The Amazing Spider-Man #661 Review

Spidey is assigned to substitute teach for the members of the AVENGERS ACADEMY. But when the PSYCHO-MAN interrupts them on patrol, the school of Hard Knocks quickly becomes a game of life and death!”

“The Substitute” part one

Written by Christos Gage

Illustrated by Reilly Brown

Inked by Victor Olazaba

Colored by John Raunch

Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna

Cover art by Ed McGuinness and Morry Hollowell

“Just Another Day”

Written by Paul Benjamin

Illustrated by Javier Pulido

Assistant Editor: Ellie Pyle

Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker

Editor in Chief: Axel Alonso

Chief Creative Officer: Joe Quesada

Publisher: Dan Buckley

Executive Producer: Alan Fine

THE PLOT(s): Giant Man approaches one of the Future Foundation to substitute for the Avengers Academy class in superheroing. Spider-Man volunteers on the basis that he used to teach and misses teaching. Throughout the class, Spider-Man’s previous doubts are realized when the students don’t take as well to the training course as he’d hoped. In the backup, Peter has a typical day as Spider-Man.

LONG STORY SHORT: The Psycho-Man reveals himself to be behind Spidey’s doubts. Though Spider-Man overcomes them, the Psycho-Man then has the brainwashed Avengers Academy kids attack the webslinger.

MY THOUGHTS: One of the biggest problems, if not the biggest problem I have with the new direction of Amazing Spider-Man is that, more often than not, characters and situations will be elevated at the expense of our main protagonist. Single or not, what offended me the most with Brand New Day and some of Big Time is that the character of Spider-Man was seemingly reduced to an ineffectual, inexperienced whiner who was by and large a shade of his pre-2008 self. It wasn’t a central shift in characterization meant to be recognized as a new form of Spider-Man. Rather, the sense from both the writers of the book and the characters surrounding Peter Parker’s world is that he’s always been like that. A comment here, a goofed up execution in heroics there, it all became too much to the point where I repeatedly kept dropping the book after disappointment being my only reward for giving it another chance.

Conversely, progression is one of the central themes Dan Slott has employed in his Big Time run that many of us are praising. The re-introduction of Peter Parker’s ingenuity, gumption and determination were welcomed along with Slott’s overflowing bucket of continuity references with open arms. This is what fans have said they want to see in Spidey’s comic: A proud acknowledgment of the past while Peter Parker ushers forth toward the future with the same characteristics as he’s always had.

For the most part. Kinda.

This issue has me at a crossroads in that I’m not sure if it is endorsing one aspect of Peter Parker or another. It all depends on how you analyze the plot. Essentially, the Psycho-Man is said to have been playing on the fears of Spider-Man, making him doubtful of his own capabilities and resentful that the other heroes don’t acknowledge it. This has all been revealed after we get most of an issue with Spider-Man constantly whining about being a teacher, not sure if he can hack teaching the Avengers Academy kids, and generally displaying a real lack of self esteem. But the idea, if I’m understanding this correctly, is that the Psycho-Man is behind it all.

I am not very familiar with the Psycho-Man. I do not know how much of his power is sustained for a long period of time, or if he needs to be consciously affecting people, or if he can just *POOF* out a spell and people will feel negative emotions or not. So the crux of the plot really hinges on how this works in the issue. Admittedly this is a fault of mine as a reviewer and a reader for not being familiar with the character, but then again it’s the fault of the writer (Christos Gage this time ’round as opposed to “Dandy” Dan Slott who’s apparently off working on Spider-Island) for not informing me of the guy in the first place.

That’s the thing with exposition in this title, it picks and chooses who, when and what to explain. It works to varying degrees as well. For instance, I know why and when Spider-Man lost his Spider-Sense, but it doesn’t hurt to inform new readers to the event whenever Peter thinks about it. Similarily, I appreciated learning who the Avengers Academy members were and what they could do as I’ve never read their books. Now I question why not indulging the reader with information on the Psycho-Man when everything was was all but spelled out. I understand that he’s a long-time F4 villain, and if he needs to be explained then why not go ahead and explain who Giant-Man is as well but it does present a definite problem. Without knowing what exactly the Psycho-Man can do, I’m left not really sure if Spider-Man was under his influence or not during the issue.

