Comics & Manga

What the heck is happening in Zeb Wells' THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN? Part 3

Major, major spoilers, again!

Let's Kill Kamala Khan During AAPI Month For Some Reason

Before we get back into the main story, I wanted to take a short interlude here and highlight two things. First, an emotional moment from the run that I felt worked strongly and kept us on Spider-Man’s side. Second, a similar story in Dan Abnett’s Aquaman that we can compare to the Rabin saga.

My Kingdom For A Ben

At the end of DARK WEB, Chasm (Ben Reilly), had been defeated by Spider-Man, the X-Men, and friends (Kamala was there, somewhere, and Madelyn Pyror). Spider-Man pleads for Ben to come back. Without saying anything, Ben puts the Chasm mask back on, and we see a defeated Spider-Man as Ben is left to sulk in Limbo.

This scene is great. I loved it. I was excited to show my friends as we shared in the “Damn” feeling that Peter has. Was it kind of annoying to see Ben Reilly turned into a purple Spider-Man who probably only exists to make a new marketable character? Yes. But honestly, even that kind of plays into Chasm’s angsty new personality in a kind of meta way. Dark Web had some other issues that keep me from fully recommending it as a great story, but here we got some enjoyable storytelling and fun out of twisting a character. Not perfect, but that’s really all I’m asking here is for enjoyable reading. Spider-Man doesn’t have to win every fight and redeem everyone right away. I’m not asking for that.

Almost anyone who’s enjoyed any kind of long running fiction will probably agree, we’re willing to stretch a few “rules” and bend a few things in the name of an enjoyable story with characters we like. Especially for something like a superhero comic that we assume will go on basically forever! This stretch of Amazing Spider-Man works against all that, even though some of the basic plot beats read as fitting the format.

Next, I recalled that early on in Dan Abnett’s Aquaman (a run I read to completion and very much enjoyed) had a surprisingly similar scenario to the one I just detailed in Spider-Man. Let’s look.

Aquaman vs The World

In this run of Aquaman, Atlantean relations with the rest of the Earth are a new concept for everyone involved. The Atlantean embassy is just opening, and while the Justice League does exist and is on good terms with everyone, Aquaman is the king of an enormous nation with advanced technology. It’s making some people a little nervous, and Aquaman himself, is nervous about being the ambassador and having a lot of this weight on his shoulders. Mera is great in this run, so I’d hardly say he’s alone, but it’s a big job.

After the embassy is destroyed in a fight between Black Manta (who is an Earth-dweller) and Aquaman, the American government immediately cancels the whole embassy idea, and tensions rise higher and higher, while attacks from Black Manta and a terrorist group recruiting him continue. Aquaman wants nothing but peace between two worlds, but various forces above and below the sea are conspiring against him.

When I say higher and higher, I mean it, Aquaman even talks to the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES to try and smooth things over, but danger strikes right at that time. It all comes to a head in Issue #6, when Superman is deployed to try and work things out with Aquaman. It looks exactly the same as Captain America coming in for Spider-Man.

Aquaman, rightfully, is upset, feeling like the government called Superman on him (they did) because they don’t trust him, despite having not done anything wrong. Superman insists that it isn’t like that, but the two butt heads over their alliance, if Superman even has the full story to be acting on here, and they have a fight. It’s exciting, and frankly I was shocked to see Superman in an antagonstic role. But it works, it works so well. Why?

Well, first off, the stage has been set much better here. The whole first arc of Dan Abnett’s Aquaman is squarely on this national level trouble between Atlantis and the surface, the emotional strength it takes to keep and make peace, and it’s written with a lot of nuance. While the American Government could definitely be seen as antagonistic (and there are actual full on villains running around in the shadows), the work has all been done in the story to get us here appropriately. They don’t jump to arresting Aquaman right away, or shooting Atlanteans on sight. Although when Aquaman is arrested, he goes willingly, and it still doesn’t work out.

