This is an important post for this site. Well, it’s an important post for me I guess, that’s a better way to put it. It doesn’t have a strong, driving social justice message. It isn’t a call to action. It isn’t a heavy analysis or anything like that. But for the first time in almost twenty years, I’m finally reading The Amazing Spider-Man again every month. For someone who’s always loved Spider-Man as much as I do, this is important. It turns out, being back in the current life of Peter Parker means even more to me than I thought it would.
As I’ve said before, my very first comic book was Web Of Spider-Man #12, released in 1986. I was four years old when I first meet Spidey and I’ve been in love with him ever since. I’ve also written about how I “formally” began collecting comic books thanks to an AMAZING (pun intended) Christmas present from my Uncle Joe (a comic collector starter box) and my parents (a membership to Books Galore, our local comics shop) when I was seven years old. From 1989 until 1998, I was a devoted comic reader, excitedly journeying to Books Galore every week to bring home their plain brown bag holding my comic purchases. However, as I turned sixteen and gas money became a thing, I realized I had to walk away from comics. Some titles were harder to quit than others but leaving Peter Parker was the toughest move. I just couldn’t imagine closing the back cover on another “To Be Continued…” and not knowing what was going to happen to Peter and Mary Jane the following month. However “The Gathering Of Five” and “The Final Chapter” story arcs running through the Spider-Man titles in 1998, gave me my out. Peter was walking away from his life as Spider-Man! He and Mary Jane were going to live happily ever after! All the titles were ending! (Okay, sure, he put the webs back on and everything exploded again with new #1s the following month but it was still good enough for me.) I could leave comic book reading knowing Peter and Mary Jane had a well deserved “end” to their story.
The final issue of any Spider-Man comic I’d read for nearly twenty years was Peter Parker: Spider-Man #98, released in November of 1998. It wasn’t like Spider-Man was out of my life entirely. Who could live that way?!? I loved seeing him brought to life on the big screen by Tobey Maguire and then Andrew Garfield. I still enjoyed finding and wearing sweet Spider-Man t-shirts whenever I could. I tried to see his Broadway musical – Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark – during its run even if, sadly, that wasn’t to be. And I kept up with the major moments in Peter’s life (becoming an Avenger, a Civil War and an unmasking, Miles Morales joining the scene, “One More Day,” Doc Ock taking control of his body, “Brand New Day,” etc.) by reading any exciting headlines I found about Spidey on my favorite nerd news sites. But I couldn’t bring myself to pick up his comic books any more. I’d said my goodbye. It was hard to do too! But I’d never get an easy, happy ending, walk away moment like that again.
Then in 2015, I returned to the world of comic book reading. Jeff had been urging me to explore what Marvel was doing with their new Star Wars titles for the Disney Canon. So, after a lot of careful consideration, I walked back into Books Galore after seventeen years and picked up some new comics. But I was limiting myself to Star Wars! However Christmas rolled around and Kalie surprised me with collected editions of G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan’s Deadpool. I was back baby! While Star Wars soon bored me, superheroes were back in my life and I was LOVING IT :). I was reading Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Deadpool and great titles from IDW like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters…but I couldn’t pick up The Amazing Spider-Man.
It was that goodbye you know?!? Peter Parker means a lot to me. He means more to me than any other fictional character. There’s no other I’ve shared as much with for as long as I have than Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. As weird as this may sound, I was scared to go back to reading about Peter Parker.
Peter had his “Happily Ever After…” moment in my mind in the fall of 1998. The idea of going back to his story, to see him suffer and struggle again kind of bummed me out. I liked the end of the story. I liked Peter finally living a happy life with Mary Jane. It hurt me to think of upsetting that mental applecart and seeing him struggling again. Does this sound ridiculous? I can’t tell. I don’t know if everyone connects to the fictional characters they love like this or if I’m even weirder than I think I am. Either way, I was scared to dive back into The Amazing Spider-Man.
Thinking back on it, my reluctance had two major sources. The first was I’d missed SO MUCH. Comics happen monthly. But sometimes a character’s title is bi-monthly or tri-monthly and sometimes they are starring in more than one title. For Spidey it’s “all of the above.” Missing seventeen years of stories meant there were literally hundreds and hundreds of issues I’d missed. I couldn’t go back and buy all those back issues! And how could I jump in cold, having no idea what Peter’s been doing?? It was daunting.
The second was the events of the “One More Day” storyline. I started reading Spider-Man comics in 1986. Peter and Mary Jane got married in 1987. For me, their marriage was a constant in both my life and my understanding of the character. I’d seen them go through a lot over the years but they always managed to stay afloat, even if it was barely at times. More than the struggle, they found so much strength in each other. Peter and Mary Jane were always this towering example of what unconditional love could do. The idea of reading The Amazing Spider-Man and NOT having Peter and Mary Jane together seemed incomprehensible. It hurt my heart to even think about. Now, had the story seen the weight of his superheroing life finally break MJ or one of them unexpectedly fall in love with someone else or something like that would’ve been a different story. Yes, it would still have hurt but it would have been an honest story about the end of a relationship. To have them sell their love to Mephisto to bring Aunt May back to life?? That’s contrived, shallow storytelling, designed to bring about the end of a relationship many Marvel CEOs never wanted in the first place but Stan Lee and David Michelinie brought about anyway. So I just couldn’t wrap my head around Peter without Mary Jane.
