The story of Alpha continues, and so does my pain. Very little differentiates this issue from the last; Alpha continues down his dark self-serving path, Peter continues down his dark it’s-all-my-fault path, the Jackal tries to capture Alpha’s power for his own use, and hilarity ensues. You can almost hear that “wah wah wah waaaaah” sound effect after every line.
The Amazing Spider-Man #693: Alpha Part 2 — That Something Special
Words by Dan Slott
Pencils by Humberto Ramos
Inks by Victor Olazaba
Colors by Edgar Delgado
Letters by Chris Elioulos
“Super-powered, boy version of Lindsay Lohan…”
When ASM 692 teased the return of the Jackal, I felt nothing. As I mentioned when reviewing the Jackal’s last appearance during Slott’s run, this villain possesses a unique kind of unlife even among comic book characters. The usual rule is that even if they’re dead, there’s never anything to stop them from coming back to life. But the Jackal can’t even die temporarily, nor can he ever truly return, because no matter what any writer did there would be no way of legitimately establishing him in either case as anything other than a clone. The distinction between the Jackal and clones of the Jackal has no more meaning; he is an infinite, amorphous uncharacter who can essentially be used for whatever a writer pleases. That may not even be a bad thing in itself, but it does kind of undermine the value of his making a return appearance, and that’s a shame because in terms of his impact on Spider-Man and his importance to the character’s history he’s nearly in goblin territory.
Yet, that makes him a perfect candidate for this story, which has just as little relevance or emotional weight as seeing another Jackal pop up. Like the Jackal, Slott’s endless string of excuses to make Peter feel bad about himself are beginning to ring hollow. The issue opens in the aftermath of the previous battle in which Alpha trashed Giganto, immediately treating the reader to another taste of Reed Richards scolding Spider-Man for his short-sighted antics. Like an over-eager child, Spidey desperately asks Mr. Fantastic, “what can I do, what can I do?” and is essentially told to go to his room and think about what he’s done (and while you’re at it, make sure to keep an eye on what I’ve dubbed the greatest threat planet earth has ever faced while I carry a giant underground for a while.) Peter Protests: “You might run into the Mole Man and Moloids and other mole-related things. I could lend a hand. Shoot some webs. And don’t forget about my always useful Spider-Sense.” You can almost hear him slobbering like a goon, imagine him kind of jumping up and down in a crouched position like a dog begging for a treat.
Some of this story could have been salvaged if Alpha himself were developed or expanded on in any way. The greatest problem the last issue had was that Andy Maguire was a character who didn’t just fail to be distinctive, he was seemingly designed not to be, making it utterly impossible to give a toss what happened to him or what choices he made. In this issue he continues to act like a spoiled brat, and nothing else, because there is literally no other dimension to his character. He cheats on his new girlfriend with the cheerleader who was previously out of his league, while his parents remind the reader that they are Bad People downstairs by talking about money. When the Jackal kidnaps Alpha and his friends and relations, Spidey’s rescue mission involves trying to give him a pep talk about how he needs to find his greatest strength when the people he loves are counting on him — but then it turns out that Alpha doesn’t appear to love them, and he finds his greatest strength because he’s concerned the Jackal will take his new powers away.
Granted, it should be expected that any teenager who suddenly was granted powers of this level would behave in such a fashion. I won’t argue that point, and Slott does make the wise move of addressing the issue; not unusually, this small bit of common sense and insight comes from Mary Jane, who I’ve come to think of as Slott’s outlet for the little voice in his head that says some people might be eager to read a mature and coherent thought on the pages of ASM every now and then. The crucial distinction this scene makes is that it was Uncle Ben’s death that prevented Peter from becoming what we are seeing Alpha turn into. To a large extent, this is true, and it does at least provide a little bit of a basis in the overall Spider-Man story for what’s happening here. Slott is, in a sense, trying to tell a “what if” story in the main continuity that asks what Peter might have been like if that life-changing event hadn’t altered his trajectory.
Unfortunately, even this scene did little to help me enjoy the book, because unlike usual Slott won’t even let Pete accept reason from MJ this time — he goes so far as to ask, “Have you ever met anyone more self-centered than me?” This line is inexcusably ridiculous. Yes, Pete, I have: how about, I don’t know, Norman Osborn? This isn’t trying to pull Peter back to his early 20s, it’s trying to pull him back to being sixteen. I get that Slott is trying to emphasize the importance of losing his uncle as what changed Peter, but it’s just not possible for me to accept that this character could be so childish and stupid as to be unwilling to acknowledge the person he has become after all these years as his real self.
We’ve all heard the line that Wacker and his crew have done this to Spider-Man because they want us to relate to him. Unfortunately, that strategy has well and truly backfired. I have rarely related to Peter at all since the start of the Brand New Day era, but this is one of the few cases where I do: I hate Alpha just as much as he does.
Pros: Well, I’ve still yet to dislike the way that Slott writes MJ. There are hints of actually clever Spidey writing scattered here and there. For example, “Why can’t bad guys ever have a secret lair that doesn’t require a tetanus shot?”
Cons: Pete’s beating himself up is progressing to new levels of excess, and all anyone else seems to do is join in on the piñata-party. The Jackal’s reappearance could not possibly be more hollow. Alpha is still a shallow and uninteresting character.