Years before the birth of my son, I was told that nothing changes how a person views the world quite like having a child. While this idea always made a great deal of sense to me, I’m still amazed by just how profound the actual experience of having a kid has been. BK (before kid) I had always considered myself thoughtful and caring, though prone to periods of selfishness and myopia, and when it was just my parents, brother or significant other on the receiving end, those characteristics found a way to perpetuate. But with a child, it’s been so incredibly difficult for me to get lost in my own little world, partly because you have this young, helpless life at stake, but more importantly, because I rapidly evolved into a person who doesn’t WANT to get lost in my head. I want to be there to witness every milestone, from taking steps and saying words, to just the simple little discoveries (you’d be amazed how awesome it is to tell your 15-month-old to “go get Elmo” and he digs through his toy box and pulls out that silly red Muppet).
I’ve already talked at length about how my child has changed the pacing and urgency of my “chase” to collect every issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Occasional moments of wont aside, I haven’t missed the chase nearly as much as I would have if I had suddenly stopped buying old issues of ASM BK. It’s like my old brain that would have fiended for a good old-fashioned Silver Age Spidey fix every few weeks has just been reprogrammed to go with the flow and let the comic books come to me in due time.
But beyond the collecting element, having a child has also affected how I read a comic book, and how I absorb its contents. Amazing Spider-Man #248 is “exhibit A” in this case study. ASM #248 is one of the most celebrated issues of the title’s history, largely (unless you’re a hardcore fan of the villain Thunderball) because of the comic’s short “B-story” by Roger Stern, “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man.” In a 1996 interview, Stern said he was going for a “Will Eisner” vibe with how he told the story of “Kid,” and it’s certainly the most unique Spidey story ever printed in comic book form based on its narrative style.
For the uninitiated, “Kid” focuses on young Tim Harrison, a child who a local newspaper profiled as one of the world’s biggest Spider-Man fans. He collects old newspaper clippings of Spidey and other memorabilia. One night, Spider-Man shows up in Tim’s bedroom and after showing off for a few minutes, Spidey then tells Tim about his origin story, and his indirect role in the murder of someone very close to him. Despite this admittance of guilt, Tim says he still admires Spider-Man. He then asks Spider-Man to take of his mask, and he shockingly complies revealing Peter Parker. At the end of the story, we learn that Tim has actually been diagnosed with Leukemia and that his dying wish was to meet Spider-Man.
The story has been heralded by critics and readers alike as one of the greatest Spider-Man tales ever. In a nod to its influence, Dan Slott included Tim in the “Peter in heaven” dream sequence in ASM #700, which was probably my favorite part of the entire comic. And yet when I conducted my favorite ASM of all-time list last month, ASM #248 was noticeably absent. In a follow-up post on my list, I dismissed its inclusion as a byproduct of the fact that it was a “B” story in its original form and that the narrative style was so starkly different, it was difficult for me to count it as part of ASM’s continuity (ASM #700 sequence aside). But there were other, more personal reasons at play for its exclusion from my list.
Now the next section of this post is probably going to tick some people off for its real-life political tone, but since you’re reading a post on my personal blog that talks about Spider-Man, but more importantly, my connection to Spider-Man and comics, you can either read on, or just skip the next two paragraphs.
The Newtown, CT, school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary last December will go down as one of the worst moments in my life not directly affecting a person I know. I’m sure many people from my generation would better identify with September 11, and justifiably so, but for whatever reason, even in the hours after 9/11, I was always able to wrap my head around the question of “why” this happened to us. With Sandy Hook, I’m still at a major loss to explain to myself, and eventually to my child, why an emotionally disturbed man decided to take a slew of semi-automatic weapons into an elementary school and massacre two classrooms of first graders. Even as a liberal/left-leaning person who has endured the reports of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tuscon, Aurora and every other mass shooting in America over the last 15 years, my brain is completely incapable of processing the complete and utter lack of humanity that would lead to the murder of six-year olds. And I can’t think of a single parent that day who didn’t pause a moment after the Newtown attacks were reported and thought, “what if that happened to my kid.”
The fact that there is even a “debate” about some of the gun proposals recommended by the Obama Administration is beyond me – but the more rational part of me understands that the opponents of some of these sensible restrictions were probably not emotionally affected the way I was by Sandy Hook. And they’re certainly entitled to their opinion and an opportunity to (rationally) defend their “rights.” It doesn’t change the fact that I think they’re wrong. And that’s a declaration I wouldn’t have made so strongly BK.
It’s with this same lens I have such a difficult time “celebrating” the contents of ASM #248. Don’t get me wrong, Stern is at his very very best with this story. It’s a higher level of writing of the likes we’ll probably never again see in a Spider-Man comic.
That last sentence is something I would have written about this comic BK. While re-reading it in anticipation of my favorite ASM list in January, I got to that last page and I couldn’t breathe for a second or two. Stern’s reveal of the cruel fate that awaits poor Tim lands like a strong blow to the stomach. To have a story like this inside a superhero comic book is just unfathomable for me. Sure there’s plenty of death and dying in comic books, but that darkness and evil often comes at the hand of a supervillain or a criminal (Gwen Stacy/Uncle Ben) or in some cases, a moment of self-sacrifice (Human Torch).
There’s a reality to Tim’s story that’s just very uncomfortable for me to read and enjoy now that I have a playful, precocious son of my own. When I see him toddle around the house, wearing one of his (many) Spider-Man shirts (I guess I’m trying to influence him early), it’s impossible for me to even try to empathize with parents out there who had that joy and wonder taken away from them at such a young age like what ended up happening with Tim’s parents. It’s just something I don’t ever want to think about when I’m absorbed in my world of superhero fantasy. I’ll still credit Stern for spinning such an impressive yarn, but ASM #248 is certainly not a comic you will ever see me reading for “fun” AK (after kid).