In part one of “Learning to Crawl,” the events took place between Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963). In part two, the events took place at exactly the same time as the “Spider-Man Vs. The Chameleon” story also from Amazing Spider-Man #1. So now that we’re into part three, it’s time to see what issue of the original Amazing Spider-Man we’ve been plopped into the middle of.
“Learning to Crawl: Part Three”
WRITER: Dan Slott
ARTIST: Ramón Pérez
COLORS: Ian Herring
LETTERS: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER: Alex Ross
VARIANT COVERS: John Cassaday and Paul Mounts
ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Ellie Pyle
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: Clayton Cole, aka Clash, is attempting edit his video of the mock battle with Spidey from “Learning to Crawl: Part Two,” only because Spidey makes him “look like an idiot,” he can’t use the footage. From outside his room, Cole’s mom tells him to turn down his music, so Cole creates a “null sound pocket” to muffle the sounds of his rage. Meanwhile, Peter arrives home and finds Aunt May is in his room, having found the chemicals he uses to make web-fluid, and believes he’s making and selling drugs. She also finds the envelope containing the money Clash gave to Peter. Peter convinces her the money was from a neighbor who wanted to anonymously help them out after Uncle Ben’s death, and that his chemicals are a super-adhesive he’s going to enter for the upcoming science fair. Peter even considers doing this, until he realizes that someone could put two-and-two together and realize he’s Spider-Man. Later, the kids from the A.V. Club are setting up their science fair exhibits, along with Clayton. One of the A.V. Club kids, Polly McKenna, goes over to talk with him, and the two of them seem to hit it off.
We then see Peter battle the Vulture as depicted in Amazing Spider-Man #2 (1963), and he submits his anti-magnetic inverter that he used to defeat the Vulture as his science-fair project. The judges, however, are not impressed, and neither are his friends from the A.V. Club. Peter introduces them to Aunt May, including Polly. Aunt May, who assumes Polly is Peter’s new girlfriend, invites her over for dinner, and Clayton, overhearing the conversation, becomes jealous and leaves to change into Clash. Peter, having been alerted by his spider-sense and assuming people will get hurt, changes into Spidey and does a swinging-kick at him, trying to get Clash outside. Unfortunately, Clash, who thinks Spidey is attacking him for no reason, blasts him with his sound-blasters. Their fight results in the ceiling of the auditorium about to collapse onto Aunt May and an unconscious Mr. Flannegan, but Spidey uses his webbing and super-strength to hold it up. Realizing Clash is recording and playing back amplified sounds of Spidey’s grunts to bombard him with, the web-slinger snags his inverter and uses it to short-out Clash’s sound-files. Clash escapes, and while Spidey sets aside the wreckage, he can see Aunt May is terrified of him. Flannegan recovers and tries to explain to Aunt May that Spidey was the one who saved them, but May points out that Spidey was the one who put them in danger in the first place. Clayton, who had planned to reveal he was Clash at the Science Fair, realizes he’ll be in as much trouble with the cops as Spidey and decides to lay low. Peter takes Aunt May home, and she’s convinced J. Jonah Jameson is right about Spidey being a “menace.” Thus Peter decides he’s let both Uncle Ben and Aunt May down, and vows never to be Spider-Man again.
THOUGHTS: The alternative title for this comic might as well have been called, “Why Aunt May Hates That Awful, Icky Spider-Man,” because that’s exactly what this comic is really about. It’s also about explaining something which didn’t require an explanation.
It’s always been understood that the reason Aunt May was afraid of Spider-Man for so many years is because he looks creepy. It’s a simple enough explanation; after all, there are people who just don’t like, get grossed-out by, and have an irrational fear of spiders, and it’s not much of a stretch that someone would project their own suspicions and fears of spiders onto a person who acts and dresses like one. Yet, for whatever reason, Dan Slott feels the need to ” make sense” Aunt May’s fear of Spidey, as though her being afraid of him just because he looks scary and reading libelous Daily Bugle editorials isn’t plausible enough. Granted, Aunt May believing Spidey is a “monster” and a “hooligan” because she was almost killed during Spidey and Clash’s fight is logical, but it’s also problematic for two reasons.
First, it reinforces the notion that Aunt May is the stereotypical “senile senior citizen.” It’s a depiction carried ad nauseam throughout this issue, from when Aunt May suspects Peter’s chemicals for making web-fluid are “proof” he’s making and dealing drugs (which, it turns out, was something I guessed would be the case in the last review) to assuming Peter’s classmate, Polly, was Peter’s girlfriend (although note that it was Peter, not Polly, who tried to correct his Aunt). Arguably, Slott is just being faithful to how Stan Lee characterized Aunt May during his original run on Amazing Spider-Man for comic-relief, except given the efforts from various writers over the course of Spider-Man’s long-developed publication history to make Aunt May more than just a silly old woman, making her come across as one in this comic only shows how antiquated her original characterization really was.
Second, when Aunt May accuses Spidey of being the one to put them in danger, she’s not entirely wrong. The comic makes it very clear that if Peter had just allowed Clayton to perform as Clash at the science fair, things would not have escalated the way they did and no one, including Aunt May, would’ve been in danger. Nor would he have set Clayton even further on the path to becoming a super-villain. It doesn’t matter if Peter believed Clash was a threat, or that he tried to take the fight outside away from the other students, or that Clash did destory the Science Fair when attacking Spidey, or even, as pointed out by Mr. Flannegan, Spidey saved Aunt May—Peter is still shown to be in the wrong because he threw the first punch (or first kick as it were) and Clash was defending himself. It doesn’t even matter that Peter’s spider-sense registers Clash as a threat because other than causing noise with his sub-woofer boots, Clash is not actually threatening or endangering anyone. So much for a precognitive ability to detect danger actually detecting danger.
