The Embarrassing Spider-Fans

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by Matt Singer
February 28, 2013 2:53 PM
25 Comments
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"The Descendants."
Over the course of 50 years of comics, cartoons, and movies, Spider-Man has undergone hundreds if not thousands of permutations. He's acquired alien costumes; he's gained alien powers. He grew four extra arms; he drove around New York City in a car that could drive up walls. He got married; he got his marriage annulled by Satan. He was replaced by a clone who wore a hoodie as a costume; he was replaced by an African-American teenager; he was replaced by Doctor Octopus. But through all of those storylines, one thing has persisted: the nine words that concluded his very first adventure back in 1962's "Amazing Fantasy" #15:

"With great power there must also come -- great responsibility!"

Those nine little words, the core values beneath almost every single Spider-Man story in the fifty years since, have inspired millions of fans -- but not, apparently, a small segment of those fans who use the Internet as a place to spew hatred and intolerance. These commenters, cloaked in anonymity, possess an enormous power -- the ability to communicate with the entire world. Somehow, though, these so-called Spider-Man fans remain totally oblivious to the responsibility that should come with that power.

I could have written these words about any number of extreme cases of Internet fandom's thoughtless cruelty, but in this case I'm referring to yesterday's reaction to the first images from the set of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." The pictures feature actress Shailene Woodley in the role of Mary Jane Watson. Mary Jane, who was played in the previous trilogy of "Spider-Man" films by Kirsten Dunst, is a vitally important character in the Spider-Man mythos (she's the character Peter Parker married and, later, devil-divorced). She is also, as illustrated by the many talented draftsmen employed by Marvel Comics, stunningly beautiful, and some Internet commenters felt that Woodley was not physically qualified to portray such a character. That prompted many nerds to unleash a spew of venom at Woodley so intense it would make Eddie Brock uncomfortable. 

At Cinema Blend, after one reader said Woodley looked "horrible" and hoped "they can do something with that face of hers," another reader suggested they "Burn it with fire." One of many members of the Superhero Hype message board community declared that "whoever cast her should be fired" and that Woodley represented "a slap in the face to Stan Lee's vision. If they wanted ugly they should have featured [one of Peter Parker's other comic book girlfriends]." This morning at ComicBookMovie.com, a writer named Mark Cassidy wrote an "editorial" entitled "Making Shailene Woodley Hot Enough to Play MJ in TASM 2." On Twitter, he insisted the piece was written as a satire of other geeks' outraged reactions, but many readers missed the joke and simply agreed with him. "This girls is a few sammiches short to play MJ," read one of the first reactions.

I think it was Stan Lee -- or maybe it was Gerry Conway, I forget -- who said "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." To each his own. If you really and truly think that Shailene Woodley is ugly, then I pity you and your inability to derive pleasure from this world. Here, for your sleazy ogling fun, is a publicity still from the movie "The Descendants" where she's wearing a bikini. If that woman is ugly then I'm a hideous troll who should live under a bridge, begging passersby for change and occasionally eating rats.

Back at Cinema Blend, Katey Rich puts the whole Shailene Woodley-isn't-pretty thing into sharp focus -- but to me, how Woodley looks is almost irrelevant. She could have four eyeballs and three ears and a third arm growing out of her back -- that still wouldn't make it okay for anyone to hurl vicious insults at her because she doesn't perfectly resemble the unattainable dream girl they know from the comic books.

Once again, I wonder whether these fans have ever read "Amazing Fantasy" #15, or really any Spider-Man comics. Before a bite from an irradiated spider gave Peter Parker his super-powers, he was mercilessly bullied by Flash Thompson and the rest of the cool kids at Midtown High School. This, of course, is a big reason why he's such a fantasy figure for downtrodden social misfits -- like me back when I was 13. Part of what makes Peter Parker such an inspiring figure is that he's the school dweeb made good -- and when he does make good, he doesn't use his powers to hurt the people who used to pick on him. In time, he even becomes friends with Flash Thompson.

When I see these people hurling brutal insults at Shailene Woodley, or female film critics who don't like "The Avengers," I wonder whether readers of "Amazing Spider-Man" comics these days identify with Flash Thompson instead of Peter Parker. Because that's who they act like: mean, vindictive bullies. They might say in their defense that they don't mean it, or they're only joking. So what? I'm sure the bullies who tripped me, and knocked over my books, and called me Matt Singer Booger Flinger thought they were hilarious (on a related note: eating boogers is not the same as flinging them, guys. Seriously). 

That anonymous user at Superhero Hype was right when he used the phrase "a slap in the face to Stan Lee's vision" -- only the slap in the face here isn't Woodley, it's these jokers who think it's okay to spend their days abusing people in the name of "Spider-Man" fans. Well I'm a Spider-Man fan, and they don't speak for me. I think Shailene Woodley could make a great Mary Jane. I look forward to seeing what she brings to the role. And I hope at some point the guys leaving these comments break out their copies of "Amazing Fantasy" #15 and reread those all-important nine words. They seem to have forgotten them.

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25 Comments

  • Brett | June 29, 2013 9:44 PMReply

    There was even a video where Stan Lee has said that he's tired of seeing attractive people portraying the main characters in superhero films.

  • Brett | June 29, 2013 9:49 PM

    youtube.com/watch?v=my--PCLqVIw&list=PLA2B5DB1786F4B226&index=31

  • miltontwins | June 19, 2013 11:05 PMReply

    Comic book nerds: missing the point of their favorite comics since forever.

  • e | March 2, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    the only thing worse than a dumb internet commenter...is someone who actually takes what they say seriously, or draws attention to their dumb comments with an article on them.

