I have grown increasingly cranky regarding the state of “Spider-Verse” over the past month or so, finding the narrative to be lacking any forward thrust and the tie-ins to be either superfluous or overindulgent. So I was obviously quite curious about what was awaiting me this week with Amazing Spider-Man #13. As the penultimate chapter of this very long-running storyline something was going to have to happen in this issue that would finally paint a clearer picture of where we’re going to be once the dust settles on “Spider-Verse.” I mean, at least that’s what one should assume.
Maybe yes, maybe no. ASM #13 is certainly an improvement over its predecessor, but that’s akin to celebrating the existence of Rocky Balboa because it is at least a better film than the abomination that is Rocky V. Now that I have completely alienated all of the non-Rocky fans who read this site, let me just clarify this whole spiel by saying, ASM #13 is more coherent and better organized than ASM #12, but I’m still having some major problems with many of the themes and ideas being put forward by Dan Slott and his collaborators in “Spider-Verse,” and I don’t foresee some kind of magical wand being waved that’s going to prevent me from thinking that this entire event was just another disappointment from a book/creator that has been delivering far too many of them as of late to be celebrated as some kind of modern day incarnation of Stan Lee.
But let’s deal with the here and now and worry about the legacy of this arc or its creator later. In terms of why I have such an issue with “Spider-Verse,” it’s that this story continues to shockingly lack a central thesis – i.e. what is this whole thing about? Initially I thought this book was going to undo some of the damage that’s been done to Peter Parker’s character since his return from the dead by establishing him as the one “true” Spider-Man – this is the guy who has been the star of a series that has been publishing for more than 50 years, right? I thought all of these alternative Spiders were just window dressing that would add some fun and flair to the story of watching how Peter is able to succeed where everyone else before him has failed (remember, he is the ONLY Spider to successfully defeat an Inheritor – twice, mind you).
And yet the book continues to service this idea in name only. It tells the reader that Peter is the leader – he gets the big “go team go” line at the end of this issue which he allegedly “nails” per Spider-Ham. But he has still done little to nothing to distinguish himself from the countless other Parker analogues found throughout this story. ASM #13 opens with that long-awaited “hope spot” I had been clamoring for two weeks ago – Jennix’s clone plant has been destroyed – but even that takes place off-screen in a series (Scarlet Spiders) that doesn’t star Peter (PS, the endless amount of cutaways still continue to kill the narrative flow of this series).. The group has obtained a bunch of scrolls (still hate that secret scrolls are a plot device) that will allegedly provide them with some insight as to how to defeat the Inheritors, but Spider-Woman is the one who risked her life to get those scrolls and Anya Corazon is the only one who can read them. The Inheritors finally lose a bigtime part of the family in Solus but it’s Kaine that delivers the killing blow. Peter is still just an idle observer.
There’s even a scene where the comic’s text explicitly spells out that 616 Peter is not that special. Spider-Man India is moping around talking about how he’s just an analogue of the “real” guy and Spider-Man UK comes around and tells him (paraphrasing here), “hey we’re all special.” Maybe if these words actually came out of Peter’s mouth, it could be viewed as inspiration via leadership. But no, Peter remains passive, awaiting word from the others and still not developing a concrete plan to save the Spiders from extinction. Hope is not a plan.
For the icing on the cake, the issue’s big emotional moment involving the Uncle Ben totem comes courtesy of none other than Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man. As Peter sits there trying to talk Ben into suiting up for the Inheritor battle to no avail, Otto is the one who lights a fire under him with a really interesting speech about needing to succeed just once. What makes this speech so intriguing is the number of different ways it can be interpreted. On one hand, it’s the standard superhero, never give up speech. It feels like something Peter might say. It also echoes what Uncle Ben said to Peter during the dream sequence in Amazing Spider-Man #700. All the same, the succeed just once premise could be taken from the perspective of a supervillain. Otto as Doc Ock, was defeated countless times by Spider-Man. But he only needed one time to win, and he did, and thus he became the Superior Spider-Man.
But here’s the rub. So essentially in the very same comic book where Otto discovers that he loses the war for Peter’s body (aka, the last two issues of “Goblin Nation”) AND an alternative version of himself made a miscalculation and nuked the planet Uncle Ben Totem was living on, he has the clarity of mind to give this very impassioned rallying speech to Ben? That just doesn’t add up. And if Slott’s intent was that A+B really does = C, he didn’t do a terribly effective job building to Otto’s come to Jesus moment. Where’s the bitterness or moment of reflection from Otto? In fact, if you go all the way back to Superior Spider-Man #30, we still haven’t had an adequate moment of reflection from Otto about what transpired in “Dying Wish” and the first 95 percent of Superior.
Either way, perhaps what all of these plot points indicate is that my theory on what “Spider-Verse” is supposed to be about was all wrong – there is a theme, it’s just a theme I don’t particularly like or care for. That’s a very fair point. My only counter to that is if the central thesis to “Spider-Verse” is “everybody’s a somebody” in this world, how does that make me want to continue to read comics that star Peter? I guess if Marvel is going to publish 80 different spinoff series starring all of these alternative Spiders, there’s a long-range goal in mind with this approach.
Then again, with word that the Marvel Multiverse is going to collapse in on itself come May with Secret Wars, I seriously doubt more Spiders is the plan. Instead I think this is just indicative of a longer-range issue fans like me have had with ASM/Superior over the past year or two; intentional or not, there seems to be a lack of awareness regarding who is Peter Parker and why Spider-Man is special. This is a character who seems to oscillate between being an impulsive, immature goofball, to being a super serious hero that can rise to any challenge he faces. I can readily accept that Spider-Man is actually both of these, but there’s no consistency or tact in determining his personality at any given moment. Instead, Peter is portrayed as being whatever is most convenient at the moment for Marvel and its creators.