A hallmark of Spider-Man throughout his publication history has been the character’s relevance to his readers. The adventures of the Amazing Spider-Man are about chronicling the life of Peter Parker, in and out of the costume. Dealing with death, romance, social anxiety, guilt, job-related stress, career frustrations, or more succinctly: the ups and downs of modern life. Stories about Spider-Man are at their best when they are equal parts super-heroics and melodrama, creating a likeable anti-hero whose own neuroses match or exceed our own.
Most comicbook characters are timeless. They may grow emotionally, but they are frozen in time, not aging (and only occasionally de-aging). Yet, Spider-Man has grown with his readers, moving beyond high school to college, then beyond college and on to a career and marriage. While that aging certainly matched the life trajectories of some of his earliest readers, other younger readers may have been at a disadvantage. So the marriage was erased and the character was reset to a post-college position. Now in Amazing Spider-Man #692, he is again aged by having to take on the mature responsibility of being a mentor.
With great power comes great responsibility. We can recite the phrase or lesson in our sleep. But it’s something that Spider-Man comics have laid their narrative hats on for 50 years, rationalizing the guilt-ridden anxiety of Peter Parker as motivation for his heroics. If we were to have a “It’s-A-Wonderful-Life” moment of sorts and remove the great power/great responsibility lesson, we might have a character similar to Andy “Alpha” Maguire…or at least that’s the negative parallel we are presented.
Writer Dan Slott and artist Humberto Ramos in the main feature of Amazing Spider-Man #692 re-craft Spider-Man’s origin to debut Alpha, adding an ’80s style action montage (minus the ubiquitous power-chords). This character is minus the endearing character-traits of Peter Parker, leaving something of an empty shell onto which Slott can project postmodern understandings of alienation, commercialization and commodification. Very similar to the experiences of Peter Parker that led to his heroic journey as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The absentee (or in this case distracted) parents notwithstanding, Andy’s short tenure as a comicbook character are proposed to have many of the trademarks we have come to understand as essential to our appreciation of Spider-Man.
If only the character was remotely likeable.
Putting aside the generic power set and the origin parallel, we have a character whose life experience is somewhat dated. He certainly doesn’t match the generational life experience that researchers have noted of children his age. If he was a teenager of the 80s or 90s, his high school experience and relationship with his parents would be a bit easier to understand, but as a late millennial, Andy’s distracted parents have more in common with Baby Boomer parents than they would with rationalized Generation X parents.
Trying to right the perceived wrongs of their own childhoods, Gen-X parents have shown to be more involved with their children’s lives, resulting in Gen-Y children being much more attached to their parents than some previous generations. While Andy’s indifference could be mistaken for a generational attitude, it is a perception not in keeping with what has been observed. What this illustrates in comparison to the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #692 is that no matter how well in parallel the origin of Andy is to that of Peter Parker, the lack of timeliness is in contrast to the relevancy that has been a hallmark of the title for 50 years.
Slott does work very hard to differentiate Andy from Peter despite their common origin. Yet Andy comes off as more of a plot device to progress Peter rather a wholly-rendered character. In the immediate, it is problematic. However, this is only the character’s first appearance and there are a multitude of narrative tools at Slott’s disposal to advance Andy beyond his current position.
For the all the tribute Slott pays to Spider-Man’s origin, it’s the scene in the middle of this story that makes the most earnest connection to the legacy of Amazing Spider-Man. Peter, distracted by the Alpha developments and racked with guilt, sits down to dinner with Aunt May, Jay Jameson and Mary Jane. The subtle drama that unfolds with Jay talking to Peter about his perceived flakiness, followed by questions about the relationship status of Pete and MJ, rings truer to the heritage of Spider-Man than the origin parallel. As mentioned previously, the best Spider-Man stories are equal parts action and drama.
With exceptions, Amazing Spider-Man has always tried to be a contemporary hero story, involving cultural and generational struggles common to its current readers. Slott has certainly tried to continue that idea, albeit with some hiccups and misunderstandings. That he can craft the quiet moments with authenticity speaks better to his current handling of the character and title rather than the big over-the-top super-heroics.