I’ve spent the last few days going through my countless Spiderman comics (not print, as I’m a poor gent who’s been relegated to purchasing valueless – at least in fiscal terms – digital copies), working to assemble a list of the 10 greatest Spiderman storylines.
Initially my plan was to cover Spidey’s triumphs and heartbreaks from the beginning, back in 1962, right up to modern-era tales. But the truth is, I’d prefer to stay away from most of the contemporary story arcs, as there really aren’t too many I’m in love with. It’s the vintage yarns that still give me goosebumps.
The decision was made to turn my 10 Greatest Spiderman Storylines article into 10 Greatest Classic Spiderman Storylines. But there’s one particular story – a tremendously important one – that a decision like that excludes. This one fits into the modern era category, so I’m going to utilize this particular piece to focus on one single arc. The classic article will have to wait until this coverage, of a few amazing books, is wrapped.
The books in question are Amazing Spider-Man #35 through #38, from the second volume.
Released circa 2002, this tale could easily be considered as the most important arc of the last two decades. That’s obviously debatable, but what isn’t debatable is the fact that this is an insanely relevant and rewarding portrait that feels expansive and impactful. So, it seemed only right to put some shine on this small handful of books.
These four issues show us Aunt May’s response to discovering that her geeky, lovable nephew Pete actually spends his free time moonlighting as the famed hero of New York, Spiderman. But there’s a lot more to this story than that, and it really begins with Peter looking to help one of his students, a troubled young lady by the name of Jennifer.
But before we jump into Jennifer’s story, we’ve got to scribble a few pertinent details of the arc. Even if some of these revelations can be blended into the mix of all things Parker, there are a few moments that really jump from the page, delivering a passionate slap to our drowsy faces.
First, Morlun forces Spiderman to truly – on a very deep and intricate level – contemplate mortality. He’s proposed a silent opportunity: Will you cross that threshold and allow yourself to be marked a killer, or will you fight to maintain your wholesome image and let me walk away from this situation alive? It’s not an easy decision to make, and it has quite the effect on Spidey.
And then there’s the mourning for the innocents lost one mild September day. This portion of the story is almost snuck between the cracks of the book, while it may fly right over the heads of young readers, it’s very pronounced to anyone who knows a damn thing about 9/11. That’s an underdeveloped element (perhaps not underdeveloped so much as a truncated subplot) of the story, and while I’m glad such a horrific incident was included in the book respectfully, as something of a nod to the countless who suffered in the wake of one of history’s most gruesome attacks, I’m actually of the mind that this aspect of the plot probably should take a backseat in the grand scheme of things. I’m not big on politic-heavy books, and while few of us alive to see the terrorist attacks of 9/11 will ever actually forget them (we shouldn’t, for the record), it’s a scab that I’d personally prefer not to scratch.
Back to Jennifer, whose broken life, in some ways, mirrors Parker’s. Her parents have abandoned her. She’s left to fend for herself, all the while looking to keep her older brother from descending deeper into the seedy world of drug use and criminal behavior. Although Pete didn’t necessarily have to deal with a sibling, he did carry the burden of looking after his Aunt May, after the loss of his own parents. At an early age he was required to be the man of the house. That parallel between Pete and Jennifer helps to create a bond between the two. And Peter, though plenty troubled, shows a very real interest in seeing the young lady overcome the shortcomings that often accompany poverty and shattered households.
This is a beautiful story, and it’s got plenty of layers to it. But let’s be honest with ourselves for a second. If there’s one, major development in this specific arc that truly, truly hits us in the heart, it’s Aunt May’s discovery.
After too many years to count, Aunt May finally learns that her little angel, Peter Park is Spiderman. Aunt May, as one would expect, is completely flabbergasted by the discovery. Her mind races a million miles per hour, she’s uncertain of how to deal with it. And then she and Peter sit down for a heart-to-heart. A very revealing heart-to-heart.
Now the automatic assumption would probably center on Pete’s decades-long lies, but Aunt May has also been hiding something. It turns out both Pete and May have been carrying guilt as a direct result of Uncle Ben’s passing. We all know that Pete feels responsible, as he afforded the hoodlum that killed Ben the opportunity to do so. But what we didn’t know, is that Aunt May has spent all these years blaming herself for Ben’s death.
It all began with an argument between May and Ben. Ben left the house to clear his head and ditch the anger. And it was on that specific day, during that trek from the house, when Ben was killed. It’s been eating at May since the moment she learned of Ben’s passing, but being able to admit that to Peter works wonders for the woman, as well as her nephew. The encounter is a therapeutic one that feels as if it knocks down partitions that have already been erect far too long.
Traditionally, I like my comics stuffed full of action. It typically takes explosive imagery to really hold my attention. But this story is different… this specific storyline is extremely light on the action, but it’s rooted in so much passion and sprouting charm like you wouldn’t believe. When it comes to (fairly) recently released Spiderman tales, they just don’t get much better than this.
To J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote the story, John Romita Jr., who illustrated the books, Scott Hanna who inked and Dan Kemp, who handled the coloring – thank you all. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You’ve put together something extremely special, and as a longtime Spidey fan, I’m honored to read this riveting tale!