Tag Archives: Aunt May

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Spider-Man #1

It’s an unwritten rule in superhero comics. Certain characters are only ever allowed to grow, evolve, and mature to a limited extent. Whereas some like Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain Marvel are allowed to grow and mature, others tend to revert to a rigid status quo that keeps them in a certain state, often for marketing purposes. Few characters are beholden to this rule as Spider-Man.

Whether he’s Peter Parker or your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, Spider-Man is rarely allowed to grow beyond the down-on-his-luck, can’t-hold-a-job, struggles-with-relationships situation he’s been in since the Nixon Administration. Granted, he can still have plenty of fun, entertaining adventures in that state, but it can get predictable and monotonous after a while.

Then, every once in a while, you get a book like “Spider-Man #1” by J. J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, and artist Sara Pichelli that dares to shake things up with the standard Spider-Man formula. It’s not in the same continuity as the mainline Amazing Spider-Man books, but that’s exactly what helps it stand out. It has a chance to do something different with Spider-Man’s story and it takes full advantage of it.

Using the same approach as “Into The Spider-Verse,” this book tells a new kind of story that puts Spider-Man into a whole new situation. For once, it’s unpredictable. There’s no status quo to revert to. It has to build an entirely new world for Spider-Man. Both Abrams and Pichelli prove they’re up for the challenge.

This new world is not for the faint of heart, especially if you’re a fan of Spider-Man never being allowed to mature past 30. It’s a world where Spider-Man’s responsibilities finally caught up with him. He was able to save the day. He was able to defeat a villain named Cadaverous, a name that isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds, but he paid a high price.

That’s because this version of Spider-Man wasn’t just late for work, late for a date, or missing his rent payment again. This Spider-Man had a lot more to lose. He had a family. He and Mary Jane are married and not just trying to schedule dates. They have a son named Ben. Peter Parker has every reason to come home safe, intact, and triumphant.

I won’t spoil too many details, but I’ll just say that doesn’t happen. In this case, saving the day doesn’t necessarily mean keeping Galactus from eating it. Yes, Spider-Man does save lives. However, the life he can’t save ends up changing his life, his responsibilities, and his ability to shake hands. That last one wasn’t a joke, by the way.

In other versions, including many alternate realities, some being more ridiculous than others, this sort of loss would’ve broken Spider-Man. It would’ve broken his family too. It’s one of Spider-Man’s most famous foils. When he loses too much, he quits being Spider-Man. While it rarely lasts, this is a world with different dynamics. He actually has a reason to not be Spider-Man anymore.

His son, Ben, gives him even more reason and not just because of the losses they’ve endured. Unlike some of Spider-Man’s other alternate reality kids, Ben is not nearly as endearing or likable. He’s young, he’s impulsive, and he’s angry at the world. Essentially, he’s not the kind of kid you’d want to continue Spider-Man’s legacy.

At the same time, Ben shows that he still has some of the traits that make Spider-Man the iconic hero he is. He’s not a lost cause. He’s not some brooding loser who looks for excuses to be miserable. He even comes off as genuinely relateable, more so than Peter Parker in some respects. You may not entirely sympathize with him, but you can still understand him.

This kid is every bit as haunted as his father. Unlike his father, though, he’s a kid who doesn’t have years of being a battle-hardened superhero under his belt. Even if he inherited his father’s super-powers, he didn’t inherit his ability to cope with loss. He didn’t have his proverbial Uncle Ben moment because so much of his situation was beyond his control.

Overall, “Spider-Man #1” is a different kind of Spider-Man story, but not just because it takes place in an alternate continuity. It doesn’t directly mirror old, time-tested Spider-Man tropes. It also doesn’t paint Peter Parker as someone who simply crumbles when he loses too much. He, Ben, and the supporting cast around him simply do their best to move forward with their lives.

For a superhero comic that tends to regress to the status quo more than most, it’s both refreshing and engaging. For once, we have a Spider-Man story we can’t expect to end with him sleeping on his Aunt May’s couch because he missed his rent again. We have a different Peter Parker with an emotionally unstable son trying to make the most of a tough situation.

On top of that, the villain responsible for that situation is still out there. We don’t know much about it or whether he’s related to any of Spider-Man’s long list of enemies, but that only adds to the intrigue. Abrams and Pichelli are taking Spider-Man’s story in a new direction and there’s no telling what might happen. As someone who has read more Spider-Man comics than most, I find that genuinely refreshing.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Spider-Man Life Story #1

Every week, the world gets a brief reprieve from being a chaotic mess when a fresh crop of comics enters the world. Most call it Wednesday. Others, like myself, call it New Comic Day. It’s like a weekly holiday, minus the decorations, gift giving, and crowded airports. On this unique day, I pick one particular comic to single out as worthy of making this day feel extra festive.

This week brings us a special gem from everyone’s third favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, after Spider-Ham and Spider-Gwen. It comes courtesy of one of Marvel’s top scribes in Chip Zdarsky and one of their top artists in Mark Bagley. While there has always been an abundance of Spider-Man comics, “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” stands out in a uniquely charming way.

For much of Spider-Man’s contemporary history, there has been an ongoing challenge, of sorts, when it comes to keeping him relevant. Writers, artists, and movie producers keep having to update Spider-Man’s story, somewhat, so that he feels modern. That’s not easy for a character who first debuted in 1962, courtesy of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Over the years, Peter Parker has found himself reinvented into many eras, from disco to social media. Marvel has always been somewhat coy about how characters like Spider-Man can show up in these eras and not seem to age, but that’s exactly what makes “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” so unique.

