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Comicscape: Spidey Turns 50

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Comicscape: Spidey Turns 50

He doesn't look a day over 30

By Joel Rickenbach     September 12, 2012

Spider-Man turns 50. Does anyone reading this remember a world without Spider-Man in it? I sure don't, Spidey has been a constant in my life for its entirety, and much like our everyday existence- He's had his ups and downs. No character has been through as much, not even the DC pantheon of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. They've been around for decades longer than old web head, but they have always lacked that which makes Spider-Man falter the most- humanity. And when I say that I am referring to humanity from the inside and outside- Over the decades, the many writers tackling Spidey have always made him human, relatable. He gets into real situations, and makes mistakes just like we do. He also has been the subject of more retcons, fan outrage and editorial course corrections than any one character should be saddled with. He went through more in the 90's than most characters do in their entire lifespan. Besides the fact that every supporting character in the spider-verse has been killed and brought back to life, we're talking about a character that Marvel literally ripped away from his spouse, and reset years of continuity for, because they were worried about his public image. The poor guy can't even eat lunch without a villain attacking, or an editor changing what kind of sandwich he's eating. 

Like almost all superheroes, the ones telling the story, whether it be comics, movies or cartoons, are obsessed with the character's origin. How Peter Parker became Spider-Man has been told so many times, with various little tweaks, that it has literally become part of American mythology. Everybody knows the tale of the high school geek and the radioactive spider (or is that genetically engineered spider?), yet we are told and retold this same story ad nauseam. We're at a point where it's hard to remember other good Spider-Man tales, we keep reliving the same day over and over again. To a non comic fan, Spidey is eternally in this sliver of time where he has come to terms with his power, his responsibility and is swinging through New York city with unlimited possibilities ahead of him. This is why he's been through so much creative and editorial wrangling- everyone wants Spider-Man to be in that exact spot, that golden mean of existence. There's something noble about that, but there's also something foolish. Characters need to progress, new ideas and paths need to be explored, or else, what's the point? Yes, that pesky continuity, the bane of the writer/editor relationship- the buzz worthy writer will bring the character to the edge, and the editor will reel him back to the center, the comfort zone. Hopefully we can get some good stories somewhere in between.
Spider-Man's slope has been pretty slippery the past few years, mostly due to the One More Day/Brand New Day storyline, that saw Peter strike a deal with the devil (Mephisto). He traded his marriage and happiness with Mary Jane to save the dying Aunt May. Editorial hit the giant reset button to bring Spidey back to that comfort zone. It was messy to say the least, and it's arguable whether or not Spider-Man has yet to creatively recover. It's a shame too, because for the past few years before the big reset, J Michael Straczynsky was crafting one of the most innovative and forward thinking arcs in Amazing Spider-Man in a very long time. Of course, his ideas had its detractors (and more than a little editorial mucking). but all story arcs do, and even if you disliked what he was doing, you have to admit it was a very original take on a very stagnant character. Unfortunately, all those ideas have been lost to the trades since the devil came calling. After the reset, Marvel cancelled all Spider titles except for Amazing Spider-Man, and started publishing it three times a month with rotating creative teams. It felt like Marvel was trying to put as much distance (issue number-wise) between the current  Spidey, and the choppy retcon of One More Day. There was some talented people churning out books like a sneaker factory, but ultimately it ended up making the world of Spider-Man just as messy and unfocused as it had ever been. Finally, about two years ago, Marvel picked one of the writers from the stable to bring Spider-Man into focus- Dan Slott.

Slott was an interesting choice- he is quite a traditionalist, a true believer who has read every issue of every Spider-book, he knows everywhere Spidey has been, but lives in the now enough to take him somewhere familiar, but new. He's a writer almost completely without edge, he's not above you, and doesn't try to be. He understands what's "hip", yet he himself probably doesn't subscribe to such notions. He gets that Spider-Man slings as many jokes as he does webs, but most importantly, he understands why we've continued to read Spider-Man for 50 years and counting. I mentioned ups and downs earlier, and Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man has had its share. But what he has gotten right is giving Peter Parker's daily life a fresh take, with a supporting cast that's a nice mix of new and old. In brief- Peter has finally embraced his science genius, and snagged a job working for Horizon Labs, and it's neo-hippy, celebrity geek founder- Max Modell. It's Peter's dream job, and naturally complicates his life as much as it enhances it. J Jonah Jameson is Mayor of New York city, and Aunt May has married J Jonah's father, thus relating Peter to his long time newspaper nemesis by marriage (ouch!) Flash Thompson has become Venom (in a good way), and Peter and Mary Jane are dancing around each other as usual. One of the more welcome aspects of the recent books has been the seamless integration of the Avengers and the Fantastic 4. Peter's world is much larger, and so are the people in it. Like I said- the storylines have been a bit hit or miss, but it's been a fun ride on the way to Spidey's 50th anniversary.


