After watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse I, like everyone, experienced a pang for more Miles Morales. What I didn’t realize is that he has actually been an established Marvel character since 2011. And the Oscar-winning animated film’s basis of course is that he is only one version of a Spiderman legend (which dates, in reality, back to 1962). I stopped into Graham Crackers Comics in Lakeview to pick up a few issues from the most recent series. Does that make me some kind of nerd?
This decade which we don’t know how to name is in its finale year. As it now stands, 5 of the top 15 grossing films of the era are superhero movies. There is nothing more popular to put on a screen of endless possibilities than Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Iron Man — any other Man you can think of who came from the weird soft pages of your Dad’s adolescent pastime (because they didn’t have video games or phones in the 60s). Are we like all being super weird and lame?
We are being human. Even outside of religion, shared cultural stories are as prevalent in our world as onomatopoeia is in Spidey’s. The ancient Greeks’ supervillain The Minotaur has been stirring up trouble in various stories, myths, books, movies, art, poetry, and more since basically the dawn of society. You’ll catch him in the Seventh Circle of Dante’s 1320 Inferno, for example, which chronologically is like if Doc Oc ends up making an appearance in one of the great novels of the 4500s. Their legendary Odysseus makes an appearance in the below 1842 poem, wondering what to do with his life now that the events of The Odyssey are over. It’s basically a spinoff.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
For Alfred Lord Tennyson to take such liberties with the epic persona was decidedly not an act of hubris. When fictional characters transfer through ubiquity from artistic creations to cultural nouns rigid canon is lost.
Historically, the next glaring example of this phenomenon after Greek culture is the work of a single man — Mr. William Shakespeare. His characters and stories created in the 1500s have been expanded upon and reimagined ever since and certainly not at a decreasing rate. West Side Story is Romeo & Juliet, The Lion King is Hamlet, even 10 Things I Hate About You is one of ‘The Bard’s’ comedies. As for the Coen brothers Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Ope, that’s back to the Greeks; that’s The Odyssey again.
In the 1800s we are introduced to Count Dracula and Sherlock Holmes — both whose tales and even creative ownership are blurry from the start. Holmes was written first by Arthur Conan Doyle, but creative access was quickly shared. His good friend J.M. Barrie turned passing references in the original novels into fully-fleshed capers — a concept used both pro and retroactively in the comic book business. Vampires are urban legends of course, with no apparent point of creative conception. But when Bram Stoker wrote not the first, but the first massive vamp novel, it’s his vision that stuck. It seems more than just history written by the winners. Napolean said “What is history but a fable agreed upon?” Ipso facto, after the massive Spider-Verse success, we are likely going to be seeing a Miles Morales with a street art hobby more often than not.
Tarzan and Zorro are both born in the pages of early 1900s pulp novels, Captain America appears first in 1941 — just in time to catch World War 1 — and in 1997 we are introduced to a Mr. Harry Potter, who’s story and world is being ever-developed by an ever-growing community of collaborators plus an ever-active J.K. Rowling.
When you put it all in perspective, maybe we are being pretty lame, since the go-to fiction figures of our era’s civilization are superheroes and wizards instead of mighty warriors or forbidden lovers. To that I would say: Just watch Into The Spider-Verse; it’s goddamned irresistible.
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