Last time, I was pleasantly surprised by Dan Slott and Ramón Pérez’s first chapter of “Learning to Crawl” depicting a Peter Parker from the early days of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. So the question is: can they maintain the same level of quality in this second trip back into Spidey’s nostalgic past?
“Learning To Crawl, Part Two”
WRITER: Dan Slott
ARTIST: Pamon Perez
COLORS: Ian Herring
LETTERS: Joe Caramagna
ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: Taking place during the events of Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963), Clayton Cole, aka Clash, is out testing his sonic-based equipment when he overhears on the police band about a robbery by the Vulture. Clash attempts to chase him down, when overhears another police report about Spider-Man breaking into the Baxter Building, and, because Spidey is his idol, decides to check that out instead. However, as Clash attempts to get Spidey’s attention, the power in his hover boots give out, and he’s forced to land.
Spidey returns to Midtown High as Peter and attends another counseling session with his guidance counselor, Mr. Flannigan. Flannigan notices Peter’s black-eye, and Peter–wanting to protect his secret identity by not revealing about his earlier fight with the Fantastic Four–says he’s always been a misfit who never fit in with the cool kids. Flannigan assumes Peter is talking about Flash Thompson, and thus after reprimanding him in his office, forces Flash to apologize to Peter. Flannigan then takes Peter to the A.V. Club, composed of fellow nerds like Peter which Flannigan chaperones, believing Peter will gain acceptance from a different peer group he has more in common with. He also shows Peter a notice for a Science Fair offering $10,000 for college as first prize. Coincidentally, Clayton Cole is entering the very same science fair, and plans on submitting a project based off his Clash tech as an entry. Cole also, as Clash, gets a hold of Maxie Schiffman to arrange a meeting with Spider-Man.
During a field-trip with the A.V. Club, Peter gets contacted by the Chameleon via radioing his spider-sense, which leads to their first encounter. Peter then returns home very late, and is overheard by Aunt May. She goes up to his room, and is about to unlock his door when he tells her not to come in, but puts her key away, and tells him dinner is ready for him in fridge. The next day, the Daily Bugle reports on their website that Spider-Man and the Chameleon may have been the same person all along, and to Peter’s surprise, Flash sticks for Spidey, pointing to out to Peter that the Bugle blames Spidey for things Spidey didn’t do. Peter also sees that Schiffman, when asked to comment about the news, announces that he has a gig lined up for Spider-Man.
Later, Spidey shows up at Schiffman’s office, and Schiffman explains Clash’s offer: he will pay Spidey in cash to have a private one-on-one match for an hour, and let Clash win. A desperate Spidey accepts and meets with Clash, who has set up various cameras to film their “epic battle.” During their fight, however, Clash increases the frequency on his sonic-gloves which triggers Spidey’s spider-sense, and Spidey dodges Clash’s sonic blast as it destroys a chimney. Believing their staged fight is getting out of hand, Spidey webs up Clash and calls it day. This makes Clash angry, believing that “after everything he’s done for him,” all Spidey really cared about was himself and not him. Back at Midtown High, Peter, knowing what it like to be wrongly accused due his battle with the Chameleon and J. Jonah Jameson’s libel in the press, realizes he was wrong to let Flash take the blame for his black eye. So he tells Flannigan that Flash didn’t attack him and apologies to Flash. As a result, Flash believes he now has “get out of jail free card” to beat up Peter in the future, while Flannigan loses Peter’s trust. Later, Flannigan calls Aunt May, who has no idea where Peter is. This time, Aunt May goes to Peter’s room and is shocked by what she finds.
THOUGHTS: Having now read both parts of “Learning to Crawl,” I have come to the following conclusion: Dan Slott has much firmer grasp and understanding of Peter Parker as a teenager than he does Peter as a supposed adult. Had Peter behaved in a similar way as an adult as he did here, he would rightly be accused of being an short-sighted, immature man-child, which has been a common complaint about the character going back all the way to the start of “Brand New Day.” Yet because Slott depicts Peter in this story as still being an adolescent, who is still trying to cope with the death of Uncle Ben, still adjusting to being a costumed superhero, and still learning what “with great power comes great responsibility” actually means, it makes Peter for a far more believable and sympathetic as a character than Slott and others have depicted him since Amazing Spider-Man #546. Perhaps I’m reading far too much into this, but so far, “Learning to Crawl” gives credence to the notion that the creators at Marvel would be far more comfortable having Spider-Man in the comics still being in high school.
I’m not intending this to be overly-critical because the best aspects about Amazing Spider-Man #1.2 is the personal and moral dilemma Peter places himself in by letting Flash take the blame for his Spider-Man related injuries, something which, it should be pointed out, he had no intention of doing in the first place. Not to mention Slott manages to tie-in the original Amazing Spider-Man #1 as a learning experience for Peter feels natural and, to some extent, expands upon the original comic.