So, are we pissed off when Superman arrives and the tension explodes? No, we’re not, the story got us here, and it wasn’t framed as Aquaman being a massive failure of a king. This story didn’t open with Aquaman standing over Superman’s body asking us “What Did Arthur Do?”, it started with the attack on the embassy from Aquaman’s greatest villain and proceeded from there.

Are we frustrated that we can’t all just get along? Absolutely. So is Aquaman, he’s even pretty pissed off when Supes shows up. He hits Superman in a full page spread out of anger. We’re aligned with him. We also understand Superman’s position, even if he’s acting as a bit of an antagonist, we get how Superman is a linchpin for this entire Justice League/superhero relationship with the government thing. The story is even clever enough to acknowledge that Aquaman simply does not carry the clout of someone like Superman or Wonder Woman, and that this kind of move of putting Superman against his ally is an effective deterrent for any kind of Atlantis uprising or invasion.

Aquaman and Superman are at odds between what to do for the world, and what to do for each other, when those things look like they’re in opposition. That’s awesome, grand scale superhero writing. Those are big ideas. That’s comic books, baby!

I hope I’ve illustrated here how this kind of story can work, and I really recommend you check out the DC Rebirth Aquaman if what I mentioned here interested you. Most of what I mentioned is in Volume 1, but most of the things you’d imagine would be through-lines continue well on.

Okay, DC Comics begone!

Back to The Amazing Spider-Man…

Issue 26 opens up with a quick flashback to Kamala Khan’s job interview at Oscorp. A complete run recap up to this point is not in my scope, but take my word for it that Kamala has barely been a fixture of the book. It wasn’t terribly clear what she intended to do with being close to Norman, other than watch to see if he’ll become the Green Goblin again.

This is not Wells’ or anyone in particular’s fault, but I saw a lot of comments wondering if Peter and Kamala even knew each other’s secret identities. It turns out not, at least in this, but I found that funny.

Peter, Gold Goblin (GOOD NORMAN), and Ms. Marvel get ready to square up against Rabin, who summons the same weird monster we saw in the Wayep-World. This is another faux-complaint, but I am going to be forever perplexed that Rabin’s ‘symbology’ magic was never simply called runes.
Rabin reveals to MJ “I see that you still wear my bindings. Your family doesn’t belong in this world. Not even your precious Paul.”

I’ve neglected breaking down Paul in detail, but even after it’s revealed that Paul is the son of Rabin from his dimension, there is really nothing interesting to him. Yes, I said the son of the Rabin from his dimension. Paul is a native to the destroyed Wayep World from before. If you’re wondering “How does that change anything?” it really, seriously doesn’t. I’ve read this flashback four or five times (yes, another flashback in the finale issue) and I have no idea what I’m supposed to gleam from it. Peter runs in and screams that “He’s the bad guy!” just because his name is also Rabin. It’s ridiculous. He’s not even right. I don’t get it. And once again we are robbed of even a chance to feel something along with the characters because they all know this and we don’t.

Part of why Paul gets meme’d on is because he is such a nothing character, depth wise, but also he is a massive obstacle for Peter. At the beginning at the run he is some random guy, and at this point he may as well still be. The unbelievable contrast between how bland and boring Paul is is at odds with how deeply important he is supposed to be to the story.

Are we supposed to like Paul? I doubt it. Are we supposed to empathize with him? He is a survivor in a destroyed world, who was forced to kill his father to save it. But we’re just told all that and not shown it, so it’s hard to feel anything about him. We do learn that MJ apparently sees a lot in Paul that she sees in Peter. For the same reasons, this falls flat. A reader in real life has spent magnitudes more time with Peter Parker than Paul Rabin. We have seen Peter and Mary’s relationship play out dynamically over years. But we have known Paul for about one year in real life, issue by issue time, and simply told his backstory. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Rabin mocks Mary Jane, revealing that the kids are his magical creation, and before Paul’s very eyes, they disappear.

Ignoring that Paul looks distressingly like James Rolfe, aka The Angry Video Game Nerd in this scene… uh, okay? What purpose did the children serve in Rabin’s plan? I am open to suggestion here, because I have no idea. Do the children somehow make her more of a sacrifice than before? Did they prepare her for the ritual? How are they her bindings?