As weird as it was to go to Books Galore each month and not come home with The Amazing Spider-Man, I couldn’t bring myself to return to the character who made me love comics (and helped me learn to love reading itself). Sure, I got close. I became happily hooked on Miles Morales. I figured Spider-Man/Deadpool was safe as Peter’s personal life would (most likely) be pretty distant from their exploits. Then I started getting a little closer. I dipped my toe in the world Dan Slott’s been creating for ten years with the (safe, alternate timeline) Secret Wars tie-in The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. Over the course of this summer I continued, slowly at first. I read his “Spider-Verse” storyline. Then I read the “Brand New Day” collection, to fill in the gaps of what happened before the Spider-Verse event and after Pete got his body back from Ock. Then I sampled some of The Superior Spider-Man.
I LOVED what I found in Dan Slott’s writing, especially the “Spider-Verse” collection. I was so excited to be reading new adventures with Peter Parker again! I had no idea how much I’d missed this until I was turning the pages of those collections! I knew the time had come. I had to go all in again. So I bought the first four volumes for The Amazing Spider-Man‘s “Worldwide” story. Then, with a little back issue hunting, starting with The Amazing Spider-Man #25 I was back to the single issues! I had everything I needed to read myself right back to the present…and I waited.
I still couldn’t do it. I was still scared! I’m not certain why. I loved everything I’d read by Dan Slott. I knew I wanted Peter Parker to be part of my regular monthly comic buying experience again. Why couldn’t I do it?!? Why couldn’t I just pick them up and read them?? I think, at the end of the day, it was that lingering fear. What if, I wondered, it wasn’t as good as I remembered? What if I couldn’t enjoy Peter Parker like I used to?! What if I didn’t like these comics?!?
The first main source of my fear was easier to conquer than the second. I realized how silly it was to be concerned with jumping into the Spider-Man story “in the middle” as it were. I grew up reading comics in the 80’s! We didn’t have new #1s every year and a half! Nor did we have story arcs designed to run four-to-six issues so they could be easily packaged and sold in a trade paperback collection. No, I grew up with random starting points in the middle of stories and often missing issues as I began my comic reading picking up issues on the spinner rack at the grocery store. I can handle missing parts of the story. It’s how I was raised baby!
So this week I did it! I really, finally did it! I sat down and I read The Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #’s 1-31! For the first time in nearly twenty years, I’m enjoying Peter Parker’s monthly exploits once more. I owe Dan Slott an enormous, heartfelt “thank you.” I’ve heard it said by many, many people that Dan Slott really loves Spider-Man. The truth of that statement rings from every note of every story. He’s taken great care of Spidey while I was away and given me something brilliant to return to.
On the one hand, this couldn’t be further from the Peter Parker I left behind in 1998! Peter’s now the C.E.O. of Parker Industries, a multi-billion dollar international corporation. He’s using tricked out Spider Armor with tech and gadgets galore that would make Tony Stark swoon (not that he’d admit it though…because he’s Tony Stark). He’s driving all sorts of spider-cars and spider-copters and spider-cycles. He’s bankrolling the Avengers. And he’s expanded his power and responsibility to a global scale both as an international Spider-Man (bouncing around New York, San Diego, London, and Shanghai, on the regular (and Paris, Symkaria, and outer freaking space from time to time too)) and with the Uncle Ben Foundation (a charity organization he’s formed to do good the world over).
On the other hand, everything about this feels like Peter Parker. It’s his heart, his humor, his awkwardness, and his sense of guilt and responsibility. He’s surrounded by so many familiar faces but all in brand new rolls; Aunt May (major shareholder in Parker Industries and international jetsetter/active administrator of the Uncle Ben Foundation), J. Jonah Jameson (star of his own Fact Channel ranting news show), Harry Osborn (running Parker Industries in New York), Liz Allen (running Alchemax), Betty Brant (top reporter for the Daily Bugle), Hobie Brown (Spider-Man stand-in so Pete and Spidey can be in the same place at the same time), Anna Maria Marconi (running Parker Industries in London), and even Mary Jane (now working as Tony Stark’s executive assistant in Chicago).
By the end of my binge-reading session, I felt like I’d never left. This feeling is a testament to the brilliance and emotional heart of Dan Slott’s writing. As this entire post has been detailing, Spider-Man means a lot to me and because of that I’ve been scared to return to his monthly exploits. As I immersed myself in Slott’s writing all those fears melted away and I found the character I’ve loved for thirty-one years all over again.
