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Spider-Man: Bad Guys are Worth Saving, Too

I once knew a guy who went to New York to be a boxer. It wasn’t a great career move, I’ll tell you. Sure, he was big. Real gorilla. He started working at the meat packing plant when he was twelve, and by senior year he could palm a frozen turkey like it was a candy bar. But he was slow on his feet and even slower on the uptake, if you catch my drift. Not what you’re looking for in a pro fighter. He had the ambition, but he didn’t have the patience to do things right. Maybe that’s why he eventually fell in with some bad apples.

Maybe that’s why the first time I saw him in ten years was on page three of the Daily Bugle, hanging upside down from a steel beam by one of Spider-Man’s webs on the thirtieth floor of a Fisk construction site.

Now, I’m more of a Times guy myself—the Gray Lady always does right by me—but I’ll pick up the Bugle once in awhile to see what that kid in the red pajamas has been up to. Imagine my surprise when I see Kyle dangling in the background of a police photo like some kind of weird, meaty fruit. Imagine his surprise, though, at not kicking the bucket after a tangle with Spidey. I eventually got the full story. Turns out Kyle charged Spider-Man like the big dumb rhino he is, and Spidey tossed him like a piece of trash—right over the side of the building.

Here’s the thing about Spidey, though. He treats trash nicer than some folks treat their friends. When he chucked Kyle over the edge, he tagged him with his web, leaving Kyle all safe and sticky until the cops came to cut him down. And it’s the same story every time. Ask around. Every pipe-carrying thug, every three hundred pound goon, every freaky mask wearing, electric sword swinging gangster that Spider-Man goes up against, every single one lives to see another day. Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man kicks butt and takes names, but he doesn’t take lives. Not our Spider-Man, anyhow.

If you stuck a camera behind him and followed him around the five boroughs, you’d see it play out right like that. Some goon points an AR-15 at Spidey, and what’s the kid do? Sticks ‘em to the wall with his goop, gun and all. Big dumb lug like Kyle charges him? Spidey puts him to sleep with a right hook like you’ve never seen. And even when he boots some gangster from a Midtown rooftop, Spidey hits him with his web and strings him up somewhere safe. Sure, crook might wet his pants or pass out from sheer terror when he’s dangling twenty stories above Broadway, but he’s still breathing, and that’s more than you can say about a lot of guys who wind up on the wrong side of the law.

I think the kid in the red pajamas is on to something. These days, everybody wants to be the Punisher. Everybody wants to be the good guy with a gun. Or just the guy with the gun. Kids play hours and hours of video games everyday, killing hundreds and thousands of digital bad guys. Sure they’re bad guys—it’s in the name, right?—but after all that killing, you gotta start wondering what it really means to be a good guy. Heck, we got cops all around the country now dressing themselves up with the Punisher’s skull. Something about that isn’t right in my book. Frank Castle is no saint. People like that usually wind up before a war crimes tribunal. If someone flashes that skull at me, whether it’s Castle’s black or the PD’s blue, I’m scared for my life either way.

Just the other day I read a story about a gun-toting church pastor who spends his free time combing through graphic Youtube videos of violent crime looking to get the upper hand. You really got to start wondering about the mental health of a country when you hear about things like a preacher who contemplates killing strangers more than he does divine mysteries.

But then here comes Spider-Man, saving lives of victims and criminals all at once. It’s almost like there’s some kind of dignity to just being a person in his mind. It’s like Spidey sees something in there worth saving no matter what, and he does his best to protect people even when it’s against their own worst selves. Lot of guys who fancy themselves heroes just see crooks as target practice, but Spidey’s a real hero, and when he sees a guy like Kyle rushing at him to smash him flat, he sees a person worth saving.

It’s like Spidey sees something in there worth saving no matter what, and he does his best to protect people even when it’s against their own worst selves.

Imago dei. That’s what Kyle called it, whatever it means. I don’t know no Greek. I saw him after the incident. He came back upstate after a month in prison. He was a Fisk lackey, so it wasn’t easy to come up with solid dirt on him, and he was too far down on the totem pole for the DA to care, so they let him out. While he was in the clink though, a Methodist minister came to see him. It was a lady, too. Imagine that. Anyway, he told her how Spider-Man could have left him a big red stain on 42nd, but he saved his life instead. That’s when she told him about imago dei. Kyle said it meant “image of God”—the minister said every person has dignity and value because they were made in God’s image. I don’t know if Spider-Man is any kind of church guy, but I think he and the minister would probably get along just fine.

When I saw Kyle again, he told me he wanted to be a coach. I could see in his eyes he meant it. There was a light in there I never saw when we were kids. Funny thing. I guess that’s what happens when you see the bad guy as someone worth rescuing, too. It makes a guy wonder what the world would be like if we spent more time daydreaming about saving bad guys instead of putting them six feet under. I think Spider-Man’s on to something, and I hope we see more heroes like him.



Associate Editor
Chris Casberg is an Associate Editor for Love Thy Nerd, veteran of the United States Marine Corps, and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He writes from his home in Central Oregon, where he lives with his wife and daughters.

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