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Stan Lee is perhaps best known for starting Marvel Comics and turning it into the powerhouse it is today, and if not for that than for being that old guy who shows up in every superhero movie to make nerds clap their hands with delight as though they’re in on some secret inside joke.
This week he told reporters that he agrees with a Sony pictures memo that mandated that Peter Parker always remain white. “We originally made him white, he said. “I don’t see any reason to change that.”
Lee said he doesn’t see the point of changing an established character when you could just add a new one. “I say create new characters the way you want to,” he said. “Hell, I’ll do it myself.”
I, for one, would love to see Stan Lee have a go at creating a character himself. It would be a first!
He compares it to making Black Panther Swiss, which, okay, first of all black Swiss people do exist but I guess he’s right that the Black Panther movement wasn’t probably a well-known thing in Switzerland, but to compare that to Spider-man would be to suggest that black people in New York City don’t know what spiders are, which I can tell you for a fact is not true.
If he meant to say it would be like making Black Panther white, well, “Black” is in his goddamn name, that’s how important it is to his character. If we were talking about a guy called “Whiter Man” he might have a point.
But being white isn’t important to Spider-man’s character, as we know from the actual creators’ notes and stories — the actual creators being a combination of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, with a bit of dialogue thrown in from Stan Lee, none of which, I should tell you, included lines like “Boy I sure am white.” Here are Peter Parker’s characteristics that the creators all seemed to think mattered when building him:
1. That Parker is a teenager, which was important for its wish fulfillment and it’s uniqueness amongst other headlining superheroes at the time.
2. That he’s a science nerd, again, for wish fulfillment. From the start, and even in Kirby’s earlier inspirations for Parker like Chip Hardy, Spider-man has been a story about a nerd turning into someone who can best the jocks.
3. That he has the powers of a spider: super strength, balance, and reflexes.
Wait, you may be thinking, what about the ability to shoot spiderwebs out of his wrists? Well, he wasn’t created that way. Instead, Steve Ditko designed artificial web-slingers for Spidey’s wrists that the character made himself using his previously mentioned characteristic science nerdery.
According to Lee, that should mean that he should always be that way. But instead, one of the initial, most important aspects of Spider-man’s character, changed dramatically. He “mutated” to be able to shoot webbing naturally from his body, though not from his ass like a real spider would. Too bad.
A few years later, in the comics at least, Spidey was reset and ended up losing his organic web-slinging abilities. He also regained his beloved aunt who had been killed off previously and lost his wife. Because that’s how comics work! They change constantly in crazy ways as new artists and writers come in and take them in different directions, sometimes to the point that they jump to parallel universes where everybody is a zombie. Iconic characters changing in interesting ways is half the fun of having a story that never has to end.
So while Lee may have a point that it would be great to see new characters developed that are more than just straight white dudes getting bit by things, he’s also a central part of the industry that keeps pushing characters who were made 40 years ago into new media like film, instead of retiring those characters and promoting new ones. So with that in mind, maybe he should just relax a bit and let Miles Morales have a turn at the web-slinging, so that one day maybe we can get the Spider-man film we’ve always wanted: starring Donald Glover. Shooting webs out his ass.