It doesn’t try to put Peter Parker in a more modern context. It doesn’t try to radically change who he is so that he fits into a more familiar world. Instead, Zdarsky and Bagley do the complete opposite and just let his story unfold within the era that first created him.

There’s no sliding timescale here. The year is 1966. Peter has had his Spider-Man powers for four years. He’s in college, the Vietnam War is ongoing, hippies are starting to grow in population, and cigarette’s are still advertised for their health benefits. This is the world in which Spider-Man was initially birthed and this is the world in which his story unfolds.

It’s a familiar story, one that frequently relies on Peter trying to balance his life as a college student with his superhero life as Spider-Man. However, that familiarity is exactly what helps “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” work so well as a concept and a setting. While it isn’t bound by the same 50-plus years of comic book continuity, it is bound by the circumstances of the mid-1960s.

This is a very different time for superheroes and non-superheroes alike. It’s not just that soda costs a quarter and the idea of alternative facts can be attributed to bad acid trips. This is a time of major social upheaval, especially in places like New York. Issues surrounding the Vietnam War aren’t just affecting Peter. They’re affecting his friends and other heroes, like Captain America.

It’s a world in which Peter struggles with choices that don’t just involve being on time for class. He’s seeing friends/bullies like Flash Thompson get drafted into a war that is just starting to go poorly. He’s watching other superheroes who don’t have to deal with J. Jonah Jameson make difficult choices about whether to get involved. What does an aspiring superhero do in that kind of world?

It makes for an interesting and dramatic backdrop for “Spider-Man: Life Story #1.” Peter still deals with typical Spider-Man issues, like getting to class on time and pursuing a blossoming relationship with Gwen Stacy. There are also a few battles with familiar enemies, namely the Green Goblin, who’s an asshole in any era. However, neither Peter Parker nor Spider-Man are bigger than the issues of the world around them.

In many respects, it brings out a more balanced Spider-Man. His struggles in dealing with the times and circumstances around him makes Peter Parker feel more real. It has always been part of his appeal, going back to the era of Lee and Ditko. He’s not some billionaire playboy or legendary soldier. He’s just a nerdy kid who got super-powers by accident.

This is a Peter Parker who isn’t bound by the old Comic Code Authority or aversions to political undertones. Zdarsky and Bagley let him live and react to the world of 1966 in a way that’s both believable and engaging. Essentially, they let him be the character that Lee and Ditko created within the times of his creation.

Those turbulent times set up even more drama as issues like the Vietnam War and the growing mistrust between people and authority start to grow. Peter’s youth puts him in the front row of the emerging chaos while the adults around him, including other superheroes, find themselves affected in ways that would’ve abhorred 1960s censors.

In a sense, the times and the larger world of “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” is the biggest appeal of the story. It allows complexity and drama that isn’t typical of a modern Spider-Man comic, but somehow brings out the best in Peter Parker and those around him, even if J. Jonah Jameson is still an annoying blowhard.

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “What If? Punisher #1.” Enjoy!

‘What If? Punisher #1’ Toys With Spider-Man’s Concept Of Power And Responsibility

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October 11, 2018 · 5:28 pm

Jack’s Quick Pick Comic: What If? Punisher #1

Every Wednesday, a new batch of comics comes out and for comic fans like me, it’s the biggest highlight of the week that doesn’t involve ice cream and whiskey. Within that batch of comics, it’s hard find the gems that really stand out. That’s why every week, I pick out a comic that I feel warrants extra praise.

This week, my quick pick is “What If? Punisher #1.” Now, this may seem like an odd selection. In fact, this comic is very much an anomaly. There was once a time where Marvel had an ongoing “What If?” series that basically offered alternate history takes on iconic characters and stories.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about how these stories are handled. For the most part, they’re hit or miss. They’re either really good or really bad. Rarely, if ever, are they fleshed out stories.

What If? Punisher #1” finds a way to stand out because it does more than speculate on what would happen to Spider-Man if he chose a slightly different path. It actually explores the entire premise that with great power comes great responsibility. It even makes the case that the mainline Spider-Man in the long-running “Amazing Spider-Man” series is wholly irresponsible in his methods.

This is an idea that I’ve actually explored before. I once made the argument that Spider-Man is the most inept hero of all time. I got a lot of hate for that piece, mostly by long-time Spider-Man fans. I don’t blame them for a second. However, this comic actually takes some of the concepts I discussed and puts them into a cohesive story.

It doesn’t radically reinvent Peter Parker or Spider-Man. It also doesn’t radically alter his origin. He still fails to stop a burglar that goes onto murder his Uncle Ben. From that tragedy, he learns that critical lesson about power and responsibility. The only difference in this timeline is that great responsibility means killing his enemies, just like the Punisher.

It’s a line that the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man doesn’t dare cross most of the time. In nearly every famous iteration of Spider-Man, Peter makes clear that he does not kill. However, “What If? Punisher #1” makes the case that not only is this irresponsible. It actually played a part in hurting his loved ones.

How that happens and how it makes this case is something I won’t spoil. Since this is a “What If?” comic, though, there’s not room to dig deeper. There are more than a few gaps and oversights, but most of that is due to logistics rather than merit. At the very least, this comic asks some pretty damning questions about how Spider-Man approaches power and responsibility.

Even though most “What If?” comics are quickly forgotten and have no impact on the actual canon, this issue is worthy of my pick because the concept is so intriguing. It’s too brief and very much incomplete, but the ideas it presents are pretty remarkable. Not all Spider-Man fans will like it, but it’ll definitely get them thinking.

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