THE ROAD TO CIVIL WAR: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 529-531
“Mr. Parker Goes to Washington”
For the “Road to Civil War” storylines, we’ve decided to just give overall feedback on the storylines as a whole, not go through it panel by panel. To divide things up a bit easier, though, let’s go through it issue by issue, at least.
MICHAEL: So here we get the big debut of the new costume. I know a lot of people bitched and moaned, but I was totally fine with it. It looks cool, and IM-influenced, so hey. I’ll run with that. Considering all the minor tweaks it’s gone through over the years, I don’t see the big deal.
JASON: I thought it was horrid at first, but I knew I was going to have to gild up my loins because I was going to have to be staring at it for the several months. So, I put it on my desktop at work, and now I have to admit I really like it. I hope that it will be able to be used to its full potential.
MICHAEL: In any case, the funniest part of this comic comes not from any of the intended humor, I think, but from the goofiness of the obvious old-school-setup storyline. I love that we have villains claiming Spidey can’t catch them because he never glides, he swings from thing to thing. I don’t think we’ve EVER, in the past 43 years, seen a villain use this rationale to get away from Spidey. No one except these cheap hoods figured it out? And then they shoot him, yelling ‘foul!’ because he doesn’t die. “You aren’t invulnerable! I’ve seen you get hit on TV!” It’s as if this is a media set-up to show off Spidey’s new costume. If there were cameras around, I would suspect that Tony set it up, but there aren’t, so I don’t.
JASON: Oh, yeah, very old school here. I thought this was a very fun way to show off the shiny new duds. I’ve very glad that JMS put almost everything we really need to know about it in this one issue, instead of dragging in on for six months.
MICHAEL: The humor, however, is decent in its own right. Straczynski’s humor-writing has never extremely impressed me (he reminds me of Peter David purely because he seems to be trying too hard too often; their styles of humor aren’t alike, but I find that approach similar), but I love some of the stuff here. Even when the humor doesn’t work as being funny, it reads easily and the interaction seems the opposite of forced. Tony and Peter work together brilliantly. Though I’ve found Straczynski’s ‘simple Peter’ a little too overdone at other times, I like the way that he’s slightly impressed and uncomfortable around Tony. They’re friends, but it’s obvious that Tony has the upper hand in the friendship. It works brilliantly.
JASON: My take on the Tony/Peter relationship is that Peter’s not used to people showing him the type of respect that Tony does. He doesn’t mind playing second fiddle sometimes because it takes some of the responsibility off of him. I do love MJ and Aunt May, but Tony is the best supporting member in this book. I’m very worried about how Civil War is going to affect their relationship. And me being worried about it makes me excited to read about. Good job, JMS!
MICHAEL: Yeah, it’s one of those strange sort of oxymorons. You can just tell the Tony/Peter friendship is going to end badly, and it’s going to come down hard, and as much as I don’t want it to happen, I’m so friggin excited about it.
MICHAEL: Hell, even MJ is slightly interesting. I’m one of those die-hard Gwen fans (I’m not like those a$$holes who kept screaming to ‘bring Hal back’ as Green Lantern, I just thought Peter and Gwen worked as a couple, whereas Peter and MJ has never made sense to me … I like the MJ character, but not as Pete’s girlfriend/wife), and I’ve found most of the characterization forced upon her. Straczynski does a good job here, oddly, by making MJ an extension of Peter rather than trying to do too much with her alone. Strangely enough, this gives her more individual character than most of the shitty ‘80s stories with her smoking and getting kidnapped. Go figure.
JASON: I’ve always like MJ, and one of the things that I like about JMS is he writes her like an equal to the Avengers. She’s the wife of a super-hero and she’s lived though more then her fair share of crap, she acts like it and they treat her like it.
