Friday, May 4, 2007

the character of cities in comics

So today Spiderman 3 arrives in theaters. Not only is the is beginning of the summer movie season, it is what appears to be the final chapter in Sam Rami's Peter Parker trilogy (if this one is not better than the 2nd one we can only hope).

And like all good comic fans, I will see this film, just not tonight. Actually, i have tickets to see it tomorrow morning at 9:45. It will be like Saturday morning cartoons all over again, well minus the animation, old 21 inch TV at my moms, etc...

But I dare say I am not hoping for the best. The first movie was great. I left the theater with a smile and the need to get some Spidey comics, and found the wonderful world of Ultimate Spiderman, one of the only Marvel comics I bother with (my lament for the current state of Marvel Comics will be another post). I connected to the film and really had a great time. I also eagerly awaited part two. Then it came and I exited the theater stamping my feet, fist raised in the air, and cursing like 30 sailors. What had they done?

And after some reflection i realized that Peter Parker is a NYC character through and through. His adventures happen in the city. Stan lee and Steve Ditko created stories that celebrated NYC. They used actual landmarks that fans can go and touch. In fact, I would call Spiderman a tactile NYC experience in comic book form. And then Bam, the 2nd film goes and distorts NYC and makes it not real, wtf?

The scene with the subway had me practically crying. Um, that was the el train, in Chicago. And thus a major character was abused and discarded from the film. And don't get me started on how many people now know Peter in Spiderman in that film. "Don't worry, we won't tell." Yeah that always works out best for the hero (see Daredevil, etc...). But this is about the cityscape as a character in comics, not about unneeded reveals, so....

I think the other two characters that are easily associated with a city as a character are Batman and Superman (and how strange is it that Firefox's inner spell check acknowledges Batman and Superman as real words, but not Spiderman. Hmmm, looks like Firefox is coded by DC fans.). And while Gotham and Metropolis are stand-ins for NYC, they represent more of our collective fears (Gotham) and hopes (Metropolis) of urban life. And is it any wonder that Miller's Dark Knight came out during the Reagan years and the mass exodus from urban centers those years represented. And while each of
those cities are equally important to the stories as NYC is to Spiderman, they are constantly re-imagined in ways that they are ever changing (see the story lines from 1999/2000 from both books, Gotham collapses in an earthquake to be rebuilt anew and Metropolis is infected with a future technology and becomes the true "city of tomorrow").

I feel each of these three cities works equally as well in the comics, but they need to translate to screen in the same way. And the last Batman movie really took the down and out, grim cityscape to heart. Sure it was not NYC, but it never tried to be. Sure it was different than comics, but as aforementioned, it is utterly malleable; thus, not a problem. The latest Superman flick was filmed in Australia and the next could be filmed in Malayisa and it would still work. Spiderman has to be in NYC and it as to be true to NYC. And Spiderman 2 was not. It failed.

Yes, it was not as huge a change as What if... May Parker died rather than Ben, but it was a change that simply was unconscionable and made for a poor viewing experience.

Maybe, as a transplanted New Yorker, I take the city to heart too much. Maybe if you have never been to NYC it would not bother you. But with the respect payed to other characters both the 1st two Spiderman films showed, I expected more.

Now for tomorrow, i am expecting: not so much.

A full recap of the film tomorrow.

No comments: