It’s been a bit of a chaotic week here in my life, where other obligations are essentially reducing my brain to mush. So I apologize for the lack of a comic remembrance this week. However, there’s been some buzz around the internet regarding a four-page Spider-Man fan comic by indie creator James Stokoe about Spider-Man in Vietnam that’s inspired me to put together a few paragraphs of opinion and reflection.
For starters, I think the artwork is absolutely fantastic, and while I’m not really familiar with Stokoe, this is a pretty bold concept to put together. This is apparently a work in progress, so I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, is added to these initial four pages.
But naturally, as a Spider-Man fan, I have some thoughts about the actual narrative here. Based on what we have, Peter/Spider-Man has enlisted to join the U.S. Army over in Vietnam and is writing Aunt May from abroad. Towards the end of the letter, he reveals his long-held secret, that he is Spider-Man, and he is actually fighting in the war as Spider-Man.
For someone who was born in the early 1980s, I’ve always had an unhealthy fascination with the Vietnam War. I guess, at the core, I’ve always been a pacifist and Vietnam has always been one of those perpetual hot-button issue for people from my parent’s generation. Heck, there are STILL major elections where Vietnam is an issue, both directly and indirectly. When I was in high school, I wrote papers exploring America’s justifications for sending U.S. troops over there, and as you might expect, most of those papers concluded that there was no real justification. My father thought otherwise. My mother agreed with me. The political wars continue.
So given my political background, this web comic has me pondering if the Spider-Man I know and love would actually willingly enlist to fight in Vietnam. Unlike other “tweener” superheroes like Wolverine and the Punisher, Spider-Man has always morally acted based on “good” intentions. While he’s a complex human being, he very rarely crosses into “shades of gray” territory as a hero. Instead, he holds on to the idealistic mantra, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”
But Vietnam was a shades of gray type of war. While Spider-Man might have initially felt a sense of responsibility to defend his country, I wonder if he would continue to adhere to that sense of obligation as the war degenerated into a moral mish-mash in the late 1960s and 1970s.
So I’m dying to see where Stokoe goes with this. In cases where Spider-Man’s idealism has been tested by supervillains like the Green Goblin and Carnage, Spidey has always ended up doing the “right” thing. So what happens if Spider-Man sees his platoon killing innocents while hunting the Vietcong? How will he react to fellow soldiers who are there against their will because of the draft? If Stokoe is going to add more to this comic, I think he needs to explore some of these moral predicaments. Because if not, he’s missing an opportunity to do a real interesting mediation on the ethics of the character in a way that have never really been explored before.