MICHAEL: So here we’re starting to see the beginnings of the huge theory I have involving Tony and Peter. I think it’s obvious at this point that Tony is manipulating the hell out of Peter. If you’ve read enough comics (Morrison’s Doom Patrol springs to mind), you know it’s never a good sign when someone who’s an integral part of the comic builds another main character’s suit/body. It means they could easily have put self-destruct or take-control buttons in there. I’m pretty sure that’s Tony’s main reason for building the new costume. He’s knocking down a bunch of dominoes at once here. Stark’s got Peter in his pocket because he’s given him a new costume, he’s making him dependent on the new costume’s powers, and he’s got Peter’s loved ones in the Avengers Tower. If Peter were to try to stand up to Tony, Tony can just be like, ‘well, okay, Peter, but I’m going to have to take away your rent privileges … and Aunt May’s and MJ’s. Good luck finding an apartment.’ Tony’s digging Peter deeper and deeper into his own grave here, and by the time Peter wants to jump out, he’s going to be far too deep. In usual Straczynski fashion, he’s diverting our eyes by giving us a similar-but-more-obvious explanation for these actions (see Part 3), but I seriously think he’s setting up a really painful break between Tony and Peter. I just have no clue what Tony’s ultimate goal for Peter is. I think Peter’s expendable to Tony, but I have no clue what he plans to use him for.
JASON: I don’t know if I completely agree with that. Maybe I just like Tony so much that I’m giving him a huge leap of faith (which, I think, is exactly what JMS is wanting us to do), but while I do believe that Tony is setting Peter up, I don’t think it’s for a fall. I think it’s as a protégé. I think he desperately wants Peter to follow him, and believe in him. While I can see Tony buffing with those cards, I can’t see him following entirely through with it.
MICHAEL: Probably true, but Tony’s a damn good bluffer. And Peter as protégé? I just don’t see it. I think it’s what we’re supposed to believe, but at least for the Bendis/JMS Tony I totally can’t see him wanting that.
JASON: Like I said, I think that’s what JMS is wanting us to believe, and I’m buying it.
MICHAEL: But seriously, what’s up with Tony, towards the end, saying to Peter, ‘you can’t tell the other Avengers. Not even Steve’??? This reminds me of Namor in Illuminati yelling, ‘not even your wives!!!’ Especially considering Steve and Tony have been getting closer from being in the NAvengers together, this seems very random. I mean, we know from the posters that Steve and Tony are going to be on opposite sides, but they aren’t at this point, are they? So what the hell’s up with this bizarre, out of nowhere, stance? Obviously this is more evidence that Tony’s keeping Peter close for a reason—and not a good one. When you ask friends not to tell others in that circle bits of information, it’s generally because they would see through whatever scam you’re running. Is there any other explanation for his random anti-Cap attitude here?
JASON: I concur. If Tony wanted to talk Congress out of anything, don’t you think it’d be better to have Captain America in your corner then some high school English teacher? So, it’s either a complete set up by Tony (like you think), or it’s just an unavoidable hiccup due to Tony and Steve needing to be on opposite sides.
MICHAEL: Continuing on my conspiracy rant, right on Page 1 we get a hint that I could be right. After the Illuminati meeting, Tony makes ‘some changes’ to Peter’s uniform. Perhaps the whole Illuminati breaking up ordeal caused Tony to rethink his plans for Peter. It’s a big maybe, and a bit of a stretch, but at this point I’m not writing off any line of dialogue from Straczynski (I trust him much more as a layered storyteller than pretty much anyone else, and his big ‘part’ in CW seems to be the Tony/Peter relationship and its ramifactions).
JASON: Ooo, good call there. I’d missed that one. I really hope that gets played out somewhere.
MICHAEL: Dear God, the “Editors talking to each other” page is not funny. It seriously felt like Straczynski finished with a page left to fill and decided, well, this issue’s kind of dark, I might as well throw some silliness in. And crammed it in with a shoehorn and a pound of old, crumbly grease.
JASON: I really don’t understand why he did that. It totally breaks any suspension of disbelief that the reader had going. It’s like all of a sudden Peter Falk show up and said “She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.”
MICHAEL: And that would’ve been much funnier. Peter Falk should just be there in a trenchcoat through the whole page, saying stuff about CW. He could even be arguing with a little Fred Savage, if we want to keep the whole two-sided debate going on.
MICHAEL: Essentially this issue boils down to ‘Peter and Tony in a plane’ and ‘Peter and Tony before Congress.’ The first is excellent, as the Peter-Tony interaction is still well done. The second half … enh, not so good. We’re getting into ‘innocent Peter’ here a bit too much. First, Pete talks in front of Congress as Peter in an obviously stupid ploy to try to stall the measure, but I knew the way he went about it was pointless just from watching some Law & Order. Why the hell wouldn’t Peter know how dumb he’s being? The only way it works is just that Peter is extremely nervous around Tony, so he does dumb stuff (maybe nervous in front of this hearing, I’ll run with that).
