On Tour and off the Road: Spider-Man, Incredible Shrinking Man, Doctor Octopus ... at No Point in Any Science-Fiction Superhero Story Does Radioactivity Cause Anyone to Die a Slow, Lingering Death from Organ Failure

By Punt, Steve | New Statesman (1996), May 21, 2007 | Go to article overview

On Tour and off the Road: Spider-Man, Incredible Shrinking Man, Doctor Octopus ... at No Point in Any Science-Fiction Superhero Story Does Radioactivity Cause Anyone to Die a Slow, Lingering Death from Organ Failure


Punt, Steve, New Statesman (1996)


The big event of the year, as far as my seven-year-old son was concerned, was the opening of Spider-Man 3, to which I dutifully took him. All the 21st-century CGI wizardry can't disguise the Sixties B-movie premise of the whole bloated franchise--that a radioactive spider will, if it bites a nerdy college kid, impart the ability to behave roughly like a spider with a strong sense of law and order. In the postwar world, radioactivity was invariably given transmutational powers, causing invisibility (if you're Ray Milland) or shrinking (if you're the Incredible Shrinking Man) or growing (if you're Godzilla). It's ironic that science fiction tends to treat science like medieval magic, with "particle physics" turning someone into Sandman, "nuclear fusion" turning someone into Doctor Octopus, "solar radiation" turning people into the Fantastic Four, and fallen comets being made of evil goo. At no point in any superhero story does radioactivity cause anyone to die a slow, lingering death from organ failure.

Looking for a sign

I have spent the past couple of months on tour with Hugh Dennis, and have so far visited 32 theatres and arts centres up and down the country. Sat-nav has totally ruined one of the great touring rituals--driving helplessly round and round a one-way system, looking for signs to the venue. In city centres, stage doors are often in completely different streets from the theatre address; and many theatres have been subsumed into larger developments. The beautiful Everyman, in Cheltenham, is approached through a vast supermarket loading bay. I have played there twice and have no idea what it looks like from the front. In Nottingham, the duty manager carefully explains to us that we will be told to leave the stage in the event of a fire--as if we were likely to stay there, like the band on the Titanic, until swallowed by the flames. In Colchester, health and safety says no alcohol is allowed backstage, yet all the window sills have stickers reading "Caution: Asbestos". Maybe drunken actors have a tendency to drill through window sills during the interval. In Leeds, we play the City Varieties, a historic place still doing exactly what it was built to do more than a hundred years ago. …

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