The Ape, the Bat, and the Spider   4 comments

I love superhero movies–always have.  And there have been more and more of them lately as Time-Warner (D.C) and Marvel get their acts together.  In the last couple of weeks I’ve made an extra effort to get out and see The Amazing Spider-Man and The Rise of the Dark Knight.  I enjoyed them both very much.  Spider-Man was more fun.  Batman was more epic.

Talking with my son about them, I started to mentally compare the movies.  At first glance Batman and Spider-Man don’t seem very similar, but the two heroes actually have a lot of similarities.  In fact I’d argue that they’re both literary descendants of Tarzan who was the original swinger.

Tarzan was the original swinging super hero.

Then Batman got into the act.

Then Spider-Man made it his chosen mode of travel.

First Edgar Rice Burroughs had a super hero Tarzan swinging in 1912, although it was probably 1920 before he showed it off in the comics.  Then Bob Kane created the swinging Batman in 1929.  Finally, Stan Lee did it with Spider-Man in 1961 (and later with Daredevil in 1964.)

There are a lot of resemblances between these three male supermen.  They are all orphans. Tarzan’s parents died in the African jungle while he was still a baby.  Batman’s parents were shot down by Joe Chill in Crime Alley while Bruce as a ten-year-old boy.  Spider-Man’s parents perished mysteriously, when he was a young boy also.  Then Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben got killed by a petty criminal, so Spider-Man suffered the dead father figure twice.  (Superman’s parents died  when Krypton exploded.  Conan’s parents are generally thought to have died when he was young; Robert E. Howard never said, but the movie scripters kill them off when Conan is young.)  Is there something about being an orphan that creates heroes?

All three heroes base or get their powers from animals: apes, bats, and spiders.  My original comparison was simply going to be Batman and Spider-Man.  Both characters model themselves after animals that are loathed and feared–bats and spiders, and use an animal symbol on their costume.

Not too visible in this rubberized armor, but the bat symbol is right in the middle of Batman’s chest.

Spider emblem right in the middle of his chest. Granted, it is the best place to put a symbol on a costume, and all the heroes do it, but still . . . it’s a similarity.

Both Batman and Spider-Man are primarily known as crime fighters, and not just ordinary crime, although they will take out everyday thugs and such if the occasion arises, but freaky super-villains.  The Batman’s arch nemesis is The Joker (whose theme colors are green and purple).

Scary looking guy in green and purple, maniac, mass murderer.

Spidey’s all time worst enemy is The Green Goblin, whose theme colors are green and purple.

Scary looking maniac and mass murderer in green and purple.

Both heroes are scientific geniuses, coming up with all sorts of inventions to help themselves.  Batman does it more than Spider-Man does, but neither one is challenged in the IQ department.

Both of them have a tendency to get their girlfriends killed.  I won’t go into that, but ladies, stay away from superheroes (and villains) if you don’t want to die young.

Both of them developed female versions.  Batman has Batwoman and Batgirl.  (many different versions of both)

Kate Kane is the latest and perhaps the hottest Batwoman. She hasn’t made it to the movies yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Barbara Gordon is the original Batgirl, and still the best. She’s back, somehow, since DC rebooted their universe.

Spider-Man has his female imitations.

Spiderwoman, deadlier than the male.

Arana (should be a tilde on the n but not available while typing here) aka Spider-Girl.

Then there was the Batmobile and the Spidermobile, the Batcycle and the Spidercycle.  And who knows how many other similarities there are between the two heroes.  Is it just me, or is Marvel simply imitating D.C. as far as their hero characters go?

Batman is perhaps the most important figure in the DC pantheon of heroes.  Superman might be equal, but then why are there more Bat books than Super books?  Spider-Man is perhaps the most important figure in the Marvel pantheon of heroes.  It just had to be that way.  The two characters carry the same karma, and so achieve similar positions of prominence.

I’m not saying that Batman and Spider-man are identical, but dang, when you start to look at them, there sure are a lot of similarities.

If you can think of some comparisons that I may have missed, please go ahead and leave a comment.  If you’ve seen both of their new movies, and you’d like to weigh in on which was superior, then do that too.

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4 responses to “The Ape, the Bat, and the Spider

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  1. Time for the nit-picky comics junkie to add data and corrections, ignoring the crowd’s shouts of “Shut up, Chester!”

