and yet . . . they didn’t hit the top of the list.

Which is not to say that any of the Top 4 are perfect heroes; all of them make mistakes in the course of their stories. But they’re instinctive heroes, and I think this may explain their popularity. To bring it home, it may explain why so many readers like Astra. I didn’t do it intentionally; really I just didn’t want to give her a stereotypical “growth-arc” where she goes from being self-centered (which most of us are) to self-sacrificing due to some kind of Uncle Ben experience. I wanted her instinctive reaction to gaining super-powers to be to wear the cape (even if she was a bit “Oh man, now I’ve got to go be a superhero.”) so I could get on with her story. Looking back on it, making her fear for others the trigger to her breakthrough was genius. (If I can lightly pat my own back.)

And I think it’s this quality of heroism that explains how I’ve managed to put out nine Wearing the Cape books, each well received (as of this post, Joyeuse Guard has more Amazon reviews than all the rest except Book 1). Hope Corrigan is a Steve Rogers or Clark Kent. She was raised with that sort of moral compass, so when she got the call she went with very little complaining. And for all of the modern trend of deconstructing heroes, that resonates with us.

Which makes it cool that in all three Spider-Man incarnations (more if we include Into the Spider-Verse) we see the same thing. Come what may, Peter Parker is always a hero.



13 thoughts on “Always a Hero

  1. Haven’t seen the movie. I don’t know when I will. I haven’t seen a large fraction of the superhero movies out there. For all that, my favorite is Iron Man. A little self-centered? No. A LOT self-centered. And noble even so.
    Frankly, Wearing the Cape is just about the only superhero written stories I follow. Comics… I don’t buy them any more. They used to cost 12 to 15 cents each. (I’m old.) Grrl Power is my favorite, there, though I followed Liberty Lass during its short run.
    Keep on.

    1. Good evening sir, and well said. I think you are right that we love instinctive heroes. I had never thought of it in those terms, but it makes perfect sense.

      I finished rereading the series (yet again) and was wondering how much you were planning ahead for Astra’s first big story arc. Was Joyeuse guard always the end goal, or did it grow organically through the series. Did you always know Ceres was the green man, and so on?

      1. I’m a “discovery” writer–what’s also what’s called a “pantser,” from the expression “Flying by the seat of your pants.” That means when I start a story I have a fairly good idea how I want it to end, but fight my way there like a jungle explorer. So you can imagine how much planning I put into multi-story arcs.

        Some details do get planned in advance, while others are “happy discoveries” or even moments of brilliance that were brilliant only in hindsight. To give an example; both Artemis and Shelly, the two friends who act as foils for Hope’s character, were unplanned. By which I mean I’d had no intention of either of them becoming such big parts of Hope’s life in the stories. Kitsune was never intended to become even a recurring character. Joyeuse Guard wasn’t planned until Repercussions, and then it simply felt natural, an outcome of the situation and a frame for Hope’s growth as a leader.

        So really, there’s a lot of things I learn about only slightly before the reader does. . .

  2. One thing I find unrealistic about super fiction is how often they run into trouble without looking for it. I mean I have had armed robbers come into my store at night and just buy a pack of cigars and leave, for whatever reason, I have been hit by cars walking or riding my bike 3 times in about 25 years. I have been shot at because I was in the wrong place, but that was over a 40 year span, not once a month. Seriously outside of fiction or war, nobody gets shot at more than once or twice in a lifetime.

    1. True. But every genre is unrealistic that way. EVERYTHING appropriate to the genre happens to the protagonists. Repeatedly if it’s a series.

      1. Too true: Cabot Cove must have been depopulated before Murder, She Wrote went off the air. At least, in the series, the characters discuss how Chicago is Metropolis for capes, and villains want to make their names there. I think they’d attack elsewhere for just that reason, to avoid the big guns. There’s a song that applies, about tugging on superman’s cape and spitting in the wind, and pulling the mask off the lone ranger.

      2. Professional Villains, yes. Rob a bank vault? Unless that vault in Chicago contains a McGuffin you just gotta have, you rob a bank in Detroit. Or Dallas. But if you’re a Cause Villain, or a Thrill Villain, whether or not you hit Chicago depends on your ego. There’s probably a couple of Big Fights a year in the normal course of things. Not a villain-of-the-month (although Hope refers to that trope jokingly), but enough business to keep capes training for action.

      3. Reminds me of a mystery series set in ’20’s England, with the main protagonist married to the police detective that “officially” investigated the cases she’d stumble into. In the fourth or fifth book, when she found a corpse on a train and the usual team was sent in to investigate, the first thing an arriving officer said to her husband was, “She found another one, didn’t she?”

  3. Having Hope’s breakthrough be “Omygosh! Those OTHER people need help!!” made hers remarkably *pure*. Maybe that’s why she’s A class? It’s the next best thing to an ‘on demand breakthrough’ that every nation in the world wishes that they could duplicate.

    1. I remember being inspired to write her that way by stories of everyday people, who never would have dreamed of filling the kind of role that requires personal bravery (police, firefighters, soldiers, etc.), who responded without thought for their safety when somebody else needs help. It’s not something everybody does, but it is something a surprising number of “ordinary” people do, it’s very human.

      I’ve never forgotten about that, and you may have noticed the presence of “heroic bystanders” in several of the stories.

  4. By the way, The Tick is a flawed hero, in that he’s an idiot (or at least enough of a goober that he could be manipulated into doing some pretty horrible things before figuring out he’d been used). At least in the animated series and the Amazon live-action series, there were any number of situations that would have turned out very, very badly if Arthur hadn’t been the voice of reason. (And I don’t count the network TV live-action series, because that basically turned into “Friends” in tights.)

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