Spider-Man And Philosophy edited by Jonathan J. Sanford (book review).

If anything, I’m kind of surprised how late in the line a book release associating Spider-Man with philosophy is, considering how many other books in this series has already been released. After all, Peter Parker’s motivation for being a crime-fighter was owning up to his responsibility for using his powers for more than self-serving purposes. Interestingly, he still does that, photographing his own exploits to sell to the Daily Bugle, but even super-heroes have to eat and web solution doesn’t grow on trees, just sticks to them.

I was curious to see which version of Spider-Man was going to be used. Within the opening chapters, there was an examination of the Lee/Ditko version and then a move up to the recent ‘Civil War’ storyline and the final chapter on the Sam Raimi films, so there should be something for everyone here.


In the opening chapter, Neil Mussett points out Parker as being a geeky outsider although considering he’s also a scientific genius, he’s hardly atypical of us in that respect, although it indicates like attracts like. If anything, until bitten by the radioactive spider, Parker was a social loser. Becoming Spider-Man, until he met Gwen Stacy and Mary-Jane Watson, filled the rest of his life. Looking at this chapter, it did start making me wonder how his night activities infringed on his studies. Being smart is one thing, but you still have to make the grades and do homework.

I’m not sure about Adam Barkman’s assertion that ethics comes only from religion. After all, it wasn’t until the late 70s that it was revealed Matt ‘Daredevil’ Murdoch and Kurt ‘Nightcrawler’ Wagner were Catholic. Knowing the difference between right and wrong is just as effective with atheists. It’s a rather quasi area for the Marvel Universe when god-like beings walk the Earth. Granted, Barkman is right that Spider-Man isn’t likely to run into cosmic beings that often and it’s certainly a subject that hasn’t been discussed adequately in any of the comicbook universes. Would you maintain a belief in something like Christianity when you’ve seen the likes of Thor and Loki in New York recorded in the media? I might well consider that for an article of my own.

Philip Tallon and indeed other writers in this book examine Parker’s motivation of guilt from not stopping a crook earlier that resulted in his uncle’s death as his wake-up call. With Spidey being one of the earliest Marvel super-heroes, with only the Fantastic Four and members of the Avengers being active earlier, it was hardly like he had much in the way of prototypes that would push him to become a super-vigilante or emulate. All he really saw was a need to use his powers for something other than to make money. Something they haven’t considered is if you do have super-human powers is a need to use them if for no other reason than to release pent-up energy. Combat has to be a lot more fulfilling than, say, building a skyscraper. Would he have done so had his uncle’s murder had not happened? Parker’s pretty smart and I can’t see him being fulfilled by being in a wrestling ring for long. He was a geek rebel needing a cause and fighting crime became his.

I definitely disagree with Andrew Terjesen saying that Parker is the only super-human with his danger warning ‘spider-sense’. Both Daredevil and the Shroud exhibit a similar ability as do any of those possessing psionic abilities in that area. Calling it a ‘spider-sense’ is at odds with this anyway. I mean, when was the last time you saw a spider get out of the way when you try to evict or kill them with a duster?

Daniel P. Malloy’s assertion that Spider-Man uses his quips to demean people doesn’t sound right neither. If anything, I tend to see it as a means to distract. The super-hero films show that a lot of combat is very fast so if you can get the villain attacking you to be a split-second off, then any distraction has to be an advantage. Peter Parker is more of a motormouth in his disguise so I suspect he is also less inhibited.

Mark D. White’s explanation as to why readers stopped reading ‘Spider-Man’ after Mephisto reset and removed the Parkers’ marriage, resurrecting Aunt May and remove the unmasking had nothing to do with a dislike of the character but the messing with continuity. Marvel Comics had a tradition of never cheating the reader by pressing the reset button up to that time and this one not only affected Spider-Man but the entire Marvel Universe continuity. It’s the ‘Dallas’ moment after all. There had always been a problem of how time passes in any comicbook reality. Something that has never been properly explored by any of them. For Mephisto to do this and no one else noticing puts him in a league higher than Eternity which means nothing can be seen as impossible to sort out again. In many respects, Marvel could have come up with something similar to DC’s multiple realities if they wanted to start from scratch with new readers every twenty or thirty years, although it looks like they have done so with their ‘Ultimates’ series.

As you can tell from my reaction to this book, there’s a lot that will make you think, ponder and react. I’ve hit on things that I’ve disagreed with but there is plenty here that you will also agree with their assessment so don’t treat this review as being too negative. If anything, I wish there was other things that were covered. After all, Peter Parker has, from time to time, abandoned his Spider-Man identity which seems contradictory to his Uncle Ben’s ‘great responsibility’ line. The same could also be said with how he deals with his friends. Could he have helped Harry Osborn or Curt Connors more? However, what is covered will make you think and that’s what these books are all about.

GF Willmetts

(pub: Wiley-Blackwell. 276 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £11.99 (UK), $17.95 (US), $ 21.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-470-57560-4)
check out website: www.wiley.com/wiley-blackwell


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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