It’s Power vs Responsibility in The Amazing Spider-Man 5

by Drew Baumgartner

Amazing Spider-Man 5

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

We tend to define power optimistically — we might list the duties of say, the President of the United States, for example, with the expectation that they’ll wield their power responsibly. But there’s another (perhaps more timely) way to define power, not by the amount of good it allows someone to do, but by the amount of harm it allows someone to inflict. Try as we (or Uncle Ben) might to link the two, power and responsibility are independent variables. That is, “With great power must also come great responsibility” isn’t a statement of some inviolable rule of the world, but a goal to strive towards. That’s why the “must also” part is so essential (and so missed from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man) — it makes it clear Uncle Ben isn’t just stating a fact. Indeed, that power can be separated from responsibility is precisely what this first arc of Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s Amazing Spider-Man has focused on, demonstrating the inefficacy of either without the other.

Actually, the other half of that equation — responsibility without power — presents another frightening reality. The world is full of Monday-morning quarterbacks lamenting how others are wielding power irresponsibly, but perhaps we owe our sense of responsibility some power in the same way we expect those in power to have a sense of responsibility. In that way, we have de-powered Peter Parker as a great example. He sees a problem with the world and a actionable solution, and he does what it takes to fix the problem, rather than just posting a long Facebook rant about how Spider-Man really should hold himself to a higher standard. Of course, “does what it takes” involves manipulating Boomerang into stealing the Isotope Genome Accelerator, but hey, he’s got to work with what he’s got.

Intriguingly, the big learning moment in this issue isn’t Spider-Man coming to appreciate the responsibilities that must also come with his power. Instead, Peter comes to appreciate at least a piece of Spider-Man’s unbridled Id.

Great Power

It’s a reaffirmation of Peter’s defining beliefs, but with an added “it can still be fun!” It’s an interesting addendum to Peter’s attitude, but it makes sense as Spencer and Ottley’s statement-of-purpose; this Spider-Man will be true to everything he’s always been, but he now also has permission to take things a bit less seriously. Depending on your preferences for the character, that sound like a fun release or an abdication of hard-learned lessons, but to me, it feels like a kind of necessary bit of groundwork to explain Peter trying in earnest to make things work with MJ. He needs to be at least the littlest bit selfish to want to try again, and this issue sets up that selfishness as its own hard-learned lesson.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

3 comments on “It’s Power vs Responsibility in The Amazing Spider-Man 5

  1. I think I’m in the minority here who didn’t like Dan Slott’s reign over Spider-Man. I especially didn’t like his OVERWHELMING sense of guilt and responsibility. When Jameson died and Spidey vowed from now on “No One Dies,” which was waaaaaaay over the top. Long story short, I am all in favor of Spidey enjoying life a little more.

    • I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on the Kraven “reveal.” It was pretty obvious from age get-go that all those jungle hunt scenes were going to involve Kraven, right?? Spencer’s a very smart writer, so I’m trying to wrap my head around it.

  2. I think the idea of Power v Responsibility is why this arc didn’t work for me, other than the fact that the MJ scenes are universally SO SO BAD (urgh, I feel this is the nightmare of Tom King’s awful Batman work influencing the rest of the medium. He’s pushing the medium backwards and in an inhuman direction that makes props out of people).

    A key element of Spider-man has always been the horror of Power without Responsibility (which I’ll discuss below when I talk about the new video game). But I think this arc fails in trying to put the two against each other because, as Drew says, the line goes ‘must come’. In all honesty, I think Raimi’s formulation is stronger. That the responsibility to use the power is inherent in having power itself. If you have the ability to do something, you are responsible whether or not you actually care. The problem with Normal Osborne isn’t that he doesn’t have great responsibility. It is the fact that he does have so much responsibility and is so negligent with it.

    Which is the problem with splitting Peter between his power and his responsibility. It doesn’t really work to have a Peter whose problem is that he is too responsible. Because that’s not Peter’s problem. A Peter without powers is still a Peter who would feel he has a responsibility to the world and do everything he can to help. But it would never cripple him because Peter’s problem isn’t that he has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, it is that his powers have given him too much responsibility. It is that Peter was placed in a situation where him being Spiderman was the only thing that routinely prevented horrible things from happening. Showing a Peter crippled by his responsibility is wrong as Peter was a guy who was always looking for a way to manage that responsibility better and make things easier (without, of course, neglecting it).

    The idea of Peter learning not to forget to have fun is a good one, but this is a bad way to handle it.

    Because you can’t pull Peter’s Power and his responsibility apart. Peter is only as responsible as he is because he knows how much power he has. Peter isn’t Spiderman because Uncle Ben died. He is Spiderman because he knows he had the power to prevent Uncle Ben’s death and neglected that responsibility. It means that this version of Peter Parker feels wrong. An awful simplification of the real complexity of Spider-man’s themes.

    Damn, maybe this book has more similarities to Tom King’s Batman than just the writing of Mary Jane

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