JASON: I completely bought The Congress scene. Peter really is an idealist. Even after everything he’s been though, he still believes that more people will make the right choice then the wrong one. He figures an impassioned speech will sway them. The problem is, and this is what the heart of Civil War should be, both choices are correct. I think this is where he starts to understand that.
And I like the nano-fiber bit on the costume. I really hope they do something with that.
MICHAEL: And then it devolves into a slugfest. Oh, well. Figured it had to happen. At this point, the coincidence of a bad guy attacking the s#!t out of someone right on Capitol Hill set off some alarms for me. I mean, not only is it stupid, it’s convenient for the anti-bill side of things. My main hope at this point was that this didn’t end up being the thing that tears Peter and Tony apart (Peter finding out Tony sent the Russian cyborg against him).
JASON: Titanium Man is guy in armor- just like Iron Man. Cyborg… *rolls eyes* Anyway, I like slugfests. I don’t see a thing wrong with them, when used appropriately.
MICHAEL: First off, brilliant cover. You just know Marvel was trying to force the idea of “Spidey stuck between Tony and Cap!” on basically everybody at this point, and to cut it off at the knees this way is amusing and well done.
JASON: Hell, yes. I want that as a poster. I don’t know why JMS tried to use “editor talks” last issue to show the humor of the situation, when this cover did it so brilliantly without breaking the stride of the story.
MICHAEL: I don’t know how I feel about Spidey being dumbfounded by the Lincoln monument, the Gettysburg Address. Of course, it’s cool that it echoes the scene in “Mr. Smith …” (no ubiquitous child reading it here, though), but … I still feel it smacks a bit too much of ‘innocent Peter.’
JASON: Again, I have to disagree with this. Pete’s there reading it, and he’s getting shivers. The desire to protect liberty has to be one of the reasons he puts that costume on every day.
MICHAEL: I love the Russian guy’s long tirade about how ‘Tony Stark is the last sensible man in your stupid country, and soon he will be gone.’ Seriously, he could’ve had a giant sign that said I AM A VILLAIN. SUPPORT THE SUPERHERO REGISTRATION BILL on his back and it would have been juuuust about as subtle.
JASON: True, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe what he’s saying.
MICHAEL: And, oh, the Spidey in front of Congress. How painful. I wince just having it open beside me. The second he showed up, I knew I could just skip past his dialogue because no matter how eloquent he might be, the counter-argument is going to be, ‘then take off your mask.’ Which he can’t do, obviously. My assumption is that this was supposed to be ‘subtle’ setup for the events of (I assume) CW2. Instead, it just comes across as ‘Peter is slightly retarded.’
JASON: And again, it sets up both sides of the issue very well. He doesn’t come across as retarded to me, it came across as impassioned. He wants them to understand what they’re doing, and they just want the same thing. I might agree with you if the congressman acted the least bit condescending, but he doesn’t. I truly believe that he would have taken Spidey’s opinion under consideration if he would have removed the mask and taken the oath.
MICHAEL: And the argument I kept waiting for from Congress here, that we never get (though we do get it later) is the same argument I’ve always found to break down most superheroes keeping a ‘secret identity’: police officers do essentially the same job. They take down bad guys. They don’t wear masks. Any murderer taken in could ask for the badge number of the police who did it or the names of the detectives and then track them down. Yet … we rarely rarely ever hear of this happening. So to think a secret identity is necessary to ‘protect the loved ones’ is silly. (My favorite extension of this idea is the Spider-Man movies, which I—for the most part—love, but the whole ‘secret identity’ thing? Yeesh. Peter maintains that he can’t reveal his identity because then people would hurt the ones he loves. So, since no one knows who Spider-Man is, they all go to the person who always takes pictures of him, Peter Parker, and those he loves. Seems like, if you’re really interested in keeping a secret identity, keep that photo byline a secret as well, Pete.)
JASON: True enough. The only real counterpoint I have to that: so most thugs a cop busts won’t attack his family because they’re too scared. He will get caught, and tried, and executed. It seems that comic book worlds don’t have capital punishment, so add an average super villain’s god complex into the mix, and it’s suddenly much more believable that they’d kill a guy’s family.
