Before I begin, let me first insert the standard line I’ve been using over the past three months about what a delinquent blogger I’ve been. You know it, I know it, the American people know it, so let’s just move on. All I can say is part of the reason I’ve been on hiatus is because I have big(ger) plans for the site and its concept in then (hopefully) not too distant future. Otherwise, I’m just a lazy bum who doesn’t want to blog about comic books all the time!
In the interim, I have a lot of catching up to do in anticipation of Amazing Spider-Man #700, so I’m going to attempt to rip off some thoughts on some of the last few major ASM storylines (which are now looking like the last few ASM storylines in the history of the series). Since the last new issue I talked about was ASM #691, it’s probably best that I start with the Alpha arc before eventually tackling the Hobgoblin storyline and then eventually “Dying Wish” into the “final” issue of ASM, #700. Will, I then continue to talk about Superior Spider-Man in the new year? I really, really need to think it over first. At least I have old back issues to wax poetic about if my worst fears are met in ASM #700.
Part of the reason why I have major fears with ASM #700 (this home subscriber has not yet seen ASM #698 and #699 so no spoilers), is the Alpha character who was introduced in ASM #692 – a special edition 50th anniversary story that feels particularly shallow in retrospect thanks to Spider-Man’s new “sidekick.” As Spider-Man himself would later say in the arc’s conclusion, “the kid just ain’t worthy.” The problem is readers were still subjected to someone who seems to be the most unpopular new character introduced by a major pop culture franchise since Jar Jar Binks graced our screens in the Phantom Menace in 1998. That’s right, I just compared Alpha to Jar Jar Binks. Hyperbole much?
Sadly, despite Alpha going back to “normal” until he can better harness his powers and ego, there’s a part of me that’s concerned he may make an unwelcomed return as part of the conclusion to ASM #700. From interviews with writer Dan Slott and other Marvel folk, we already know that the new Superior Spider-Man won’t be Peter Parker, and if you’re looking for potential suspects for a new hero, Marvel is re-releasing the Alpha origin story this month. Is this a set-up for an Alpha return or a red herring? The decision Marvel makes could play a big role in how I spend my discretionary income on new comic books going forward.
As you can infer, I have many issues with Alpha – his origins and his execution. I get what Slott was going for – a parallel version of Spider-Man, but “without the power and responsibility.” That’s all well and good, but Chris Yost and Co. are doing a much superior job with that concept with the Scarlet Spider series.
But beyond that, the fact that Alpha debuted in ASM’s 50th anniversary issue just made the whole arc come across as even more of a letdown. A new concept unleashed in a 50th anniversary comic should just “feel” momentous and certainly not be as predictable as the rise and inevitable fall from grace experienced by Alpha over the course of these three issues. The original formula for Peter Parker and Spider-Man featured in Amazing Fantasy was a special mix of brilliant storytelling and just pure serendipity (the character was unleashed at a time where bullied teenagers with a bit of an ego were not mainstream comic book superheroes). As a reader, you sympathize with Peter’s desire to “show the world” the power of Spider-Man, because of the abuse he took at the hands of Flash Thompson and other bullies. And naturally your heart breaks when Peter’s own hubris haunts him for the rest of his life with the preventable death of his Uncle Ben. Alpha’s human alter-ego is presented as a total vanilla, ordinary character when he was introduced, which makes his acquisition of extraordinary superpowers feel wasted. Why should we care that this kid has powers? He’s not written to be any smarter, meaner, hipper, et al, than any of his peers. So why should we care that he becomes an egomaniac and a thorn in Spider-Man’s side?
The natural response to these questions – at least what I fear is the response – is “wait and see why you should care.” Naturally, it’s Slott’s right as a storyteller to develop a character at the pace he sees fit, but if Alpha’s redemption is somehow tied-in to the conclusion of perhaps Marvel’s most iconic comic book series of all-time, it still doesn’t make me care for the character. Instead, it’s going to feel too rushed and haphazard. How can this character who was only introduced nine issues earlier be fleshed out enough to believably play a significant role in a major change of ASM’s status quo? If this is in fact the direction Slott is going, I just can’t imagine how this is going to feel remotely satisfying as a reader. They’d be better off bringing over Miles Morales from the Ultimate universe to wear the mask.
Of course, there is definitely a chance that Alpha has nothing to do with ASM #700, which could then be ultimately more problematic for these three issues. Because then what was the point of wasting a major anniversary issue and two follow-ups on the creation of this character? Who, from a storytelling perspective, benefitted from this development? Is our understanding of Peter Parker really any different now that we know that he was unable to get through to a cocky teenager? And of course I’m at this conclusion before I even considered some of my other issues of this arc – notably the startlingly brief coming and going of the Jackal, who Slott/Humberto Ramos had rebuilt for me during Spider Island, and Peter’s somewhat out-of-character moment of weakness with Mary Jane.
So what now? Marvel and Slott presumably have a character on their hands that they presented as a “big deal” who would need to be significantly retconned to be accepted in any meaningful way by the fanbase going forward. And this coming at a time when the fanbase is as divided as it ever was about the direction of the Spider-Man universe.
Do Marvel and Slott need to cater to the whims of the fanbase? Of course not. If they did, Mary Jane and Peter would have been brought back together 100 issues ago and the concept of a “Superior Spider-Man” would never have been pushed forward. I honestly want to give all of these new things a chance, in part because I’m curious, and second, because I have nowhere else to go. I’ve dedicated the vast majority of my life passionately following the story of this one character. Bailing on the series now would be the equivalent of giving up on a sports team after a couple of bad seasons, or after they trade away your favorite player. I know it’s absurd for me to take these things personally.
And yet, all the same, the Alpha series makes it two major “epic” ASM events in a row that have fallen flat for Slott (if you count “Ends of the Earth” as an “epic”). The Spider-Man universe, whether it’s Amazing or Superior, may have my support, but Slott is quickly losing the good credit he earned more than a year ago with his “Big Time” and “Spider Island” arcs. The Alpha story and how it does, or does not tie-in to ASM #700 has made me realize that a legacy is at stake here – not the legacy of Spider-Man. One way or another, Spider-Man is going to survive and is going to be great again, regardless of what transpires later this month. Rather, it’s Slott’s legacy as one of the character’s great writers that hangs in the balance. While he’s repeatedly made jokes about needing to go into hiding after the ending of ASM #700, I have to imagine that any “artist” with any sense of pride and ego does not want to be known as the guy who crippled the passion of an iconic character’s fanbase for years to come. Alpha is that problematic for me.
All images from Amazing Spider-Man #692-694: Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos & Victor Olazaba