Consider ASM #658 where the child members of the Future Foundation talk about how much of a immature man-child Spider-Man is. That rings as so annoying off the mark that it’s a prime example of why I would repeatedly drop the title. I, among many other people, do not like being told in the story that our hero is a lame human being. Besides all the decades of stories and examples where he’s proven that he’s anything but, it also just rings as needlessly cynical, as though we need to like Spider-Man because he sucks or something. A lot of us must have missed that memo, but whatever, it’s in the issue and now part of the series.

Now consider the page preceding the Letter’s Column:

Praise is issued to Slott, giving the impression that Slott’s solo run on the title has resurrected it from a state of badness or plain blandness, or even just that his run is a lot better than those that have gone before him. Other writers don’t necessarily have to have bad runs for Slott’s run to be good.

But another interesting thing to note is a letter by one Ritchie Tiongson.

“I won’t go into detail about how much I hated the whole BND idea. It’s sufficient to say I’m one of those who hated it with my very soul…It felt to me like Peter had regressed…Then several months ago, I read a web article about Dan Slott taking over AMAZING and his ideas for Big Time. Everything in that article sang to me…My Spidey was back. I haven’t missed an issue since.”

This isn’t to suggest that Marvel wouldn’t print letters that would say anything negative regarding anything they’ve done in the past. At the same time it’s getting across the notion that Dan Slott knows the character of Spider-Man in ways that the previous writers off the past few years did not. And what’s being suggested along with that notion is that the writers didn’t get the character of Spider-Man because they wrote him in a state that was characteristically regressive to what is once was.

So in this issue, we have two sides of the same coin. We have a very self-doubting, angsty Spider-Man contrasted with a very determined, proactive Spider-Man. I love the way he takes down Psycho-Man, fighting through the fear and doubt because that’s exactly who he is. But as cool as that was, as much as I’d love to give Gage credit for writing Spider-Man the way I and many others want him to be written, it’s still very odd that this was presented to us as a Spider-Man who when acting like he has in the past BND era may as well have been acting under the influence of a mind-controlling super villain. It rings as dishonest to the writers who wrote him before, and while I would very much like to be under the assumption that every time Spider-Man has been written out of character in the past it was due to a super villain, the fact is that it’s not what Marvel wanted to get across to the readers. From the Breevort Manifesto to panels with Joe Quesada at conventions, we’ve been given the impression that Spider-Man is exactly what those writers wrote him as, which was less than favorable in the eyes of everyone around him in the context of the comic. Now he’s all of a sudden written to be above that. The problem is that while characters can be written in different ways by different writers, the fact that a story seemingl goes out of its way to portray one of those ways as false is just outright disingenuous to the writers that came before. Do you see what I’m getting at?

Getting into the particulars about the issue, I really liked the artwork by Reilly Brown. It was simple and clean, and I liked how he drew Spider-Man’s mask. It’s along the lines of how I approach the design of the mask in my own artwork and I thought he pulled it off better than I do. (which isn’t hard admittedly) As for the back-up, I liked it fine for what it was. “Just Another Day” is basically a ‘Nuff Said story and it was nice and entertaining in providing some vignettes about a day in the life of Spider-Man. Nothing incredible, but special in its own small way.

In first reading this issue, I was ready to really hate it due to the preview. After all, Spidey’s never had problems teaching kids back when he was a teacher, so why start now. I really thought Gage was going for an inexperienced, doofus Spider-Man. But with the revelation of why he may have been acting that way, I ended up really enjoying the issue. But going back and thinking about it, there is a very real cognitive dissonance in how Spider-Man is being presented to the masses and to the readers. I’m going to grade this issue a .5 less than what I would have liked to grade it purely on confusion alone. Hopefully it’ll all make more sense after the next issue.

3.5/5 webs.

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