Look, there are a lot of comics out there. Too many. We can never hope to have in-depth conversations about all of them. But, we sure can round up some of the more noteworthy titles we didn’t get around to from the week. Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Amazing Spider-Man 700.1-700.3
Dan Slott, writer of Amazing Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man
Patrick: I loves me some Superior Spider-Man. For my money, it’s the most dangerous and courageous thing Marvel could do with their most popular franchise. It’s un-fucking-precedented and it explores amazingly complex themes and concepts. Morality, immorality and amorality, and the relativism of all three, are forefront without making the audience feel like they’re somehow culpable for some heinous crimes. We are allowed a certain distance from Otto because he’s Otto, but we’re also invited to empathize with him because he’s Spider-Man. I know that balance has caused a lot of people to tap out, and others to demand Peter Parker’s return. With no Parker in the Ultimate Universe either, Marvel’s trotting out these Amazing Spider-Man 700.whatever issues, as if to say “you want your Peter Parker stories? Here are your fucking Peter Parker stories.”
I’m pleased to say that I actually really liked this first fucking Peter Parker story. Amazing Spider-Man 700.1 and 700.2 tell the story of November snow storm that shuts down New York City. David Mordell spins a Spider-Man tale totally out of continuity, as though simply riffing on the idea of Peter Parker. Indeed, the first 10 pages or so are just your standard Spider-Man beats: crime-fightin’ and web-slingin’ in costume, working for the Bugle and visiting Aunt Mae out of costume. It takes a little bit for the story to distinguish itself, but that’s by design — Spider-Man’s routine is being established. And that routine is taking its toll on ol’ Petey Boy. Aunt Mae offers Uncle Ben’s familiar words of comfort:
Do you remember what your Uncle Ben used to say about November? He said it was nature’s way of telling us to rest. You know how much he loved gardening. To him, the saddest day of the year was when the first frost hit. But he said nothing was so sad it didn’t bring something positive. The frost feels sorry for killing the flowers and gives them new life on windows. Even if only for a little while.
Within the story, Peter takes that advice to heart and he heads home to sleep for like 21 hours straight. But outside the story, it’s an interesting suggestion that maybe Peter Parker needed a goddamned break.
Or at least, that’s where my meaning-obsessed brain went with it at first. Morrel seems more interested in a very Peter Parkery idea: great power, great responsibility. So when Spider-Man wakes up, he has to overcome his own Seasonal Affective Disorder and come to his aunt’s rescue, even if it’s the hard thing to do.
That’s what Morrel is able to showcase: a classic Peter story, one that puts the whole city in danger, but Aunt Mae especially. And it’s on those simple terms that the story succeeds. It’s just rewarding to see Spider-Man helping out a snowed-in ambulance or a boarding up his aunt’s windows. Where it starts down a slippery metaphysical slope is where Peter starts to hallucinate his greatest villains engaging him in a snowball fight. It gets silly — like, really really silly. And even the relatively straight-forward message of “you gotta work hard even when you’re tired” stops resonating for a second.
Drew, did you like spending some time with Peter Parker? I’ll admit to appreciating the novelty, but this issue made me glad that we have something so daring in Superior right now. Did this make you want him back or wish he’d stay away even longer?
Drew: Appropriately, I think the answer is “both.” Sure, many of the scenes in the first half of this story felt like obligatory Peter Parker-isms, but there’s something endearing about how straightforward Peter’s struggles are broadcast. Part of that is just the format — a two-parter is going to feel much simpler than the steady build Slott is working over on SSM — but much of it comes from distilling the Peter Parker Mythos down to its core. Gone are the girls, the supervillains, the concerns about making rent, this is just the story of a city in trouble and a kid trying to do the right thing.
Still, I don’t think it’s wrong to read that meta-commentary into Peter’s weariness. Peter keeps going long after he’s saved the day — that is, long after he’s resolved the central element of the Spider-Man Mythos — making Aunt May breakfast, repairing her window, even shoveling her walk. Finally, May forces him to rest, but it was clear well before then that he needed it. In fact, part one of the story ends with Peter waking from some restful sleep to go out on this adventure, as if to say he’d already earned that rest, but that circumstances demanded that he put on the mask once again. That’s a bit sobering, but that point should fall harder on the folks who have insisted on Peter’s return because they “love” him.
(Okay, sure, as a fictional character, Peter isn’t necessarily exhausted, but the idea of him certainly is. Mordell is able to deliver an issue that doesn’t feel totally tired by deconstructing it a bit, and just kind of riffing on the predictability of it all. I enjoyed the heck of out of this issue, but I don’t think anyone can really argue that it felt “fresh.” Aside from a brief appearance of a cell phone, I could have easily been convinced this was a reprint from the 60s.)
What’s impressing me most about these riffs on Peter is how they work as commentaries on the absence of Peter. That theme is a bit more explicitly apparent in Amazing Spider-Man 700.3, which finds both Peter out of the costume and somebody else in it. The feature finds Peter badly burned after a battle with Firebrand. The two are scooped up by a kind of villain’s hospital service, who don’t recognize Spidey because of his severe burns. The issue serves largely as an excuse for writer Joe Casey to explore the world from the villains’ point of view, which is to say, it’s a lot like an issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man. That’s not a knock against it — I think there’s a lot of interesting ideas going on here — but it’s decidedly NOT a Peter Parker story.
The back-up is actually sans Peter entirely — we see Spider-Man in costume at the beginning, but only learn later that it isn’t Peter behind the mask. Not that it matters, this is a Black Cat story through-and-through. The setup is a bit cumbersome, but effectively, she helps a girl escape a homicidal father while teaching her a lesson about crime. It’s as straight-forward as the blizzard story from 700.1 and 2, but feels out-of-place in what I had perceived as a bastion for Peter Parker fans.
Taken together, these issues seem to advance the notion that it’s okay if Peter isn’t here anymore — his ideals and adventures live on in spirit, while his foes and friends live on in reality (or, at least, the reality that is the Marvel Universe). Of course, it may be unfair to draw my conclusions about 700.3 based on the absence of a character, but like, when that character is Peter Parker, that seems noteworthy — at least in the current climate of Peter fervor. I don’t know, Patrick, am I making too much out of the lack of Peter here?
Patrick: Oh, not at all!
(Pattern: Drew or Patrick make a strong assertion that they expect will be unpopular, then they hedge their bets by asking the other if maybe they aren’t making too much out of something small. The other party invariably validates the original strong assertion.)
I actually found it sort of baffling that the back-up of 700.3 tells a story about Black Cat. Like… why would that need to happen in the issue of Spider-Man especially set aside for telling stories about Peter Parker? Also, I’ve read that back-up three times and I don’t know what fucking happened in it. For an 8-page story, there are an awful lot of false identities, false crimes, false alliances, and the whole thing is just too murky for me to really sort through the motivations. I did like seeing the Marvely versions of all these famous paintings though.
The main story feels quite a bit more substantial, and it’s super weird to see it borrowing a lot of themes from the first couple issues of Superior. Principally, Peter is trapped inside some villainous construct and unable to act in any way. In this issue, that struggle is literal, rather than just in his/Otto’s head. I know there has to be something to ratchet up the tension, but I was almost disappointed by the final-page reveal that the doctor is on to him. There’s something I find so appealing about a story where the hero’s only defense is not acting like themselves.
Oh and I’m a sucker for any music cue written into a comic. Here’s a recording of that Wagner piano sonata the doctor has playing during Peter’s surgery.