Spider-Man: The Short Halloween or When Our Beloved Wallcrawler Becomes a Comedy Prop
Sometimes the best way to save the day is to be there, conscious or not. In the festive one-shot: Spider-Man: The Short Halloween, Peter Parker learns to do just that. Written by Saturday Night Live alums, Seth Meyers and Bill Hader, it’s a story, much in line with the Tangled Web series, that follows people who are affected by the webslinger rather than the character himself. And while these stories aren’t uncommon, very few of them take such delight in using him as a prop, and perhaps it’s because this story realizes that we already know the character. We empathize with him. And since his life has always bordered on the ridiculous, we can laugh at his predicament whether he’s awake to notice it or not.
The story begins with Peter swinging through the city and he’s already annoyed. It’s the worse night of the year for him, Halloween. It’s safe to say that his regard for the holiday is the same mild contempt emergency room personnel have for a night on which a full moon falls. It’s when all the crazy happens. And it’s understandable why he might feel this way. The life of a street hero is filled with the unpredictable. Wacky villains and their insane plots are a constant threat and with everything from spider-slayers to dead girlfriend clones, Peter has had more than his fair share of it. What he needs to make his job tolerable are constants. His constants are the people of the city and they need to be predictable: gawk at danger or run away in fear. But on Halloween, everyone is pretending to be someone they’re not and that makes them all variables, impossible to anticipate.
So, Peter is understandably irritable. Danger is coming from everywhere, the crowds are milling, and his spider-sense is in sensory overload, probably giving him a serious headache. But we’re going to leave that be, because this story isn’t about him. It’s about two different groups of people whose lives are about to intersect like a Venn diagram with Spider-Man at the center. The first is a young man, by the name of Fumes, who has a fantasy of becoming someone important, a supervillain. Unfortunately for him, his first burglary job for the Furious Five (no relation to Kung-Fu Panda, or so they say) attracts a certain webslinger. The other group features two college-aged guys, Doug and Eric, fleeing the bar scene after their Spider-Man-costumed buddy assaults a fake Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus (as he should). As they climb into a taxi to return home, they wax poetic about the disappointments associated with Halloween, assigning culpability to the holiday itself rather than their own actions. The night was boring for them except for the drunk Spidey who knows how to make his own fun. However, everything changes when these two groups coincidentally meet in an alley. High up on a rooftop, Peter confronts Fumes, hoping the kid will give up without a fight. Down below, our drunk Spidey leans against the alley wall, purging his gut. And when an errant, vacuum-powered projectile hits Peter in the head, the mild concussion is compounded as he hits every balcony and fire escape on his way to the trash pile on the ground. He is out. And his role as a prop begins.
When Doug and Eric come to check up on their drunk Spidey, they mistakenly only see the real one passed out in the trash. With an arm across each of their shoulders, they haul him off, too absorbed with complaining to realize a difference other than in passing. It’s a ridiculous mistake and yet it feels so much like a Spider-Man experience, because he’s a magnet for the inane. And what makes it funnier, is the fact that if these two guys realized who he was, they’d be humiliated for dragging him feet first up flights of stairs and letting his concussed head hit every step along the way. Or the little touch of dragging him across a messy floor, letting his body catch dirty socks and shoes before they toss him onto a futon. It’s so disrespectful that it attains a sort of Weekend at Bernie’s feel to it, which is perfect, because as Peter is wont to say, “Nothing like this ever happens to <insert any other hero>.” And it really doesn’t.
Meanwhile, our wannabe villain, Fumes, is having second thoughts. After seeing Spider-Man take a dive off the roof, he’s not sure if this is the right career for him, but he’s in deep and the notoriety of defeating a famed superhero holds an unassailable appeal. What gives him relief though is that Spider-Man appears to be alive on a cushion of trash. What he doesn’t know is that it’s simply our drunk Spidey who was left behind by his friends. After dragging him off to a nearby construction site, Fumes calls for back-up where we are introduced to a motley crew of D-list villains that give off serious Mystery Men vibes over Suicide Squad. Individually, none of them are competent. Their powers are weak or too specialized to be effective, but the hope is that together, they might add up to a decent C-list baddie. And maybe they could have, but each suffers from an inflated ego evidenced by the fact that the only one who’s doing any kind of work aside from posturing is Fumes.
This lack of cohesion in vision and teamwork comes to a head when they show up at the construction site. Apart from the beast-like, Badger Teeth, they begin to build consensus towards kidnapping and ransom when it comes to Spidey, and it’s at this point that Fumes experiences an epiphany. Peter Parker isn’t always a prop physically, sometimes his well-known origin can fulfill a similar function. Fumes is gifted in his skill with vacuums and pneumatics, but there’s no glamour in being a vacuum repairman like his father. He wanted something more and being a villain seemed exciting and dangerous, like wrestling was for a certain young wallcrawler. The difference though is that Fumes, when given the chance to do the right thing, takes it. He stands up to Badger Teeth (and spiritually to the rest of the Furious Five) to protect drunk Spidey. Too bad he just has vacuum parts to defend him.
Meanwhile, the real Spider-Man wakes up on an old futon surrounded by empty beer bottles. Outside the bedroom door, Doug and Eric realize that perhaps that wasn’t their friend they found in the trash. But before they can check, the fake Goblin and Doc Ock burst their way into the apartment, bent on revenge, and Spider-Man, the prop of chaos emerges, groggy and confused. The reason why Peter hates Halloween is exemplified as normally well-meaning people erupt into violence, fueled by alcohol, their costumed personas, and imagined glory. But the best these two villains could hope for are bruised knuckles and a bit of webbing. Furniture flies and Eric takes a tumble out the window, nearly falling to his death except for the saving catch of a webline. Had Spider-Man not been there, would any of this have happened? No. And I think on some level, Peter realizes this. That by merely being present on a day like Halloween, he inspires chaos to his own chagrin.
But there’s also a saving grace to being a prop. Where the reputation of being a fearless hero can inspire something better than chaos and disruption. That it can spark heroism itself in unlikely places. It isn’t Fumes that saves drunk Spidey. By standing up to the fearsome Badger Teeth, Fumes finds himself at the monster’s mercy, overpowered and vulnerable. He’s going to be seriously injured or die doing the right thing, but by being a distraction, he gives drunk Spidey the chance to return the favor. Because if you’re wearing a Spider-Man costume, you better be willing to throw down for the good guys. By delivering a metal pipe to Badger Teeth’s skull and knocking him out, this Spidey does exactly that.
So, the day is saved, despite the real Spider-Man’s confusion as to what has happened. The craziness reaffirms his hatred of Halloween until he notices Fumes’ abandoned backpack and upon tracking the kid down, he sees that some good came out of the chaos. The burgled loot is returned and a life of villainy is sworn off, making the night worth it. His body, his principles, his reputation, and his inspiration all shaped a story without him having to do much of anything except lie unconscious in a pile of trash.
Nothing like this ever happens to Captain America…