Amazing Spider-Man #539-543 [Back in Black]: Commentary, Thoughts

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Before I commit to the longest blog post ever in chronicling my reading of the Civil War (in almost its entirety), I decided I would write a bit about the comicbook I picked up directly after (well I read two other single issues before these ones, but this was the first storyline I decided to commit to)……Amazing Spider-Man. Warning: MAJOR Spoilers Follow From Civil War and Back in Black and even House of M

 A lot of things have been happening to Spider-Man the past couple of years, apparently, that I had missed.

Aside from Captain America and Iron Man, Civil War’s main character was Spider-Man (and was arguably, its heart), and his alter ego, Peter Parker. His tie-ins and Civil War contributions were fascinating. Peter fell hook, line and sinker for Tony Stark, who had planted the seeds of their friendship since their days in New Avengers. Stark let MJ and Aunt May live with Peter in Avengers Tower, made him a red and gold shiny, incredible Spidey suit, all seemingly to manipulate Peter into joining the Pro-Registration, which Tony himself was leading. His first step was to unmask Peter Parker to the masses to persuade other heroes to join instead of resist and join Captain America’s Secret Avengers.

I questioned Pete’s decision to join Tony Stark and his portrayal in some of the issues in the Road to Civil War, and in the tie-ins. He seemed like he was written younger than he really is, and while calling Stark “boss” was a joke, it came off as idolatory, and I guess it was, but I wasn’t convinced. One would assume, then, that I was outraged at the unmasking of Peter to a national TV audience. I would’ve been, perhaps, because it seems out of character,  but after his talk with MJ and Aunt May in particular, who both wanted the world to be as proud of him as they were, I was convinced that Peter would do it. Sure, Aunt May and MJ are pretty simplistic if they think that THAT was exactly how it was going to happen, but to them, their love was enough, and Pete’s always acted for his family, so I thought his decision followed.

 But then, as he begins to question Tony Stark and his wily ways, THAT’s when I saw the true Peter Parker shine through, who realized he had made a bad move. How he went to the media, apologizing and admitting his mistake, and saying he was joining Cap, that was great. A stupid thing to do, probably, but brilliant, since Spidey would do something like that. After the Civil War, and his flip-flopping…..Straczynski and Garney don’t give Pete a break, with Back in Black, the penultimate arc in JMS’ run.

 From what I’ve read of JMS’ run, I actually like it, even though it took me awhile to grow on me, and he definitely didn’t make Pete as young-ish as I first thought. His portrayals of MJ and Aunt May are spot-on. Ron Garney, a favorite of AA’s, does shining work here. I was never a huge fan of him, aside from recognizing his consistency and his ability to be on time, unlike some other artists today. But Garney’s pencils here are as strong as I’ve ever seen them, and I really love his Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and his black Spider-Man is superb. I have no gripes to speak of, everything just looks awesome.

What I can say about JMS’ run more than anything else, from what I’ve read (I forget that I read the arc where Aunt May found out that Peter was Spider-Man, which I liked), is that he’s brave. He’s willing to take chances, and change the character in the process. While Goki will cry at this injustice, I think it’s admirable to take an iconic character and bring stories like these into the pipelines.

The story, in Back in Black, is this: At the end of the Civil War tie-ins, after returning from the battle to end all battles in New York, a sniper on orders from Kingpin shoots to kill Parker. Parker dives and saves himself and MJ, but the bullet hits Aunt May, the purest human being in the Marvel Universe. I couldn’t get my hands on the first issue of Back in Black, where he dons the costume after this event, as can be expected due to Peter Parker’s complete adoration and respect for Aunt May. The costume represents a shift in his way of fighting crime: He’s going to kill who was behind it.

While MJ looks over Aunt May, who doesn’t look, and is in a coma, Pete tracks down the sniper, who is killed by one of Kingpin’s henchmen before he could get the information, but tracks the henchman and ends up on the phone with Kingpin. This conversation, and really, all the conversations Pete has, with the sniper and with the henchman, were just incredible. So emotional, so badass, so fucked up. Pete is pissed: “Well, hello, Mr. Parker. And what may I do for you?” “Just one thing, Mr. Fisk. You can die.” These words end Amazing Spider-Man #540. I’m floored at this point, and it continues.

