A Profile of Peter Parker
by John Semper
The rule of thumb to keep in mind with Peter Parker is that we cannot heap enough trouble on this poor soul. The more problems we give him, the more interseting the show will be.
Our Peter Parker is nineteen and is ini his second year of college at Empire State University. He has probably been SPIDER-MAN for more than a year, and, if we ever refer to her at all, GWEN STACY has been dead for about a year (we will probably NOT be referring to her, but I wanted to give you a time frame that included her as well.)
In our series we are returning to the "troubled youth" of the early SPIDER-MAN comic books, as depicted in the first one-hundred issues. We are not depicting the Peter Parker of today who is happily married to Mary J ane. Our hero is lonely, unhappy, and has only has rapid fire wit and his web-slinging to use as an escape from a life that seems fraught with bad luck. As a hard and fast rule, in our series we will be ignoring EVERYTHING that has happened in Parker's PERSONAL life in print after issue #100.
Parker's Interior Thoughts
To the outside world, Peter Parker is normal, polite, and more reactive than active. He has a pleasant demeanor and is well-behaved.
In our series, Parker will have an INTERIOR MONOLOGUE that will allow us to hear what Parker is thinking. Remember that when writing that interior monologue you must adhere to the following rules:
1. While he is PETER PARKER, while we are listening to his thoughts, we see that Parker has a funny, acerbic, wry wit with which he is able to insightfully dissect the people and events in his life.
2. But when Parker becomes SPIDER-MAN, things are just the opposite. Once the mask has been dropped down in front of his face, it's SPIDER-MAN who can verbalize that cynical wit out loud. He can be devasting with his humor as he is with his strength, and he never spares any opportunity to use it.
3. Meanwhile, as SPIDER-MAN, Parker's interior monologue now shifts to become more serious and purposeful. We are allowed to hear his more serious thoughts, the things that he'd never voice while battling a super-villain and trying to keep up his bravado. In the interior monologue, SPIDER-MAN can assess his options, examine his dilemma, and voice his frustrations.
4. DO NOT OVERUSE the interior monologue. Use it very sparingly. It is not the television equivalent of thought balloons in a comic book. There is too much interior monologue in most of the comic books. We just don't have enough time for all of that dialogue.
Parker and Science
Parker is smart in science, but not outrageously so.
OLD PROBLEM: It always bothered me that as a high-school kid, young Peter Parker was able to whip together an advanced chemical concoction called "webbing" that would rival the most incredible scientific achievements known to mankind. How did he do that, and why, if he's so brilliant, hasn't he figured out a way to invent something else to make himself a multi-millionaire?
NEWLY INVENTED BACK-STORY: Here's the back-story that I invented to explain it away. When he was bitten by the radioactive spider that gave him his powers, Parker also inherited the spider's intuitive ability to know what is needed to mix together and in just the right capacity in order to make webbing. So he really isn't just an incredible scientific genius. He's smart, well above average, but not abnormally so. He just happens to know how to make this webbing stuff as part of his innate spider abilities.
Wrestling with Peter Parker's Psyche
Parker is a complex character and we will have to intelligently delve into that complexity in order to do him justic in our motion-picture-like, realistic approach to bringing him to the screen. In wrestling with this problem, it occurred to me that what writers needed was a "behavior model" around which to base much of Parker's actions and reactions. We needed a pre-existing psychological concept to apply to Peter to give him some kind of validity. We also needed something "quick and dirty," something easy to grasp, so as not to require each and every writer to have a degree in advanced psychoanalysis in order to write for our show. Luckily, I've found one that seems useful.
In the first one hundred issues of the comic, Peter P arker exhibits all of the behavior that we've come to attribute to an "Adult Child of an alcoholic." Since we don't know anything about his parents (we'll ignore the current comic book explanation that they both are alive and were being kept in a Russian prison all this time) let's, for the moment, make up a convenient back-story about them.
PLEASE NOTE: This isn't a back-story that we'll ever use. It's just something that the writer can keep in the back of his or her own head to guide in motivating this complex character.
