[10 September 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
Death has hung over Peter Parker’s career as a superhero. In the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #693 this idea is given a further examination by flipping the coin and looking at life. It’s a moment that gives Peter pause, allowing for him to think beyond himself…because he’s self-centered?
Peter has always been an emotionally complicated character, who, early in his career learned that hubris can lead to dire consequences. It was never a question of selfishness, but rather brash arrogance that lead to the most recited lesson in all of comics: “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The “me me me” line of narration from Amazing Spider-Man #693 is meant to emphasize that Peter isn’t thinking about the whole picture and the consequences of what could happen. Yet, the line while serving one purpose (and one plot purpose only), is a concrete example of some of the conflicting characterization that writer Dan Slott has been dealing with during his run. He has certainly evolved the character over his long run on the title, but has that come at a cost? Many recent interpretations of Spider-Man have run into this issue, mistaking that selfishness and overbearing pride are directly linked.
Regardless, this is one point in an issue littered with questionable storytelling choices.
Alpha (introduced last issue) continues to be an unlikable character. That of course is the point. However, his flat development, generic personality and use solely as a plot device do not aid the desired effect, instead creating a story nuisance. He’s meant to be a twisted mirror of Peter, and while that point is fairly obvious, it is perhaps the very reasons for his existence that compound this unlikable factor.
The parallels between Andy and Peter are explicit to the point of being redundant, but redundancy has been haunting Amazing Spider-Man for a very long time. Trying to find a recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man without some overt reference to the “great power-great responsibility” lesson would be akin to finding solid evidence that Elvis Presley faked his death. At least in this issue there is a reverse look at Uncle Ben. It was the lessons he taught Peter while alive, cemented after his death, that created Spider-Man the hero and the man Peter is today. That idea offers some variety of the responsibility ethic, but the repetition of the concept saddles the individual narratives with unnecessary weight – show us the lesson, don’t keep saying it.
Another point, referring back to characters being used as plot devices, should be noted regarding the supporting cast. Mary Jane has been around, and while the questions surrounding her and Peter’s relationship have provided the melodrama Amazing Spider-Man needs, her use has been stunted by an all too common problem in TV, films and comics. She advances the plot in key scenes in this issue, but her use strikes a troubling scopophilic tone. This is not the literal “love of looking” disorder, but rather an objectification that removes her voice and subjectivity. She exists in this issue only to move the plot along and to remind us she’s still around. It’s a far cry from the adolescent male-fantasies of many comics, but it certainly isn’t a strong use of the supporting cast.
Yet another questionable choice resides in the visual presentation. Penciler Humberto Ramos’ stylized work has proven workable. He can craft a scene very well, but one panel mistake in this issue creates a plethora of problems.
After Peter realizes a vital fact that has been staring him in the face, he exits Mary Jane’s club. He should be leaving in a hurry, but the panel of his exit is still. It lacks the movement, the rushed exit that would emphasize the direness of what’s to come. Readers should be on edge at that very moment, but instead the stilted panel dilutes the narrative movement. The dialogue and narration create some urgency, but in a visual medium like comics, words and art must work together. The rest of the issue is left the task of trying to regain that momentum, when it should be driving home the climax, leaving an unbalanced ending.
Taken individually, each questionable story choice should not lead to how underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man #693 is as an issue of the long march to #700. Each, however, taken together (and particularly in one issue) has the effect of undermining the parallel that Slott and Ramos are trying to achieve. It’s meant to be a tribute to the legacy of Spider-Man. The existence of Alpha is surely a debate that will continue, as the decision to include this character or even this type of character is hardly forgettable. Whether the intent is enough to justify the results is the big picture question, and reaffirms the “with great power comes great responsibility” lesson. Even for creators.