REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #638

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Or – “What Ms. Watson Had To Say…”

Well, Faithful Spoilerites, this is the one you’ve all been waiting for.  Ever since the advent of the Brand New Day, we’ve wondered what it was tha Mary Jane whispered to Mephisto, and exactly what DID happen with the Parker/Watson wedding back in the day.  This is the story of “One Moment In Time,” and Whitney Houston is demanding her royalties, folks…

Amazing Spider-Man #638
WRITER: Stan Lee/Joe Quesada
PENCILS: Paolo Manuel Rivera/Marcos Martin/Joe Quesada/Paolo Rivera
COVER BY: Paolo Rivera
LETTERS BY: Joe Caramagna
PUBLISHED BY: Marvel Comics

Previously, on Amazing Spider-Man:  Peter Parker has had a rough life, I’ll grant you that.  Losing his parents in his youth, then facing the death of his beloved uncle would be difficult for any sixteen-year-old.  Of course, Pete blames himself for Uncle Ben’s murder, since he chose not to stop the very man who killed his father figure a few nights previously in his identity as the Amazing Spider-Man, a hybrid wrestler/reality star.  “With great power, comes great responsibility” became his mantra, but his responsibilities became overwhelming when he chose the wrong side in the superhero Civil War and became apprenticed to Iron Man.  When he tried to change his mind, ol’ Shellhead threw him out on his ear, forcing him to take his wife and elderly aunt from skeevy motel to skeevy motel trying to undo the effects of his poor judgement.  When an assassin shot Aunt May, Spider-Man was pushed to the point of no return, causing ne’er do well and Milton aficionado Mephisto to swoop in and offer him a deal:  His adoptive mommy’s life would be saved, as long as Spider-Man was willing to sacrifice his own happiness.  Before Peter could take the deal, though, wife Mary Jane stepped up, and offered Mephisto a counter-proposal…

Here Comes The Bride!

Okay, let’s start with the obvious question and the spoilers:  “I know Peter,” whispers MJ in the devil’s pointy red ear.  “He will never make this deal with you, never EVER, unless I ask him to.  But if I do, this is the end of it.  You will leave him alone for the rest of his days.”  Mephisto (astonishingly) agrees to this stipulation and mutters, “As far as I’m concerned, THIS NEVER HAPPENED…”  We cue the echo effect (“happened…  happened..  happened“) as we cut to Mary Jane arriving at Peter Parker’s apartment with a conciliatory bottle of wine.  There’s some effectively awkward dialogue as she admits that she’s intentionally been shunning him to lessen both their pain, and Peter asks her if she has any regrets.  “I don’t know if I’d say regrets, but sometimes I wonder what it would have been like…  How life would have been different.”  Luckily for us, folks, we know how it would have been different, and chunks of it were pretty awful.  The Clone Saga being negated can’t be all bad, right?  We flash back to the events of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987) wherein Spidey meets up with Electro in the days before his wedding, leading to one of ‘Lecky’s thugs getting arrested.  Suddenly, a mysterious red bird flies down and flips the locks on the police car, allowing Eddie Da Thug (his Christian name, mind you) to escape.  Is it still serendipity if Satan was involved?

Aaand There She Goes…

Things progress as they did before, with Peter fretting over his cold feet (obsessing a bit over a photo of his lost love Gwen Stacy) while Mary Jane enjoys a night out with her girls, one last fling that I like to imagine involves ecstasy, nudity, and cherry chapstick (because I’m a terrible person, more than likely.)  Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn give Peter a big pep talk, while MJ confides in a friend who reminds her of the good things that come with marriage.  This portion of the issue comes straight from Annual #21, and is not writen by Joe Quesada, so the word “death” doesn’t come up.  For those of you familiar with chaos theory (or that episode of “Scrubs”) the change in reality comes not from something huge, but from Eddie Da Thug’s escape.  (It was, after all a RED bird that freed him.)  He goes after the policeman who took him down, leading to Spider-Man getting involved, and Eddie and Spidey falling off a roof to crash to the sidewalk below.  Artist Paolo Rivera annoys the hell out of me in this sequence, by having unconscious Spidey’s white eye-slits CLOSE to indicate unconsciousness.  I really hate when they cheat on the mask like that as a short-cut to convey emotion…  Mary Jane arrives late for the wedding, only to find that Peter has yet to arrive, and won’t answer his phone.  We cut to a nearly unconscious Spider-Man lying in the street, as Mary Jane sadly walks away from the church.  The issue ends with Mary Jane breaking open the bottle of wine with a sour look on her face and a “To Be Continued.”

There are some things going on here that I actually like, including the very simple expedient used to cause Spider-Man to miss the wedding.  If you weren’t expecting Mephisto (or if you want to pretend that the Mephisto bits never happened) you wouldn’t even catch the sub-text.  Certain timeframe issues are funny for me (f’rinstance, some of the additional material shows MJ using her cell to try and call Peter, something that would have been unlikely in 1987, at least without a Zack Morris giant brick phone) and there’s an attempt to graft the CURRENT Harry, Mary Jane and Flash Thompson personalities onto the 23-year-old story with mixed results.  The art style used to flesh out the flashbacks is similar in composition to the John Romita art of the original story, but is colored much more darkly, befitting it’s infernal origins.  But I think the biggest weakness of this issue for me is a question both of timing and of motivation.  I have less of a sour taste in my mouth than many hardcore Spidey fans, but I’m still bothered by the assertion that we can retroactively deconstruct 20 years worth of stories in the name of an editorial peccadillo, even one that has grains of truth in it.  (A married Spider-Man IS inherently viewed as older and more mature than an unmarried Spider-Man.)  It’s as if someone were to retroactively decide that Clark Kent never had a career as Superb–  Wait, maybe that’s a bad example.  It’s more like somebody were to decide that Batman never carried a gun–  No, wait.  It’s as if someone had decided to gloss over the fact that Captain America gunned down dozens of Nazis in World War II–  Okay.  This is a fruitless exercise, except to prove that comic books make these sort of sweeping changes all the damn time in the name of the new hotness, and this is no exception. 

So, How’d It Go?

If I ignore my instincts to whine about the retcons, I am left with a comic book that has an uneven tone (due to switching back and forth from Lee scripts to Quesada pages) an uneven artistic style (leaping from Paul Ryan to Joe Quesada to Paolo Rivera and back multiple times) and whose storyline is pretty much by the numbers.  It’s not going to justify the new direction to anyone who hates it, it’s not going to add depth to the magical manipulation of Spider-Man’s ostensibly street-level universe, but it’s not terribly offensive.  It is, all else considered, a particularly average comic book, cobbled together from another book that’s a bit dated now.  Amazing Spider-Man #638 isn’t the game-changer some thought it might be, but it’s an okay comic book, and earns 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  If you’re desperate to know the mechanism by which the obvious changes to Peter Parker’s world took place, this is your bag…

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Given that Spidey has fought Thanos, died and been resurrected at least twice, been to Mars, to Titan, to the Center Of The Earth, to the far-flung-future AND had a number of clones made of himself, could we really have made the case that he’s just a man-on-the-street, ground-level hero in the first place?