Character Study: Skitter.

Welcome, friends, to my second Character Study, where we try and figure out the appeal of a character. Last time, we talked about everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. Today, we are going to be looking at another person with bug powers.

Yes, we're looking at you. Created by liujuin.
Yes, we’re looking at you. Created by liujuin.

Meet today’s subject, a young woman with the power to control insects and view things from their perspective. Her given name is Taylor Hebert, and she changed her superhero name to Weaver. However, to me, and probably most other readers of Wormher name will always be Skitter.

Skitter is one of the things that ties Worm together. To understand her is to understand much of the politics, sociology and morality of Worm. While not an iconic character, she has the potential to become one, due to her relatability and unique approach to saving the world.

The Death of Taylor Hebert

The first few arcs of Worm are about the death of Taylor Hebert. It’s quite a long death, really, starting before the first arc even begins. The semester before Worm begins, Taylor Hebert is bullied heavily. Everything from physical attacks to psychological harassment is used. Finally, after a break, the bullies come back to shove Taylor into a locker filled with dirty tampons. That’s what sets off her trigger event, as shown in Shell 4.3. If you don’t know, in Worm, powers aren’t given by radiation or genetics, but are activated by traumatic moments. In Taylor’s case, her power (specifically, the ability to see through the eyes of all the bugs in a two-block radius at once) was so traumatic it caused a second trigger event. She was in that locker for hours, and when she was brought out, she was screaming.

This was the start of the death as Talyor Hebert. The authorities could have saved Brockton Bay and the local heroes a lot of trouble if they had gone after the people responsible. Instead they shielded the people who wronged Taylor, even putting one of them in a position of authority. This miscarriage of justice was key in turning a scared, potentially suicidal girl into one of the most feared supervillains in the city.

Now, there are plenty of times where we could say Taylor Hebert went away completely and fully became Skitter. When the bank was robbed. When she parted ways with Armsmaster. When she came back to the Undersiders the second time. When the Slaughterhouse Nine attacked. All of these are potential points. However, the point where it became inevitable was when the Wards named her in Interlude 3.

“Skitter?” Gallant put the name out there.

There was a clatter of keys as Clockblocker checked, “It’s not taken.”

“Then it’s good enough,” Gallant wrote the name up on the whiteboard…

To paraphrase Agent Coulson of Agents of Shield: “They gave her a name?” The thing about giving a supervillain (or hero) is that if you give them a name, especially a good one, it becomes much harder to stop them. And let’s be honest, Skitter was a very good name.

Now, before Taylor became Skitter, she was essentially a victim. She believed she was powerless, and she was. Now, Skitter has power. And, if you read a certain book, her reasoning starts to seem familiar.

The Princess

Everyone has heard the phrase “the ends justify the means.” Many associate it with a certain Italian man named Niccolo Machiavelli. However, not everyone has read The Prince.

While people rightly associate “the ends justify the means” with Machiavelli and his most famous work (his introduction asks the person he dedicated the book to to use it for “the greater good,”) his theory is much more complicated. However, it fits very well with Skitter’s actions. One might say she is the ultimate Machiavellian hero.

For instance, she obtains her “kingdom” is by what Machiavelli calls “conquest by virtue.” Skitter rarely relies on luck, and instead tries to create a plan using her intelligence, friends, allies, power, and whatever opportunities the battlefield has to offer. This shows the kind of resourcefulness that Machiavelli encourages.

Machiavelli also encourages a “prince” to be “both the lion and the fox.” This means to use overwhelming force as well as trickery when necessary and possible. If she feels it is is advantageous, she will literally drown you in bugs. If she thinks it is necessary, she will use her bugs to text people or scout the room.

She also is a big fan of the phrase “…if you must be feared, do so in a way, do so in a way that does not inspire hate.” We see this in her treatment of her subjects in the boardwalk. She may have seemed cold, her bugs may have been scary, but she showered them with supplies for a minimum tax. She still got some dissent, and her orders were even disobeyed once. The key word being once.

She also weighs moral and pragmatic options better than most heroes and villains. Many supervillains will stab people in the back and kick puppies just because they’re evil. Many heroes, also, would have refused to kill someone like Coil. However, Skitter did not, and probably saved many lives. At least as many as if Batman had just finally shot the Joker.

However, the reason I say that she is a hero and not a villain is that she doesn’t seem to just use power to avoid being in a situation like that locker room. That’s not to say she doesn’t react badly when pressed, but that’s instinct. Her goal is to make the world a better place. To do that, she steps down from her position as leader of Brockton Bay and becomes Weaver.

