There’re plenty of things that are true about me as a person, but the biggest that I can emphasize is that I consider myself a pretty ordinary guy. I like breakfast food, good music, and every now and then I have to explain to other people how Black Dynamite is the pinnacle of filmmaking. So, yeah, pretty standard. I’m not sure if this is new information to you, but most people tend to enjoy things that they can identify with, and since I was young, I’ve always identified with Peter Parker. Peter was your typical overachieving underappreciated nerd in high school until he was bitten by that radioactive spider. That random element is what really pulled me in, the idea that at any point, something small could come and change my life. This is what I believed to be true as an 8-10 year old (I don’t remember what exact year it was that I started reading comics). So imagine my surprise when I read John Michael Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man and learned that not only was he a kid like me, but he found a way to relate to kids like me as an adult.
At the beginning of this run, Peter has just moved into a new apartment, he’s lost his job at the Bugle, and he & his wife, Mary Jane, are separated (California separated). Easy to say that Peter’s down on his luck, that is until he has a chance encounter with an old man named Ezekiel, who sneaks up on him and sticks to the wall right beside him. Ezekiel asks questions that get to the heart of Peter’s powers and their origin, which shocks Peter quite a bit, and then leaves. Leaving Peter with an infinite amount of questions and no answers.
All of this is just in the first issue.
In this run, Peter goes through extreme highs and some very low lows, which, if you’ve ever read a Spider-Man comic, you know that’s par for the course. Spider-Man’s appeal is different from a genius billionaire with too much time on his hands, or an alien from outer space with a cosmic surfboard. He’s just your normal, everyday guy. He’s an everyday guy that fights cosmic deities, totems, gods, ghosts of the mafia, and at times, himself. So when, in this run, he eventually joins the Avengers and works with his heroes Iron-Man & Captain America, it honestly becomes some of the best shit in comics I’ve enjoyed. JMS also takes the time to introduce Morlun, a Spider-Man villain that causes lasting change for Peter immediately and much later on in the run.
I think by far the most important part to me in this run, is Peter’s own growth as a person, which really kicks into overdrive when he decides to return to his old high school. When Peter arrives, he notices that the school that formed him and honed his mind had fallen on hard times. He enters the school and notices that it’s underfunded and the teachers have given up on many of the students. One in particular gets bullied everyday, and seeing this reminds Peter of how he was way back when. Upon returning to the school the next day, Peter stops a school shooting to find that the shooter was the kid he rescued from the bullies. Determined, this prompts Peter to turn in his resume, and become the new science teacher at his old high school.
My dad’s been a teacher for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I’d get excited when I’d have days off at my school so I could tag along with my dad to his. He’s very easily one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen do the work, he knows what engages his students and what throws them off. He has this thing that he calls the “Homework Club” where if a student does all of their work during the week, they have a treat on Friday. This treat could range from a pizza party to him bringing our Wii in for the kids to have the afternoon off. It’s not unnatural for us to be out in Norfolk and for one of his old students to recognize him and immediately come over to see how he’s been. For 20+ years, my dad has done the work of educating students not only here in the U.S. but a few years ago, he did a stint in the United Arab Emirates, teaching teachers how to properly engage their students. There used to be times where I’d be doing my homework and he’d come in from a long day of teaching, sit next to me, and start grading his student’s papers until 9 or 10 PM. He earned his Master’s Degree in Education back in 2007, and was even promoted to dean and assistant principal at one point.
Yet none of that matters if you’re a teacher.
Teachers are underpaid, underrated, and overlooked in every sense of all three of those words. These are the people that are supposed to raise our next generation, yet we pay them 41K a year (VA avg). We train them to safeguard our children from school shooters, tornadoes, institutional racism, a pandemic, and whatever other act of God or perversion of greed. Yet we pay them among the least of us. Is that not weird to anyone else? Peter Parker, Spider-Man, was struggling to balance the life of being a teacher in the classroom and a hero outside of such. He saw his students without a roof over their head and was unable to help them find housing. Underachieving students were missing school because they were being kidnapped and trafficked and Peter’s hands were tied. He wrestled with laws and practices that interfered with him being able to help his students in the way that he knew he could, and the only way around it was to put on his costume and enlist the help of a certain Sorcerer Supreme. Our teachers in real life don’t have this option, once the children leave the school, that’s all they can do until class the next day. If a superhuman with the proportionate strength of a Spider-Man struggled as a teacher in the United States, how much more so does your neighbor?
Just something to think about.