Patrick: If The Superior Spider-Man had us all asking what it means to be a hero (and, by extension, what it means to be a villain), then The Amazing Spider-Man seems poised to ask the question of what it means to be Spider-Man. It is a surprisingly wide question, with seemingly hundreds of discrete answers. What’s it mean to be Spider-Man? Kaine will tell you one thing, Miguel O’Hara will tell you another thing, Peter Parker will tell you something else, and Doc Ock (may he rest in peace) probably wouldn’t dignify the question with a response. Y’see, there are a lot of Spiders out there, and even more Spider-fans; what we want and what we expect from Spider-Man is so varied that even an issue designed to celebrate the hero can’t pick a tone and stick to it. It’s a fascinating, if uneven (and possibly even fascinatingly uneven), exploration of Spider-Man.
Guys, by this point, we’re familiar with the form of extra-sized issues, but let’s just lay it out on the top here. There’s a main story featuring our newly Peter Parkered Spider-Man, followed by half a dozen back-up stories that take the perspectives of various other heroes, villains and other people in Spider-Man’s world. Oh, and there’s an intriguing tease on the first two pages: a flashback to the infamous moment Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider. The rest is history… I mean, there’s also the secret history, wherein our teeny-tiny-radio-spider got in one more solid chomp before falling over dead. If you were paying attention to announcements this last weekend, you’ll know that we are going to explore that character (to be named Silk) as part of the Marvel-wide crossover event, Original Sin.
If you’re starting to get dizzy, you’re not the only one. This issue is so forward-looking, it’s almost vertigo-inducing. Let’s keep our feet firmly planted on the ground and discuss the feature story, one that finds Peter trying to get his groove back and characteristically bumbling the execution. After re-pledging himself to his family, his work and a life of not providing tech for Spider-Man, Peter decides he needs to unwind a little. A little casual web-slingin’ does him good, and he’s even able to foil an antique heist in the process. Mind you, he ends up in his Spider-Skivvies, effectively living out everyone’s literal nightmare. To make matters worse — or at least more public — everyone seems to have captured this on their phones and are uploading it to that ther’ internet. Embarrassed, but happy to have lived his own life for a day, Peter returns home to an Anna Maria Marconi who has deduced Peter’s identity, and also discovered a wedding ring with her name on it.
Peter’s back in the driver seat and while we might expect him to be awkward as ever, it’s a little dispiriting to discover that Dan Slott and Humbero Ramos’ storytelling is equally awkward. As a course of this story, Peter is made nude — except for his mask — and I gotta ask: why? This whole first story is weirdly focused on sex, and part of that is Ramos’ ridiculous drawings of the female characters in this issue. The Menagerie — except the Hippo — are all drawn for maximum T&A exposure, and poor Spider-Woman gets one hell of a broken-back pose in her single-panel appearance. And MJ’s tits are out of control.
And then the whole thing is capped by Anna Maria only being able to tell that Spider-Man is Peter Parker because she fucked him. She’s supposed to be a genius, right? It took three freckles under his belly button to tip her off?
But like I said, the “main” story doesn’t really appear to be where Slott’s heart is. Yeah, Peter’s back and all that, but Superior Spider-Man 31 already trumpeted his return, so the majority of this issue is looking ahead to the next big thing — Spider-Verse — as evidenced by the sheer volume of Spider-Men featured in the back-ups. What’s most confusing to me is the inconsistency of tone in these things. The second back-up, a story called “Crossed Paths” (written by Slott, art by Giuseppe Camuncoli), follows Black Cat after Otto clocked her right in the face. She’s sent to jail where there’s an implied threat of sexual violence from a tatted-up fellow inmate. Further, it’s implied that the guards of the prison are sorta cool with it, just y’know, not while she’s mopping.
I’m not categorically against this kind of story, though I don’t imagine we’d get that same sort of thing if I male anti-hero was thrown in jail (someone, please point me to the Punisher-gets-raped-in-prison stories and I’ll withdraw my complaint). Maybe Slott was just excited about season two of Orange is the New Black, but it’s a bizarrely dark turn of events. Especially considering the next story is an all-ages explanation of Spider-Man’s powers drawn by Chris Eliopoulos. “How My Stuff Works” is cute as hell, but no way does it belong in the same volume as this Black Cat story.
