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 Al Kennedy, who chose number 425 for the roulette!

Is Spider-Man a teenager, a young adult, or a grown-up? That’s a battle which Marvel have internally suffered through for years, worrying about how they should be treating their flagship character and how he should be used and featured as the story continues ever forwards. It’s also a battle which has led to some really strange periods in time for the character, as proved by this issue written by Tom DeFalco. It’s not an interesting comic, but let’s not let that drag us away from writing about it – there’s some interesting stuff in the context of the narrative, even as the narrative itself is instantly forgettable.

The issue sees Spider-Man, married and living with multihyphenate Mary-Jane Watson-Parker, still apparently in college and still trying to get his head around the whole idea of being a hero rather than a vigilante. At this point in time his main enemy is Electro, probably the weakest of the Sinister Six, although one of the strongest in terms of power potential. Electro isn’t a particularly good character on his best day, and here he’s been artificially pumped up with magic electricity which has made him so much stronger than normal, and prepared to go off on a huge project which will bring New York to its knees. Same as always for the character: Electro is continually hyper-charged by writers trying to make him intriguing in some way, but it always ends with Spider-Man wearing a rubber outfit and smacking the dude in the face.

This time things are different though (not different in the sense that the issue absolutely ends with Spider-Man wearing a rubber outfit and smacking the dude in the face, different in the sense that the issue pretends things are different) because the fight is now personal. Peter is obsessed with taking down Electro this time round, which affects his life at home, his academia, and his superheroics. It probably doesn’t help that he’s best friends with X-Man right now, who dolefully suggests just murdering Electro and ending the cycle of violence when asked to give some advice on the matter. It all serves to ultimately remind Peter that with great power comes, um, great responsibility, and so he dutifully pulls his punches in the final fight when taking Electro down.

So far so rote, but the most interesting part of the issue really comes from DeFalco and penciller Steve Skroce trying to set down just where Peter Parker is at in his overall journey. You’d think that having married MJ and spent a long time as a hero, he’d be getting his head straight and would have an understanding of who he is as a person. Not so: this Peter Parker combines the youthful misunderstanding of Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man and the edgy idiocy of Mark Millar. Gone is the genius-level intellect of the character in favour – at one point he gets the upper hand by literally throwing a rock at Electro – and in its place is a cipher of a character who exists only to further the highly generic narrative. If Spider-Man were still a teenager, his attitude in the issue would make sense. But as either a twenty-something or a fully adult character, as the context of the story tries to suggest he is, this doesn’t make much sense at all.

This is a scrappy, bratty approach to Spider-Man, who resolves his issues with his wife by saying “hey pretty lady — are those jeans painted on?” without being immediately served divorce papers. He’s so weirdly ageless at this moment in comics history, and it’s probably because he keeps repeatedly learning the same lessons over and over again without any of it seeming to sink in. He’s reprimanded for missing a class because he was busy “thinking about Electro” and takes it on the chin – but we already know that he’s going to do the exact same thing next issue, without having learned anything from it.

It’s strange to be asked to idolise a character who fundamentally isn’t able to grow, and exists in a form of stasis. It means that anyone can pick up an issue of Amazing Spider-Man and get the core messages of the character, but it also means that those core messages have just about completely worn out for long-time readers. Spider-Man has been learning that he should be responsible for decades, and in the hands of a sub-par creative team he comes across not as a hero, but as being absolutely exhausting.

The most involving part of the issue is the relationship with MJ, which is contrasted against the longer-term marriage of Joe Robertson and his wife Martha. Martha is a bit worried about her husband’s job, because he almost got murdered a week ago and she’s continually being attacked by ninjas – fairly reasonable concerns, we should all be able to accept. The couple fight continually here and seem pretty generally miserable, as a reminder that marriage is “not a word, but a sentence”.

That’s something my grandpa says. I myself offer no opinion on the matter.

The idea here is to show how a newer couple reconcile their arguments against a longer marriage. It’s strange though, because there’s that same static lack of conclusion for Joe and Martha that there is for Peter and MJ: both couples argue a bunch, then Joe and Martha just vanish out the issue as soon as Peter uses them to learn a lesson. It’s maybe understandable that they’d be used as set-dressing for the actual main characters of the issue, but it’s hard to see them as a lesson to learn from when we don’t get to see how their own argument resolves. Again, everybody is held in arrested development, and nobody seems sure of how to move anything forward. It’s fitting that X-Man is one of the supporting characters, for that reason.

As I write this, a new patron has just picked another Tom deFalco issue which’ll come up later on in this Spidey Roulette, so the really keen thing will be if this suspended development returns with his next issue. Is this a deFalco thing, or is it a one-off problem which I’m artificially spinning out into a full article because it’s otherwise difficult to find any way to comment on this boring comic? I guess we’ll have to see. I don’t feel particularly enthused about what the future holds.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #425: The Chump, The Challenge and The Champion!
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Artist: Steve Skroce
Inker: Bud LaRosa
Colourist: Bob Sharen
Letterer: Richard Starkings

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