The MCU’s JJJ

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Captain America: Civil War came out, and debuted an amazing Spider-Man into the MCU with Tom Holland. And I don’t think I’m alone in his appearance in Civil War making me really excited to see this new Peter Parker in his own world in Spider-Man: Homecoming. We don’t know much about the plot of Homecoming yet, but we do know that it concerns the high-school age Peter from Civil War; so we can expect familiar touchstones like Midtown High, Flash Thompson, and Peter’s job working as a photographer for The Daily Bugle.

Actually, I’m super curious about how the filmmakers decide to handle the whole Daily Bugle part of Peter’s life for a number of reasons. The first, and maybe most obvious is the Bugle’s notorious Editor-in-Chief, J. Jonah Jameson. Who are they gonna tap to play this guy?

It’s not that JJJ is the sort of character that’s absolutely integral to the Spider-Man mythos that whoever they get to play him will have to carry the movie, or anything like that. But the last actor to play him, JK Simmons in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy from the early 2000’s just killed the part. If his performance isn’t permanently etched in your head already, well, that probably means you haven’t seen any of those early Spider-Man films, so I suggest you correct that. In my opinion Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 is probably the best single pair of superhero films ever made. And Simmons’ JJJ is one exceptionally flavorful part of that universe. The look, the voice, the dialogue, the face and physical acting – it might be the single best translation of a character from comics to screen.

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This is just conjecture, but it seems like JK owned JJJ so hard that the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man movies decided to skip out on portraying the character on-screen at all, with his entire character existing in that universe within two emails he sends to Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker.

So, that’s one route the MCU could take – not have JJJ on at all. But setting a Spider-Man movie during those early years and not having JJJ or the Bugle as part of the universe feels lacking. Alternatively, they could try and get JK Simmons to reprise his role; but even if they manage to do that considering he’s reportedly working on the DC movies right now, that still feels like a lazy solution to the problem. Marvel could choose to take a third option, do something completely fresh with the character and the Bugle in general, but that still begs the question of how.

To be frank, the whole Peter taking pictures for the Daily Bugle thing is in dire need of an update to better reflect the current media landscape. And the biggest reason isn’t the slow death of print journalism, or that JJJ as a caricature of the person who lives in that world might come across as an anachronism. The big hole I see in that whole thread is that today, unlike in the mid-late 20th century, or even the early 2000’s, everybody has HD cameras on them all the time. What allowed Peter to sell his photographs of Spider-Man to the Bugle is that he had exclusive access to them. People didn’t just carry cameras around with them, and even if they did and were prepared to take pictures of Spider-Man fighting the villain du jour; they would still need to distribute them through a news-outlet. And seeing how Peter could take the best pictures under those circumstances, he would be able to sell them to the Bugle.

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But today, everyone has a camera on them all the time in the form of a smartphone, and everyone has the ability to distribute as many photos as they want freely over the internet. It’s even established in Civil War that there’s already video of Spider-Man on the internet that Peter didn’t take himself. And once people know to look out for a guy in red and blue tights swinging through New York City, there’d be no stopping everyone who catches even a glimpse from taking and sharing pics of Spider-Man. He’d be all over Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Twitter, etc, and at that point picture quantity matters a lot more than picture quality. #spiderman would be trending before Peter could take his first selfie, and even more upsetting to Peter, you can’t use hyphens in hashtags, so everyone would be getting his superhero name wrong. Even if Peter is still able to take the best pictures of Spider-Man, he’d be far from the only one taking half-way decent pictures, and it’s unlikely he could take good enough pictures to sell to someone else without raising suspicions of how he managed to get them.

I don’t know of a perfect alternative to these problems. But as long as we’re updating things, it might be fun to think about the Bugle having a Buzzfeed-esque digital side that Peter works for instead of the main paper. Maybe, instead of a photo-journalist, Peter is the Bugle’s main Spider-Man blogger, tracking the #spiderman hashtags and curating the best content from around the web. Instead of taking pictures of himself, Peter’s work with the Bugle instead makes him face what the internet thinks of him day to day as he reads, edits, and curates think pieces that describe him as either hero or menace. While we’re at it, maybe make Jameson, (or Robbie Robertson?) an annoying caricature of a millennial online journalist, constantly bugging Peter about the Bugle’s follower counts, and making the next “Which Avenger are You?” quiz.

This probably isn’t the best solution, and luckily, I’m not the one writing Spider-Man: Homecoming (although a big part of me wishes I were…). I just think that with all the changes the MCU have made to its existing characters to improve and update things for today’s audiences, it would be kind of silly to let this part of Spider-Man’s mythos stay as it was 50-something years ago.

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