Spencer, I’ll pose this to you: who is this issue for? Is it for long-time Spidey fans who are eager to plumb the depths of Spider-mythology? Or is it an issue for teenage boys who just want their adolescent views of women validated? Or is it for children who need a cutesy rundown of what Spider-Man can do? Or, perhaps most outlandish, is it for fans of Spider-Man 2099? I’d argue that the issue is intentionally erratic, rapidly switching between everything “Spider-Man” ever has been and ever will be. The Amazing Spider-Man 1, isn’t a return to form, so much as it is a return to all forms.
Spencer: As evidenced by the many changes in tone and focus that you pointed out, Patrick, I think this issue is meant to appeal to all of those groups, but I don’t quite think it’s intended to be a grand celebration in the same way other recent oversized issues have been. If anything, it feels like the ultimate first issue, with both the main story and the back-ups existing to provide a crash-course in Peter Parker and his many allies, and tease the stories yet to come.
In that way this issue reminds me of Daredevil 1, which also recently relaunched with a new #1 despite retaining the same creative team. Where Daredevil opted for a clean reset by relocating to California Pete Campbell-style, though, Slott basically picks up where he left off at the end of Superior Spider-Man, with the thrust of the story focusing around how Peter deals with the consequences of Otto’s actions.
The thing is, Peter doesn’t know most of what Otto did as Spider-Man, and this is a clever move on Slott’s part, as any new readers jumping on with this issue are in a similar predicament. Slott gets to have his cake and eat it too; the new readers are brought up to speed at the same time as Peter, while fans of Superior still get to see long-seeded plots continue.
It’s reassuring to know that Slott isn’t going to drop Anna Maria and other ideas introduced in Superior just because Otto’s gone, but it does feel rather unfair that Peter’s set to face so many deadly consequences for actions that happened when he was dead and one of his greatest enemies hijacked his body. Still, at least it makes sense for Peter as a character; he’s always had terrible luck, and life has always been unfair to him in ways both big and small.
With Superior 31 serving as Slott’s grand statement about Peter’s worth as a hero, this issue is free to highlight Peter’s jovial personality, giving it a sense of humor that Superior never quite had — a sense of humor that the above image highlights quite well. Slott also gets a chance to highlight exactly how much joy being Spider-Man brings Peter, with Ramos’ art doing much of the heavy lifting in this respect, imbuing his pages with an overwhelming sense of fun.
Actually, for all of Ramos’ issues — and Patrick, believe me, Ramos’ depiction of women in this issue made me just as uncomfortable as you — I’m quite impressed at how he manages to make this incarnation of Peter look so different from his portrayal of Otto-in-Peter’s-body. Despite sharing identical bodies — and despite Ramos not really changing their features any — they almost look like completely different characters, and that comes down entirely to how Peter and Otto carry themselves. It’s an impressive bit of acting and body language on Ramos’ part.
I do agree with you completely, Patrick, that the lead story has a weird relationship with sex. I’ve always thought of Slott’s work on the Spider-Man titles as “mature” without being “adult”; it’s “mature” in the sense that it tackles heady topics like identity and morality and, in Superior, even a protagonist who kills, but never falls into the trap of using explicit or gory scenes for shock value, and that makes it especially disappointing that Slott’s attempts to address Peter and Anna Maria’s sexuality comes across so awkwardly.
“[We’ve] seen each other’s freckles. All of ‘em,” is such a strange way to phrase things. I get that the scene is meant to be awkward for the characters, but it reads like Slott himself was uncomfortable with including the scene at all and flubbed the execution somewhat — as it is, this line is still a little too adult to be entirely kid friendly but too ridiculous to be intended for the adults, and it just sticks out like a sore thumb.
Honestly, it’s a shame that this issue has its sexual hang-ups and issues with portraying women in its art, cause it’s this close to being the perfect Spider-Man book for kids interested in the character. Even if this title isn’t 100% kid-friendly, though, I’m still glad it included Joe Caramagna and Chris Eliopoulos’ “How My Stuff Works” back-up story.
I’m actually incredibly grateful that this panel exists, because I’ve been confused about who exactly knows Peter’s identity for some time now, so I imagine I’m going to be referencing this image quite a bit in the months to come.
This issue is definitely a bit more problematic than what I’m used to seeing from Slott and Ramos, and it’s obvious that Amazing is going to be exploring an entirely new set of themes and ideas than Superior, but Slott’s skill at handling an extensive supporting cast is just as impressive as ever, and I think future issues will feel much more focused and cohesive without the back-ups. Given a little time to work out the kinks and figure out exactly what it wants to be about, The Amazing Spider-Man has the potential to be as magical a book as its predecessor — and that’s no small feat.
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