Dan Slott has captured my heart with how he honors the character of Spider-Man and he’s earned my respect with his willingness to be bold in his storytelling. I’ve written of my struggle with comic books that seem to be nothing more than nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. I have no interest in reading and re-reading slightly new takes on what I read in the 80’s and 90’s. Dan Slott understands this. He knows we deserve new stories, exciting stories, shocking stories…even while including characters we’ve known for decades. In The Amazing Spider-Man I’ve found Peter as a socially conscious C.E.O. of a major corporation. I see the familiar cast of characters around him have evolved too. I see the classic villains who’ve defined the Spider-Man story for over fifty years (Norman Osborn, Doctor Octopus, the Jackal, the Lizard, the Rhino, Electro, ) presented in entirely new ways alongside brand new villains (the Zodiac, Regent) out to harass the web-slinger.
Oh! And then there’s Bobbi Morse!!! Aaaaahhhh!!!! Spider-Man and Mockingbird are totally digging each other! As I’ve written before, I love Mockingbird’s character and the premature cancellation of her solo title by Chelsea Cain was one of the great tragedies I’ve witnessed since returning to regular comic reading. Mockingbird was one of the most fun and intelligent comics on the market and it deserved more. So to find Bobbi and Peter working together – and flirting too! – is pretty great. If we can’t have Mockingbird, at least we get Bobbi Morse in The Amazing Spider-Man. I love their chemistry both as Spider-Man and Mockingbird and as Peter and Bobbi.
So…what about Mary Jane? How did I overcome that second great fear keeping me from reading The Amazing Spider-Man? First, it was a willingness to accept change. Second, it was the strength of Dan Slott’s writing. To the former, I write all the time on this site how we need to be open to change and allowing our art (and heroes!) to evolve. What good is stagnant art?? How can that speak to us? So I realized, to truly honor my love for Spider-Man, I had to be willing to give this contemporary version of Peter Parker a shot. If I didn’t I was being an enormous hypocrite. (And they’ll always be married in my heart anyway :).)
To the latter, as I read The Superior Spider-Man, I learned that Peter and Mary Jane still had strong feelings for each other…even if they didn’t remember it ever working out. With stirring elegance, Dan Slott had Peter watching Doc Ock try to woo Mary Jane in his body and, in his frustration, fear, and anger he cries out that this is all wrong because Mary Jane is his Soul Mate. Wow. That’s powerful. So Marvel may’ve taken the marriage but the love is still there, even if it can’t be fully realized. This adds a tragic and beautiful dimension to the (still ridiculous) dissolution of their marriage that makes it a story worth exploring. To find your Soul Mate, to know your Soul Mate, to love your Soul Mate but to be unable to be with them as you want to be is a special sort of pain.
The idea of the Soul Mate is one that’s always fascinated me. In Paulo Coelho’s novel Brida, the title character is on a quest for spiritual instruction. She finds a teacher in Wicca who, speaking of the nature of the Soul Mate, tells her, “[W]hen people think of reincarnation, they always come up against a very difficult question: if, in the beginning, there were so few people on the face of the Earth, and now there are so many, where did all those new souls come from?….In certain reincarnations, we divide into two. Our souls divide as do crystals and stars, cells and plants. Our souls divide in two, and those new souls are in turn transformed into two and so, within a few generations, we are scattered over a large part of the Earth….if [we] were merely to keep dividing, it would keep growing, it would also become gradually weaker. That is why, as well as dividing into two, we also find ourselves. And that process of finding ourselves is called Love….We are responsible for the whole Earth because we do not know where they may be. Those Soul Mates we were from the beginning of time. If they are well, then we, too, will be happy. If they are not well, we will suffer, however unconsciously, a portion of their pain. Above all, though, we are responsible for reencountering, at least once in every incarnation, the Soul Mate who is sure to cross our path. Even if it is for only a matter of moments, because those moments bring with them a Love so intense that it justifies the rest of our days.” But this reencountering requires courage and action. As Wicca tells Brida, “We can also allow our Soul Mate to pass us by, without accepting him or her, or even noticing. Then we will need another incarnation in order to find that Soul Mate. And because of our selfishness, we will be condemned to the worst torture humankind has ever invented for itself: loneliness.”
What a beautiful, complex, and captivating idea! Of all the descriptions of the idea of a Soul Mate I’ve ever read, Coelho’s is the one that seems to carry, for me at least, the greatest potential for meaning. This is what we still have, what Dan Slott is exploring with nuance and care, in the space between Peter and Mary Jane. As Tom Petty sings so perfectly in “American Girl,” “God it’s so painful when something that’s so close / Is still so far out of reach.” There is the potential for great power and great resonance in such a story.
I often say that returning to reading comic books has felt like coming home. It’s been a wonderful blessing to rediscover a love of my childhood and be able to experience it in a brand new way as an adult – finding the same sense of joy alongside art that elevates my heart and mind. Now that metaphor is truly complete. With Dan Slott’s The Amazing Spider-Man a part of my monthly file I’m finally, fully home.
 Paulo Coelho, Brida, trans. by Margaret Jill Costa (New York: Harper, 2008), 27-9.
 Ibid., 29-30.