Gold Rush: Spider-Man Swings to the Rescue -

Editorial Retrospective

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Gold Rush: Spider-Man Swings to the Rescue

CINESCAPE looks back at an issue of Spider-Man that presages the Sept. 11 tribute issue, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36

By Arnold T. Blumberg     December 05, 2001

Spider-Man comes across a scene of devastation similar to one he will face in another sixteen years. Artwork from WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #6.
© Marvel Characters Inc.
When it came time for Marvel to issue a "definitive statement" set within the Marvel Universe addressing the terrorist attacks on the United States that took place on September 11, 2001, the choice of title should have been fairly obvious to any fan, and it probably was in the editorial offices as well. Yes, some might have chosen Captain America, but let's face it, the way in which the nation reacted to these attacks was most potent in New York, where the nation focused most of its attention following the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. While many heroes in the Marvel U are indeed based in New York, there is only one character who serves as the quintessential native New Yorker a man who takes every lump and comes back for more, a never-say-die kind of guy who knows something about great power, great responsibility, and the need to strive against impossible odds no matter what the cost. Peter Parker simply had to be the "voice" of the Marvel Universe in response to these attacks, and he was when J. Michael Straczynski penned the script for the soon-to-be classic AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36.

Spider-Man comes across a scene of devastation similar to one he will face in another sixteen years. Artwork from WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #6.

Straczynski was charged with a seemingly impossible task sum up everyone's feelings about this horrible but historic day and basically write the definitive comic book commentary on the topic through the internal monologue of Peter Parker. But even as Straczynski struggled with this challenge, he might have been surprised to learn that Spidey had already dealt with an eerily similar crisis situation that touched on the same themes of tragedy, loss, the indomitable will of New Yorkers and the power of the human spirit. Had Straczynski ever read WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #6 from 1985? Probably not, but it wouldn't be surprising if he had, because that issue also depicted the wall crawler in an adventure that presaged much of the material seen in AMAZING #36, albeit with far more frivolous inspiration behind it.

For those who remember those heady days in the mid-'80s when Marvel was still the pre-eminent superhero publisher (for some of us anyway), churning out its patented "House of Ideas" titles right and left, this issue may have seemed like a weird aberration to say the least. WEB #6 was a tie-in to the Universe-wide "Secret Wars II" crossover event, with the omnipotent Beyonder visiting Earth and predictably wreaking havoc. In this case, he had just turned an entire New York skyscraper and all of its contents (not counting organic matter) into solid gold, precipitating its immediate collapse into a twisted wreck of gleaming but deadly wealth. While the criminal element contemplated the incredible windfall that could be theirs, the US government scrambled to contain the devastating effect this could have on the national and world economy. And somewhere, caught in the middle as he ever was, a hero named Spider-Man swung into action with only one thought in mind save the people trapped inside the building before it was too late. The money, the power all that mattered to him was the preservation of life, and nothing more.

The time and circumstances may be different, but human reaction remains the same. Artwork from WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #6.

The scenes that followed in this issue are now all too familiar echoes of the scenes we witnessed months ago on our television screens, although the glorious gold that imprisoned the poor souls in this strange little story was nowhere to be seen among the twisted remnants of steel and glass that we saw at Ground Zero. But as Spider-Man goes about the business of conducting a one-man rescue effort at this particular site, we see the same determination and strength of heart that made Spidey the perfect choice to embody the uplifting spirit that we all exhibited in the aftermath of the recent tragedy.

It is all too easy to look back at stories of the past and find ironic resonance in them that we never saw before when something new comes along to shed light on the shadows of the past; it's that amazing gift of 20/20 hindsight. And I do promise this will be the last time I rely on our mutual experiences of September 11 to build such an editorial (at least, for the rest of this year anyway). It was too perfect an opportunity to pass up, however, to share this semi-classic Spider-Man nugget with you (witness the artwork included with this article), particularly since the art in the recent AMAZING #36 so often reflected similar scenes from that quirky WEB issue all those years ago. Perhaps some of you also recalled this story and found it an odd but inescapable correlation. Perhaps some of you think I'm merely reaching for more significance than there really is humans, always looking for patterns in things that aren't there.

Lives are saved and lives lost in WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #6.

I think we will all agree on one thing however at his best, Spider-Man as a character is a symbol of the Everyman given the power to change the world for the better, and with the understanding that this power comes at a great price. Bearing that knowledge never prevents Peter Parker from doing what he can to help his fellow citizens; it only throws his need to act into sharp relief. Whether combating the fanciful effects of an alien being's attack, or the very sobering effects of a terrorist strike on his hometown, Spider-Man remains a hero with an undying devotion to humanity. He inspires us in his adventures and serves as an icon of the ideals that we should all aspire to embrace.

And now I'll get off my solid gold soapbox. 'Nuff said, true believers.


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