JMS pulls few punches in this one, when Spider-Man goes after Kingpin in prison, while trying to save Aunt May with a Spidey blood transfusion, and they have a one-on-one fight, with the prison watching. It was incredible: Kingpin’s speech, Peter’s speech, and the violence Peter wreaks upon Kingpin, when he takes off his mask and shirt and says that “he”, not Spider-Man, is going to kill Wilson Fisk. He beats him within inches of death (and I loved how Kingpin never got a hit in or anything, Pete was invincible), and is about to kill him, but declares he’ll return and finish the job when Aunt May dies, because humiliating him and ruining his name is worse than killing him. Before starting #542, I was convinced that Pete would kill Kingpin, but I liked it, even though it would’ve been more shocking and nuts if Pete had gone through with it. Of course, I haven’t read past this arc, of which he might still do it.

Through this part of the story, I loved it and was just shocked. Pete had taken so much in the past few storylines; in House of M, when he lives an alternate life with Gwen Stacy and discovers that in his perfect world he’d be living with her, not MJ, and have that all taken away from him; in Civil War, having to fight his friends like everyone else, but UNMASKING himself, which is just about the biggest thing Marvel could’ve done (because it’s Spider-Man; his secret identity is EVERYTHING), but also feeling betrayed by Stark after it all. Then, Aunt May gets shot. Doesn’t that sound like a bad and stressful couple of months? Peter should’ve gone off, should’ve gotten angry, should’ve gone to the black uniform, and that’s why I was so caught up in issues #540-#542.

The conclusion of the arc (#543) is where those feelings stop. There’s a lot of moral gray areas in comatose patients, but Spidey’s blood transfusion didn’t work, they’re running out of money, and Aunt May isn’t improving and is being kept alive by a machine. Instead of facing facts, Pete goes nuts, something I couldn’t agree with. He literally racks up 10 felonies in this issue (I know, because he narrated them to us) all trying to save a woman, who was, by all intents and purposes, dead, and who had lived a long and satisying life. More than anything, I hate how Pete dragged MJ in the middle of it, making her involved and an accessory to all of these crimes. No matter how confused and battered Pete is, I don’t think he would drag down MJ into it. The ending where Pete contemplates a life time jail sentence, where he contemplates finally being the criminal that Jonah Jameson always said he was, was powerful, but it fell on deaf ears. He didn’t HAVE to do these things, and now he’s reaping the consequences.

 I am terrified to keep reading, and I definitely will at a later date, but right now……New Avengers.

 What does everyone else think?

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One Response to “Amazing Spider-Man #539-543 [Back in Black]: Commentary, Thoughts”

  1. gokitalo Says:

    Awesome brain dump (his words, not mine), Spiffy-O! Spider-Man went through a lot during this era. I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts on “One More Day”…

    From what I’ve read of JMS’ run, I actually like it, even though it took me awhile to grow on me, and he definitely didn’t make Pete as young-ish as I first thought. His portrayals of MJ and Aunt May are spot-on. Ron Garney, a favorite of AA’s, does shining work here. I was never a huge fan of him, aside from recognizing his consistency and his ability to be on time, unlike some other artists today. But Garney’s pencils here are as strong as I’ve ever seen them, and I really love his Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and his black Spider-Man is superb. I have no gripes to speak of, everything just looks awesome.

    I wasn’t always a fan of JMS’ Spider-Man stories, but I think his portrayals of Peter, MJ and Aunt May were pretty much on the money. I’m with you on Garney, but you should check out his art on Wolverine right now. It’s a HUGE step up in quality, and Garney wasn’t even that bad to begin with.

    What I can say about JMS’ run more than anything else, from what I’ve read (I forget that I read the arc where Aunt May found out that Peter was Spider-Man, which I liked), is that he’s brave. He’s willing to take chances, and change the character in the process. While Goki will cry at this injustice, I think it’s admirable to take an iconic character and bring stories like these into the pipelines.

    Lies! While I wasn’t fond of all that “Spider-totem” stuff JMS did, I loved the story where Aunt May found out (for real) that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. I didn’t read “Back in Black,” but the buzz I head was generally negative. Then again, this is the Internet…

    Spidey unmasking was a big shock, but I actually didn’t hate it. I really liked that he did it because he thought it was the responsible thing to do. Classic Peter Parker, you know? I had my issues with Civil War, but the unmasking wasn’t really one of them.

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