Sacrifice and Loss

A moment’s digression, if you please. In the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, Laura and her mentor Roth are arguing over whether to rescue a pilot who tried to save them or help their crew. Laura wants to do both, Roth knows they can’t do both and argues to sacrifice the pilot to save their friends. He says Laura doesn’t know about sacrifice. Laura says she does. Roth’s response is something I think I can quote word for word: “No, Laura, you know about loss. Sacrifice is a choice.”

Skitter knows a lot about both. She lost her mom, her one friend at school, and nearly lost her new supervillain friends. However, she still had a lot to give. The amount of effort she put into protecting her friends and her corner of Brockton Bay would break most people. Also, many people in her position probably wouldn’t give up their friends to work for an entity largely responsible for turning their life into a living hell. Skitter did. She knew what could happen if she acted selfishly and realized it would doom humanity.

While I wouldn’t say she was always an angel, or that every terrible thing she did (like mercy-killing a hostage being kept by the S9 or robbing the bank) was for the greater good, but when she did, the area in the world became a better place.

The most tragic thing she lost and sacrificed was her ability to feel ok about herself. At several points, she admits that she can’t justify many of the things she’s done and regrets them, and was pretty much recruited into the Undersiders so Tattletale could keep her on suicide watch. So, coming from her, this final line is quite beautiful:

But I’ve dealt with worse.  If it comes down to it, if this is all I have to worry about, I can maybe deal.  I could maybe learn to be okay.

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Character Study: Spider-Man

Spiderman as first created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Both the fictional character and his creators would do other things.

For a long time, one of my favorite heroes ever was Spiderman. In fact, he still might be. I’m nowhere near being alone, either. Created in 1962, Spiderman, if he aged in real time, will be 53 in August. Over the course of these five decades, he has raked in millions (if not billions) of dollars. Hell, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 alone grossed over two hundred million dollars according to IMDB.

This raises a question, though. Why Spider-Man? What about him was it that made him last these fifty-plus years and others like Merlin the mutant (an early Thor villain) fall by the wayside? If you look at a variety of periods in Spidey’s history, you’ll notice a few patterns.

Let’s start with the most superficial one first. His costume. Let’s see if you notice a pattern.

Spidey's first appearance ever.
Spidey’s first appearance ever.
There was a brief blip in the 80's where Spider-Man had a black costume. That was the only significant deviation, though.
There was a brief blip in the 80’s where Spider-Man had a black costume. That was the only significant deviation, though.
Ultimate Spider-Man. My favorite Spider-Man.
Ultimate Spider-Man. My favorite Spider-Man.
Sam Raimi's idea of Spider-Man. We'll talk about those movies later.
Sam Raimi’s idea of Spider-Man. We’ll talk about those movies later.
The reboot. Spot the difference between that and the one above.
The reboot. Spot the difference between that and the one above.
This was Spidey's armor for a few issues during Civil War.
This was Spidey’s armor for a few issues during Civil War. After, he would revert back to his traditional costume.

So, can you spot a pattern? Every so often, like once in a blue moon, Spidey will change his outfit. This will be because of a plot point, and he will inevitably change back. Much as I like the Civil War costume, you could tell that the authors knew this as well. How? That armor had a built-in feature that allowed it to look like his traditional costume. Yeah. They knew that Spider-Man wouldn’t keep this red-and-gold color pattern, but they wanted him to keep his new arm thingys. Shame this tactic didn’t work.

Slightly more core to his character is his snark. I remember watching the first and third Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and thinking Why is the Green Goblin funnier than Spider-Man? Every since day one, Spider-Man has been one of the funniest guys in the room. One of my favorite moments in Ultimate Spider-Man was Spidey crashing through a window window to kick a monstrous Green Goblin in the face singing a song by The Talking Heads. Even back in his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy he was quite the snarker.

However, that’s still pretty superficial. I could talk about his motto, but I assume you know that. Like his costume, that’s one of the most obvious thing about him. No, what I want to talk about is how he shows the cost of being a hero.

First off, let’s talk about his typical relation with the cops. If you’ve only watched the live-action movies, you could be forgiven for thinking that the average person on the street loves and trusts Spider-Man. They don’t.

From Ultimate Spider-Man
From Ultimate Spider-Man

From his very first outing, Spider-Man has lacked the support of the people in power. He has been shot at by police and demonized by the press more regularly than any other hero, as well as all the physical and emotional toll that fighting villains with a relatively weak power can bring.

Yet it takes a lot for him to give up. And even when he does, I think that the word persistence sums up his appeal better than with great power comes great responsibility. Spidey will always attempt to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is.