By Spencer Irwin and Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Spencer: Dan Slott has written more issues of The Amazing Spider-Man than any other creator ever. That’s not something one achieves if they merely “like” a character — Slott clearly loves Spider-Man in a way even the most die-hard of fans can only dream of. Writing his adventures has certainly changed Slott’s world for the better, and that’s a sentiment he expresses beautifully in The Amazing Spider-Man 801, his final issue on the title. It’s a love letter to the power of Spider-Man told in the only way that kind of story really can be told — through the perspective of a fan.
That said, ASM 801 opens quite literally on Peter’s perspective as the first page recaps his (still brilliant after all these years) origin story. Artist Marcos Martin frames this sequence as if the audience is seeing it through Peter’s eyes; he keeps Peter’s arms and hands in-panel at all times, not only to drive this fact home, but to help Peter emote even when we can’t see his face. It’s an intense, personal retelling that really puts the audience in Peter’s shoes, but also drops some important reminders about the origins of Spider-Man that will come back into play later in the issue.
From there, Slott and Martin cut to the issue’s true protagonist, Kenneth Kincaid Jr., on the worst night of his life. With his father dying in the hospital, he’s held up at gunpoint in a bodega, only to be saved by Spider-Man, still early in his career. Slott and Martin don’t just leave it at “saved his life,” though — they show exactly what sort of life Spidey saved, what sort of life Kenneth goes on to live.
Many years later, Kenneth and his niece Judy once again run into Spider-Man, this time as he battles a gang of masked thieves in Chinatown. Kenneth slows down one of the fleeing thieves just long enough for Spidey to wrap him up, and gets to tell Spidey how much he appreciates his help all those years ago. Judy is unimpressed, though — she wanted to see a hero who saves the whole world, not just a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. That’s where Kenneth drops the most important piece of information in this entire issue: every time Spider-Man saves somebody, he does save the world, because to somebody out there, that person is their entire world.
It’s a heart-touching sentiment brought to life beautifully by Martin and Slott as they illustrate the cause-and-effect of every one of Spidey’s rescues, the kind of ripples we rarely get to see when we’re tapped so closely into Peter’s perspective (and melodrama). It also ties back into that first image I posted; when Spidey saved Kenneth’s life, he saved the world for Kenneth’s father and mother, his wife, his sister and her family. Peter doesn’t even remember saving Kenneth — he’s saved so many people they’ve all become a blur — but his every good deed is life-altering.
Slott and Martin show the reverberations of Peter’s rescuing Kenneth in a few different ways. One becomes clear when Judy refers to Kenneth as her “Uncle Ken.” It’s one of those “eureka” moments when everything snaps into place — Peter couldn’t rescue his Uncle Ben, but because of what he went through, he’s been able to save so many other peoples’ “Uncle Bens.” But Spidey’s actions have also had philosophical ramifications. Let’s take a look at a key moment from his origin.
Now, let’s take a look at Ken stepping in to stop one of the Chinatown goons from escaping Spider-Man.
All Peter had to do was trip the mugger, but he didn’t — and he went on to kill Uncle Ben. When Kenneth’s faced with that same dilemma, though, he doesn’t hesitate to trip the thief, and it’s all because of Spider-Man and the example he’s set. Peter didn’t just internalize Ben’s lesson, “with great power must also come great responsibility,” but he’s passed it along to every single person he’s rescued. Uncle Ben would be so proud.
This doesn’t just apply to those Spider-Man has saved in-universe either. Every person who’s read or watched Spider-Man’s adventures in the last 60-some years — from casual fans to Slott himself — has taken in this lesson, and hopefully been moved by Peter’s heroics. In that sense, Slott’s final issue isn’t about himself at all — he’s not celebrating what he’s brought to Spider-Man’s world over the past decade, but what Spidey’s given to him. This is evident in the final shot of the issue, and thus the final image of Slott’s entire run.
Slott’s run may be over, but Spider-Man will continue. He’ll always be here for his readers — for me, for you, for Slott, for anybody who will ever need him. And that’s pretty amazing.
Patrick, I’ll admit that I got rather misty-eyed both times I read this issue — was it as emotional a ride for you as it was for me? And do you have any thoughts on the art of Martin and colorist Muntsa Vicente? I didn’t have room to dig too deep into their work, but I love not only their specific choices, but their entire aesthetic — if they were suddenly illustrating every Spider-Man adventure from now on, I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least. How about you?
Patrick: Oh, Martin and Vicente are incredible. The flatness of Vicente’s coloring is so graphic and striking that it really only belongs within the pages of a comic book. There’s such a simplicity to the message of this issue, and arguably to the whole ethos of Spider-Man, that would just be steamrolled by attempts at photorealistic lighting and contours. Y’know, not to bad mouth the artists that put in the time to sell realism, but when a storytelling beat is as simple as “Spider-Man learns Kenneth’s name’, you want it to look like this.
That street is one color of black pavement, and Spidey only has enough shading on him to sell the one light-source in the scene (the same light-source dappling the sidewalk). And it’s not even like Martin’s art is void of intriguing detail – that panel I just posted has a trio of dudes taking pictures of the webbed-up villains on their phones. Those Instagrammers stand in contrast to Kenneth, who is making a genuine connection with a hero of his. It is an admittedly small moment, but as Spencer illustrated, this issue knows that there are no such thing as “small” moments.
And just like that: I’m getting teary-eyed again. Spencer, to answer your first question, yes, this was a very emotional issue for me. Realistically, all any of us non-Spider-people can hope to do is to change one life at a time through kindness, empathy and attention. That’s it. We can’t exorcise the Hand from New York City, we can’t slay a Celestial, we can’t psychically obliterate the Shadow King. We can validate someone else’s experience, let them know that they are seen and loved, and offer to help where we can. Spider-Man, in the midst of saving the world, models that simple kindness.
Which makes Dan Slott’s last issue on Amazing Spider-Man an awful lot like Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the recent documentary about the life and career of Fred Rogers. If you get a chance, see it. Just like ASM801, it is a work without complexity or huge ideas. Mr. Roger’s message was to listen, feel, and love. Spider-Man may not ever articulate that in those words, but his kindness does seem to have been raised in the Rogers School. In a super low-key way, this issue is an origin story for Spidey’s use of the phrase “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” He’s fielding a question from the shop clerk who he just saved about whether he’s going to eat the robber he just webbed to the floor. Seemingly perplexed by the insinuation, Spider-Man leaves a note with that most-earnest of sign-offs.
Which, of course, is brilliant. Origin stories for catch-phrases and character quirks can feel superfluous, but the whole point of this story is how friendliness saved one guy’s life. And how that one guy improved the lives of everyone around him just by being there. It’s not the origin of a catch-phrase, but the revealing of an ethos. The whole team is playing down the monumental moment this is because we need to know just how ordinary this adventure is. It’s issue number 801 — not an even 800, or a hyper-ambitious issue 1000. It’s important that this is just one of the 801 adventures that Spider-Man has been on. Helping a person is kind. Helping a person every day is revolutionary.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?