Comics & Manga

What the heck is happening in Zeb Wells' THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN? Part 2

Major, major spoilers continue.


This is the worst nickname of all time for any villain. I don’t care that it was the illusion kids that said it. This my introduction to this character and it was extremely dumb. I have decided to be petty about it. This is not scary or ominous. I have to consciously remember that his name is Rabin and NOT The Scribble Man.

Skipping over the Dark Web saga which took place in-between the opening arc and now... Rabin returns to terrorize Spider-Man and kill The Scarlet Woman, and we begin an enormous flashback to untangle how we got here. I will try to give this summary with some brevity.

Rabin is an evil mathematician who Spider-Man encountered and defeated in the past. He busts out of jail to enact his revenge on Spidey. Rabin basically has magical rune powers and is convinced that killing Spider-Man for revenge and Mary Jane as a sacrifice will enable him to be the emissary for his evil death god, Wayep. He marks Spider-Man and Mary Jane, who are then transported to another dimension with a destroyed New York City. I really want to nitpick Rabin’s plan and actions here, but big-picture this is all fine and good, honestly. And I love how Spider-Man fights back here. This feels great.

In the new dimension, Peter and Mary are attacked by a monster that’s giving Peter trouble, when Paul comes in and one-shots it with a gun. This is how the characters are introduced to Paul, but we’ve been seeing him since the beginning. Paul takes Pete and MJ to his house and explains how the Math Magic works, and explain some history. Paul claims he was also sent here by Rabin after being marked for death. Wayep has effectively destroyed and conquered this world, and wants access to another, and Rabin, wanting to appease Wayep, Rabin killing Spider-Man will complete this access.

Peter finishes working on a dimensional travel device that Paul hard started (nice work, again!), when Wayep himself attacks. In the ensuing chaos, Mary Jane kills(!) Wayep, which causes an explosion and sends Peter back to his home dimension, leaving Paul and Mary Jane alone in the Wayep-World. Issue 22 ends where Issue 1 began, with Spider-Man in the wreckage of this explosion.

Spider-Man buries his stuff at the impact site (?) and runs away in a panic, realizing he left Mary Jane behind and that he immediately needs to return and bring her back. Again, so far, so good. I mean that with sincerity. We have a reasonable situation here for Peter to be panicked, to be off kilter, and get some drama out of that. Peter discovers that even though they spent one week in Wayep World, it’s only been a day in our home dimension. This really puts the pressure on, and after beefing with Norman at Aunt May’s place, Peter goes to the Fantastic Four for help.

Johnny and Ben are worried about what’s going on with Spider-Man, clearly he’s in a panic. Reed and Sue just happen to be away, and Johnny and Ben are turned off by his abrasive behavior and are under some kind of orders from the Feds to keep Spider-Man contained(?) or make sure it’s the real Spider-Man (Johnny proposes both of these on the same page) until Captain America arrives. Peter runs off in a fit and tries to organize his next plan, changing out of costume when Captain America is waiting for him. Captain America makes some pleas for normalcy before Spider-Man punches Cap in the face(!) before running off and going to Norman for help.

That’s the end of Issue 23, so let’s pause here for a minute.

I’ll be positive first. A lot of times Why doesn’t x help? can come up in the minds of some readers. It doesn’t usually bother me, but for some it does. The Marvel superhero community are often pretty chummy with each other. Attempts to acknowledge this is rare, and Wells’ trying is appreciated here. Peter didn’t jump to Norman right away, and we got some story material out of that. I love the Fantastic Four, so any appearance with them will please me. That said…

There’s still a string of wacky events here. First off, it’s said that the Feds are only looking for Spider-Man because they found the costume in the explosion crater. Why did he bury it anyway? How would they not find it? He basically ran away naked from Pennsylvania. What if they chase the naked guy coming from the crater? What if they caught you stealing clothes? Peter even muses that burying the costume was a stupid idea. But surely that’s not the ‘What Did Peter Do’, right? This isn’t a minor detail, this is why the FF and Cap won’t help him right away. Speaking of…

The FF and Cap are being pretty reasonable here, within the limits the story has given them. You can debate if Johnny and Ben would help right away or not, or if they would prioritize their friend, who Johnny even mentions they could test if he’s the real Spider-Man. But the solutions they offer are sound, but Peter runs off anyway. This is a huge trap in the story. If Spidey’s allies are straight up hostile to him, it feels like Cap and the FF are being written out of character, but here they are being very reasonable and in-character, now to the detriment of Spider-Man.

