Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Kitty Review: Allie Approves of JMS' Amazing Spider-Man
Admittedly, I was prompted to post this due to the camera photo opportunity of Allie, our lovable tabby cat, sitting on a stack of my comics. That he chose to sit on some of my Amazing Spider-Man Ultimate Collections ( large trade paperbacks collecting chunks of J. Michael Stracyinski's stories ) was appropriate, because I've been reading those thoroughly lately, and appreciating them a lot.
Discussions of JMS' Amazing Spider-Man tend to be myopic, focusing on the big events-- the totem stuff, the WTC tribute, Sins Past, the Other, the Iron Spider, and of course, the infamous One More Day. It is true that a lot of those stories were terrible-- I mean, there's no way to spin " Gwen Stacy had Norman Osborn's mutant love children before he murdered her " to sound like anything less than crap. Then again, most of the later stuff had a strong editorial hand, or was tied into crossover stuff. But to focus only on those is to undermine the excellent individual stories going on in between.
What I liked so much about JMS' Spider-Man was that he made the character of Peter Parker care. Even though Peter was still a working-class twentysomething, he lived his life to the fullest, and did everything he could. Having Peter become a high school teacher was a stroke of genius; despite low pay and unruly students, he realized that he could help kids feeling just as isolated and misunderstood as he was. When villains attacked him and his loved ones, he didn't just quip and dodge-- if needed, he'd go in there and fight until he blacked out from sheer pain and exhaustion. And when his marriage with Mary Jane was falling apart, he'd drag his ass all the way across the country to win her back.
JMS has been criticized for overly melodramatic writing, and in some cases that's a very accurate critique ( re: the WTC tribute, and the infamous tears from murderous despot Dr. Doom ). However, for Spider-Man JMS' voice worked very well. His stories worked to show us that Peter wasn't a superhero in the professionalized terms of modern comics ( i.e. anyone registered with the Initiative ), but a genuine hero. Compared to Ezekiel, who tried to seek power but never ended up using it for pure good, Peter's determination to do the right thing was all the more inspiring. Compared to his high school friend Charles Weiderman, who used his nerdy isolation to obsess over super-soldier fantasies, Peter was impressive for not giving into the bitterness of his lonely youth. Even Peter's family got in the act-- Aunt May became a staunch supporter of Spider-Man after finding out Peter's secret identity, helping in all the ways a seventy-something woman can help ( which is more than you'd think ), and Mary Jane tried to work out her difficulties being a superhero's wife like an adult.
Yes, " Adult ". Not adult in the sense of having more gore, but in facing consequences with responsibility and integrity. Post-JMS Spider-Man comics have been determined to show us that " twentysomething " means " slacker ", with Peter stumbling around blindly, mooching off his friends and family, and being Spider-Man reactively. These comics show us that for Peter, being Spider-Man isn't a choice he makes to do good in the world; it's a burden he's taken because he doesn't want to disappoint the big sky-daddy ( in his case, his uncle ). This Peter has the morality of a six-year-old, acting in accordance with internalized fear of being bad, while not really giving thought to hard choices and major progressions. As a twentysomething myself, it's grating that Spider-Man's fortysomething-plus writers see my generation like this-- especially if they're right, that this audience wants Spider-Man as a slacker who fights crime as an impulse/hobby.
But I digress...the point is that for all the melodramatic warts, and the stupid event stuff, JMS wrote great stories that were ethically driven and emotionally meaningful. They were more than just a bed for a cat wanting to nap in the sun.
( Though they serve that purpose well enough. )