Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr. kicked off their Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Vol. 6) in April of 2022 with a six month time jump in the narrative. Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker, reunited as a couple in Nick Spencer’s run on Amazing Spider-Man (starting in July 2018), had broken up. Peter was despondent and angry. Everyone was angry with Peter, too – Aunt May, Randy Robertson, even the Fantastic Four and Captain America. MJ wasn’t taking his calls. Creditors were hounding him. He was working for Norman Osborn! Most shocking of all, Mary Jane was living with her new partner, Paul…and their two kids. It was certainly a jaw-dropping reveal at the end of Wells and Romita’s first issue. Now, a year later, the gaps are being filled in with Amazing Spider-Man #21-25. Why did Peter and Mary Jane break-up? Who is Paul? Why is everyone angry with Peter? What happened in those six months? Will Mary Jane and Peter get back together?? For me, a bigger question has been on my mind since I first saw Stephanie and Owen run into her arms at the end of that issue: Should Mary Jane even be with Peter in the first place?
Note, this piece contains plot spoilers for Amazing Spider-Man #21-25.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how, as the X-Men were crossing over with Spider-Man in last December’s Dark Web event, I decided to go back and read four years worth of the Krakoa Era of X-Men comics. It’s the first time I’ve read X-Men comics regularly since the ‘90s and I’m following X-Force, Marauders, New Mutants, Excalibur-cum-Knights of X, and, of course, X-Men. Presently I’m up to August 2022 in all those titles so I’m almost ready to read Dark Web! To say I’ve encountered a few new characters along the way is to put it mildly. To say I’ve encountered so many new characters it’s given me whiplash and I sometimes wonder if authors are just making up names to mess with new/old readers like me because there is NO WAY this many new characters could’ve popped up in the twenty-five years since I last read X-Men comics feels closer to the truth. One of the (many) new characters was Laura Kinney/Wolverine. As she appeared in the pages of X-Men and New Mutants I felt a pull between what I’d’ve done as a kid and how I’ve learned to read comics now. So, how was I to meet Laura? How do I get to know Wolverine? I decided to take a breath, set aside those new habits, and read like a kid again. I kind of loved it! And it illuminated an interesting comparison for me about how we tend to consume narratives today.
One, a squirrel in Norse mythology who runs up and down Yggdrasil spreading slanderous gossip to stir things up and cause chaos. The other, an unbeatable squirrel-themed superhero. Ratatoskr and Doreen Green/Squirrel Girl seemed destined to meet. It was even predicted by two readers’ letters in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Vol. 1) #3’s “Letters From Nuts” page before Ratatoskr appeared in issues #6-8! While Doreen listens and offers empathy, compassion, and friendship to everyone she meets, she and Ratatoskr didn’t hit it off…mainly due to her turning everyone in New York City against each other by whispering mean gossip in their ears as they slept. With the War of the Realms raging, Doreen and Ratatoskr would meet again, this time in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43-46. Their second meeting offers a surprisingly brilliant examination of how healthy friendships work! For Squirrel Girl and the Norse God of Chaos, tensions lead to tentative alliances which lead to remarkably healthy relationships all while running afoul of Frost Giants conquering North America via Canada.
The modern superhero was born with Superman and the release of Action Comics #1 in June of 1938 began the Golden Age of Comic Books. None of the superhero comics, movies, TV shows, or video games we have today would exist as we know them if not for Superman. He was the foundation on which everything else was built. This new series nicks it’s title from Frank Miller’s seminal 1987 work Batman: Year One, in which Miller reimagines the origins of the Dark Knight in a darker, grittier fashion. Retelling and reimagining superhero origins is something both DC and Marvel love to do. But in this series I’m examining the actual first year of a superhero’s comic to get a sense for who they were when they first captured our cultural attention. What feels familiar? What feels different? In the case of Superman in particular, it’s often observed that he’s “too powerful,” “too unrelatable,” “too morally pure to be interesting.” That seems…unlikely to me. How can any character with 85 years of stories across all pop culture mediums not resonate? But let’s do our due diligence and see what Superman’s year one reveals about the character who birthed a genre.
We have an interesting relationship with the fictional characters we love, don’t we? I can divide my life into eras with them. He-Man and She-Ra. The Ghostbusters. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer. Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus. The Gilmore girls. Sydney Bristow and all her aliases. The Doctor. Fleabag. The list goes on but they are the most important :). Loving comic books since I was three-years-old, there are obviously many superheroes who land on that list. Recently, my mind wandered to the superheroes most important to me. Three came clearly and quickly to mind and, as I thought about each, deep feelings of love and gratitude for all they’ve given me began to fill my heart. So with those feelings still moving within me, I figured it would be fun to examine why those characters are so important to me.
