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 picked by Patreon backer James Hunt of the Cinematic Universe Podcast, who chose number 112 for the roulette!

Aunt May’s role in the Spider-Man books has always been a passive one. She sits in the background, as an influence and guide for Peter Parker through his superhero and civilian careers, even if she doesn’t really know anything about either of them – not really. She’s an important character and does sometimes show flares of personality and steel, but for the most part she’s sat in her house, chopping up vegetables and waiting to tell character-building stories for Peter.

In Spider-Man #112 she’s missing for the entire issue, having wandered out for reasons as-yet-unknown to Peter. With her gone, he flips out. Peter changes completely in her absence, with the issue bringing him into contact with every one of his friends and colleagues so we can see, in turn, how differently he’s acting around each of them. He swings around looking for her and actively ignores several crimes and calls for help because he can’t waste time on people who aren’t May. There’s a home invasion he swings past, cases of assault which he skips out on – he stops helping people because May becomes so all-consuming for him.

We see him interacting with Harry Osborn, MJ, The Daily Bugle’s staff – basically everyone in his life at the time – and in each case he’s distracted, not himself, and not able to focus on their desire to help him. If he wanted to, he has enough leverage to set up a proper search party for May, but instead he takes it all on himself even as the stress and burden of doing it stops him from ever getting off the starting block. He’s so in his own head about how he’s going to find May that he can barely even begin to actually start doing so. He doesn’t know where to begin.

It’s pretty terrific writing from Gerry Conway, who does a great job of showing how Peter struggles to move forward with any kind of coherent plan in the face of all his anxiety, and John Romita matches it by showing Peter as twitchy, a taut ball of wired energy which doesn’t know in which direction to swing. You really get the sense of Peter’s anxiety, and most people will know that feeling of being so wrapped up in a million possibilities that they can’t decide which one is the one they should focus on. He’s fairly rude and dismissive, and pushes himself away from everyone else.

It makes you wonder how much of his arrested adolescence comes down to the fact that he still has Aunt May around, ready to help him out every time he runs out of money and loses his apartment. She has an endless amount of money and resources for him, which allows him to come back to her, tail tucked between his legs, each time he makes a serious mistake. She is, in some way, a crutch for him. It’s no wonder he doesn’t get a secure job, find himself a nice redhead to settle down with and get himself some medical insurance from the Avengers when he can instead come back home whenever things get rough. He’s like that one guy from University who went home every weekend rather than stick it out and find a new life to move forward with.

Now look, she’s also essentially his mother, having looked after him all his life and doing so by herself for the most difficult years, when her husband was murdered. “Crutch” isn’t a fair word to use for her, because that suggests she’s a prop rather than her own character, with ambitions and needs – ambitions and needs which have been redeveloped over the last few years especially, as she now volunteers at a shelter and has her own purpose again. At the time of this issue, she floats around as and when a story needs her, but it didn’t take much to rebuild a life around her and give her more to do. Into The Spider-Verse would take it even further and make her an active assistant to Spider-Man, and her resilience and flexibility as a character are incredibly useful assets for any creative team.

The “frail Aunt May” of this issue has now been replaced with a more faceted character, who offers more options for the creative team at any given moment. At this moment in time, though, she’s there primarily so she can go missing, and so she is being used here as a tool to get the main character all confused and anxious just in time for a sneak attack from Doctor Octopus. It changes the dynamic of what will probably be a fairly standard fight scene in the next issue, and so she serves her purpose here.

The dynamic between May and Peter is so interesting because so much of it happens in isolation from one another. Peter mostly frames everything from his own internal narration, which paints a different picture of his Aunt from the one she herself provides if she’s ever the focus of a storyline. She in turn doesn’t know anything about his secret life as Spider-Man, because he thinks it will be too much of a shock for her. Again, this plays into the idea that, like a child, he’s still a bit repressed about who his mother-figure actually is, and hasn’t given her agency yet. Each of them exists apart from the other, unaware of their true nature – it’s just that in May’s case, her nephew hasn’t realised what’s already obvious to other people. She’s a grown woman, and she’s not just a warm bed and bowl of soup. She’s got other things she could be on with, if only Peter could see past himself to see the woman she actually is.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #112: Spidey Cops Out!
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: John Romita
Letterer: Artie Simek

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