Once Peter punches Captain America, once again we are rooting against him. And if we’re not rooting against him, are we supposed to be on Peter’s side and think of the FF and Cap as stubborn assholes? They’re definitely not. How long could the verifying of his identity take? Minutes? An hour? I’m willing to accept that Reed and Sue were away at this exact moment, but Peter is really throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. Is seeking out T’Challa or Dr. Strange any faster?

I’ll admit, we are aligned with Peter in exactly one aspect here, and that is we are prioritizing Mary Jane. This is in character for him and something we as readers want to see as well. It would border on nonsense if he was luxurious about the time here, right?

The ticking clock on MJ in the Wayep World is putting pressure on him, yes, but we now have to question every single obstacle here against that clock. Peter isn’t sure about the time difference and neither are we. Honestly, if you read the comic it feels like they were in Wayep World for a day. Ignoring that, Peter suggests it was “a week, maybe more” with one day passing at home. Having the FF stay and help has to be the most direct route you have, right?

This annoys only me, but when Peter thinks of Dr. Strange he muses “Wait, is he dead?” the idea he wouldn’t know is ridiculous. What did that add to the story?

Is this what Peter did? Be unreasonable? Be stupid? Get caught by the Feds when he probably didn’t have to be? All this is serves as a (sloppy) excuse to get Peter and Norman together, which I will now interject...

Good Norman is Good

Since the Sins Rising arc in the Nick Spencer run, Good Norman has been a focal element in the overall ASM story. This is one thing that I think has thoroughly succeeded and been entertaining the entire time between the two writers. Wells’ has done a great job of carrying the tension of Norman’s behavior and redemption, miniseries have explored his emotions and his guilt now that he is cleansed of his evil.

While the Evil Basketball is kind of silly, what’s actually happening within the character of Norman Osborn, and the drama of if (or when) the Green Goblin will return has honestly worked. Norman is practically the main character at times, we sympathize and are aligned with him because we would also love to see a happier, healthier Norman. I don’t have a lot of nitpicks about this, it has been a joy to read when Peter and Norman are uneasy with each other, or when they are buddy buddy. I give full credit to everyone here.

Back to the story…

Peter, Paul, and Mary

Issue 24 opens with Peter stealing the shit he needs from the Fantastic Four for Norman, right as Reed and Sue are coming home.

What the hell are you doing, man?

The flashback only continues with ‘One Year Ago’, just as the last issue did. So, how long has it been?

This scene is at night, where the last issue all happened in the day and evening. Is this the same night? If so, were Reed and Sue were just hours from coming home? In which case this definitely would not have been any faster than going to Norman?

Has it been a few days? Again, same thing, Norman getting to work on this now was great, even if it ended up taking days. But he doesn't have a fusion reactor, so last minute we steal one. Was that preferable to simply waiting with Johnny and Ben? If it was x amount of days, how quickly could things have been cleared up with the Feds?

Well, it has to have been longer than a few days, because soon we’re going to find out that Mary Jane has been in Wayep World with Paul for nearly four years. Peter estimated “a week, maybe longer” equals a day at home. Four years, is about 208 weeks according to Google, let’s divide that by 7 to get our real world time. By this scale, Peter and Norman were working on bringing MJ back for THIRTY DAYS. Can that really be?

No matter how we slice this pie though, Peter is acting like an idiot now. He was rushing this for no reason. He punched Captain America for no reason. Yes, he had no way to know Mary Jane would survive the Wayep World, but this time difference is a major aspect of the story and doesn’t seem to make any sense. The ticking clock (along with the Feds, I guess), were a major reason for Peter’s behavior, but what is even happening now? The revealing and furthering of the story is making him look worse and worse, and in a cheap way. We could forgive Peter for not knowing everything that's happening about the time difference. But how is learning that his panic and rush to do this didn’t seem to matter help us empathize with our hero?

Norman and Peter finish the new dimensional travel device and Peter pops in on Mary Jane and Paul, seemingly at the exact moment where Rabin is killed by Paul, not that it matters, since we know Rabin is coming back. For some reason we are told by Rabin that Spider-Man is too weak now to defeat him, and then Paul stabs him. I have no idea what the point of all that is. Again, this story structure doesn’t even allow for us to bluff that the threat of Rabin and Wayep is over, or that Spider-Man has a temporary victory by being the one to defeat Rabin in the knick of time. We know he’s coming back. But were this story presented linearly, we could at least end an issue on Spider-Man wailing on Rabin to save MJ, Paul, and the kids.

