I’ve mostly ignored the bulk of Avengers comic books since Spider-Man joined the group a few years ago, mostly based on the fact that I had some personal objections to the idea of Spidey being a regular member of a super-team. Sure, a sometimes helper who would reach out to the Avengers as he did regularly with the Fantastic Four over the years? That’s one thing. But a regular teammate of Thor, Captain America and Iron Man? Seemed like a stretch for me. Still, I decided to give this year’s big miniseries, Avengers vs X-Men a shot based solely on the fact that I knew well in advance that Spidey was going to have his “big moment” in the comic’s third act. I wasn’t going to ignore the series, like I mostly did with last year’s Fear Itself, and then peak in at issue #9 (sorry, “Round 9”) and pretend that I understood any of the stakes involved.
Up until this point, what I’ve gotten for my loyalty to Spider-Man is a comic book series that’s typical Brian Michael Bendis (I know Jason Aaron round this issue #9) – big concept that just seems to take forever and a day to go anywhere. But I don’t want to obsess on something that many other comic book bloggers have dissected multiple times over – that Marvel’s summer mini-series are more often than not, a letdown, and premiere writer, Bendis, is a tad overrated. Instead, I want to focus on AvX #9, since this is the issue I was more or less willing to drop $4 every other week to get to.
The promise of this issue was that Spider-Man was going to come through in a big way for the Avengers, and in that regard, it was a vintage Spidey story about him overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. And yet, here I am, a few weeks after reading the issue, and there are still elements of the story that drive me crazy.
Another blogger on the interwebs compared Spider-Man’s showdown with a Phoenix-powered Colossus and Magik as being on par with his epic encounter with Morlun in 2001 (a personal favorite arc of mine, despite being otherwise non-plussed by JMS’ run on ASM). And I guess an argument could be made that watching Spider-Man take a beating like that from two cosmically-powered mutants and still end up on the victorious end, was pretty awesome. But as is always the case with any destination, it’s how you get there that counts.
One of my biggest gripes during the Brand New Day era of Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t so much that Marvel decided to absolve Peter’s marriage with Mary Jane. Instead it was the fact that ASM’s rotating group of writers decided to portray Peter, and by proxy, Spider-Man, as some kind of social pariah, screw-up of colossal-proportions. I’ve been reading Spider-Man comics for nearly 25 years now, and while I understand that Spidey has long been the underdog, I never fully grasped why there were writers out there who decided that Marvel’s marquee superhero should be treated as a one-note joke by other heroes. It’s another reason why I’ve avoided Avengers comics – what’s the point in reading a comic when my favorite character’s primary role is to stand in the background telling lame one-liners and coming across as a bigger jerk than Wolverine?
AvX #9 opens with this incredibly high-stakes scene where Spider-Man looks to be one more hit away from doom. You know it’s bad news when Spidey is invoking the name of his Uncle Ben – the guy who’s always propped up for every other defining moment of Spider-Man’s career. We have this soliloquy from Spider-Man, and instead of just focusing on power and responsibility, or his dedication to his teammates, we have to listen to him talk about how, up until this moment, he’s always been the jokester, and now it’s the time for him to put aside his childishness and meet his fate.
It would be an incredibly inspiring/stirring scene if it was in any way true to the roots of the character. It’s not. It’s just part of this revisionist version of Spider-Man the new era of Marvel writers has continue to put forward. Compare that to the Roger Stern-era of Spider-Man, probably my favorite writer outside of Stan the Man’s original work in the 1960s. Stern’s Spider-Man was the perfect mix of power and intelligence. He had to work extra hard to overcoming some of his physical shortcomings, as was the case in “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” but I never got the sense from those issues that Spidey was some kind of immature prankster who always found himself bailed out by the likes of Black Panther and Iron Fist. Something just doesn’t add up here.
Of course, I should be thankful – at least AvX #9 showed Spider-Man as the winner, as opposed to the awful AvX VS series, that shows Spider-Man running from a fight against Colossus in issue #2. Now, I would say it would be pretty bad form of Marvel to have Spider-Man look like a loser again during the same month that he was celebrating his 50th Anniversary (and essentially his 50th consecutive year of being Marvel’s flagship comic book character who they were able to build an empire on). But again, I’m thankful for at least the favorable portrayal. But when are more long-time readers going to start calling out Bendis, Hickman and others who are responsible for this shallow, happy-to-be-in-the-background-yelling-out-quips version of Spider-Man that has dominated the Marvel universe over the last 4 or 5 years? Is this to appeal to more kids? Is this to make the character fresher? Or are there just elements of Spidey’s personality going back 40 years that I don’t just remember? I would think the litany of tragic events that continue to haunt Spidey – the death of his Uncle Ben, the death of Gwen Stacy, the death of Captain Stacy, his unmasking in Civil War, the clone saga – were more than enough to make Spider-Man/Peter Parker into a serious/hardened adult. But instead, we have Johnny Storm in spandex. Didn’t Spider-Man and Human Torch feud the first 4 or 5 years of their co-existence because Spidey thought Johnny was a smart-ass?
All images from AvX #9: Jason Aaron, Adam Kubert & John Dell