Oh come on, now!
Last night, as I was winding down yet another hours-long session of LEGO Star Wars, I decided to glance at some social media. What greeted me was headline after headline announcing that Bad Bunny would be playing Spider-Man character El Muerto in Sony’s upcoming standalone movie. And my honest first reaction was “wait, who the hell is El Muerto?”
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a big Spider-Man fan. He’s my favorite character of all-time. I’ve read hundreds of his comics, watched hours of media about him, played through several video games, and, even, have read non-fiction books about his history and impact on pop culture. If you gave me the chance, I could rattle off dozens of characters related to just his side of the Marvel universe. And, while Sony’s been announcing some pretty obscure characters to their universe lately, I at least knew all of their names and a general gist of what they’re about. There was no way Sony would ever dive so deep into the lore that they’d pick a headlining character I’d never heard of, right? Wrong.
Before last night, I did not know there was a Marvel character named El Muerto. The fact that he’s getting a movie completely blindsided me. So, after (probably over) reacting, I gave him a quick google and was hit by a second wave of shock. The man was only in TWO ISSUES of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, 16 years ago! Talk about obscure! Man, and people thought Guardians of the Galaxy was pulled out of nowhere? At least those characters had been around for decades and had an acclaimed 25 issue run as a team. Heck, El Muerto makes Morbius look like a top-tier character. I know Sony’s been desperate lately, but, this(!), this is a stretch. I don’t know who in their right mind picked El Muerto to be the next “big” Marvel thing. What were they thinking?
Then, it hit me. I could very easily figure out what they were thinking. I could do some investigative work myself. I could do a El Muerto “deep dive” and see if there’s anything worth adapting. So, that’s just what I did. And it took me all of twenty minutes. And I am now an El Muerto expert. Here’s what I found.
El Muerto is not even the most interesting part of his arc.
As I said, I dove into this two issue arc expecting El Muerto to be my main takeaway. He was not. Instead, I was drawn into the drama of this mid-2000s Spider-Man run I’ve never read before. This story in particular starts with the Jameson family being held at gunpoint. When things start getting particularly intense, J. Jonah tells his son John to “do his thing” and “reveal his secret.” Initially, I thought he was referring to John Jameson’s history of becoming the campy 80s villain Man-Wolf (Sony, calm down), but I soon learned, no, he thought his son was Spider-Man. Which is honestly ridiculous. Because, one, Spider-Man fought Man-Wolf on several occasions. He’s a Spider-Man villain after all. And, perhaps more importantly, in one of Spider-Man’s first adventures, he SAVED John Jameson when his space shuttle was about to crash. IN FRONT OF J JONAH JAMESON. Which is why the publisher hates Spider-Man. He feels like Spidey stole his son’s moment. It’s completely baffling.
AND THEN we get this cliffhanger…
While out on a date (with Jarvis no less), Aunt May sees Uncle Ben just casually out walking the streets. Now, I’m sure there’s some kind of explanation. I’m not going to look into it any further though. That’s not the point. The point is that even in his only TWO ISSUES El Muerto is barely worth mentioning.
But, what is El Muerto’s story?
I’m about to hit you with some intense comic book bullshit. You ready? Juan-Carlos Estrada Sanchez is part of a long family line of Lucha libre characters named El Muerto. The name and mask, which gives it’s wearer super strength, have been passed down to generation after generation. I’m guessing that’s because his family made a deal with El Dorado, essentially a wrestling god. I don’t know. It’s never quite explained. What is explained is that, as a child, he was supposed to prove that he was ready for the mask by fighting El Dorado. He chickened out and said he didn’t want it, which angered El Dorado who tried to kill him. Juan-Carlos’ father intervened and was killed. El Dorado then gave Juan-Carlos ten years to train. After those ten years, he had to fight a true “champion of the people.” If he lost that fight, El Dorado would come back and kill him. For whatever reason, Juan-Carlos, now going by El Muerto, chose Spider-Man. Again, without explanation. And… he lost.
So, El Dorado (that’s him in the pic) comes back to kill El Muerto. Of course, Spider-Man and El Muerto fend him off. Everyone lives happily ever after. And, that’s it. That’s all we know about El Muerto. No follow-up story. Nothing about whether he ended up taking on the legacy. No crime fighting. No more Spider-Man battles. Nothing. He just fought Spider-Man once and then teamed up with him once. End of story. For 16 years this character just sat hidden deep within the archives until Sony decided to dust him off for whatever ungodly reason. (They own the rights to everything Spider-Man and go with this?)
At the end of the day, El Muerto’s comic book history doesn’t really matter all that much. It really comes down to “can someone make a good movie out of this?” and I’m surprisingly going with yes. Because, honestly, the idea of a boxing match where somebody’s life is on the line is fascinating, especially if, like Spider-Man, the other party isn’t aware of the stakes. I think you just run with that central concept and drop almost everything else. Maybe throw in the dark magic deal, but definitely don’t do El Dorado like he appears in the comics. A loose adaptation that isn’t really a superhero movie, more of a horror-themed sports flick? I think it could work. Maybe not as high art, but it sounds like the best movie in the “SSU” so far.
Now, do I have any faith in Sony executing that concept? No. None whatsoever. He’s going to be another anti-hero who fights crime until he eventually joins the Sinister Six to take down Spider-Man. And I’m going to hate it. Mark my words.
(Plus, man, I don’t know. Seems like Bad Bunny doesn’t have a whole lot of acting experience yet.)
But, even if this movie sucks, I’m glad I took this journey. It let me dive into a part of the Spider-Verse I never had. It was interesting to see subplots and villains I probably would’ve never read about otherwise. And, the challenge of turning a Z-list character into a decent movie was actually kind of fun. I’m still not excited for this movie, but at least I got something out of it.
Sony, give me a call if you liked this pitch…
But, really, make a Miles Morales movie! Spider-Man 2099! Spider-Ham! Black Cat! Do that Aunt May movie that was leaked before! Literally all of it makes more sense than the wrestler with the poorly defined backstory and two issue arc!