Speaking of kids, MJ is shocked and happy to see Peter as if time never passed. Paul lets the kids out of the vault. MJ says the kids are her family. We flashback within a flashback (ASM is released every two weeks, so by now this flashback series of events has run from March to May starting in #21 to #25) to what happened to Mary Jane in Paul in Wayep World.

I have to give some credit where credit is due. As mentioned, this idea that Mary Jane is with Paul now is a titanic disruption of everything, so dedicating an entire issue to explaining how that happened is fine on paper. “Whatever Happened To Mary Jane?” feels like we moved the story goal post from “What Did Peter Do?”, but this one is framed a little bit better.

Unfortunately though, the main crux of Mary Jane’s unbreakable bond with Parker being broken is simple; that she spent those four years surviving with Paul, raising the kids and gradually being worn down and building a connection with him. Mary Jane, at first, is extremely adamant about waiting for Peter’s return, but is slowly whittled down over the course of the issue.

Oh, also this issue explains how Mary Jane got her superpowers. I don’t have time to get into that and honestly don’t care. It’s corny and shallow in the way I swear only Marvel dares to be.

I want to avoid saying that Mary Jane is being written as disloyal, or an idiot, or stupid. It just makes me feel bad. I will say that this even this decent scenario really stretches credibility and is, again, contradictory to what we’ve been reading for a while. It’s understandable to bond with someone, especially over a long time in a survival situation. That’s fine, I guess. I don’t like it, but there’s your concept. There's your revelation. Mary Jane’s behavior here is honestly really difficult to analyze, because the story has a catch...sort of. Rabin says this.

“May the Scarlet Woman accept her chains...and may her death make me a god!”

We’ll have to get into detail about what this means when we talk about the next issue, and the future, and how this comment fits into Rabin’s plan. It’s not terribly clear even when this story is over, though.

When Mary Jane and Peter return to the right dimension, Mary Jane apologizes, and affirms that they aren’t getting back together. Peter: “We took a walk. A month ago. We were going to move in together. You asked me. And I said I was a mess. And you said...”
MJ: “When are you not a mess?”

First, then, it really was an entire month. Okay. Great.

Second, you can interpret this conversation in a few ways. This dialogue sounds like it was originally in support of Peter, but now confusingly reads against him. As in, the full emotion of the sentence would have been, at that time “When are you not a mess? I love you.” Or “When are you not a mess? We always get through everything.”, something to that kind of effect. But because of the emotion of this scene, it’s more like she’s saying “When are you not a mess? I’ve had enough.” But what changed between Peter and Mary here? Nothing? Yes, she grew attracted to and raised some kids with Paul. But this makes it sound like Peter is just not for MJ any more.

I’ll admit, immediately going back to a status quo in the same issue you explain why it it’s changed is probably not the greatest writing either. The story structure is still working against itself. Was she thinking bad of Peter during the four years? Did that time with Paul amplify any negative, resentful feelings she may have had? Maybe, is it Rabin’s spell? Well, that’s the one get out the story has right now.
Peter goes outside and beefs with the Fantastic Four and Captain America again. It’s still annoying to see, and this scene basically confirms all the worst criticism of the tone and character in this run. Peter could have been a lot gentler (as Cap puts it), but he wasn’t, and it didn’t matter anyway.

Rabin narrates the ending of issue 25. “To find a new way, one must give up the old. There is a price, of course. The weight of which may crush you. There is screaming, violence, the rending of cloth and flesh. And then the silence of acceptance.” This goes over panels of events that happened earlier in the series, which right now is in the future of this issue. Confusing yet? But this may read as neat in trade paperback form. This choice in artwork suggests this is all part of Rabin’s plan, right? If it’s not, then is it supposed to be a parallel to Rabin’s own journey somehow? What for? Rabin’s new plan is to become Wayep. Sure, why not?

During my original reading of this story, I still had some hope that it could turn around. I have seen comics of all kinds turn around with a good ending. Would this be all fondly remembered as Zeb’s Wild Ride or something? Will defeating Rabin reunite our hero with his love? I had been reading this run of series, mostly, with displeasure, confusion, and irritation. But if we can pull it all off at the end… Well, maybe this would sit in a tier of fondly remembered Spider-Man stories. Perhaps even a modern, daring classic if it all comes together. Rabin would be one of Spider-Man’s most nefarious foes for trying to pull this one off. So, can we stick the landing?

Part 3: Let’s Kill Kamala Khan During AAPI Month For Some Reason