Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Free Will versus Destiny, and why they aren't mutually exclusive.

When I was in high school, in my English class, one of the underlying lessons I learned that 'It's not the destination that matters, it's how you get there.' This really resonates with me, even to this day, and that's the main reason why I don't agree with some people that say that destiny doesn't exist because we have free will. Contained herein is my argument as to why they aren't mutually exclusive, and some examples of why I think so, thanks to my favorite medium, comic books.

The way I see it, There is such a thing as destiny, but the choices we make using our free will determine whether our destiny is fufilled. For instance, I of course do not know what my personal destiny is, but I decided not to go to college because I wanted to find my own way in the world without having to pick from a list of careers that I would probably end up not liking anyway (lack of money and scholarships were also a factor, but I digress). This single choice has altered the way my life has been lived for the past 8 years, and while I have a craptastic job, that will never take me anywhere, it's also a stepping stone to where I ultimately want to be, which is a writer. It will take a lot of hard work, time, and determination, but because of the choices I've made, I am more certain than ever that I can accomplish my goals.

This concept is further explored in an early issue of Marvel's What If series, issue #7 to be exact, entitled What If Someone Else Besides Spider-Man Was Bitten by the Radioactive Spider? It's a showcase of three alternate realities where, go figure, someone else receives the spider-powers that Peter Parker got in 'our' universe. The issue is written by Don Glut, who is mainly known for his work on such shows as Shazam! and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, and penciled by Rick Hoberg, who I know mainly from his work on Scott Shaw!'s Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew.

In our first vignette, at the famous science demonstration where the infamous spider was irradiated, instead of being alone, Peter's high school nemesis, Flash Thompson decides to show up 'for kicks', and ends up being the one who is bitten, he shrugs it off, but Peter, ever the scientist wonders if the radiation changed the spider's chemistry at all. Flash's origin tale proceed much as the original until he decides to test his newfound powers on Crusher Hogan, the wrestler, who he accidentally kills be breaking his neck. Flash escapes the crowds and police using his powers, and decides that he can redeems himself by being the type of hero that doesn't have to show his face and dubs himself Captain Spider! Flash actually performs admirably as a hero until he clashes with The Vulture. Since Flash hasn't the scientific knowledge to create the web shooters or the magnetic inducer to negate Vulchy's power which Peter devised in our reality, he decides to dive into the fray headlong, and falls to his death in an aerial battle, landing unceremoniously into a pile of garbage.

In our second slice of reality, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson is at the science demonstration with his secretary Betty Brant as a favor to the scientist running the experiment. Peter, infatuated by Betty pushes his way through the crowd to see her, and the young lady is the one who gets bitten. Peter, who obviously feels bad about the situation takes Betty out for coffee as his way of saying 'sorry about that'. During their caffeine oriented conversation, Betty gets on the subject of her boss, who as any Spidey reader can tell you is rather a blowhard, and in her frustration, Betty smashes their booth's table in two! Peter, smart guy that he is, suspects the radioactive spider transferred it's abilities to the lovely Ms. Brant, so he asks if she doesn't mind if he tests his theory. He is of course, correct, he convinces Betty that she can use her powers to be a 'long underwear character' and they can make a fortune with him taking photos. Peter fashions the famous web shooters for her and before you know it, the criminals of New York have something new to fear: The Spectacular Spider-Girl!

It isn't all fun and games tho, because after a lengthy photo session, a criminal runs by Peter and Spider-Girl, and because of their earlier session, Betty is out of web fluid and cannot stop the thief, you can probably guess what happens, the thug later ends up murdering Ben Parker, and in a rage Betty finds him holed up in the warehouse, and she captures him, learning she could have stopped him earlier if she had only used the slightest effort. Distraught, she ditches the webs in a nearby alley and never looks back.

In our third and final trip to an alternate reality, we find John Jameson, Jonah's son at the demonstration stopped by to say hello to the professor, who used to work in the space program with John. By now, I am sure you can guess that John is the one who gets bitten, and he discovers his newfound power, but Jonah sees an opportunity to be even prouder of his son than when he was an aastronaut, and convinces him to don a costume and become a superhero, obviously this is a vastly different Jonah than the one who know who barely tolerates the hero population, anyway we are now treat to "Spider-Jameson, the Super Astronaut". Three guesses as to who named him, and the first two don't count. Backed by his father's paper, and a specially designed jetpack, Jameson because a hero in the public's eye. Unfortunately as evidenced in our other stories, tragedy lies underneath triumph, when Jonah convinces John to save a failing space capsule he originally was scheduled to be on, John flies to the craft and decided to use the exhaust from his jet pack to guide the capsule to earth, but wouldn't you know it, he runs out of fuel. Ever the hero, he maneuvers himself so he takes enough of the crash impact to save the astronaut inside but at the cost of his own life. Jonah is noticeably distraught since this never would have happened if he hadn't pushed John so hard (but hey, then the astronaut would have died, thought choices abound) so he has a bronze statue built of his son as a tribute, and also to inspire 'average joes' like Peter Parker.

So what does all of this have to do with destiny and free will? Well, I haven't related the end of the story where an identical scene occurs on all three worlds, Peter has apparently out of curiosity saved the dead radioactive spider and concocts a serum, giving him the powers of a spider, without even having to get bitten. As the Watcher says, "It was destiny's plan for Peter Parker to become the amazing Spider-Man!" While this is a nice thought, because of the experiences each version of Peter Parker had, I suspect that their superheroic careers will be quite different. For instance, in the John Jameson reality, Peter will have learned the 'Great Power/Great Responsibility' lesson a bit diffrently, and will probably not be as angst-filled since he will probably be content with being the best hero he can be. On the other hand, in the Flash Thompson reality, Peter may have learned that with his great power, he is more likely to hurt people who aren't as strong as he, and it may put him at a slight disadvantage when he fights enemies that are in no way weak. In the Betty Brant reality, Peter has still lost his Uncle Ben, but he won't blame himself for it his whole life, so he is likely to be much more well-adjusted to his life, but he still has the potential for great angst between he and Betty if she were ever to find out Peter was the one behind the mask of Spider-Man. Do you see my point? Same destiny, but three very diffrent Spider-Men. It's fascinating if you put alot of thought into it, and this is yet another reason why I love comics, even when it's really not the deepest read in the world, it can inspire others to have great thoughts!


At 3:26 PM, Blogger Peter said...

This was a really nice look at both the issue and the concept of destiny and free will. Inspired, pleasant, and also informative (since I never read this issue, go figure). Fun stuff! :)


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