The Reading Experience: Peter Parker’s Big Ol Brain

Considering how much pain and suffering Peter Parker has had to endure because of his secret life of Spider-Man, I’m always filled with the warm and fuzzies when something goes right for him. When Marvel transitioned to the Brand New Day story-arc a few years back, the rotating crew of writers seemed to get away from trying to sprinkle some good karmic fairy dust on Peter’s life. But since taking over writing responsibilities full-time, Dan Slott has seemingly got Peter’s life back on track – a new job, a new steady girlfriend, responsible side-gigs with the Future Foundation and the Avengers. And this one specific panel from Amazing Spider-Man 663 perhaps best personifies how Slott has brought some dignity back to Marvel’s flagship character.

It’s worth remembering that before Peter got his super powers from a radioactive spider, he had a superhuman-level mind as a brilliant high school science student. So much of the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko ASM issues dealt with how Peter used his brains to enhance his super strength, including designing his own web shooters and fluid. Plus, it made the Spider-Man character so much more accessible since the world’s greatest superhero was actually a nerdy bookworm under the mask.

But what has Peter actually accomplished with his science background? Sure, he’s enhanced his spider powers and in later issues, he taught high school, but Peter has never truly been recognized by the scientific community in any meaningful way. By getting Peter a new job at a laboratory, Slott has presented his character with opportunity to finally break through in that community. And as we can see in ASM #663, all Peter ever really needed is that opportunity.

Peter’s jubilation after learning that he was published in the American Science Journal is such a joyous, celebratory moment in ASM. And I love how he shouts that the moment unequivocally eclipses his experiences with the Future Foundation and the Avengers, and his time spent as a photographer, because he was able to pull this off with his “big ol brain.”

Getting published in the journal may be Peter’s finest achievement accomplished with zero assistance from Spider-Man. If anything, all of the time he spends as Spider-Man was probably more of a deterrent than a help.  Just imagine how much Peter would have accomplished within the scientific community if he had never been bitten by a radioactive spider.

Which is also what makes this moment quite bittersweet. Because as I wrote about a few weeks ago, just a few pages after this crowning achievement, Spider-Man is back on the streets, putting his life on the line against villains like Anti-Venom. It’s almost unfair that Peter can’t get a few minutes to enjoy his moment, but this is the life he was meant to live after he chose using his great power in a responsible way.

Still, I love that Slott gives readers and fans this portal into a joyous moment in Peter’s life. While the Ultimate universe may be killing off Peter Parker and trying somebody new under the mask, long-time readers of Spider-Man comics will tell you that Peter is as essential to our enjoyment as Spider-Man himself. The man under the mask has character, integrity and brains. He needs to be on display. Slott gets that.


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