Welcome to Spider-Man Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers were asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Adam P. Knave, who chose number 524 for the roulette!

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Amazing Spider-Man #524 takes place as an epilogue to a big storyline which saw Spider-Man taking on Hydra. Having halted their plans, he finds himself falling from an exploding plane and towards the sea and inevitable doom – only to be rescued by Iron Man, brought back to Stark Tower, and given time to recuperate before whatever is bound to happen next.

One of the nice things about this moment in time for Spider-Man is that he was surrounded by the rest of the superhero community, in a way that usually doesn’t happen. Due to the need for Spider-Man to always be, in some sense, “alone”, it’s been important for creative teams to make sure that he doesn’t have the Avengers backing up his missions, that he isn’t being bankrolled by Tony Stark, and that he doesn’t have, y’know… a wife. “The Parker Luck” and all that, Peter Parker usually has to be isolated and kept away from the rest of the Marvel Universe, aside from the times he needs to appear as part of a splash page in an event storyline.

Here, we get to see what happens when the character progresses beyond that point. Tony Stark is acting as a beneficiary for him, giving Peter and his family room to live in Stark Tower and also rescuing him from certain death right at the start of the issue. This is an older Stark that we’ve seen in recent years, actively looking like he’s in his forties (actively looking like he’s Timothy Dalton, in fact: Mike Deodato has never been subtle about hiding his, uh, ‘influences’). The dynamic between the two is energetic and benefits both characters immensely – Tony gets to come across as smarter than usual, because he’s assisting the genius-level intellect of Peter Parker and showing there is still a lot that Peter has yet to learn.  Peter, in turn, gets to act as moral compass.

Perhaps to an infuriating degree, Peter is selfless in this issue. His thoughts turn to other people immediately every chance he gets, so when Tony references having a catalogue of anti-toxins stocked up in case the Avengers ever get dosed by their numerous villains, Peter asks “shouldn’t you give these to civilians?” The question is telling in various ways. Peter is showing up Tony Stark, who famously had a broken moral compass and made his money in war profits before turning himself towards a nobler business vision of the future. Stark is humbled for a moment by the question, reminding him of that time – but then he turns it back on Peter by plainly explaining that he’s being pragmatic. Quoting the back of every airplane manual “make sure your own mask is securely in place before attempting to assist other people”.

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You can see Stark’s point, but you can also see why he’s being too pragmatic here. It’s left unsaid, but there is every chance that Stark could rededicate his life and business to just providing cures for illnesses, disease, and poisons – but that probably wouldn’t make for the most involving comic. Likewise, Peter’s selflessness is actually selfish, as evidenced later in the issue as questions start to arise about his current health. It turns out that he’s been having blackouts recently and his health keeps spiking. So in turn, Peter is running around trying to put the oxygen mask on everyone else whilst ignoring the fact that he’s dying in the process. Neither Stark nor Parker have the right approach, but when combined they form a fairly rational, considerate whole. It’s a smart pairing which inspires both characters.

That illness hovers over the whole issue, and it deliberately acts to undermine the theme of unity which has formed elsewhere (even Aunt May an Jarvis are apparently now a couple). There is still a resistance in allowing the character to become truly integrated with the people around him – even when he’s known to be Spider-Man and his identity is out there, he’s still found a way to find and develop secrets which he can withhold from his friends and family. His blackouts will go on to be explained as part of “The Other”, which I think is a storyline about totems and Spider-Deities and… maybe we’ll get to that another time. The important thing is the choice to have him withhold the details about his changing body from both his wife and his mentor. There’s nothing to suggest that Tony wouldn’t be able to diagnose and help Peter immediately, and the bond between Peter and MJ is supposed to be strong. So why doesn’t he tell them about this serious issue?

The “Parker Luck” has never been about the universe conspiring against Peter Parker: it’s always been his own ability to get in his own way through his poor choices in judgement. He’s selfless to the point of being self-destructive… which will lead to his actual self-destruction (and reconstruction) in The Other. He’s so held back by his own worry that he’s going to ruin his current great life – loving, funny wife; friends and family who are actively engaged not only in his life but in his well-being – by throwing a new issue in their faces. As ever, he can’t quite grasp the idea of not being a loner, of fighting by himself. His new status quo surprises even him, and he doesn’t know how to live a life where people care about him.

It was likely jarring for a lot of people that Peter even chose to move into Stark Tower to begin with, and the issue continues to remind us how strange and unlikely the choice was. He has a hot tub of his own, he keeps finding new parts of the building – like a massive corridor filled with Tony’s old suits – and he’s never truly comfortable living the life of luxury. This again leads us back to the original premise of the character, and Ditko’s vision for the lifestyle he should lead. There’s always a need to redevelop a character and keep them current, but it’s nice to see those nods back to his original intent and purpose – JMS was never one to shy away from it.

And this does make improvements to that formula, in some ways. One aspect of superheroes which I’ve never liked is the worn-out trope that they refuse medical help and advice at all times, because they’re so heroic they’re just going to fight through the pain. This is tired and rusty as an idea – so actually, having Tony Stark around is great, because he cuts straight through the self-pitying aspects of Peter Parker and forces him to rest, recuperate, and be his best self. Again, it’s that idea of putting the oxygen mask on first so you’re at your best state to help other people: Spider-Man can’t help other people if he’s always operating at half-capacity. At the start of the issue, when rescuing Spider-Man from falling into the sea, Stark flies him back to the tower and runs a diagnostic test on the way. Of course, he’s operating at 100% – he wouldn’t have been able to save his friend otherwise.

It all makes for a pretty fascinating take on the character, really, so I’m very glad that it was the first one picked as part of the Spidey Roulette. Here we see Peter being his best self and his worst self at various points – alternately creating and halting the infamous Parker Luck through his own efforts. Fittingly, it deconstructs the character figuratively just a few issues before it’ll deconstruct him a little more… literally. But we’ll get to that another time.

Amazing Spider-Man #524: All Fall Down
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Drawn by Mike Deodato
Inked by Joe Pimentel
Coloured by Matt Milla
Lettered by Cory Petit

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