Not long after it came out, a friend of mine began watching the new Marvel’s Spider-Man television series. I have only watched it under duress, since I find the animation poor and am unhappy with some of the changes to Spider-Man lore within the series. Not to mention the fact that I am a little tired of Marvel beating dead horses to pieces and splattering me with their blood, proclaiming all the while that I should be happy to receive this disgusting shower.
Thank you very much, Marvel, but even vampires do not go this far (from what I know of them, anyway). But my friend insists on cornering me and making me watch it, making me less than eager to discuss the series with said compadre after an episode has aired.
Following the episode introducing – and then killing – Flint Marko/Sandman so he could be replaced by his daughter, my friend had an interesting observation about the show. Mi amigo pointed out that Flint never went after his daughter during the episode’s climactic battle. This friend went on to add that it was interesting when Sandman’s daughter killed him, Flint’s last words were: “I love you.”
“It’s a little like Han Solo and Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens,” my friend said. “Flint won the argument, just like Han did, and their children are worse off than they were before.” Then, in typical fashion for my friend, it was suggested that I write a post about how Flint is/was a better father than Norman Osborn.
When it comes to this friend of mine, I have a hard time saying “no” to any request made of me. I promised to think about the episode, though I added the caveat that my brain had zero suggestions for how to bring up the topic here on Thoughts on the Edge of Forever any time soon. But then something somehow removed this block from my mind and the ideas came rushing in.
The episode of Marvel’s Spider-Man in question is titled “Sandman.” In this episode, Spidey is relaxing with his fellow science whizz friends at Coney Island. At least, he is relaxing; the rest are still working on their school project (hint, it makes a nifty, living black suit). While they are out a sudden sandstorm erupts and the Arabian Desert, complete with a seeming genie, blasts through the park.
This is Spidey’s first run-in with the Sandman, a.k.a. Flint Marko, in the series. Here, Flint is a lackey for the mobster villain known as Hammerhead. He began working for him in order to provide a better future for his daughter, Keemia. But Flint made too many mistakes on the job, so Hammerhead tried to make an example of him by burying him under several tons of sand mixed with toxic chemicals.
Of course, this did not kill Flint. It turned him into a living being made of sand. He intends to go after Hammerhead to rescue his daughter, whom the thug has somehow taken into his home. Spidey, touched by Sandman’s devotion to protecting his little girl, joins Flint in storming the castle to rescue the fair damsel.
But Keemia does not want to be rescued. Like any normal girl, she followed Flint into the warehouse when being left in the car creeped her out. So when Hammerhead tried to kill him, she was exposed to the same toxic sand that her father swallowed. Unlike normal girls, she detests and blames her father for her own natural instinct to avoid being alone. She goes on to repeatedly state that she hated the work he did for Hammerhead and planned to better her own future by studying science. Now that she is made of sand, which has replaced her right eye, she accuses Flint of being the source of her misfortune and lashes out at him.
Keemia Marko (Sandgirl)
Not once during the battle which follows does Flint respond to Keemia’s attacks. He tries several times to hurt Hammerhead, but Keemia protects the mobster as she continues to assail the man who really wants to keep her safe. Like Han in The Force Awakens, Flint allows Keemia to (apparently) kill him, offering her no resistance whatsoever. Spidey, naturally, is very upset by this, though I do not think anyone is going to take the time to explain why. I hope to do so myself, but I have a few other things I want to expound upon here as well, and that may get lost in the shuffle.
The first thing to address here is that this is quite clearly another case of political correctness run amok in Marvel. Sandman was always a sympathetic villain; Spidey and other Marvel heroes tried several times to bring him to the light. He was even an Avenger there for a little while. Marko never was a very strong personality, which is what made us fans feel some measure of compassion for him.
As with Kylo Ren, there is nothing to make us feel kindly disposed toward Keemia Marko. Blinded by the modern Sturm und Drang, she lays all her troubles on her father. In doing so she does not see Hammerhead manipulating her to hurt Flint, but seals her fate as the mobster’s secret weapon by killing her dad.
Harry and Norman Osborn
How, you ask, does this make Flint a better father in this scene than Norman Osborn has ever been, period? In this series Norman is focused on being top dog in the scientific Tech Pack on Earth. Norman treats Harry more like a tool here than a son. Marvel’s Spider-Man portrays him as a greedy, grasping rich man who sees his boy as a means to an end – nothing more, nothing less.