There is a slight drawback to this, however, because this also means you need to be somewhat familiar with the original Amazing Spider-Man #1 to get a better appreciation of the story. Unlike Amazing Spider-Man #1.1 which took place between Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963), thus giving you a genuine untold tale, we’re in media res during Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963), which I found to be jarring transition. Thus, at times I felt as if I was reading the “deleted scenes” as opposed to a stand-alone story, and the thing about deleted scenes or a “director’s cut” is that sometimes you can see why they weren’t included in the original story in the first place: because they’re not necessary in telling that story.
Furthermore, because this is a flashback to Peter’s early days as Spider-Man, there are elements about this particular issue this time around which don’t carry as much weight as they otherwise should were this actually a new series without 50 years of continuity behind it. Along with being introduced to Mr. Flannigan last issue, we’re also introduced to the three new characters that form the A.V. Club in this issue, which, because this is the first time we’ve seen any of them in any Spider-Man story, forces the reader to ask themselves why should care or devote any time to them? Also, we know that Aunt May has not figured out her nephew is really Spider-Man as the cliffhanger to this comic implies because we know that she still doesn’t know Peter is Spider-Man in the current Amazing Spider-Man series Slott himself is writing. If we already know what the answer to a cliffhanger is not going to be, then it’s not a effective, much less suspenseful, cliffhanger. Even if Aunt May has discovered Spider-Man stuff in Peter’s bedroom, such as the chemicals he uses to make his web-fluid, then she’ll obviously come to the wrong conclusion and assume her nephew is secretly making and selling Crystal Meth. If not that, then it will be some other equally ridiculous assumption—anything but that her nephew is that “icky Spider-Man,” as usual.
The subplot involving Clash can also doesn’t seem to be adding much to “Learning to Crawl” other than setting-up an obligatory villain for Spidey to fight. Not to say Clayton Cole doesn’t make for an ideal antagonist for Peter, even if he does come off as a “privileged rich kid” type. One nice touch Slott does is that Clash ironically exhibits aspects that Spidey will later adopt, such as using witty banter and filming his costumed exploits. Also, if it wasn’t clear before, this comic shows Clayton as someone who expects and feels entitled to success. This is clear at the beginning, when Clash, after failing to get Spidey’s attention and realizing he should tried to fight the Vulture instead, complains about how he “can never catch a break” when everything we’ve seen of him shows that he’s had nothing but breaks his entire life. That Clash also assumed Spidey would allow him to win their mock battle, or that Clash believes he was the one who made Spidey a publicly known figure because of his YouTube videos, shows this is someone who truly believes the world revolves around him. Considering also how Clayton is going to enter the same science fair that Peter is considering and is convinced he’ll win, don’t be surprised that he’ll either lose or come in second, which will only further set him on the path of super-villainy.
Still, despite the script not being as strong as it was in the last part, Ramón Pérez’s illustrations are still exceptional as it continues to invoke and pay homage towards the classic and original work of Steve Ditko on Spider-Man, as he also replicates scenes from Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963) to enhance the story, even including little things such as Spidey’s costume still having underarm webbing. The two-page spread showing Spidey and Clash’s mock battle is a definite highlight, as are the ways Pérez juxtaposes and makes transitions between his panels into resembling something which has the feel of a older comic while still incorporating the more modern aspects of contemporary comic book storytelling. And while it might be a bit odd seeing elements from the 1960s Spider-Man comics side-by-side 21st century clothing and technology, it doesn’t come off as a distracting.
Part two of “Learning to Crawl” is weaker in comparison to Part 1 to be sure, but enjoyable enough to keep up one’s interest, especially if you’re an old-school Spidey fan. If the goal of this flashback story is give deeper insight into Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man as we know him, then so far, it’s achieving that goal. I’m just hoping that the next three parts don’t feel as extraneous.
- And the “what year is this supposed to be taking place in again?” confusion continues. Sure, the students are using a PowerBook G4 which did indeed exist in 2001 (remember, we now know that Peter was bitten by the radioactive spider “13 years ago) as was streaming video. But the Daily Bugle must have been a newspaper that was really ahead of its competition, as they offer their own original streaming video reports on their website.
- Speaking of which, the Parker house at Forest Hills must be really old if the bedroom doors are still being locked with antique keys. I mean, I know the Parker’s are notoriously old-fashioned, but that’s just overdoing it a bit, don’t you think?
- Of all the things Midtown High’s drama class could be putting on, they decided to put on a production of the Olivia Newton-John 1980 Hollywood musical Xanadu? A film which barely broke even at box office and receives a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Then again, the soundtrack for the film did go double platinum, and the song “Magic” was nominated for a Grammy, so…