Years ago, out to lunch with one of my best friends, he made an observation, “You know, I think you’d be happy never getting married. You’re comfortable on your own. You don’t need someone else to enjoy life. But if you get married, I think you’ll marry a single mother. Lots of guys wouldn’t. Lots of people avoid dating single parents. But you don’t. You’re good with kids. You love kids and you’d love her kids, which would be great for everyone.” While this friend knew me better than most (at the time, we’ve lost touch a bit), he rarely weighed in on my personal life. So it was unexpected but I didn’t disagree. It felt authentic. Still, I’d’ve never guessed this would be a bridge to see a little of myself in the Joker :8. Gah! The Clown Prince of Crime. The Harlequin of Hate. The Jester of Genocide. The King of Arkham Asylum. This is the guy – thanks to HBO Max’s mind-bendingly brilliant and sensationally subversive Harley Quinn – I’m now empathizing with?? Color me surprised.
This week Kalie guest lectured for my MARVELous Justice course, my class which uses comic books and comic book movies to examine social justice issues and the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concerns in particular. Kalie is getting her PhD in literary criticism, with her focus on the mad monster. I’ve asked her to come in a few times to give my students an introduction to Monster Theory so they can add it to the avenues of analysis we use for the comics and films we explore. As part of her presentation, Kalie always asks my class what their favorite childhood monster was and why they liked it. The first time I heard her ask this question, I found myself lost in thought. What was my favorite monster as a kid? Did I even have one? I never liked being scared, that’s for sure. The answer hit in a bolt of clarity! What an easy question! It’s no contest! My favorite monster was Venom. As soon as Eddie Brock bonded with the symbiote, I was hooked. I love Venom! I adore Venom! Looking at my relationship with this monster as I followed along with Kalie’s lesson taught me a lot about myself, too.
Welcome to the fifteenth installment in my series using only Spider-Man comics to explore the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life)! This time we’re looking at one of the most prominent themes around romantic love – how love heals, how the right person’s love can save us. When I began this series I made myself a promise. No alternate reality Peter Parkers. No movies. No TV shows. No other comic universes. I’d explore Peter Parker’s romantic exploits in Marvel’s main 616 universe and when I had exhausted those relationships, the series would end. Anna Maria Marconi will date Peter Parker in the 616 universe…but she dates “Peter” when he’s dead and his archenemy Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus is controlling his body. So she dated Doc Ock even though she thought she was dating Peter. I’m including their relationship as a) it’s a significant one in the 616, b) the reader alone knows it isn’t Peter, and c) most important of all, their relationship illustrates something about love Peter Parker himself isn’t yet mature enough to find on his own. It’s a trope that can’t be ignored when writing about love so here we are. Otto’s time as the Superior Spider-Man is one of comics’ greatest redemption stories. Reflecting on the role romantic love plays in his salvation helps us consider the role such love plays in our own healing and growth, too.
With Fall 2022 having officially arrived just days ago, I find myself a little over a month into the new school year, my twelfth year teaching. Over the last decade I’ve gathered a few traditions to accompany the start of each new year. One of my favorites (and most helpful!) is a Spider-Man binge-reading session. Each year I pick a particular author and era (or two (or three or four)) and dive into the world of The Amazing Spider-Man. Teaching can be stressful and exhausting so, as summer falls away and work resumes, I find comfort in the familiar. I’ve had a longer relationship with Spider-Man than any other fictional character, getting my first Spidey comic when I was three-years-old and still loving him now. Plus, it’s nice to spend my night laughing when my days get harder and few characters have a better q.p.a average (quips-per-adventure, obvs.) than Peter Parker/Spider-Man. But I’ve realized there’s more to it than that. One of the most important reasons I turn to Spidey when school resumes is because of the ol’ Parker Luck.
Sometimes I’m surprised I’ve not written of Daredevil before. I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about the intersection of comic books and theology and teach theology at a Catholic Mercy school and am a lifelong Catholic. So Matt Murdock/Daredevil feels like a character made for me. A lawyer by day who lost his sight as a child, Matt uses the radar sense he gained, along with his extensive martial arts training, to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil. As Marvel’s most prominent Catholic character, his faith and his relationship with God influence all areas of his life, superheroing included. He attends Mass. He goes to confession. His parish priest and nuns are trusted natural supports. But I never “got” Daredevil. My brother David loved him but I wasn’t interested. He felt like a bargain basement Spider-Man (when quippy) or bargain basement Batman (when dour). Then I began reading Chip Zdarsky (writer) and Marco Checchetto (main artist on the run)’s Daredevil and OH. MY. GOSH. I get it now! Twenty-seven issues in and I love it! A major story beat is Matt discerning God’s will in his life and, naturally, I was excited to explore this myself. Is Daredevil’s vocation divinely ordained or an example of someone trying to sanctify their all-too-human violence in God’s name?