Who can Rabin mark as a sacrifice? Anyone? Why does Wayep care who gets sacrificed? What’s special about Mary Jane? Rabin wanted revenge on the “Sun Blood” Spider-Man, I get how that could appease a death god. But why MJ? Could he mark someone else? Is it her relationship to Spider-Man? The one she apparently doesn’t have any more?

What are we doing here?

So, yes, Mary Jane having a family was Rabin’s doing. It was the work of an evil villain. He even designed the kids to look like her and Paul. Again, though, why? Why?! How does ruining Peter Parker’s relationship with her advance his goals in any way? Rabin’s ultimate goal (now) is to become the god of death himself. The children enable him to do

Can anything reasonable happen? This is not even halfway through the issue!

Mary Jane et al fight Rabin, while the Fantastic Four show up and make peace with Spider-Man. This scene is alright by me. Peter and MJ squabble a bit about saving each other, which is a somewhat interesting callback to the events that sent Peter into a crater. Peter wails on Rabin for a page, before Rabin teleports away.

Gold Goblin assists the FF with defeating the giant monster, which Reed Richards instantly deciphers how to defeat after simply observing the monster and having been told about Symbology. I don’t have a problem with this, we’ve got a lot going on here and it really would be a waste of time to dawdle on the Fantastic Four cleverly defeating this monster. Let it be a fun action scene, and it is. That said, the fact Reed immediately discovered how to defeat this monster, to me, suggests that waiting for the Fantastic Four was even-more-absolutely the right move, that we didn’t make.

Ms. Marvel protects MJ from Rabin, while Spider-Man catches up. Rabin seemingly stabs Mary Jane from behind, claiming that the ceremony is complete. Spider-Man kicks him (little late there!) and Peter picks up “Mary Jane”.

“I am become Wayep!” screams Rabin. I’ll be honest, I absolutely love the visuals of this scene. Check out the shadows behind Rabin that resemble ravens (now that’s a tongue twister). That looks cool as fuck, and is a creative, engaging visual for the character.

Wayep is displeased that The Scarlet Woman was not brought to him, and kills Rabin on the spot.

“Mary Jane” turns out to be Kamala Khan, who used her stretchy powers to shapeshift into looking like Mary Jane, to draw away Rabin from the real one.


Rabin marked Mary Jane for sacrifice. He seriously has no way to tell who the real Mary Jane is? The guy who can teleport anywhere? The evil mathematician who just teleported directly to the real Mary Jane’s location without looking? He basically put a Hunter’s Mark on her like Dungeons and Dragons, and that’s how it ends? Wayep just kills him for screwing up this ritual that has no clear rules to begin with?

It’s hard to argue whether or not an Evil Death God is acting believably or not, but what? That’s the resolution here? Rabin killed the wrong person?

I can somewhat forgive Ms. Marvel here. This entire ordeal with Rabin has been genuine chaos that she just now dropped into, but she acts like this was her plan to defeat Rabin. “Hah, got ‘im…” she says. Uh, what? No? He stabbed the shit out of you girl! You are ABOUT TO DIE. You definitely did not know that screwing up this ritual would kill Rabin, did you? How could you have known that? Did you mean to get stabbed?

Kamala Khan dies in Peter Parker’s arms, and the rest of the group mourn her.

“Buy Fallen Friend: The Death Of Ms. Marvel!”

Kamala is resurrected just short of two months later, at the X-Men’s Hellfire Gala. In Amazing Spider-Man, Kamala died in Issue 26 and was seen again with Spider-Man in Issue 31. Five issues later. In comic book production timelines, this is practically as soon as possible.

I can’t even think of some clever analogy here to illustrate how disrespectful this is. Kamala Khan is a huge fan favorite. And here she is, randomly dying in Amazing Spider-Man. For a cheap ending. It was the last day of AAPI month for goodness’ sake!

Now, the story does continue on. Without giving play-by-play’s of each successor issue, know this. As of this writing, Mary Jane and Paul are still together, going through couples therapy after the loss of their kids.