So what has Dan Slott done for Spidey's big milestone? Bring back the origin story, of course, but thankfully in a whole new way. This new arc, Alpha, that begins in Amazing Spider-Man #692 is Slott's best work on Spider-Man thus far. It remains to be seen if he can stick the landing, but two issues in it's pretty great. Midtown High student, Andy Maguire, is a kid so average and nondescript that the bullies don't even pick on him, they barely notice he's there. Same goes for anyone of the opposite sex. Andy's parents are completely self absorbed, so much so they can't even remember to sign Andy's permission slip for the school field trip to Horizon Labs. Forged slip in hand, Andy anonymously gathers with his fellow students to watch a scientist named Peter Parker demonstrate his new breakthrough in renewable energy. Parker has discovered what he is calling "Parker Particles", which are his chance to put his name on the scientific map with the likes of Reed Richards and Tony Stark. Something goes wrong, Parker's equipment starts arcing energy, and the almost forgotten Andy Maguire saves his High school crush from being zapped, and takes the hit. Instead of being obliterated, Andy suddenly has powers, incredible powers. After getting checked out by Marvel's top scientists- Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Hank McCoy, Henry Pym etc. It is determined that Andy's powers are an Alpha level threat. They will continue to grow, and without training and tutelage, could become a very serious problem. Spider-Man created him, so now he must guide him, but Spidey has to deal with something worse than Andy's powers- his complete lack or responsibility. The powers and the quick fame go straight to his head- He has an agent, he sleeps with his high school crush, then moves on the head cheerleader, then to the model who's poster he's had on his wall. In battle he kills Monstro with a single punch, and vaporizes an army of clones without bothering to find out if they were human or not. And worst of all- people are starting to call Spider-Man his sidekick. Peter is tormented, because Andy is exactly who he would have been if he didn't have his moral compass, or as Mary Jane points out- Andy never had an Uncle Ben. It's an absolutely fascinating storyline, with some very well thought out bits of social and comic book commentary. The biggest compliment I can give Dan Slott is he's (so far) crafted a story worthy of Spider-man's five decades of continuity, and that's no small feat. It's sure a helluva lot better than that hologram cover issue I bought back when Spidey turned 30.


Happy 50th Web Head.
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Showing items 1 - 10 of 18
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jedibanner 9/12/2012 5:58:13 AM

For me, after One More Day, Spidey as died and that was the end of the ASM. I don't care what happens to him anymore and at least I enjoy him with the Avengers and how Bendis is writting him.

Wiseguy 9/12/2012 7:51:49 AM

Nicely written Joel. I have stuck with Spidey but then again that's the type of guy I am, loyal to a fault. And I too am enjoying Spidey again but then again I don't think I ever stopped. Maybe briefly after BND

But yes Spidey has always felt more like one of us when compared to any of the biggies. That has always been his major appeal.

Here's to another 50 and may they surpass the first, happy birthday Spidey


joelr 9/12/2012 8:27:20 AM

@jedibanner If you miss Spidey these last two issues may do the trick.

@Wiseguy thanks, man! Glad to hear you've kept the torch buring. I totally agree- here's to 50 more years!!

jedibanner 9/12/2012 12:02:26 PM

Joel...right now I'm still ''fumming'' about OMD so, as much as the book could be good right now, I'm standing by my ground.

In all the comics I still buy, having recently moved in my new single bachelor pad, I need space and need to be more specific into what I buy so, Spidey stays off limitt.

I understand they tried to fix this, that some of the writting right now may be's ok, I just still don't like OMD and lost interest in Spidey since then.

May consider the 700yh issue but, other then that I'm out.

vagabondster 9/12/2012 12:54:07 PM

 from what ive read here (and to be fair i haven read any recent spider man comics) im willing to bet Spidey's protege is going to go rogue. I admit i dont know ehst happened to carnage and if flash is venom and somewhat a good guy, who then will be parkers evil double, the villian that equals the good force spidey is? It doesnt matter how vituous and moral a hero is unless you have someone whos equally unvirtuous and immoral. 

spiderhero 9/12/2012 1:13:02 PM

Aside from the fact that I'm married with a kid, I could have written what jedibanner wrote. That's exactly how I feel. The only bright spot in the last few years has been Bendis writing Spiderman in the Avengers. But since Bendis is leaving the book, I'll no longer get even a taste of good ol Spidey...

shac2846 9/12/2012 3:02:53 PM

 I have amazing spider-man omnibus vol 1 and am waiting on number 2. You can always go back and read some of the old stories. But yeah, Bendis is writing the best spider-man right now. Hell even j. michael straczynski's run was really good until editorial forced a bunch of BS down his throat One More Day was only one story arc that was forced on him. 

CyanideRush 9/12/2012 3:53:41 PM

 I might be in the minority, but,oat of my recent Spiderman action has come in the form of Ultimate Spiderman. Joel, if I wanted to looking into Slotts's run of ASM, which issue would I start with?

ObiWannaJones 9/12/2012 4:41:53 PM

 The anime art just plain SUCKS.  It looks ridiculous.  The facial expressions remind me of Beast Boy in the Teen Titan cartoon. Everytime I look at a panel, I can't get that Japanese Titan theme song out of my mind. 

Noovtere 9/13/2012 1:43:31 AM

As far as I'm concerned, JMS ended Spidey's story with the death of Aunt May.  We still see him in the Avengers and FF, but Spider-Man's solo adventures are done.

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