MICHAEL: Ah! And finally Peter shows a little more intelligence here, intuiting that Tony was behind this whole thing. Tony says no, of course, but I think this highlights two things: 1. Peter is not really ‘Tony’s boy,’ but ‘Tony’s bitch.’ 2. Tony is using Peter. As I said before, I think this is just distraction on the part of Straczynski. ‘See, Tony said he wanted Peter close to him because he wanted him in Washington while the Russian guy attacked.’ But in truth, there’s much more going beyond that. I think we’re supposed to forego asking what Tony’s plans were for Peter here because we’ve seen what they are, but I think this is by far only Stage Alpha, but what the hell is Stage Omega – or even Stage Beta??
JASON: I see your point here. I don’t quite agree, but I’m starting to sway a bit…
MICHAEL: I dig Tony’s meeting with Moose&Squirrel. It’s got a nice, ominous feel to it, and I’m thankful Straczynski didn’t play us for morons here.
JASON: Thing I liked about that was after T-Man takes I-Man to task, points out the line that he’s dancing on, what’s Tony’s response? A one liner. Sure, it’s funny but I really get that feeling that Tony didn’t have a defense for that, because Titanium Man was right.
MICHAEL: Oh, yeah. And it’s classic alcoholic-speak, too. When something hits too close to home, distract, distract, distract.
MICHAEL: And then the ending. After some prime MJ cheesecake, we get that ending that’s meant to, I think, have the effect of an echoing shoe dropping in a deserted warehouse, but instead makes us think, ‘huh?’ First of all, when the reporter says, “Who or what is Speedball?” I immediately thought, ‘that guy from New Warriors who’s been a public figure for a long time in the Marvel Universe?’ And once I found out that the NW are now a reality-TV-show group, it makes this ending even more surreal. Like … wouldn’t someone asking this be similar to a reporter asking, these days, “Who or what is Taylor Hicks?” (For those of you who don’t know—and I only know because of my job—he’s the latest American Idol.)
Secondly, shouldn’t she maybe be asking ‘Who or what is Namorita?’ or ‘Who or what is Nitro?’ Why would Speedball get singled out from the Stamford events??
JASON: Yeah, they were trying to go for the “war correspondent “ approach, but instead it just came across like they had the weather man reporting the day’s top stories.
MICHAEL: Overall, I dug this storyline. It had some really ridiculous bits with Congress, but Tony’s arguments at least made sense, and though some might write off the idea of Tony pulling such an obvious ploy with the Russian, I think it points out how desperate Tony is getting to consider something like this. And the Tony-Peter interaction is great. So far, they’re all I give a damn about. At this point, even if CW far drops below my expectations, I’m still totally invested in the outcome of the Tony-Peter relationship.
JASON: Aside from that Twilight Zone editor rant in part two, I was very happy with this story. It covered a lot of ground- a new costume, logical and emotional viewpoints from both sides, and Tony’s attempt to save the sinking ship by blowing up the ocean. By far the best of the Road To’s.
Michael T Bradley has been reading comics for about 14 years. His Marvel background in particular involves many a late night in college reading through their “comic library,” which included a full run of Spider-Man. Every title. Back to Amazing 19, baby. Spidey is by far his favorite Marvel character (and important to this series, or so it seems). He pretty much dropped out of Spidey when Todd McFarlane came along, with brief periods of interest drawing him back (i.e., the Clone Saga, some Paul Jenkins stuff, a love-hate relationship with Straczynski, and Spider Man Loves Mary Jane). Beyond that, Michael’s main interaction with the Marvel universe is David’s Hulk run and “anything Mark Gruenwald wrote.” So if Quasar shows up, we’re covered. Also, Michael used to work in a comic store, so he’s been at least partially in touch with a lot of things that have happened in the Marvel universe.
Jason Freston, on the other hand, reads lots and lots and lots of comics. Jason’s obsession started over 20 years ago and seems to have taken on a life of its own. Spider-Man is also Jason’s favorite Marvel character (he even stuck through during the McFarlane years). Currently you can find Jason reading comics, and occasionally working, at Dragon’s Keep in Provo, Utah. (You can also generally find Michael there, as well, working on the next installment of this damned monster of a project.)
Both agree that the high concept behind Civil War is brilliant, and both have high hopes for the series. But as just a further dividing line, Michael is a huge Millar fan, calling Wanted “this generation’s Watchmen,” whereas Jason … disagrees (though he did enjoy Wanted).
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