In terms of Amazing Spider-Man runs in recent history, there are few that are more iconic than J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.’s work in the early 2000s. Their run is defined by both a fresh exploration into the origin of Spider-Man’s powers and more importantly, a return to basics for the character after a decade of overly sensational storylines. So, to appreciate the successes and shortcomings of this run, we will be delving into each issue and reflecting on how they impact both the world in which they exist and us, the readers.
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume #2, Issue #30: Laying the Foundation for Change, for Both Peter Parker and the Reader
The first issue of J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.’s run is centered on introducing both Peter Parker and the reader to change. It’s even in the title of the issue, Transformations, Literal & Otherwise. And this preparation is important because at the core of the first story arc, and really the run as a whole, is the reimagining of a basic truth in the Spider-Man mythos: his origin.
The issue begins with Peter attempting to cope with the changes that have consumed his life. As readers, we’re reminded that he’s recently moved into a single-bedroom apartment and that he has separated from his wife, Mary Jane. In his frustration, he resorts to victimless property destruction to let off steam, but what he’s really searching for is a constant. As a man who feels unmoored, what he wants more than anything is something fundamental and unchanging. And when he’s done venting, he begins a journey retracing time. First, he visits an old hangout from college where everything is the same, but he realizes that it was his friends that made it a memory. And then, he absently arrives at his old high school where the opposite has occurred. The place itself hasn’t weathered the years well, but the social dynamics remain the same.
By having Peter backtrack through the constants in his life that have proven to be impermanent and ending with high school, he, and we as the readers, are primed for his first encounter with Ezekiel. As a man with identical spider powers, Ezekiel keeps Peter off balanced with impish delight, offering the rare instance where someone else has all the secrets and Peter has none. Ezekiel even goes so far as to use logic and scientific methodology, something Peter deeply values, to prepare him for the hardest shift in perspective yet. And that is that the nature behind the origin of his powers may not be as simple as he believes it to be. That there’s a non-zero probability that the radiation that infected the spider had nothing to do with it granting him powers. That the spider intended to give him superpowers as a part of a larger agenda.
In the final scene of the issue, we are treated to a degree of confirmation about this new possibility behind Peter’s spider powers with the introduction of Morlun, a vampiric figure who has his appetite set on Spider-Man.
In retrospect, an occult influence regarding Spider-Man’s powers doesn’t seem particularly revelatory, but at the time storylines had rarely ventured in that direction apart from Kraven’s Last Hunt. For the most part, Spider-Man’s involvement with the occult revolved around being dragged into adventures by those in that field, like Doctor Strange. So, we can see why so much of this issue is spent on the impermanence of what’s taken as a constant. To prepare Peter, and by extension us, for what’s about to happen next.
Favorite Spidey Moment
For me, it’s always a delight when we get a glimpse of the overflowing stream that is Peter Parker’s consciousness. So, my favorite scene in this issue happens during his compulsive search for a way to vent his frustration.
Historically, Peter usually web-swings until he finds some action, but here he discovers a building scheduled for demolition, and as he begins to explore it, his thoughts turn to pockets. His costume and its lack of pockets specifically. We’re treated to this acknowledgment of how insane it is that he doesn’t have a costume with pockets. From there, he begins to weigh the pros and cons of pockets and soon his whole thought process spirals out into more ridiculous scenarios until he realizes that what’s really bothering him right now has nothing to do with pockets.
And it’s not just this nod to a silly thing that I know we’ve all thought about that makes this entertaining, it’s also the fact that it’s something that he can control in a time when he feels like he has no control. He could go put pockets in his suit right now. He has that science/engineering brain. He could make pockets that work for his situation, but he doesn’t. And honestly, I don’t know what’s more relatable than that.