As if the swelling ranks of the media’s unemployed didn’t have it hard enough, now they have to compete against a superhero for work. In an upcoming issue of Marvel Comics’ Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker, longtime photographer, gets fired by his boss, J. Jonah Jameson — making him just another out-of-work professional in an industry that already has more than its share.
The firing reconnects Spidey with his hardscrabble roots, and reminds readers that Peter Parker — unlike brother-from-another-planet Superman or tortured millionaire Bruce Wayne — has always been a normal guy. An extraordinary Joe, sure, but he grew up in Queens, stumbled into his superpowers, and has long struggled to pay the bills.
For much of his photojournalism career, Parker was, essentially, a permalancer for the Daily Bugle; his requests for an advance were always laughed out of the office by old-school newsman Jameson. Recently, Spidey’s non-crime-fighting life has taken a turn for the better. JJJ sold the Bugle and ran for office, and Peter Parker hit the jackpot, tiger — careerwise — when he scored a sweet in-house gig as the official photographer for newly elected Mayor Jameson. In next week’s issue, No. 624 (!), however, the bottom will fall out of the Peter Parker business, as Jameson reportedly catches Parker doctoring a photograph and gives him the boot. (That Parker’s doing it to clear his boss’s name after a frame-up is beside the point, apparently.)
Marvel’s trying to spin the story line as a hard-hitting ethical drama. “It’s actually about Parker sacrificing his journalistic integrity,” editor Steve Wacker told USA Today. That’s a laugh, though, considering that since Spider-Man’s second issue, Peter Parker has been selling pictures of himself, in a funny costume, to newspapers. And not to get too nerdy here, but Parker has doctored photos before, as long ago as ASM Nos. 4 and 9. Oh, that was too nerdy?
But the ethical angle is far less fun than using Peter Parker’s firing as an opportunity to comment on the current job market for seasoned media vets. Parker may look young, after all, but he’s an old-media dinosaur who sold his first photo in 1962. And the outlook for newspapers is even grimmer in Spidey’s Manhattan than in ours. The New York Times may be in hock to a Mexican gazillionaire, but the Bugle had to ask for a government bailout. And while the Times may be struggling to support its fancy new building, at least the building is still standing; the Daily Bugle’s all-glass office tower was completely destroyed by Electro in December.
So what’s next for a jobless Peter Parker? He might be able to web-swing from interview to interview, but if he can’t get hired at the Bugle’s competitors (the Daily Globe and Frontline magazine, of course — wait, still too nerdy?), he’s going to have to make one of those midstream career changes faced by so many bought-out and laid-off newspeople. One can imagine Spidey the paparazzo, clinging to West Village brownstones, ambushing Gwyneth and her brood. Or Professor Parker, adjuncting in some art-school darkroom, teaching eye-rolling undergrads raised on digital how to develop film.
“We’re going to go as low as possible for both the man and the hero,” said Marvel’s Wacker. Yikes, what does that mean? Could longtime print man Peter Parker be headed … online? Will he start shooting bodega openings for a hyperlocal dot-com start-up? Maybe he can launch an anonymous “behind the mask” blog. Just like every other jobless journo in the city, though, he’d better brush up on his HTML, which you’d think would come easily — the spider’s natural home, of course, being the web.