All about the pie
Just a minute here to talk about a comics supervillain whose type doesn’t figure into Doctor Xaos, neither lesser nor ultra, but rather personal, who is primarily dangerous due to what he knows, how he’s related to the hero through ordinary ties, and what flips his switch.
For the first, I stress that Spidey was not the figurehead of the company, they were barely into the third year of the series, no one had ever written him except Lee and Ditko, and there was no auxiliary product (toys, shows, Pez dispensers, nothin’). The stories were “street-level,” about criminals and crime-stopping, not universes and cosmoses. This one was a convoluted crimeboss Dick Tracy-style story, based on guessing games about three competing bosses’ identities; it concludes with two of them unmasked and the Goblin escaping, his aims thwarted. It works too to understand just how weird the Goblin is, within the story itself, to the extent that gaudy-named, masked comics-Mafia bosses call him “that freak.” Ditko especially brought this out with his disturbing eyelashes, a touch I miss in other depictions.
The second is the knockout, and one my favorite comics stories partly because I actually owned #39-40 and saw it reprinted in Son of Origins, my first book about comics. I don’t suppose I have to summarize anything about it. Comics pundits love to say “two sides of the same coin,” but this is one of the few times it’s true, laid out here perfectly:
That’s why the 2003 Raimi film works so well, it really is solely about these three panels, although shifting the core character between hero and villain to a different person. I saw it twice in the theaters and noted the same thing at the same moment, and anecdotally, talked about it with triple-digit many people who’ve confirmed it for their viewing experience. When, the one moment and no other, did the whole audience suddenly fall silent simultaneously? You know the answer: it’s at the Thanksgiving dinner scene, when Norman tries to bogart a finger-scoop of pie.
Here you go, but by itself, the brief clip doesn’t catch why, because in fact, I’m talking about the entire movie. This is the moment toward which every single event so far has been pointing, and afterwards, on which every single event depends. Why?
People say “heroes need villains” but that is all backwards. Whatever arc you care about for the hero, the little one of his or her origin, or the big one of whatever happens from now on, that is mighty fine and dandy … but come on, there are thousands of those, and most died on the vine, completely forgotten. The butthole pucker arrives when the villain shifts from doing his own thing, his own plan, his way of life, his workaday villain-ness … to focusing. If you’re familiar with my role-playing game Sorcerer, then you can see I’m talking about the villain’s Kicker.
In the film’s story, Norman is crazy and murderous, but his aims are financial. Until this scene, he’s held steady about that; when he tries to adapt to new circumstances by trying to co-opt Spider-Man, Spider-Man is still merely obstacle or opportunity regarding those aims.
What brings him to that dinner is family and nominal friends – his son, his son’s girlfriend, his son’s friend, and his son’s friend’s aunt – the latter of whom, he has no interest in whatsoever. He is not, at this point, any specific threat to Spider-Man or relevant to Peter’s life-decisions.
That’s why the audience including me reacted: they now knew that the entire conflict has shifted, that when the Goblin and Spidey come face to face again, it will not be a collision of randomly-moving particles any more, but directed, zero-sum combat between competing and equally desperate interests. It doesn’t even matter which one makes the first move, because now, one of them absolutely must. Furthermore, Aunt May, previously unknown to and irrelevant to the Goblin, is now inevitably his target.
So let’s replace that “heroes need villains” malarkey with the real operating concept, which is that “a worthy villain needs a pie.” It’s not abstract (“I must have pow-ah!”) or an origin-thing (“argh! I am a lizard!”): it’s an event right there in the story, relative to prior events and circumstances (in this case, family/friends) and unequivocally consequential to every event to follow.
Concept (“green goblin”) is not enough. It’s better than a mere list of powers, it’s necessary, but not sufficient. You gotta have the pie.
Next: Man of steel
Posted on April 9, 2015, in Filmtalk, Storytalk and tagged Aunt May, butthole pucker, creepy eyelashes, Green Goblin, John Romita Sr., Kicker, Norman Osborn, Pie, Sam Raimi, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2003 film, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.