It's true. I've stopped buying Spider-Man. Not just Amazing Spider-Man, but all Spider-titles. For the first time in more than 40 years. For the first time in my life. And I am an OLD dude, dude.
I have a long, long history with Amazing Spider-Man. But what's more important than the history, is what it represents. Which I'm not sure about. So let's talk about the history, where I'm on surer footing. We'll get to "importance" later, and maybe you folks can lend a hand.
I started buying Amazing Spider-Man with #56 in 1968. More on that later.
I started reading Amazing Spider-Man in 1963, or thereabouts. Sometime before I went to first grade -- in 1964 -- I found my older brother's stash of comics. Like everything else my older brother owned, he was furious if I tampered with them. So I had to look at them on the sly. When he was at school, or Little League, or Cub Scouts, or whatever, I would sneak into his closet and look at his funnybooks.
Now, there were a lot of things my brother had that I wasn't supposed to touch. Baseball cards, sports equipment, his side of the room ... everything, in fact. So it wasn't the forbidden nature of the comics that made them attractive. They were ... just ... so ... cool.
I was initially attracted to Fantastic Four. I don't know why. Maybe the colors. Maybe the Kirby art. Maybe the tons of word balloons I couldn't read made me curious. I think it was the apparent speed of the story moving forward. Whatever the reason, I was attracted, and I was dying to know what the Fire Guy and the Rock Guy were shouting. (I knew they were shouting, because the word balloons were BIG and JAGGED. And sometimes they were in COLOR!)
So I was determined to find out what they were saying. I quizzed my parents and older siblings on minor things that would give me clues. (I couldn't ask them directly, because I had to mislead them. Because if they found out what I was up to, they would STOP me. Parents and older siblings were EVIL!) I gleaned enough information from my sneaky approach (which I'm sure wasn't sneaky at all to older people) to figure out the concept of reading and some of the letters in "Flame On!" and "It's Clobbering Time!"
From there I figured out most of the other letters. In effect, I learned to read. And I read Fantastic Four until I went to school. My teachers were astonished at my facility (and boredom) with "Reading Circle" and See Johnny Run. They would be amazed at my ability to read through the entire book in a minute or so, and appalled that eventually I'd say "See Johnny FLAME ON! See Jane say IT'S CLOBBERING TIME!"
They weren't crazy about that part. I went to the principal's office a lot.
At any rate, I was reading at a fourth- or fifth-grade level before I went to first grade, and it only got better from there. Thank you, Stan Lee, for all of those "99 percentile" scores, and for all the teachers who didn't like me having to give me all those spelling bee awards with their teeth gritted.
Eat it, Mrs. Dunavant, wherever you are!
But once I began to read with comprehension, I gravitated away from Fantastic Four. I didn't want to be Johnny, because he was an idiot. I didn't want to be Ben, because he was a brawler, and I couldn't punch a clock. I didn't want to be Sue, because she was a girl, and girls had cooties. I DID want to be Reed ... but, man, it would be a few years before I understood quantum physics. Since they hadn't been invented yet.
Instead, I discovered Amazing Spider-Man. More to the point, I discovered Peter Parker. You know the guy: Stan Lee wrote him, and Steve Ditko drew him. Bespectacled, thin, small, bookish, smart as a whip, picked on by bigger boys. A kid who never met a gym teacher who didn't bully the hell out of him. Remember him?
Well. You know where this is going. That was me. I latched onto Peter Parker like a life preserver.
Because he made it. He WON. And, sure, the Spider-powers helped. But mainly, they just gave him confidence. He couldn't hit Flash Thompson, just like I couldn't hit Lee Trezevant. Peter couldn't do it, because he'd kill Flash. I couldn't do it, because Trezevant would kill me. But Parker could talk back to Flash, embarrass him, chase him away from the fight. He could do it in a way that Flash couldn't take a swing at him.
Well, heck that's what I needed to learn! I couldn't get in a fistfight either, because I'd get creamed! I had to EMBARRASS bigger guys from getting into a fight with me! And Peter Parker taught me. And it WORKED!
Thank you again, Stan Lee.
Then, Peter grew up. And so did I. And, literally, we grew up together. When I was in junior high, he was in high school. When I was in high school, he was in college. When I was in college, he was in grad school.
Peter Parker was three years ahead of me, and grew up with me for 10 years. Let me repeat that: Peter Parker was three years ahead of me, and grew up with me for 10 years.
Unless you're older than 48, you can't say anything remotely like that. Because in the '70s, the aging of Marvel characters froze. And all of the new writers simply played with Stan's toys over and over, without changing them. Maybe that was good, maybe that was bad, I don't know. But I do know that Peter Parker stopped aging, and I didn't.
So things changed. But I had those 10 or so years, didn't I? Something that people after me didn't experience, and don't understand. I enjoyed something, lived something, that is more or less unique in comic books. In pop culture. In America. A fictional character was my perfect older brother for a decade. He taught he how to handle high school, and then college, and then post-college. (Actually, I was better at that than he was. But I digress.) I learned that girls didn't have cooties, and were actually cool in their own way.
And that being a nerd wasn't a bad thing, but that I could be cool in my own way. And that being a hero meant helping others, and not always thinking of yourself. And that sometimes it was better to look foolish than to hurt someone. And that maybe being a hero wasn't flashy, but was about being the guy others could rely on. That being a superhero wasn't being Spider-Man ... it was being Peter Parker.