Let's assume that one of Parker's parents, probably his father, was an alcoholic. Let's assume that at a very early age, far too early for him to consciously remember, Parker suffered some of the psychological trauma attributed to children of alcoholics. After living with his parents from birth, one day, when he was between age three to six, Parker was told that his parents were killed in a car crash (perhaps drunk-driving was involved). It was then that he came to live with Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
Now, we have an explanation for why, even though Peter grows up with Aunt May and Uncle Ben in a nurturing, loving environment, he still is such a misfit. Because of his early trauma, he still exhibits all of the personality characteristics of an "Adult Child of an alcoholic." He's shy and withdrawn. He's an over-achiever. He has low self-esteem. He keeps secrets. He needs to "perform" (as SPIDER-MAN) to bolster his own self-image. He has trouble forming and keeping relationships. To the outer world, he appears well-mannered and complete, while inside, he's falling apart.
A lot of "Adult Children" turn to humor to deal with the trauma of their early years. The popular comedian Louie Anderson has written a best-selling book about his early childhood trauma and the alcoholism in his family. Peter Parker also uses humor as an important release mechanism for his frustrations.
One of the biggest characteristics of the "Adult Child" is the need to "take care of" somebody, sometimes to the detriment of their own personal life. There is no animosity involved. In fact, there's usually a lot of love involved. It's called "co-dependency." That is exactly the relationship that Parker has with Aunt May.
See? For our limited purpose as a behavior model, it all seems to work.
In truth, this is merely "pop psychology." One can conjure up many other valid reasons for why Parker behaves as he does. If this "Adult Child" behavior model doesn't work for you, then don't use it. But if you find yourself groping for a way to "get inside" Parker's head quickly and effectively, then this might help.
There are any number of good books out there examining the "Adult Child." The most famous is "Co-dependent No More" by Melanie Beattie, a New York Times bestseller which can be found in any paperback book store. Think of it as a useful tool for trying to come up with good inner, psychological weaknesses for Parker to wrestle with.
Let's carry this analogy a bit further. One of the complications of being an "Adult Child" of a substance abuser is that you may grow up to abuse substances yourself to escape your inner problems. Let's assume that Parker falls prey to this characteristic. What would the substance be that he abuses? Let's suppose that it's.......web-slinging!
Think about it. He uses web-slinging to escape from the troubles down on the ground. He uses his mask to hide out from being who he really is. He quite literally "gets high" to escape his inescapable problems.
If we let Parker's alter-ego as SPIDER-MAN be used as an analogy for substance abuse, things do get very interesting!
What every substance abuser eventually finds out is that, in their blind rush to easily escape from everthing, they have in fact escaped from nothing. As the substance abuse grows to monumental problems, it now becomes their number one problem. Then, once again, the abusers have to face themselves and their own deficiencies, but this time in a life-or-death struggle with substance abuse. Their inherent personality problems haven't gone away. Now, their problems have just become magnified.
This is exactly what Parker always discovers. He tries to escape from being who he is, Peter Parker, the loser. He becomes SPIER-MAN, the super-hero. But in doing so, he never really can escape himself. And when he does confront real problem as SPIDER-MAN, everything now has been MAGNIFIED to epic proportions. When he confronts super-villains high up in the skies of New York, Parker still carries his own hang-ups in his head, and now those hang-ups can cause huge problems that are a matter of life or death, not only for Parker, but for all humanity. Just like the substance abuser, in trying to escape everything, Peter Parker has in fact escaped nothing. In the end, Peter Parker always has to face himself, no matter where he turns.
Again, if this "psycho-babble" makes you, the writer, confused or uneasy, then don't use it. But I want to give you some indication of how seriously we want to delve into Parker as a character. We don't want to simply reduce him to "Saturday morning cartoon" characteristics and cliches, i.e., "He's smart. He likes girls. He goes to school. etc.. This makes him no different from "Archie." We are not doing "Archie."
An easier analogy for most writers to accept is to make Peter Parker the same as the "Jett Rink" character played by James Dean in the motion picture Rebel Without a Cause. This is a great movie, directed by Nicholas Ray. If you haven't seen it, rush out and rent it (in letterbox, of course).
James Dean portrays a young man who has just moved to L.A. He is disaffected, lonely, and confused. It is a powerful coming of age story (ironically enough, in the early SPIDER-MAN comics, Peter Parker, as drawn by Steve Ditko, sometimes appears to look a lot like James Dean).
