Why JMS's run on Amazing Spiderman was freakin LEGENDARY. PART 1

Posted by rufug (66 posts) - - Show Bio

I usually don't blog about comics so bear with me as I throw myself into the fire with this entry. I want to begin by saying I AM HUGE Spidey fan, I cry every time they flashback to Gwen's death, I DO believe Joe Quesada made a huge mistake when getting rid of Mary Jane and I also hated Mattie Franklin (ok maybe I'm the only who did) and rejoiced for days (again maybe I'm the only one who did it) after she was killed in Grim Hunt. I first got into comics when I read a Spiderman Comic written by Paul Jenkins not so long ago, it wasn't actually Amazing Spiderman, it was Peter Parker: Spiderman but it was pretty good. In time I began discovering other titles and collecting religiously Peter Parker: Spiderman, only to find out that the real deal happened in Amazing Spiderman written at the time (and in sort of co-op mode with Paul Jenkins on the other Spidey title) by Howard Mackie, focusing on the aftermath of volume one's abrupt ending that put Peter in the role of "Spider-Man No More" once again, I read both titles and had some great stories that connected both books (which were drawn by the Spiderman artist extraordinaire John Romita Jr.) in storyline and art, It was good fun, Spidey met the horrible mess of a character that was Mattie Franklin, dealt with Norman Osborn trying to make him his heir and one of the most pivotal elements of the Mackie/Jenkins/Romita run: The "Death" of Mary Jane Watson. Sure, the "mourning" and "coping" on Peter's behalf was a bit gimmicky and neither did Mackie or Jenkins deicded to REEEALLY deal with it "realistically" and who was to blame them? They were given the task of making a "comic-book" not a soap opera slash german silent black and white film (I had no idea where that came from), but I did feel Peter's pain and wondered why he had to do such boring chores like beating up Doombots and the Hulk to cope with his wife's death. In the end the thing got resolved in an even more "childish" approach, turns out some completly unknown deus ex machina character (some mutant dude who is...awful) had kidnapped and locked up Mary Jane to get some kind of revenge on Peter, I hated that, I hated the fact that they hadn't dealt with Mary Jane's loss properly or in its default in a more "mature" way. Mackie and Jenkins departed both Amazing and Peter Parker: Spiderman (which I believe was canceled?) and an new wirter came on board, this is the first time that I saw the name: J. Michael Stracynsky. 
 
With that really really long introduction over, I now want to talk to you about JMS's run on Amazing Spiderman, which I consider to be one of the best character driven and dramatic runs in the history of comic books. I know it sounds like i found the best soap opera in town but that is NOT what I mean at all, If you have read Stracynsky's run then you know what I'm talking about, what I MEAN is this: This is some of the best storytelling in years. 
 
And the best part? It was all about Spiderman. Yeah, it had everything you wished for in a Spiderman comic: A great supporting cast, classical Parker Luck situations, compelling villains both old and new and THE ART OF JOHN ROMITA JR. (for the good part anyway, yeah there IS a lazier part in the whole run, we'll get to that). 
So why do I think it's the next big thing (or was the next big thing) in comics, there are a few key elements that I want to talk about, so I thought I'd make a list and talk about some of them: 
 
1. One Fantastic Core Supporting Cast: 
Well, this is pretty obvious, unless as a writer you are in charge of a Punisher book, you NEED a cast of characters that surround your main character and interact with him, that either love him or hate him but have some sort of connection with the guy/gal. For a while Peter had a very large cast of supporting characters and that was fine, but JMS really brought it down to only THREE supporting characters, they were present on most of the run (one of them had to go but we'll get to that) and each of them had something very peculiar to bring to the table script and plot-wise which made them fundamental in the whole run. They were AUNT MAY, MARY JANE and EZEKIEL.  
 
Aunt May we all know as the classic tragic figure who had ben characterized for the longest time as a weak old woman ho hated Spiderman and felt compelled to protect Peter because she thought of him as young man who was traumatized and weakened by his Uncle's death. This is all fine, I liked Aunt May in this representation but JMS took the whole idea of her relationship with Peter even farther when he made her aware of Peter's secret identity. This event gave their whole relationship a fantastic turn for good as they were now closer than ever, she even revealed that for some years she had also felt guilty about Uncle Ben's death, JMS modernized a character completely by giving her a little push that many writers had ignored before.  
 
Mary Jane was on the other hand a character that had been developed for a long long time, she had evolved from a simple "too hot for him" kind of love interest, girlfriend and then wife to confidant and best friend. Peter and the writers of ASM had indeed hit the jackpot with her, she made us all forget about Gwen Stacy, and eventually they had to kill her, she was too good to be true, fans and lazy writers brought her back and now she was separated from Peter to pursue (completly) her Acting/Modeling carreer away from the Spiderman drama. JMS used this plot device and decided to keep both Peter and the reader's constantly wondering IF she was ever coming back home, we go some really cool moments with the on/off relationship she had with Peter, we knew she missed him we knew he missed her yet they both had things going on that kept them one way or the other at a distance. The Nuff Said issue in particular illustrates this (quite literaly) pretty well. When the time came JMS brought her back into Pete's life and even then she was still interesting as a woman who was ashamed of her choices, that NEEDED to fix her marriage and support her husband. 
 
Ezekiel was probably the best element on JMS's run, because of too things mainly, his close meta-human conection to Spiderman as he was essentially an older version of Peter Parker, a window into what Peter would have become had his "responsability" motto not existed. The second thing is his connectiong to the "mythical side" of the "spider" since Ezekiel's ability were connected to the spider-god that he believed also gave Peter his ablilities, posing a question that through out the whole run was present: Was Peter Parker MEANT to be Spider-Man? Was the spider meant to bite him and give him powers? If so...Why? 
JMS was a big fan of the supernatural and he made this known in his run, most of the enemies and threats that Peter is put through are supernatural, things that are far beyond his reach, things that are not meant to be understood or studied. Ezekiel was also a (At first) a fatherly figure for Peter, he was a man that had explored both the extent and the nature of his abilities, he was (some say) an Uncle Ben with Spiderman's powers. Later that side of him changed and he became a villain that in the end had only seeked Peter to save his own ass but even then he remained very interesting and in some cases heroic. 
  
The most important thing about these three is that they all affected Peter through out the run making him a changed man, Mary Jane made him (by leaving him) pursue a career helping kids (becoming a teacher in his old school), Aunt May made him be a more honest person (by revealing his identity and secrets to her) and Ezekiel made him embrace the "spider within" that made him comprehend his powers and responsibility even more (by telling him about the spider mythos). Sure there were some more important characters in the JMS run that were interesting but If these three had been absent then most of the plot would have been gone as well and Peter's evolution as a character would have not happened.  
 
This is the end of Part One in my reasons why JMS's ASM Run is legendary, next time I will deal with the next key element of his success:  2. ONE BIG RUNNING ARC 
 
(Let me know if you enjoyed this little essay and please comment if you have any suggestions or troll arguments on why The Shocker didn't have a big part in JMS's run)

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