I always had a liking for Spider-Man, thinking his neutral good personality (a desire to do good while not abiding laws to the letter blindly) was a good fit for a superhero. Yes, he is no Batman, but, give the guy some credit, nobody is "the Batman" And while Peter has some interesting enemies (Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus) its something else that has always made me like Spidey. Peter is real. Spider-man is a normal guy who became extraordinary, but he still has his secrets. He lives the guilt of Uncle Ben, he has to hide his identity from Aunt May, he has troubles keeping his relationship with wife MJ. He has to find work (he is not a billionaire) and he struggles to stay alive, just like the rest of us.
However, most of the Spider-man comics I read did not delve deep into this aspect of him. None questioned his life, his philosophy, his relationships. I still read them because Peter, many times had to get creative to win fights, he didn't win because he is all powerful- and that is apparent in this comic. But above all, the writer Straczynski has shown me how much of a human Peter Parker is.If you want to see a man struggle to keep his life together, this is your place.
And what happens during this struggle? Let's find out.
By the way, these issues (30-45) were published between 2003-2004 and are between Spider-Man 400-500. In case you were wondering.
At the beginning, Peter is struggling with his life, and a man with powers just like him (Ezekiel) asks him the big question: Which came before, the radiation or the power? Watching Peter struggle with his answer was interesting, because for every superhero the question "why me" is always important, why he among all to be given these powers? And Peter eventually accepts his fate, his identity: he is Spider-man. How he became doesn't matter. Yet I feel like this could be explored a little more, but its for another time, I guess.
This five issue arc also introduces a vampire like villain, Morlun. From his origins (he has to feed on energies of totems, life forces of different types of animals) to his attitude, attire and character I loved the guy. Too bad he is killed by his own henchman at the end, but interesting concept, I expect more to come. He reminded me of Marius from Anne Rice's the Vampire Chronicles series.
Issue 36 was interesting. These issues were printed in 2003, and this single issue deals with 9/11. Its a very well done story. I am not American, but nevertheless I could feel the terror, the pain and the sadness. Its a story of unity, faith, and of people. Its not a Spiderman story alone, but its about how even the superheroes (or villains, for that matter) are still humans and they also feel the effects of these tragedies with us.
Issue 37 is where the real story begıns. Aunt May finds out Peter is the Spider-man, and what follows is major character development. The resulting talk, the revelation of secrets is an important moment for Spider-man, and its also a time where May becomes a more central character- not only a mother figure, or an occasional hostage- but a character with her own intentions and goals. Well done. And there is a surprise, about uncle Ben, who is Peter's greatest secret and burden. When he finally confesses, he learns that he may not be the only one guilty, or perhaps no one is, somethings just happen and you cannot know the future. Just stop, and think before speaking, acting, because you cannot take them back, once said , one acted.
And when these secrets are off his chest, Peter is nearly born again. He has confronted one of the biggest things he feared- his confession to May- and they got through it, together. We all have our secrets, but we cannot keep them inside forever. After a while, we start living that lie, and that lie becomes our reality, engulfing us in its flames, shattering our known world and replacing it with the burden of the knowledge.
In the next issues there are two things worth noticing. One is the return of Doctor Octopus, who is one of my favorite villains. Another guy steals his technology and Doc involuntarily works with Spider-man to bring him down. Perhaps another moment we get a glance to the strange minds of superheros/villains is when the fake Octopus takes down the supporting pillars of a building, endangering the civilians. Spider-man begs help from Octopus to keep the building from collapsing, and Octopus does indeed helps the civilians escape. However, after that, he leaves, letting the building collapse and Peter gets buried under the rubble. "You are not a civilian" says Doc, when leaving. Most interesting, Strange what those people think, and what they are willing/not willing to, isn't it?
Two is return of Mary Jane. At this point, Peter and MJ are married, she knows his secret, and they are separated. She is modeling and about to move to the film industry, but her role is the love interest of a random superhero (Amazing Lobster-man!) in an action flick and its obvious she is only cast because she looks great in lingerie. Hey, I won't object, MJ has always been drawn really, really beautiful, but well, that's just sad, being cast only because you look great. especially because MJ is trying to understand herself and make a career for herself. Anyways, Peter finally confronts MJ too, and she tells him the truth: she can't be second place, and she needs time. And Peter tells her he will wait her for all the time it takes. Its sweet, and a nice family moment (May is present at the dinner table with them) and its a moment of hope for Spider-man.
My favorite issue above all from this volume is #39, "meanwhile" Its an issue that shows Peter, MJ and Aunt May going on with their lives, doing what they do: Aunt May trying to improve Spider-Man's image now she knows Peter is Spiderman (she never liked Spiderman), MJ modeling and acting happy, and Peter saving lives. Why is it worth mentioning then? because there is no dialogue. and there is no thought captions. Its just scenes, moments from the lives, showing them doing things, but speaking not even a word, never going into their heads to show what they are thinking (which is one of the greatest assets of comics) Dialogue is one of the key points of comics/film. I know how hard it is to write a scene without dialogue ever since my script writing professor asked us to write one, it was challenging, you never think how much gets done through dialogue/thought balloons. But any well done scene with no dialogue proves to be an interesting experience, for example the beginning scene of Pixar's Up was great in the same way. And the editors added something to the end of this collected edition, the script of this issue. I always like to be able to see the way other writers do it, and its a treasure for me because I write comics.
But in the end, this is a good comic. Really recommended if you read Spider-man. if you don't, this is a good start. And if you are just interested in superhero psychology, adventure comics, or hero's journey, this is where you want to be.
I have one final question: Why the hell, does a guy, even though he has no obligation, he does not paid, he puts his life in danger, he risks his friends, loved ones, himself, his social life, often marriage, should do this? For fame? Because you love him? FYI, you don't. Because of chicks? C'mon, be a movie star. Why does he do this? Quoting Alan Moore's Rorschach: "We do not do this thing because it is permitted. We do it because..."
Every hero's answer is different. You'll have to read to find out Peter's.
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About the reviewer
I have recently graduated from college with a Creative Writing degree and I miss the conversation about literature, so here I am.
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J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. introduce an enigmatic stranger who will forever change the way Peter Parker views himself ... and the origins of his amazing alter ego! Plus, the web-slinger struggles with the most horrific tragedy ever to befall his city: the events of Sept. 11. Then, for years, Peter Parker kept his heroic double identity a guarded secret from his beloved Aunt May. Now that she's finally learned the truth, how will May react to the shocking revelation? Plus: On a trip to California, Spider-Man takes on his classic foe, Doctor Octopus! Collects Amazing Spider-Man #30-45.