Yes, Spidey, in this story, is still new at being a superhero and what happened plays into the long-running concept that he’s an imperfect one, capable of making mistakes despite his good intentions. It calls back to moments during Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original run in which Peter would step in as Spidey to prevent what he thought was a crime taking place, only to completely misjudge what was really going on. Also, it’s clear Slott, in continuing to highlight the similarities and differences between Peter and Clayton, is attempting to show how their escalating rivalry and conflict stems from assuming the worst about the other, that neither one is entirely in the right or wrong. But in the context of this issue, Clash’s once irrational dislike towards Spider-Man now becomes entirely justified. In what I can only assume was deliberate irony on the part of Slott, Peter—a character who is supposed to be learning and demonstrating for the reader the value and importance of responsibility—makes things worse by being responsible.
Some of the problems I had from the last issue are continued in this one, and in some cases, doubled-down. Once again, we get another false cliffhanger at the end of the issue, this time with Peter deciding to give up being Spider-Man “for good” retroactively for the first time. Just as it was with the last cliffhanger, we already know Peter won’t do this because not only are there are still two parts left to go in this mini-series, we have a regular ongoing Amazing Spider-Man comic showing Peter is still Spider-Man many years later also being written by Dan Slott. What’s more, Slott and Ramón Pérez decide to devote four pages in recapping the Vulture story from the original Amazing Spider-Man #2 by replicating the exact dialogue and panels from that issue. While isn’t on the same-level as what Joe Quesada did in cutting-and-pasting pages from The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 since Pérez is still illustrating his own panels, it still comes off as lazy and unnecessary padding. It also doesn’t help that Spidey stops Clash using the same device he used to stop the Vulture, in that while it allows for retroactive congruence between Amazing Spider-Man #2 and #1.3, feels rather uninspired.
There’s still plenty to recommend about this comic, however, especially for those already following “Learning to Crawl.” Once again, Pérez, along with the aid of Ian Herring’s colors, captures the spirit of Steve Ditko’s art style while still retaining his own. This is especially the case when he depicts the usage of Clash’s sound-based gadgets, whether it be cutting parts of Clayton’s word balloons when inside his sound-canceling field, or showing his sound blasters as a series of concentric circles of altering hues radiating outwards while changing the surrounding color palate to depict the sensation of vertigo. Slott’s portrayals of both Peter and Clayton are also fairly solid, particularly the later in his assumption that everything should always go his way, emphasized by his delusion that he and he alone made an “ungrateful” Spidey a household name. It’s also an issue which, more so than the earlier parts, captures the ambiance and themes of the original Amazing Spider-Man, not only showing how Peter’s life becomes an even bigger mess because of his being Spider-Man, but also a touch of teenage soap opera with the emerging Peter, Clayton, and Polly triangle.
Yet at the half-way point of “Learning to Crawl,” I find myself starting to fall into the camp of wondering why this flashback story is necessary or important enough to interrupt the flow of twice-a-month schedule of Amazing Spider-Man. If it’s to set up Clash as a new villain for Spidey to face in the regular series, it seems like a long way to go about doing so. If it’s to fill in the “gaps” between the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko issues of Amazing Spider-Man, it starting to become superfluous, not to mention Kurt Busiek already did this with Untold Tales of Spider-Man years before. If it’s to reintroduce readers to Spider-Man, his origins, and history, why not just reprint and re-release those original comics? Sooner or later, a larger point to this story needs to be made, otherwise it will just be seen as filler. Decent filler, but filler all the same.
- So in the Marvel Universe, instead of Apple Computers, it’s Pear Computers? And since the original logo Steve Jobs and Roland Wayne based their original logo for Apple from the moment Sir Issac Newton discovered the concept of gravity, does that also mean Sir Issac Newton in the Marvel Universe sat under a pear tree instead of an apple tree?
- Oh, Peter…if only you knew beforehand how the majority of the public in the Marvel Universe are as naïve as your aunt. Because, as shown in more current issues of Amazing Spider-Man, you were able to get away with being the inventor of Spidey’s web fluid without anyone, including J. Jonah Jameson, believing you were also Spider-Man simply by claiming you were merely “Spidey’s tech guy.” I guess it’s true when they do say “hindsight is 20/20.”
- Perhaps I’m being a bit obtuse, but I would assume that Peter’s miniature anti-magnetic inverter, by definition, wouldn’t also erase computer hard drives like an electromagnetic pulse would since, by its very name, it’s an “anti-magnet.” Unless “anti-magnetism” is supposed to analogous to “reverse magnetism” since that’s what the device is actually doing, which means it works the same way like a magnet, only opposite? Maybe? I really need to brush up on my comic book psudeo-science, don’t I?
- Another thing about that anti-magnetic inverter—if Peter really wanted to impress those judges at the Science Fair and really impress his fellow science nerds, he should have called his inverter a “sonic screwdriver.”
- Why do I get the feeling the kids at the Science Fair spent far more time working on their homemade superhero costumes than their science projects? Also, considering how their costumes also corresponded to their science project, it’s fortunate that no one gave a demonstration on radiant heat by dressing up like the Human Torch. Even so, my favorites were “Mister Fantastic” and “Iron Man.”