Spidey's costume has mysteriously changed from familiar blue and red to pitch black; in fact, the costume is actually an alien, shape-shifting symbiote that feeds on Peter Parker, making him more aggressive and less inhibited. Intoxicated with ego, power and celebrity, not even a superhero like Spider-Man can resist the forces of darkness.
In Spider-Man 3, Parker's former best friend Harry Osborne becomes his worst enemy. Harry adopts the persona of the villainous New Goblin, determined to avenge the death of his father, the Green Goblin, whom Spider-Man previously defeated.
Spidey is preoccupied with a vendetta of his own. Police finally re-discover the identity of the man who killed Peter Parker's decent role model and father figure, Uncle Ben: petty thief Flint Marko. In the tradition of comic books, Marko is a tragic figure: his small daughter has a deadly disease and he has no health care benefits. Then a mishap at an energy test site turns Marko into Sandman, a nasty, shape shifting sand-castle. Another new Spider-Man nemesis is born.
Meanwhile at the Daily Bugle, Peter the intrepid photographer encounters new competition in upstart Eddie Brock. Their overbearing boss J. Jonah Jameson pits the young men against each other, dangling the promise of one full time gig, with benefits, to the best paparazzi. Clearly, Brock wasn't blessed with as noble a role model as Peter's Uncle Ben; when Peter throws away his sinister new black suit, it finds a new home in Brock, who is promptly transformed into the evil fanged Venom yet another villain for our hero to tackle.
Things have come a long way since Bronx born, Jewish comic book pioneer Stan Lee conceived of Spider-Man in 1962. Many believe that Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) gave his creation a somewhat Jewish world view. After all, Peter Parker is a dark-haired, bespectacled, Woody Allen-esque nebbish burdened with stereotypical Jewish neuroses. Peter Parker's guilty feelings over his accidental role in the death of Uncle Ben (which we now find out may not be true) has led to further talk of the character's Jewishness. Jewish author Michael Chabon (who co-scripted Spider-Man 2) claims that Spider-Man is "crypto Jewish, you know, living with Uncle Ben and Aunt May in Queens." The director of all the films in the series, Sam Raimi, quips, "the only difference is that [Peter's guilt] is caused by his uncle, not his mother."
Living in Queens doesnt make a person Jewish (no matter how many Jews live in Spidey's Forest Hills neighborhood) but we can still draw some biblical reflections from the latest saga, with its strong father and son theme. The great 13th century Jewish scholar Nachmanides taught that, "the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children." In the bible we see that the deeds of the earliest characters in the narrative are repeated by their children. Character traits and behavior patterns of the patriarchs and matriarchs -- are a model for all of Jewish history. Learning from the past is the secret to making the right decisions in the future.
The Talmud teaches that we are born with two opposing impulses: the Yetzer Tov, the impulse to do good, and the Yetzer Harah, the impulse to do evil. Jewish sages note that the yetzer hara is not completely evil, but a selfish impulse, which needs to be balanced with the yetzer hatov. Spider-Man's strange new black suit and feelings of unhealthy empowerment that come with it are clearly part of the yetzer harah. Fortunately, Spidey's Uncle Ben helped form our superhero's conscience from an early age, sadly Harry Osborn, Flint Marko or Eddie Brook were not blessed with such an exemplary role model. With all his incredible powers, it is only that innate sense of decency that helps our hero resist the dark temptations.
The Hebrew word teshuvah means "return." Often mistranslated as "repentance," the word really means returning to the proper path of infinite potential. By letting go of our demons, we can embrace the greatest power of all, the power to forgive. Will Spider-Man display true heroism and banish his own demons in a spirit of forgiveness? We'll find out when he makes his long awaited return this spring.
Rabbi Simcha Weinstein www.rabbisimcha.com is the Chabad Rabbi of the Downtown Brooklyn campuses. He appeared on CNN, NPR and WNBC and has been profiled in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and The Miami Herald. He is author of the award winning Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero, and a forthcoming book on Jewish comedy to be published in fall 2007.