NOVA to Spider-Man: Find Another Villain

I recently went to see the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The show was still in previews. The opening had been delayed because there were so many technical problems. In fact, the matinee I attended had to stop while the main character, Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter ego, hung from a rope, wanly waving at the audience. Despite that, the show was a spectacle, with exquisitely costumed creatures rising up from beneath the stage and flying around the enormous theater. A couple of times, I thought Spider-Man might wind up in my lap.

If this show can get itself together, it will be a technical tour de force and provide some imaginative entertainment for kids and their families as well as old Spidey fans nostalgic for their hero. I will leave comments on the story and acting to more qualified critics, but I do have a bone to pick with this show--the choice of villain.

Spider-Man has a long tradition of "mad scientist" super-villains, starting with the comic books, going through the movies and now, the musical. I say it's time to get over it and to update this anachronistic obsession with evil scientists. But why be so bothered with a harmless fantasy? Well, anyone who has seen the latest results of international testing should be, considering that U.S. students ranked 23rd in science and even lower in math in the latest results of the international educational assessment PISA. If our future lies in the innovation economy, based on products that emerge from science and technology, our students need to step up their game. And to help make that happen, not only does our society need to invest in science education, we need to create an environment more receptive to scientific ideas and one that inspires boys and girls of all ethnics groups to consider science and engineering careers.

The Spider-Man super-villain scientist may be fantasy, but it is rooted in a distrust of science that pervades our society. To be sure, some wariness is justified; there's certainly ample evidence throughout history that science can be used for evil as well as good. But science and engineering have brought us longer and healthier lives, enabled us to learn about worlds beyond our own, and given us all the electronic gadgets we love so much, including the one I'm typing on right now. And if we want this progress to continue to improve our lives and to bolster our economy, let's stop picking on scientists and find another villain. There are certainly plenty of real ones out there.

User Comments:

I think you may have missed the point of Spiderman and science. Science should always consider IF they should do something, not assume it is good just because they CAN do it.

Peter Parker, besides being a photographer, is a scientist. One of his biggest appeals Spiderman has to geeks and other smart people is that he is a science nerd.

Spiderman doesn't see ill in science, just its misuse, and shouldn't we all worry about that?

Peter Parker is himself a pretty bright scientific mind. Your argument about Spiderman in this case is a little lacking.

I personally can not wait for this act to get its act together and come to Chicago!!! lol! But on a more serious note, science is great and has done much to make beneficial advancements for man...but when we use that as a reason to go forth and practice science willy nilly with no care to the affects on further generations, well that's a little mad..well its just careless....yes...i said willy nilly!

Slow news days even affect NOVA, I guess.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I think you have it backwards. The desire to become a supervillain strongly motivated me to work hard in sciences!

Peter Parker is himself a scientist (in the canon of the comic book universe and the movie as well). In the comics, he abandons this pursuit (as a profession) once he discovers his powers because the demand of being a scientist/science PHD and spider-man is too great. However, in the comic books he eventually rediscovers his passion for science by becoming a high school science teacher. Clearly Peter Parker himself shows an adeptness and appreciation for science, using his private research to develop the web fluid which allows him to become spider-man. The fact that some of his villains are also scientists just further develops one of the main themes of the Spider-man story - with great power comes great responsibility. Science - when used for good - can be a blessing for the benefit of humanity. But those that would use it for evil also exist, and ignoring that in favor of an idyllic fairy tale would also be a disservice to our youth. I think science is realistically portrayed here, there exists both application for good and evil, two different sides of the same coin.

Disclaimer: I haven't seen the Broadway production. That having been said, I think you're missing the point. The recurring central themes of the Spider-Man storyline are power and responsibility - "with great power comes great responsibility". The protagonist Peter Parker IS a scientist who has inherited great power, and has chosen to use it responsibly. Many of the antagonists are scientists who have inherited great power but have chosen for one reason or another to use it irresponsibly. Thus Spider-Man presents, if you will, a "fair and balanced" view of science (and power): it can be used out of responsible motives to the benefit those around us, or it can be exploited for irresponsible motives in manner that may benefit the practitioner, but only to the detriment of those unfortunate enough to be caught in his wake.

hear hear!

How about a Mad politician? Plenty of those about, and quite harmful to the Republic.

Don't forget that Peter Parker (Spider-Man) is an accomplished scientist himself. Not to mention other heroes, Iron Man, Bruce Banner (Hulk), Wally West (The Flash), Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four and others. The door swings both ways and has for many years in the world of comics. I think your basis for complaint is way off.