Marko never used his daughter to make life easier for himself, and he probably could have. While I do not like her and consider her a nuisance best dumped at the earliest opportunity, the fact is that Marvel has illustrated a truth in Sandman’s first and final episode here which must be addressed.
The entire reason Flint went to work for Hammerhead was to provide for Keemia. He did not like working for a mobster any better than she did, but because he was a single father trying to make ends meet, he did the best he could with what he could get. It was not what he wanted for either of them, but he did not have the capacity to search for a job that would give them more satisfaction.
Keemia, a product of the modern school system and the popular mindset, did not see what a sacrifice her father was making for her. He compromised his sacred honor and his own hope to be a good man in order to protect, feed, and clothe her. If he could have found another way to support them, he would have. A stronger man might have managed that, or at least managed to convey his distaste for his illegal work to Keemia. Flint could do neither of these things and that is, perhaps, one of the reasons why his daughter blamed him for her condition.
It is also important to mention that Flint is a single father here. This means he had to work a lot to make ends meet, so he was not as present in Keemia’s life as he would have been if her mother were alive and present in the home. (I do not know what happened to Sandman’s wife/girlfriend.)
Now Sandman’s lack of presence in his daughter’s life is not his fault – not in this TV series, anyway. The case in the show is blatantly transparent: Flint could not support the two of them and be with his daughter a hundred percent of the time. This is all too true of many families where only the father or mother is alive or caring for the children. These single fathers and mothers cannot feed, clothe, and shelter their children and still have enough time leftover to play, help with homework, or discuss problems in most cases.
This is why Flint did not see the extent to which Keemia was taught to despise him. She was taught this by our modern society, which either treats fatherhood like a joke or holds it in reproach (more on that below). Her disgust with Flint’s line of work is quite understandable, but it was used and manipulated, first by society and then by Hammerhead. Neither society nor Hammerhead explained that Flint was sacrificing a lot to take care of her by doing the only work he could find, and this left Keemia open to the Dark Side.
Flint did not see any of this until it was too late to do something about it. But that did not make him love his daughter any less. Spidey, I think, sensed how much Flint had sacrificed on behalf of his daughter by working for Hammerhead. The fact that Sandman showed such devotion to her, to the bitter end, affected him deeply because Keemia threw away what he lost years ago. Although Peter Parker loves his aunt and uncle, they were not his parents and they never could be. He did not know his father, but seeing Flint’s love for his daughter probably made him yearn for what could have been if his own had not been lost. (Ha! I got his reasons for being upset at Flint’s “demise” in here after all!)
Norman, as we have seen, does not care to this degree about Harry. He has Harry make all sorts of sacrifices to please him. As yet we have not seen the future Green Goblin going out of his way to do something nice for his son. Even his founding of Osborn Academy is questionable: is it truly for Harry’s good, or is it so Norman has access to some of the brightest intellects in New York City – legal and illegal?
Thinking about this subject, I was put in mind of other Marvel characters who have less-than-stellar fathers. One of the reasons society these days makes a mockery of or abuses fatherhood is the mistaken opinion of many that bad fathers make bad people. This is a fallacy, insofar as it is portrayed as a widespread occurrence; it can certainly happen, but I very much doubt it transpires with the frequency portrayed in film, television, and books. Not all bad people become bad because of evil fathers – or evil mothers. All who become evil choose to be evil.
One can easily prove this by comparing Keemia Marko’s story to the history of the Avenger Hawkeye/Clint Barton. Hawkeye had a physically abusive father; Mr. Barton Senior liked his liquor, not to mention beating both his sons and his wife. When his sons were still young he died a drunkard’s death after he crashed his car. In the process he killed his wife and left the boys orphans.
Yet, if you look at Hawkeye now, you would have to be told all this about his past to know that it had happened – especially in the films. He was scarred by the experiences of his childhood, to be sure; Clint has never been able to fully trust those in influential or command positions. This is because the man who should have taught him to respect authority instead gave him every reason to distrust it.
However, Clint did not follow the Dark Path to the point that it could dominate his destiny. Yes, in the original comics, he worked with the Black Widow when she was a pawn of the Soviets. But he did not do this because he agreed with the Communists or because he liked being a bad guy. He did it out of misguided sentiment and love for Natasha Romanoff. This eventually redeemed the two of them and led to their joining the Avengers, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” and we fans/readers/viewers are the better for this.