  • MD | March 4, 2013 3:06 PM

    It's important to talk about these things because writing them off as stupid does nothing to contest the very present attitude from which this sort of shameful behavior springs. This isn't one person or one site. This is a current derived from a culture of body shaming and beauty fixation to an unhealthy degree.

    If you want to be lazy and complacent and just call this all dumb and leave it at that, that's absolutely your choice. But this ugliness will still be alive and well when you wake up in the morning.

  • AMZ_Spidey | March 1, 2013 5:26 PMReply

    OMG...finally..FINALLY, a Spidey fan who GETS IT, and doesn't act like a douche bag like many other Spidey fans.

    I swear the past 7 years have made me ASHAMED to be a Spidey fan with how idiotic most other fans have been behaving...

  • DreamySim1 | March 1, 2013 8:33 AMReply

    Thank you SO much for these true words Matt! This is a problem in every 'fandom' and it's the part I'm most disgusted about. I seriously think people should stop spewing hate like this and instead try and focus on the positive...

  • DG | March 1, 2013 1:30 AMReply

    This exact same thing happened with for like two years straight when Anne Hathaway was cast as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises and then she turned out to be THE BEST PART OF THE MOVIE... I know it's been said before but the comment sections on sites like Comicbookmovie and Superherohype need to just be ignored when this kind of thing happens, or else it just encourages these losers. The problem is studios actually scan these sources to get a pulse on their core demographic, this even further encouragement.

  • Amber | February 28, 2013 5:47 PMReply

    Thank god someone said it. I wondered if I was being singularly sensitive when reading those atrocious comments and retaliating in response. Excellent article, and those bitter trolls clearly had not seen The Descendants, as she was fantastic in that movie.

  • Ty | February 28, 2013 5:39 PMReply

    Hey great article. Ppl who are complaining are most probaby holding their comic book on one hand and their penis on the other, masturbating to the attractively drawn mary jane, and take a short break to post some hateful mean posts insulting others, and then continue with their self pleasuring. These people call themselves spidey fans, but apparently none of them understood the message Stan Lee tried to imply and a supposingly obvious message. Shame on you people for using the internet to mask your hideous personality, and shame on you for calling urselves spidey fans.

  • Chris | February 28, 2013 4:56 PMReply

    David Morrissey does not look anything like The Governor portrayed in The Walking Dead comics, but he kills it every week on that show. I don't think you should compare sources of media side by side. A film is a film, a novel is a novel, a comic is a comic. Each is suppose to be its own stand alone piece in my mind. It's disappointing people feel so entitled to things and nitpick even if they didn't create the media source.

  • The ogre of salem | February 28, 2013 3:59 PMReply

    Blame the source, but MJ is supossed to be supermodel hot and shailene, as good an actress as she may be, isn't supermodel hot. Misscast, yes. Could she be amazing nonetheless? OF COURSE SHE CAN. Is she hot? YES

  • Jack | February 28, 2013 3:50 PMReply

    most comment sections are filled with punks trying to one up each other with biting sarcasm. If you can find twenty positive posts in the Superherohype comments sections, your next egg McMuffin is on me.

  • mark | February 28, 2013 3:43 PMReply

    I don't think she's unattractive at all. In fact I think she might look more like MJ than Dunst. I do this this article sounds butthurt though. People on the internet these days are just as quick to jump to defending people's appearance as they are to knock it. Look at Lena Dunham. Any negative reaction to how a woman looks on screen is met with cries of "disgusting" and "sexism." Just let it go. People always have opinions and they can't help but be thinking them.

  • Matthew | February 28, 2013 6:22 PM

    They can usually help spewing them, though.

  • WetWilly | February 28, 2013 3:39 PMReply

    Cool story, bro.

  • Octan | February 28, 2013 3:30 PMReply

    Matt...I agree with you that people should not post stingy comments of these kinds about someone...but at the same time do not discredit the reason behind it at all. People were drawing comparison between what was described in the comic books and what came out in the pics. I am sure you have done these kinda comparisons while critiquing remakes and adaptations...no1 said she is ugly...its just that the pic didn't fit the image tht ppl hav in mind...
    if you mean it that how mary jane looks like is no concern at all...then make Gabourey Sidibe and dye her hair red!!!

  • Brandon Bennett | February 28, 2013 8:00 PM

    The MJ that you guys keep blathering on about in the comics is herself an anatomically impossible misogynists wet dream. And if your precious comic mythology is based on the "hotness" of a character as opposed to, I don't know, their CHARACTER, you have much, MUCH larger problems facing you when your eyes move away from the comic page.

  • Whatever2 | February 28, 2013 6:39 PM

    In any case, they ruined it by casting Andrew Garfield in the first place, so I don't see why people would care if Roseanne was cast as MJ at this point.

  • Whatever | February 28, 2013 6:37 PM

    Matt,

    You can bury your head in the sand, but Electro was never supposed to have supermodel aesthetics, whereas Mary Jane's physical hotness is a crucial component of the character. I agree that Woodley is not unattractive, but like the case of Dunst, it's again casting with no regard for comic mythology. Woodley is the cute girl next door, not a stunner, and she doesn't look good in those candid pictures.

  • Matt Singer | February 28, 2013 4:44 PM

    You mean like casting Jamie Foxx to play Electro?

  • Mike | February 28, 2013 3:30 PMReply

    Which one is she in the bikini?

  • Coolwhip | February 28, 2013 3:14 PMReply

    Seriously, though, Shailene Woodley is smoking hot. All these basement-dwelling losers who are complaining about her act like they could do better.

  • Coolwhip | February 28, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    I think I might be in love with you, Matt.

  • Mark | February 28, 2013 3:03 PMReply

    Could not have put it any better myself. Well-written and completely spot on.

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