Like Peter Parker, Jett is very reactive throughout the tale. He rarely acts, until the end, when he beings to assert who he is as he takes on the bad kids who are out to kill him. But you already know that deep down inside, even though he isn't showing it, he's really seething with angst, frustration, anger, and raw energy. In the end, when Jett Rink explodes, it's fascinating to watch. Just imagine what it would have been like if, in the end, James Dean could have put on his SPIDER-MAN costume and gone web-slinging to eliminate the bad guys. That's the kind of magnetic, charismatic quality that we want to bring to our hero. It's also the kind of widescreen, cinematic treatment that we want to bring to our series.
Peter Parker is not a perfect "everyman" character. He is not a plain vanilla do-gooder. Remember, in his origin story, when he had the opportunity, to stop a common criminal right after he had gotten his power, his response was "Forget it. That's for you cops to worry about. I've got money to make with my abilities! Catching crooks is not my problem."
Parker is a young man with many problems and we will get most of our melodrama from his deep-rooted complexities. That is one of the main things that we are bringing to this version of SPIDER-MAN that no other version has explored.
But don't forget the humor. We do not want to do a bleak, angst-ridden film noire piece. Parker uses humor to get through his life and there should be a lot of it in his repartee with villains, and in his wry look at his own life. Peter Parker is very appealing. He is not a downer.
And don't forget that Parker is very young. We don't want Parker to seem like a character in an older-skewing TV soap opera. He's not that far away from being a teenager, and there still should be a fresh, young, teenage quality about him to which our equally-as-young audience will be able to relate.
Again, remember that this is a coming-of-age story. In our saga, a troubled young man will move from confused darkness into the light. We must heap as many problems as we can on poor Peter Parker, which will give us much opportunity to help him sort them out as he grows up. In short, we are giving ourselves, the writers, plenty of material for good, strong stories down the line.
End of pop psychology. Or, as Stan would say, "....'Nuff said!"
How Parker Motivates the Overall Story
No matter who the villain is in a given episode, we should always try to tie in the villainy to some inner weakness in Peter Parker's personality or some emotional problem in Parker's personal life.
For instance, when Mysterio appears and uses bizarre illusions and holographic projections to make SPIDER-MAN think that he's going crazy, this might coincide with Parker's nagging self-doubts about the effects his SPIDER-MAN powers are having on his own sanity.
When DOC OCK turns against the world because he feels that he's been denied proper credit for his scientific achievements, this would cause Parker to reflect on the neglect that he feels he's received by those closest to him because they perceive him to be an "egghead."
If SPIDER-MAN does battle with BARON ZEMO, who hates the world because of the way people shun him as a result of his hideous, acid-burned face, it would cause Parker to think wrestle with the problems of his own lack of self-esteem and perceptions of himself as being "weird" or an "outcast."
We are not simply going to be doing stories about a super-hero, SPIDER-MAN, who fights villains. We will be doing stories about internal conflicts and how they complicate external ones. It will make our stories stronger and more interesting.
Bringing Peter Parker from Comic Book Page to Screen
The key word in bringing Parker to life on screen is "resolution."
In the comics, because of the serialized nature of the medium, poor Peter almost never seems to reach any conclusive moments in his life. If he does, it's only briefly before he's off into another mess of complicated emotions and personal trauma.
In our show, whatever problem or internal conflict that we create in the beginning will have to be resolved in some way in the end. This doesn't mean that we will have happy, neatly tied up endings. On the contrary, sometimes the resolution is that "Parker was wrong," or that "life is hard." Sometimes the resolution is that "loose ends are unavoidable." But Parker has to learn that in the end and be content with the knowledge that he's learned something new.
Remember, our SPIDER-MAN saga is first and foremost about personal growth. If we don't see Parker learning, growing, then we aren't going to be telling the story we set out to tell. So we have to resolve something, anything, by the end of our complete story.
In practice, what this means to the writer is that whatever internal conflict you create in the beginning for Parker, you must resolve in the end in some way or another. We will not leave any internal conflicts open-ended. It's bad story-telling. There must be some kind of resolution.