So I learned a lot from Peter Parker. (And what I didn't learn from him, I learned from Hal "Green Lantern" Jordan. But that's a different post.) And wait; I'm getting ahead of my story. Let's go back to me reading my brother's comic books.
After a while, he gave up beating the hell out of me when he caught me reading his books. Eventually he made jokes about it. And that was cool.
But he also stopped buying comics. He'd hit adolescence -- he's six years older than me -- and he quit cold turkey around 1965 or so. I was seven or eight years old -- what the hell could *I* do? My grandmother, bless her heart, would buy me one comic book a month, and wondered why that depressed me. Yes, Nana, I love this issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, but do you know HOW MUCH I'M MISSING?
Fortunately, my brother turned out to be less of a troll than older brothers usually are. Well, to tell you the truth, he just grew up. And one year, his birthday present to me was mail subscriptions to Green Lantern and Amazing Spider-Man.
Huzzah! I enjoyed a full year of my two favorite comics!
Until ... the subscriptions ran out.
My birthday came and went, and Big Bro didn't buy me squat. Asking for some other adult to buy comics for me was out of the question. There was no money for that sort of nonsense.
So now I had to figure what to do. Go to work, so I could buy Amazing Spider-Man, or ...
Well, there was no "or." Of course I went to work. Mowing lawns, washing cars, cleaning out garages. I got a quarter here, 50 cents there. (Laugh it up, children -- before 1968, you could buy Marvel's entire monthly output for 96 cents, plus tax.) Until I hit 16, when state laws allowed me part-time work at a real company, I did whatever I could for a few quarters here and there.
So ... I began collecting comics. Amazing Spider-Man and Green Lantern at first, but then gradually I started buying everything, plus all back issues going back to the collection I bought from my brother. And I have purchased almost everything since.
Now, there have been some hard times. Occasionally I dropped Mighty Crusaders or New Warriors or Dr. Solar Man of the Atom or something. I'm not complete in all areas. When the income got tight over the last 40 years, some comics would go. Sometimes life says, "Stop buying the damn funnybooks." Sometimes you have to cut back.
But I never dropped Amazing Spider-Man. Are you kidding? That's the heart and soul of me as a reader, a collector, a writer, a reviewer, a human freaking being. There's no reason to buy comics at all, if I"m not buying Amazing Spider-Man.
But now I'm not.
I'm just not sure what to make of this.
I'm cutting back severely on comics, because my industry is cutting back severely. I work in newspapers, and my job could be gone tomorrow. And if it's not, it will surely be gone before I retire. I have to think practically. I'm working on a second career, and trying to keep my house, as my first career is looking for a legal way to eliminate my whole department.
So I'm cutting back on comics. Not the first time, as I've intimated above. The most severe time, to be sure. I'm cutting back to the bare bones.
Which would normally meant that my "keep" list starts with Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four ... but, in fact, those were the first two books I dropped. The first two books I started buying 40-ump years ago are the first two books I'm dropping now.
Why? Because they're not very good.
Fantastic Four has been boring for years. And yet, there's so much potential still there. Yet the best FF stories I've read in the last few years have been in "Secret Invasion" and "Civil War" and now "Dark Reign." Fantastic Four, Marvel's first book, its tentpole book, now provides the best supporting characters in comics.
And Amazing Spider-Man?
Look, I tried to get over "Brand New Day." I did. I respect Tom Brevoort as an editor, and I think Dan Slott is one of most entertaining writers I've seen in comics. I saw all the changes coming for Spider-Man, I saw them as necessary, and I agreed with them.
And I've suffered through worse. A LOT worse. Remember them killing Aunt May -- three times? Yeah, suspension of disbelief explodes at some point. How about the 1970s? You remember: Big Wheel, Rocket Racer, Spider-Mobile. All of it made worse by plastic printing plates that made thin lines blurry.
So I've stuck with Spidey through some terrible stories. Is "Brand New Day" worse?
In some ways, arguably, yes. The Peter Parker who cut a deal with Mephisto is not the one I grew up with. I mean, I wouldn't do that, and Peter Parker's my role model, and I would do it before he would do it, because I'm weaker than him. But I wouldn't do it. So he wouldn't do it.
But he did.
But, you know, I get it. Story requirements and all. The Powers That Be wanted to reboot the franchise for a new generation. I surely get that; I've been through a jillion reboots in the last four or five decades. Not Spider-Man, usually, but yeah -- characters get rebooted. I can stand it.
No, really. I can stand it.
But at some level I DO believe the character has been damaged. At some level I know that THIS Peter Parker isn't the one I used to know, and I can no longer pretend it is. I could pretend with the Conway model, I could pretend with the Wolfman model ... but this one, Marvel itself is telling me it's a "brand new day" where everything I've bought and read since Peter and Mary Jane got married 23 years ago doesn't count.
Twenty-three years ago. My supervisor at work is only five years older than that.
Look I don't hate the "new" Spider-Man ... I just don't care about him. He's not my Spider-Man any more. So it's easy to drop his book, instead of, say, Guardians of the Galaxy ... because I'm more interested in Rocket Raccoon than Peter Parker.
Think about that. A 45-year Marvel reader is more interested in Rocket Raccoon, an extended Beatles joke, than Peter Parker, the company's flagship character.
Is it my fault? Is it theirs?
I don't know. But I know what I'm buying next month. And it ain't Amazing Spider-Man. And that makes me amazingly sad.