    Despite Bob Kane’s claims, he didn’t create Batman until 1939 — and even then, his version was a guy in red and white costume with a domino mask, with no origin. Bill Finger created the costume (except, maybe, the fins on the gloves) and the dead-parents origin.

    In the past decade or two, DC has decided that Bruce Wayne never did find his parent’s killer, who was not Joe Chill. This was a huge mistake on their part, and the current movie continuity completely ignores it … even going so far as to include Finger’s concept that Chill was an executioner for Lew Moxon (Different name in “Batman Begins,” IIRC).

    We’ll have to have different opinions on “hottest” Batwoman. To me, it was Kathy Kane (the original) but only when drawn by Shelly Moldoff.

    Barbara Gordon was the second Batgirl. Kathy’s niece Bette Kane. If Kathy’s costume was Too Danged Bright for a Batman strip, Bette’s was over-the-top. Then again, the Batman attitude has always been “dress the assistant in bright colors so they’ll target them instead of me.”

    The Spider vehicles were done, in continuity, as jokes – to spoof the toy merchandising.

    Spider-Man was initially created by Joe Simon, brought to Stan Lee by Jack Kirby, and developed by Steve Ditko, who Stan used to credit with a lot more than he does now. One thing which FOR SURE Stan added to the mix, was Peter’s decision to NOT be a hero but a TV star, and the directly-related murder of Ben Parker. These two elements changed the strip significantly from Simon’s concept (which was rewritten as “the Fly” for Archie Comics in the 1950s) but created the then-new concept of the hero who is directly responsible for Something Bad. Even then, Spidey tried to continue in show business, but was pulled into heroic action.

    You’re absolutely correct, though, in recognizing them each as an iconic hero. Dozens, if not more, characters owe their existence to these icons. And they do make good movie material, don’t they?

    Sorry for the nit-pickiness — I really LOVED your post! And you definitely have more patience than I, since I rarely have the patience to add graphics to my stuff.

  2. I’m a bit of a latecomer to superhero comics. It was really brutal, by the time I was old enough to buy comics on my own, to “get into” the continuity of almost any superhero comic. I read the Captain Marvel / “Shazam” reprints that DC published in the 70s, because there was so little background to worry about . . . on the other hand, it was pretty juvenile.

    I remember feeling like banging my head against the wall during the 80s, when DC was going through the whole “Crisis” period. From the discussions between friends I’d overheard, they seemed to be going out of the way to make things even harder to deal with. I had even less desire to dip my toes in the water.

    Lately, I’ve been trying to fix this.

    A few years back the local paper began including, in the Sunday edition, skinny, ad-and-editorial-content-free reprints of the first dozen or so Spider Man stories. It was really neat seeing how Lee, Ditko & co. went about creating a superhero who had to deal with the trials of being a broke high schooler.

    Not having the resources of Bruce Wayne makes “Spidey” a lot more interesting. The stories seem more personal. The re-conception of Batman as a psychopathic looney made him less appealing to me.

    I just saw “Amazing Spider-man” yesterday. It really took liberties with the origin story, but since I’ve never been a deep-fried fan that doesn’t bother me too much. I think they did a great job of a reboot. Maguire was a little more appealing to me personally — more believable as a nerd — but Garfield seems more like a genuine modern teenager. I guess that future movies will have Spidey tackle a new villain, with an ongoing subplot about the newly introduced dark forces connected with his father.

    • Yeah, some of the ideas of Peter’s Parents came from a Lee/Lieber story in one of the annuals in which they were SHIELD agents killed by the Red Skull. Other ideas were taken from the Ultimate Spider-Man comic (first version) which turned Pete’s dad into a scientist who developed the Venom symbiote. I’m really hoping they don’t use Venom in the next movie – or ever again, really.

      One treat you might have enjoyed, re: the original Spider-Man. Decades ago, copies of pages from Steve Ditko’s high school yearbook were being passed around in fandom — and every one of the youthful supporting cast of Spider-Man looked exactly like one of Ditko’s classmates.

  3. I saw both. I thought Batman was too much “I don’t want to wear the cowl” kind of movie & thought it was draggy. Spider-Man wasn’t that much better either. My kids thought the kissing scene was the highlight of the movie. I thought it had more action than the Batman movie, but felt it could have been better. I can’t believe they recycled the CIA parents storyline. Boring…

    The orphan arguement is your strongest comparission. I like Peter & Bruce without parents. Tarzan with parents would be weird too. Imagine Tarzan’s parents are undercover CIA agents. I know..lame.

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