Spider-Man Uncovered: Why The Half-Mask Look Is So Important to Peter Parker
For a film where he's maybe the dozenth biggest character, Captain America: Civil War does an incredible job of introducing the MCU version of Spider-Man. (Moderate spoilers follow if you haven't yet seen the movie.) Heartbroken as I still am that it's not Miles Morales and/or Donald Glover under the mask, Tom Holland's performance and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's screenplay manage to get a lot right about the character, in a way that other adaptations just haven't.
Nearly every single thing that comes out of Spidey's mouth is funny, in just the right awkward way. Next to the low-saturation burgundy costumes of the other Avengers, his stark (no pun intended) reds and blues really pop. Peter talks and moves like a kid, a geeky fan whose presence makes the film lighter and bouncier. But more than all that, the film manages to include the single most important thing about the entire Spider-Man mythos: a bit where his mask is rolled halfway up his face.
It might sound stupid or shallow --- it'd be fair to call me either --- but Spider-Man flying at half-mask is one of my very favourite visuals in all of superhero fiction. It's a look that's more or less unique to Spidey, and one he rocks for a wide variety of reasons.
To get his snack on:
To enjoy an ice-cold Coke:
To allow deaf superhero Echo read his lips:
Just to hang out (while also getting his snack on):
To sit down for a family dinner:
To get his smooch on:
And okay, let's pause here to admit that, the more time spend I thinking about this, the more I realise that scene might have been hugely formative for me and that might play a part in all this.
My own personal kinks aside, though, that rolled-up mask is just a cool practical consideration that makes the costume feel that much more lived-in. It's probably also my favourite thing about cosplay at cons, or Hallowe'en --- seeing people in these costumes in downtime, at lunch or a bar or on the dancefloor, expresses a different side of the characters they're dressed as.
Beyond that, it's a look that has something to say about the character. Most heroes, on the screen and the page, either keep their mask on at all times or completely ditch it when they want to be a normal person. But not Spidey, and that's indicative of how cautious Peter Parker is with his secret identity.
That's addressed directly in Brian Michael Bendis and Billy Tan's New Avengers #51, as Spidey is forced to unmask by his teammates, but it's implicitly there whenever he has the mask rolled halfway up. It's a constant reminder that Spidey has trust issues --- fairly well-justified ones, given that his first girlfriend was dropped off a bridge. The half-mask is super stylish, but it's also a marker of vulnerability, of boundaries being set.
So when Tom Holland wakes up with his mask around his nose and desperately scrabbles to pull it back on, I immediately know, yup, that's a good Spider-Man.
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