Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Amazing Spider-Man 17, originally released April 1st, 2015.
O, I am fortune’s fool!
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Drew: Of all the heroes in Marvel’s pantheon, Peter Parker might be the most defined by his passivity. I don’t mean to say that he never takes decisive action, just that it’s almost always reactionary. Heck, he doesn’t even play a key role in his own origin — the spider bites him, then Peter lets the robber get away instead of doing something. This manifests itself in his perpetual bad luck, that is, outside forces that always make his life harder. It makes for great drama, but after a while, it also starts to paint Peter as kind of incompetent. Why is he always stammering for a cover story? Why is he always facing off against the same bad guys? Why is he always running out of web-fluid? The smartest part about The Superior Spider-Man was pointing out these obvious areas for improvement, shaking up the formula of Spider-Man as we know him. It was an exciting development, but Peter’s return to his body was also a return to form, failing to capitalize on many of Otto’s inarguably superior developments. Amazing Spider-Man 17 finds Peter coming up against some of those age-old problems, but this time, Anna Maria doesn’t have the patience to watch him keep bumbling through them.
Writer Dan Slott actually hits this note write off of the bat, as Aunt May not-so-subtly hints that wedding bells might be in the future for Peter and Anna Maria. Their basically opposite cover stories offer a perfect microcosm of the difference between the Amazing and Superior approaches.
Peter is so used to elaborate subterfuge, he immediately rejects the notion of telling Aunt May that they’re “just friends.” Tellingly, his mind leaps to some kind of outside rules that could prevent their relationship, absolving him of whatever agency he might have had in his story. That is, his story would have made for some fine drama, but it wouldn’t have revealed anything about Peter or Anna Maria — they were just passive elements acted upon by some external force.
Anna Maria, on the other hand, sees that the simplest story is also the easiest to swallow. She and Peter broke up, but she hasn’t found a place to move, yet. As she points out later, that’s all true, she just left out the parts that involved Spider-Man, Otto Octavius, or mind control. Intriguingly, Aunt May remarks on how like Peter it is to let “another wonderful girl get away,” as if to emphasize how that little hint of agency in Anna Maria’s story — that Peter and Anna Maria might chose to break up — can reveal something true about their characters.
Anna Maria’s approach continues to resonate with Peter throughout the issue — in good ways, and in bad — but I’m struck by the fact that none of this has occurred to Peter before. Shit just happens to him, there’s no patterns he can see, no situations he can plan for or avoid. That passivity, failure to plan for the future, and tendency to overcomplicate simple situations reminds me for all the world of a drama-addicted teen. And that makes sense: Peter was a teen when most of his chief characteristics — including his bad luck — were first defined. I can absolutely understand how bad luck became such an important piece of his mythos in a time where comics were almost exclusively self-contained one-off stories — there’s not always time for an elaborate explanation of how his situation came to be — but again, after a while, seeing Peter falling into the same situations time and time again makes it seem like he wants them to happen.
So consider Anna Maria’s no-nonsense attitude as a call for Peter to grow the fuck up. He’s the CEO of his own company for christ’s sake — it’s time he start taking some real responsibility and plan ahead. It’s an exciting collision of philosophies that promises that both the in- and extra-narrative developments of Superior Spider-Man haven’t been washed away completely. It’s a bold move from writer Dan Slott, but what else could we expect from the writer who killed of Peter Parker in the first place?
Patrick! I kind of let my reading of that first scene run away with this write-up, so I didn’t exactly leave space to comment on…really anything else in the issue. I’m not sure if you’re game for an extended allegory, but I would like to suggest that Sajani, in rebelling against Peter’s prison project (representing Peter’s attempts to grow up) offers us a nice portrait of fans who jumped ship on Superior Spider-Man. I’ll admit that that reading might be a little tenuous to hold up to much scrutiny, so I guess I’ll leave you the option of developing it or tearing it to shreds.
Patrick: I’m not quite sure it makes sense that Sajani’s desertion could represent fans that bailed on Superior — if anything, Sajani’s even more invested in the idea of Peter growing up than anyone else. She wants him to be the responsible CEO of Parker Industries, she just wants the company to be pursuing something worthwhile. And that’s the second part of the allegory that gets a little muddy: how are we supposed to feel about the super-prison? In the previous issue, we discovered that there are two other mega-corporations pitching their own versions of the thing. What is it that makes Peter think he has a better shot at building a prison than Alchemax or Roxxon? I mean, Parker, Sajani, Anna Maria et al. aren’t event engineers — they have no building experience. That’s more teenage hubris: Spider-Man thinks he can tame the villains because he’s punched them in the head so many times.
I do think you’re right on the money in suggesting that Anna Maria represents the suggestion that Spider-Man grow up. This “The Graveyard Shift” story arc has been a helpful re-immersion in Peter’s post-mind-swap life after the endless string of distractions that was Spider-Verse. All those bumbling, stammering tendencies Drew mentioned were on full display (and celebrated) as all the Spider-Manses failed together for months-upon-months. Back at home, it’s a much different story. I really love this panel of Anna Maria and Spider-Man thwipping through New York — not only does it emphasize a practical application for Peter’s powers, but we have this gentle reminder of the man he used to be in the background.
Of course that’s going to be an ad for MJ’s perfume. In this context, she’s not real — she’s a airbrushed fantasy blown up to billboard-size and selling a life of luxury. Peter doesn’t have time for that at the moment: he’s got to take his live-in ex-girlfriend to work #grownup. Perhaps, like everything else, growing up is something that’s just going to happen to Peter, rather than something he chooses to do.
I also think there’s an interesting parallel to the Black Cat story that’s been running in the back-ups (and here and there in the main story). Felicia has decided to steal back everything she once lost. She’s been doing a kick-ass job of it, too. It seems that her “luck powers” have been favoring her even more than usual, and her explanation for that development is fascinating. This chuck of narration comes on the heels of Felicia teasing her enemies with “Oh, bad luck fellahs.”
Now, Black Cat’s relationship with luck is silly and comic book-y, but it’s interesting to note that she ends up having the absolute inverse of Parker’s karma. He does good things and is unlucky, she does bad things and is lucky. Whether there are supernatural explanations for either is irrelevant (as ultimately, either explanation is that the storyteller wanted it to happen), and Felicia has discovered that by being herself — that is, holding back less — she is able to increase her luck even more.
I don’t totally know what the suggestion we should walk away from this back-up with. If Felicia is a direct analogue, then Peter should re-assert his Peter-ish-ness (i.e., build that damn prison) and watch his fortunes change. But if she’s sort of an inverted model of how Peter should act, it’s almost a call to let Peter continue to give his agency up to agents that know better. Drew’s totally right to point out that childishness is a core quality of Peter Parker — one readers reward every time we buy into the idea of the one-liner-slinging web-head. And when you consider just how successful Spider-Man is as a multimedia franchise, it seems like maybe we’ve already voted for immaturity.
Personally, I love the idea of Parker aging out of his position of resident wunderkind in the Marvel Universe. Have you guys seen the teases for All-New, All-Different Avengers? While the diversity of the team seems to be the main headline here, maybe we should be talking about the line-up of teenagers in the front row: Ms. Marvel (Kamala Kahn), Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Nova (Sam Alexander) are front-and-center. They’re the new teenage mascots of Marvel Comics, so maybe ol’ Petey has no choice but to grow up and leave the teenage shenanigans to the teenagers.
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