Unlike modern writers, Stan Lee and Don Heck knew that it is possible to choose a better path than the one your parents did. So they showed Clint Barton choosing to turn away from the darkness and toward the light. Time and again, until the most recent comics, Clint did his best to avoid following in the footsteps of the men who raised him. He chose to be a better man than his father. He also chose to be a better man than his mentors, the Swordsman and the original Trick Shot. He chose to be a hero rather than a villain.
If you dig a little into the histories of many Marvel heroes and heroines, you will find several others with similar pasts. Both Rogue and Nightcrawler were rejected by their fathers and continue to be abused by their mother. The Maximoff twins are still dealing with the aftermath of having Magneto as a dad. Peter Quill had a lackluster father, as did Gamora. Yet they and other Marvel characters with similar backgrounds still became heroes and heroines rather than villains.
This is something modern pop psychology says is a denial of the inner self; a rejection of the monster inside, to borrow from Mr. Whedon. Yet Mr. Lee and Mr. Heck made this choice for Hawkeye and the other heroes I listed above. And you know something? It worked.
Unlike these heroes, Keemia has chosen the Dark Side. And she has done so without using the “father abused me and that’s why I am what I am” excuse. In some cases, real and fictional, I do not doubt that ill-treatment can convince a child to turn into a monster of the same type as the one heaping pain on him/her. But that, as I just said, is an excuse. Being evil or being good is a choice. One choice takes a lot more work than the other, and believe me, it is not evil.
Keemia has no excuse for her choice to become evil. She has no excuse for killing her own father. She cannot hide behind the pop psychology argument that her father was terrible and so she is terrible, which is what I think the writers were trying to have her say. I think they wanted us to sympathize with her, suggesting that she turned into the monster “Sand-Girl” because of her father through her long, moronic speeches charging him with high crimes and misdemeanors against her.
That claim does not float. There are many Marvel heroes and heroines who endured far worse from their fathers and mothers than Keemia ever did at the hands of Sandman. They are not evil. She is. And it is because of the choices she made, NOT because of her father’s (or mother’s) choices.
Barons Heinrich and Helmut Zemo (Avengers Assemble)
This is the reason why I did not like the writers’ attempt to pin Helmut Zemo’s decision to be evil on his father in the Avengers Assemble episode “House of Zemo.” This is why I do not like what the company’s writers have done to Tony Stark’s father. And this is why I blew up when I learned what Marvel did in its Secret Empire comics to Cap’s father in order to make him a Nazi.
These changes are the signature attacks of people who despise fatherhood and want to destroy it; either the authors or their bosses want to continue this harmful stereotype in order to continue to excuse “the evil that men do.” They are trying to convince fathers to rescind their proper place as role models in society, role models who will teach and love their children like no one else in the world can or should, which means the children born to these fathers will be left without one of their best defenses against the darkness in this world.
This modern fictional trope hurts real people, readers. It hurts those who do – or did – have lousy fathers and who want a better life. If they are continually told that they have no chance whatsoever to be a better man/woman than their fathers or mothers, they will destroy themselves. I do not mean they will kill themselves, although that is a distinct possibilty. I mean they will make wrong choices using the excuse, “My daddy/mommy did this to me, and so psychologically I have no choice but to carry on this abuse.” Ask Dean Koontz about it. He had an abusive father himself.
Evil is a choice, readers. It is a real, palpable choice with genuine, hard, ugly results, for us and those around us. We are all confronted with it, every day, in small or great ways. And because we are weak humans we can excuse or rationalize away the evil that we do because it will make us feel better about “getting what we want” out of life, family, etc.
Bad or evil fathers do not make bad men and women. Men and women make choices to be bad or to be good. If they choose evil, then they choose it of their own free will. They will make excuses to allow them to continue doing their evil deeds with untroubled consciences, but the fact is that they have chosen the Dark Path freely.
Pop psychology does not recognize those heroes who had bad parents and yet have gone on to become good men and women. It does not recognize them because they do not fit the pattern which produces the desired result. There are many good men and women who had or have bad fathers/mothers, but who have gone on to become great fathers/mothers themselves because they chose to be better than those who raised them.
This is the real difference between heroes and villains, readers. Heroes choose the Light, while villains choose the Dark. Modern society wants you to be confused about this distinction, but the fact is that there is an objective good, and an objective evil. You just have to keep your eyes open to see it.