Bringing Spider-Man From Comic Book Page to Life
As you may know, we seldom are allowed to see the great STAN LEE, creator of all that is MARVEL. Having achieved a true state of "comic book perfection" many years ago, he mostly spends his time in hidden chambers built especially for him here on the west coast. There, behind closed doors, draped in priestly robes, he conjures up the spirits of other comic book dimensions and confers with energy sources well beyond our mortal comprehension.
Occassionally, some of us, his unworthy acolytes, press our ears to the thick oaken doors of his sanctum sanctorum in an effort to glean any wisdom that might be overheard. Other than the muttering of a few words like "Dread Dormammu" or "Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth," we hardly ever pick up anything of value, so limited is our ability to fully comprehend that which transpires within.
But recently, I had a truly wondrous stroke of blessed good fortune. I was working very late one night (since starting this show I have given up sleep), and I heard a noise in the corridor. It was the sound of a sacred robe scraping the carpet as its wearer transversed the hallways. I poked my head out, hoping against all hope that I might be right. Lo and behold! There was the great one himself, making a rare sojourn into the world of the material in order to get a quick snack. His long white beard shone in the darkness. Trembling with fear, reverence, and anticipation, I flung myself forward before him, my eyes averted so as not to incur his wrath.
"Mister The Man, sir!" I screamed in a hoarse voice that pierced the holy silence around us. "I'm working on an addendum to the Spider-Man Writers' Guide. What words of wisdom can I bring to potential writers frm one so great as yourself?"
His voice started in what can only be described as a god-like tone.
"Just tell 'em, 'show it, don't say it!'" he spake. "Now get the hell out of my way, you moron! 'Nuff said!"
I knelt and wept.
Years from now, many true believers will still be writing interpretation of those important words spoekn on that fateful encounter. Allow me to be the first to make an unworthy attempt at explaining them.
What Stan meant was that we have to always find ways to visually reinforce SPIDER-MAN's spider-like abilities. Writers must always keep in mind that we are dealing with a hero who has WALL CRAWLING ABILITY, SPIDER-SENSE, SUPER HUMAN STRENGTH, AND WEB-SLINGING capabilties.
WALL-CRAWLING should be shown whenever possible. Let's say there's a scenario where SPIDER-MAN is inn a crowded building trying to find a villain. There is a panic as a frightened crowd of people race down the hallways away from the villain. SPIDER-MAN needs to get through the crowds. Does he swing above them on his webbing? He could. But webbing is expensive, and he can run out. Why not just climb up the nearby wall and race to the center of action across the ceiling? Much better. It's unique to SPIDER-MAN. That Bat-Guy can't do it. Nor can that Super-Guy. Only SPIDER-MAN can.
Scenario number two: Let's say that SPIDER-MAN is having a conversation with someone. Does he just stand there on the floor talking to them like a regular guy? No way. He attaches himself to a wall while he converses, or he hangs from a web upside down. This visually reminds our audience that we are dealing with a hero with special powers. Remember, SPIDER-MAN is a wall-crawler first and foremost of all his amazing abilities.
SPIDER-SENSE is a kind of heightened intuition that SPIDER-MAN feels whenever danger is present. It is not a magic, Saturday-morning cartoon gimmick that prevents SPIDER-MAN from having anything bad happen to him. As is the case with any intuition, sometimes SPIDER-MAN is confused by his spider-sesne, or misinterprets it with disastrous results. But writers must remember that he has it and you should use it whenver possible. We will be coming up with some appropriate visual and audio cues to let our viewers know that the spider-senseis happening.
SUPER-HUMAN STRENGTH is certainly the power most characteristic of super-heroes and I don't think we'll have to encourage writers to remember to use it. However, I would like to encourage writers to write scenes in which we see the limits of that power. Most super-heroes are made heroic not by what they can do, but by how they overcomes what they can't do. It's the ability to do the impossible, or to make the extra effort that earns our admiration and truly makes them heroes. So remember, SPIDER-MAN does have great strength, but he also has limitations, and we must show him being confronted with those limitations in each episode.
A general rule of thumb is to have SPIDER-MAN be nearly defeated at least once in each episode, so that we can see the full threat of what he is up against. Then, when he wins in the end, we will appreciate it more.