One important thing to note is that Peter Parker is a scientist. Not only that, but some of his super hero counterparts that are fictionally located in NYC are also scientists. Take the Fantastic Four for instance. Their team is made up of 4 astronauts, with their leader being a scientific genius.

Just some alternative viewpoints for your review.

Too bad there aren't many heroic, opposite-of-mad scientist characters in popular culture. We have plenty of real-world examples that should be socialized better, without digging into comic books or movies. Not only would these stories give us a better collective appreciation of their contributions, but we'd also get a better grasp of science, too.

At least there's Iron Man, technologist as hero. Not exactly a scientist, but it's a start.


Can I ask WTH are you on??? Look at Ironman and Ironman 2! Look at both Fantastic 4 movies (or not). Ironman, in particular, shows a nerdy scientist, technologist, etc, etc, who is a great hero. Even Spiderman himself, is a scientist, although still a college student. Reed Richards, is a great mind, and while we didn't see much of his science in the movies Hank McCoy, aka, Beast, is also a great scientist!

Seriously, if you want to chase something, look at how sports stars get paid millions, huge cars, and big time on tv, whereas scientists not so much. Or don't want to chase after something that's generally very popular?

Although some of spider-man's villains are indeed mad scientists,a good majority of the Spider-man's villains are just crooks who got super powers. In, fact the most memorable aren't the mad scientist types. So I do not think Spider-man needs another villain but they should really consider others when making any sort of production.

If you don't mind a little nerdy 'well actually...'

I would agree, except for the fact that in the comic books, Peter Parker himself was a scientist! The movies made some changes, but in the original, Parker has to design 'web-slingers' and create a formula for webbing (both science and engineering there!). Perhaps your call should be for a more balanced approach to science (although in the second film it's Parker's scientific studies that put him in the best position to defeat the enemy who himself rebels against his creation that's taken over and sacrifices himself to save the day because he knows that science shouldn't be abused. And finally, the third film didn't feature an evil scientist. Come to think of it, the super-villain in the first film is less a scientist and more a businessman desperate to keep his company in defense contracts.

Wow, that was crazy nit-picky nerdy!

Bottom line: I agree with you about the need to step up science education but don't know that Spider-Man's really much of a contributing factor to its decline!

You could give us a hint as to whether you liked the show, though!

While it is true that American society has a serious lack of understanding about science, I have to question how much Spider Man is really a part of that. In the comics a major part of Peter Parker/Spider Man is his understanding of science and technology and his ability to use scientific methods (experimentation and observation) in overcoming his opponents. Perhaps the musical has not kept that part of him. The movies certainly didn't.

I think that your point is valid. I often see shows and movies that portray scientists and physicians motivated by greed and having an inhuman side that is often associated with a "cold scientific character". I find this frustrating because the only people I know that are like that are the chemists! (hee hee) It's the day to day portrayal of physicians and scientists as bad guys on regular TV that really bother me. Rarely is a physician or scientist portrayed as a hero. So you have a very valid point. But honestly superheroes and comic books are a gateway drug for future techies and nerds like us.

In the comic book, Peter is also a scientist. This is how, for example, he invents his web shooters and the fluid. Unfortunately, this intriguing and necessary part of his character was dropped in the movie, and I would assume in the musical. So, that would be one scientist in the good guy department.

If you want to go after the real enemy of science, it's religion. The faithful have been waging a war on science for quite a long time now and are quite hostile to it.

Other enemies include corporations like big oil companies who try(and succeed in the US in particular)to cast doubt on science they don't like, like climate change. Throw in politicians like George W. Bush who goes to bat for the religious and for corporations and you have an environment quite hostile to science.

If you're a musical theatre fan, you are automatically forgiven for saying "willy nilly". :-)

Science has always been central to the Marvel Universe, among the villains certainly but more importantly among the heroes. Might keeps the enemy at bay but it is brains that save the day. Among Marvel's more high profile super scientists are Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, the Black Panther, Professor X, the Beast, the Hulk... and Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-man. Agility and Strength have kept Spidey alive, but his talented mind and passion for science have thwarted villain after villain.

If you ever see how they administer these tests you will understand why our kids do so poorly. They herd the kids into the cafeteria; tell them repeatedly that the tests do not "matter" and that it wont go on their transcript etc. American students could care less about what they perceive as a meaningless test that doesnt help them get into college.
There is much emphasis and national pride attached to that test in other countries that doesnt and will never exist here.
If the scores were somehow tied to a students transcript, you would immediately see an increase in American scores.

Well.... Did a more balanced grasp of reality come as you grew up (in it) and cure you of the desire?

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