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 Bill Kte’pi, who chose number 252 for the roulette!

I think this may have been the first deliberate submission to Spidey Roulette, given the importance of the issue. Amazing Spider-Man #252 finds us in the immediate aftermath of Secret Wars, with the Beyonder having had his fun, Spider-Man in a strange new black suit and – conveniently – Curt Connors showing up right at the start to offer some continuity from last month’s piece about issue #77. Yep: this is Spider-Man’s return to New York in his shiny black suit, which seems to be sentient and can predict his thoughts. This is the start of Venom.

Considering all that, the issue (scripted by my new-sworn enemy Tom DeFalco, but plotted by Roger Stern) is light and excitable, showing Spider-Man living life at his most gleeful. Despite a few instances of his ol’ Parker luck, and a few far more troubling and serious issues creeping in at a blind spot, Peter is incredibly upbeat and happy here, skipping through the city with utter delight. It’s a nice touch considering he’s just been stuck in the middle of a weird crossover which took him very far from home, and it does emphasise how much the character belongs in the street setting. Sometimes you wonder just why Spider-Man bothers to continue living in a major city he can’t afford and is filled with people out to get him, so an issue like this makes for a nice reminder of how he fits in.

It’s also, obviously, the start of something sinister, but the script doesn’t give any of that future unpleasantness away. What’s noticeable is how the creative team use Peter Parker’s narration – which we’re all used to seeing by now – against the reader, to trick them away from how weird the symbiote suit really is. As the issue progresses we see countless examples of the suit behaving in reactive ways, reading Peter’s mind, only for Peter to wave it off himself. If this were any other character in a situation like this, there’d be a feeling that something were desperately wrong – but Spider-Man’s upbeat narration and constant chattering are expected traits for the character, so it wards us away from feeling suspicious.

The suit is almost constantly on him, and when he sleeps it wanders off across the floor, left to its own devices. Peter finds that when he needs a pocket; the suit makes a pocket for him. When he wants to go out; the suit crawls over to him even when he’s not wearing it. The thing can predict and sense what he wants even when they’re meant to be disconnected – but throughout, Peter thinks the whole thing is brilliant. His cheery patter helps throw the reader off the scent here, with the idea being that the suit is just a change to the status quo, rather than the start of something else. It’s essentially a brilliant tech upgrade, as far as Peter is concerned.

Any writer could make that suggestion that the symbiote now reflects technology in the modern day: anybody with an Alexa or Siri has to accept that they’re being recorded without their full understanding, their interests and search histories marked down to better emphasise future marketing opportunities. The same thing is happening here with Peter, who has put on this new suit which seems to predict his wants and needs even as he makes them. Venom is Alexa? There’s a thought. The usefulness of having your whims catered to outweighs the fact that Peter is actively being surveilled and profiled by his new upgrade – he doesn’t even need to change clothes, because the symbiote can change to look like a polo neck jumper! This is something so useful he never needs to take it off.

That’ll cause problems down the line, I’m sure, but a later Roulette will have to land on an actual Venom issue in order for us to have that chat. Here, what’s most interesting is how resolutely excited and happy Peter is to be back home, even as it causes him to lose track of some of the important stuff going on around him. The key scene of the issue sees Peter interrupt a bickering couple, who were due to see a concert for date night – a date which is in the process of getting cancelled. Peter tells the two to calm down and appreciate how great it is that they’re in NYC, which is strangely preachy for him. He then grabs them both and swings off with them to a skyscraper so they can get a better look across the city, which is usually played off as a grand romanticized gesture from a poetic perspective – but here comes across essentially as a good-natured kidnapping. Although the girl sort-of takes it in her stride, the boy is completely panicked the whole time.

As Peter sets them both back down on the ground and wishes them a good evening, the boy races off as fast as he can, scared for his life and unable to process the last few minutes. The girl offers a wave, but the boy is gone – whatever lesson Peter intended to impart, he’s basically accelerated the breakup of this couple. He doesn’t notice what he’s doing, though, and again his good-humoured narrative, delivered as constant patter, is designed to make this seem like a great time. He’s in a good mood and thinks he’s doing well, and therefore his narration tries to impress that same feeling on the reader. With hindsight of what the symbiote is, you can now look through it: at the time, I wonder how many people simply thought this was a happy-go-lucky reboot of the character’s personality.

The context also helps hide some of the manic behavior: Peter has just survived a massive comics crossover which largely featured characters way out of his league in terms of power. It’s understandable that he’d be happy and excited not only to be home, but actually to be alive as well. It’s all a brilliant way of hiding what’s actually going on – it’s an example not of what’s lying beneath the surface, but what is right in front of us the whole time.

 

Amazing Spider-Man #252: Homecoming
Writers: Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco
Artist: Ron Frenz
Inker: Brett Breeding
Colourist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Joe Rosen

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