Several weeks ago I ran across a YouTube video of a clip from Cartoon Network’s “Young Justice” featuring the relatively obscure villain Black Spider. The original intent of the poster was to point out the “glaring” similarities between this particular version of Black Spider and Marvel’s Spider-Man character, specifically the Peter Parker, 616 Universe version (in case anyone doubted my nerd cred before I criticize other angry nerds). He swung from the roof of a building with some kind of line, he cracked wise and he wore a black, skin-tight costume. That was it. Now, did it remind me of Spider-Man? Yes, it did; I could see the video-poster’s point. The funny thing was the comments beneath the video. Hundreds of angry posts insisting that Marvel sue DC for blatantly ripping them off. Some even asked how a DC could stoop so low. Well, as a nerd, and a former angry one at that, I’d like to offer some insight as to why there is not nor will there ever be a lawsuit and how they could “stoop so low.”
There are quite a few issues in both of those questions, so it’s a little difficult to know where to begin so I’ll start with an equally obscure Marvel super villain team called, “Squadron Sinister.” Squadron Sinister was a group of villains the Avengers fought in the 70’s. Sometime later, in an alternate-reality storyline (a type of storyline which fans of the Young Justice cartoon should already be acutely aware) the Avengers met Squadron Sinister’s “good” doppelgangers, the Squadron Supreme. This is important because both the Squadron Sinister and Squadron Supreme were straight rip-offs of the Justice League. The Squadron Sinister specifically was a joke! The Marvel writers were making fun of the DC heroes. No one, not even the characters themselves, took them seriously, so much so that when the Avengers and Justice League finally crossed over in the early 2000’s, Hawkeye actually laughed at the Justice League for being so similar to the Squadron Supreme. Since the 70’s the Squadron Supreme has made more appearances alongside the Avengers, with varying degrees of seriousness, but even before then, many characters in the Marvel stable have closer ties to DC then most people know.
Iron Man was originally conceived as the Marvel version of Batman. Look at the similarities between Marvel’s Namor and DC’s Aquaman. The X-Men are almost a straight rip-off of the Doom Patrol. Then there’s Plastic Man, Elongated Man and Mr. Fantastic (Elongated Man was not always a DC character). Don’t forget Black Cat and Catwoman, not just cat-themed but both began as villains. What about Doctor Strange and Doctor Fate, the Watchers and the Guardians, Ultron and Amazo? Hell, Hercules appears in both universes! At one time in the early 21st century Marvel had three different characters inspired by Superman making appearances at the same time*. I think I’ve made my point: there have been lawsuits over stolen intellectual property and ideas in the past but they’re tricky because proving an idea was ripped off or unoriginal is actually very, very hard. I think it goes without saying that the Young Justice version of Black Spider ripping-off Spider-Man is hardly the first or worst case. The original version of the Black Spider character, outside of name, had very little to do with Spider-Man, even if the character was partially inspired by him; he possessed no super-powers, he was a common criminal and certainly didn’t display a sense of humor. This appeared to be a case of the writer(s) having a little fun with the character, quite possibly completely aware of the impact it would have on certain diehard fans.
Perhaps the most wisdom I have to impart comes from my peak of nerd anger, a fanboy rant letter written to Wizard magazine more than 5 years ago (seen here: https://plus.google.com/#photos/113515003667179283092/albums/posts/5769099871078834226), which was actually rather tame compared to some of the comments I saw on the video. The casting for the Joker in “The Dark Knight” had been announced and I was incensed, livid. At the time, Paul Bettany, Adrien Brody and Lachy Hulme were all being considered for the part and I believed all three to be superior choices to Heath Ledger. Now, the letter was printed in a severely edited form, making it quite different from what I had sent. In it I had given good reason for my anger on the casting: I still had visions of Halle Berry’s “Catwoman”, Shaquille O’Neal’s “Steel” and the awful “Batman & Robin”. So not only was there precedent in DC comic movies, previous Batman films were the worst offenders. These weren’t just bad casting choices, these were movies so insulting to their source material as to be jokes themselves.
What I had failed to understand at the time was that just because my favorite version of Batman was the 90’s Animated Series, to include that version of the Joker, didn’t mean it was the only version and others could not exist. I was an adult (legally, by age anyway) at the time and I was aware of other versions of the Joker such as the 60’s TV show Cesar Romero version and the 70’s cartoon version. Additionally, despite how good “Batman Begins” had been, I still preferred the 1988 Tim Burton film “Batman” that featured what was considered by many to be the definitive version of the character for the modern era and the one upon which the animated version had likely been based. I could not see that little else in “Batman Begins” was inspired by the Animated Series. I wanted that version of the Joker and no other. Let’s ignore the fact that Ledger’s death colored the way people interpreted his performance, he showed us the true essence of the Joker which has always been a clown that is both funny and terrifying at the same time. I had forgotten that what is funny and what is scary is subjective from person to person and era to era. On top of all that, I was so deep into comic fanboy mode I failed to understand the impact of “Batman Begins” as a movie. It succeeded not on casting but on it’s thematic elements and direction. I also did not give Christopher Nolan enough credit. This was grossly hypocritical because I certainly blamed Joel Schumacher for the problems with “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin”, above even the issues of story and casting (of which there were many).
In the end I realized my personal feelings on how the other actors might have done are irrelevant. It’s not logical or fair to judge the movie, or any art for that matter, on my expectations. You consume it as it is and judge it by its own merits. It’s okay to not like something, to not enjoy something, but to decry and deride it because it wasn’t what you wanted means you can’t appreciate any perspective but your own. Not only is it selfish, it gets kind of lonely on that high horse when no one wants to listen to you anymore. You obviously aren’t listening to anyone else.
*In 2003 at the same time Marvel was rebooting Squadron Supreme, featuring the Superman pastiche Hyperion, under the MAX line, the Sentry was re-entering the 616 universe while a character exactly like Clark Kent with a superhero secret identity exactly like Superman featured in a short Spider-Man story-arc.