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 Zachary Jenkins, who chose number 370 for the roulette!
Okay, so I’ve made a huge mistake. Two roulettes ago we hit onto issue #372 of Amazing Spider-Man, and I spent most of my time writing about how Spider-Man and Black Cat made a great couple, it all seemed really nice, and saw them with mutual respect on both sides. They worked really well as a team, and I thought it was a terrific dynamic I’m surprised we hadn’t seen more of.
Spider-Man and Black Cat weren’t a couple in that issue.
No, Peter is actually MARRIED to Mary-Jane at this point, and they have an apartment together where she chain smokes and worries a whole bunch about things. They’re the couple, and Black Cat is actually just a good friend and ally who doesn’t have any romantic connection with Peter right now. I did NOT get that! Now on one hand we could all wonder what it means that there’s no sexual chemistry between Peter and his wife in the script, because it’s all being saved for another character who is meant to just be a friend. Is this a case of Moonlighting syndrome, where as soon as the main characters settle down with each other they become boring and have more sexual tension with any other character than the one they’re intended to?
Or is it simply that I misread something because comics are an ongoing narrative which reset every few years and it’s not always easy to pick up “any” random issue (as they always say you’re meant to be able to) and immediately get to grips with everything that’s going on. Here we are, two issues before that Black Cat team-up, and what we have here is a… um… Black Cat team-up, albeit one which has a scene earlier which at least shows us that Peter is married and living with his wife at this moment. We also get a little bit more understanding of the story with Peter’s parents, who have apparently returned to his life.
This is the interesting thing: his parents seem to have come back not from the dead, but instead from a Russian prison where they’ve been held captive for a decade or so? So whilst they were still gone and May and Ben raised Peter in their stead (as we see in a sweet backup story by J.M. DeMatteis and Aaron Lopresti) they’re actually now back without their being that sense of supernatural weirdness hanging over the story. If they’d died and come back, as readers we’d be expecting the same reset I mentioned earlier to come back at any moment: resurrection isn’t a long-term deal for characters like the Parkers, because it’s not within the status quo. But their having been imprisoned rewrites that entire history – they haven’t died, and have been alive this whole time. That’s a narrative change which plays a different role to the story.
There’s a difference between being a character who dies all the time and comes back all the time; and being a character who never actually died but was put on ice for years. Say hello, Bucky Barnes. And say hello, complication of all the relationships we thought we understood across the past 300+ issues. This changes the life not just of Peter but of his wife, Aunt May, Felicia Hardy, and others – it’s a fundamental chance, even if it does at some point get reversed just like I said it probably couldn’t have been.
The last page of the issue ends with Spider-Man realising that he was attacked by a machine created by someone called Mendel Stromm – who “has been dead for years!” The thing is, we’ve now seen that characters can be perceived as dead without that being true: if the Parkers can come back, that opens a rather wide narrative door because David Michelinie has kicked it open. He’s put the idea in our minds now that it’s not unusual for his run on Spider-Man to make major changes in what the status quo was thought to be, so now anyone can potentially come back to life. That’s the greatest advantage of trying a big punt like bringing back Peter’s parents: it gives the readers cause to believe that you can do literally anything you want without editorial forcing the status quo back on you.
Of course, maybe in issue #369 it’s made clear that they’re both clones or something. I have history with getting the wrong idea because I’m jumping around so much in time.
Speaking of – another interesting note in my misinterpretation of Black Cat is that she only just reappeared in Peter’s life THIS issue. So that idea that they had chemistry and felt like they were old friends who were perfectly in-sync? That’s something which solely comes across because it’s implied in the script for #372. They’ve barely spent a few days back in each other’s lives before they have to fight that bug voltron thing. Here they team up to take on Scorpion and beat him easily – it’s fascinating how much more interest the series has in Felicia than it does in Mary-Jane by this point. Sure, Felicia has a superhero identity and powers – but Mary Jane should have more going on in her life than a smoking habit.
It’s really really curious to see how the creative team leap on the chance to write a different woman. Rather than find a way to make Mary Jane interesting, they bring in Felicia instead – and as we now know, within two issues she’s taken over as the major female character in the series. Mary Jane doesn’t even appear in #372: it’s like she’s written away from the book so Peter can spend time with Felicia instead. One out; one in. Comics remains a bit of a boy’s club in that way. Wouldn’t it be interesting if both Mary Jane and Felicia could be fun in the same issue? I’m not set to return to this era of Amazing Spider-Man again as things currently stand, so sadly we may not get to find out if that ever comes true.
Amazing Spider-Man #370: Life Stings!
Writer: David Michelinie
Artist: Mark Bagley
Inker: Randy Emberlin
Colourist: Bob Sharen
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
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