Do I need to remind anybody that SPIDER-MAN swings from webbin, fired by his wrist web-shooters, to get from place to place? No, I didn't think so. But how we depict that WEB-SLINGING is an important part of the look of our show. In general, the writer should imagine that web-slinging is like the ultimate roller-coaster ride. We will expect to give our audiences VERTIGO from the heights at which we will catapult our hero through the air with dazzling acrobatic skill. There are plans afoot to use actual three-dimensional computer graphics to depict the cityscape through which SPIDER-MAN swings. Therefore, if the writer is thinking of simple panning backgrounds and flat-looking medium shots of our character's profile as he swings, then the writers will not have the proper feeling for how important web-slinging is to our hero or to the distinctive visual look of the show.
We plan to give the viewer nosebleeds at the sight of how far off the ground SPIDER-MAN is as he travels. We want to make our viewers ill with dizziness. Never miss an opportunity to place SPIDER-MAN on a spire, on an antenna perched high atop a skyscraper, or sitting on the back of a gargoyle high up on the corner of a huge old building.
If web-slinging truly is SPIDER-MAN's version of "getting high," then we must reinforce that incredible height at all times so that we can visually understand the rush that he feels when he's doing it.
It's not enough for Peter Parker to say, "I have to do a little web-slinging to clear my brain!" We have to see how exhilirating it is for him to do it so that we can understand the effect it has on him. That's not the only good story-telling. It's good cinema.
Remember what Stan the Man said. Show it, don't say it!
Spider-Man The Hero
As the writer, don't forget that our audience will be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to actually see just how SPIDER-MAN's unique powers, gadgets, and devices work. Don't forget to use them and demonstrate physically how they operate.
For instance, let's see SPIDER-MAN replace the webbing cartridges in his wrist shooter just before attacking a supremely powerful foe.
Let's see SPIDER-MAN using his notorious BELT-MOUNTED SPIDER BEACON, the one that shines the SPIDER-MAN logo on his unsuspecting intended victim.
Let's see him put on his mask and his gloves. Let's see him climb from his bedroom window and swing out into the dark night. Let's see him throw his spider-tracer with unerring accuracy, and then let's see him use his electronic receiver to track the villain to whom it's attached. (Note: in the later comics, SPIDER-MAN doesn't need the receiver. He's able to pick up it's signals mentally. This is too cerebral and will translate to the screen poorly. Let's go back to using the receiver device).
We don't want to make this a hardware show, but conversely we don't want to make it seem like SPIDER-MAN does everything by invisible magic. So keep in mind that there is a physical logic behind everything he does and let's show it when appropriate.
The Limitations of Webbing
Let's be sure to use SPIDER-MAN'S WEBBING intelligently. He doesn't do the impossible with it. Obviously he uses it to get around. But let's always try to think of what he attaches it to when he is swinging through the city, or, more importantly, doing battle. Let's not just assume that it's shooting off-screen into the ozone. In the old SPIDER-MAN cartoon show of years ago, they used to show him shooting his web up high into the sky, well beyond the tops of the buildings. This, of course, made no sense at all.
SPIDER-MAN can't form webbing into impossible things. He can't form his webbing into a boat, a dish-washer, a jet plane, or a fully functioning TV set. Forming webbing into things is a very difficult and imprecise science. SPIDER-MAN is not a sculptor, and in the limited time available, he can't make intricate things out of his webbing. The key word should always be "crude." He forms his webbing into a crude shield, or a crude mask, or a crude blanket.
While webbing can be used as a weapon, it has to be used cleverly. He might shoot his web at a crook's gun, plugging up the barrel. Then he'd say, "Go ahead and shoot. Your gun will blow up in your face!" (Actually, we won't do anything like that because of Broadcast Standards and Practices, but you get the idea.)
Webbing is not the strongest substance known to mankind. Let's not use it to stop cars, slow down trains, carry elephants, or any other heavy-duty tasks. Let's use it for small things only. If SPIDER-MAN wants to stop a car, he'd leap on to the car and then use his webbing to get at the steering wheel to quickly turn it and make the car veer away from the crowd of people on the side-walk. He wouldn't use his webbing to grab on to the rear fender and pull the car to a stop. That's too big, too much like the Super-Guy.
This page is a part of DRG4's Marvel Cartoon Pages:
Featuring Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, and the Silver Surfer.