So, did defeating Rabin accomplish anything? If Mary Jane’s family was the result of Rabin’s spell, and Rabin is dead, shouldn’t something happen? Apparently not.

Even if you’re ambivalent towards the relationship status of Peter Parker, or aren’t a fan of Kamala, how is this good storytelling? What part of this story is satisfying any reader here? Rabin was defeated basically by accident, and also nothing changed anyway. Spider-Man himself also had nothing to do with the resolution here, and swung in late to mourn a friend. Seems to be a running theme here, doesn’t it?

This story was not any fun to read. I am miffed at myself at how many times I’ve had to re-read this saga just to make sure. Yes, the story threads go on, this is an expected and normal part of comic book story telling. But what was the point here? What did I just read?

If you enjoyed this saga, that’s fine. More power to you. I don’t think you’re an idiot or anything. If someone started reading comic books* because of all the negativity and anti-hype around this, bless ‘em. Really.


For me, and many others, this entire plot was a wreck. While there are some good moments and highlights across the first 26 issues, this started falling apart before the first issue even came out by framing Peter as some kind of failure. Mission accomplished there, I guess. Peter definitely lets us down in this. But we went over that in the last part!

I hope I’ve made my case and properly explained why this just didn’t work. It’s felt absolutely delightful to get it off my chest.

The Future (or Present)

As of this writing, currently, Peter Parker has been given the Evil Basketball and is going absolutely feral, seemingly on his way to kill Paul right now. Amazing Spider-Man #35 will release on October 11th, and I intended to revisit this run again.

Without going in-depth, I’ve seen a lot of positive response to this. Is that a good thing, when it’s our hero gone ballistic against his will by Evil Osborn Sins? Peter immediately goes to beat up Kraven the Hunter, then Norman, and next Paul. I’m really divided on this. This is, admittedly, starting to work in a freakish meta way, but it’s still not working for me as a story. I think it would have been fairly natural for poor Peter to just break here and try to take back his life, but, whatever. He is now the Spider-Man Who Gobs, and that’s that.

We’ll see how it pans out, but right now a lot of fans are quite aligned with Goblin Mode Spider-Man. It’s an interesting turn. I don’t think it’s a great one, but I’m willing to let them cook for now.

My Own Outline

I can’t claim to be anything other than a hobbyist comic writer, certainly not a good writer. Plotting is hard. If I had to sit down at Zeb Wells’ desk tomorrow, I would probably cry under the pressure. That said, I have drafted up an outline that I feel could have helped shaped this story, without completely scrapping absolutely everything and starting over.

Let’s tell this linearly.

One of the biggest problems with this story is the framing of it all as previous events. This is confusing and sucks out the drama. Let’s just ditch “What Did Peter Do?” altogether. The reader can decide this for themselves. Issue #1 now features the initial scrap with Rabin that we saw in #21. Just start it there!

We'll reshuffle and re-frame some other events as well.

Let’s have Peter in the middle of the heightening gang war between Tombstone and The Rose, and right at a critical junction, Peter and Mary Jane are ambushed by Rabin, marked, and whisked away.

In the other dimension, Peter and MJ save Paul from that monster (we want Spidey to be heroic, at least a bit!), and a grateful Paul recounts the story of Rabin and what happened to this ruined world at his home base/lab/whatever. If we want, let’s actually flashback to those events of Paul having to kill his own father after spending a life time helping him. We probably can’t spend a whole issue on this, but meeting a character and getting some backstory is fairly standard stuff.

Same things can happen here. Rabin/Wayep attacks, and in the chaotic battle Spider-Man is flung home while MJ and Paul are stuck together.

This time, we’ll follow along Paul and Mary Jane in tandem, with Paul also working on a device to send Mary Jane home instead of simply surviving. Building this device can be our excuse to move them around and keep them in danger, with more monsters around every turn. If we want MJ to have powers, here's the chance for that. Meanwhile, Rabin stalks and plots from the shadows.

Somewhere, we need to explain how this family thing is going to accomplish Rabin’s goals. Maybe something like

“The ritual for the emissary must contain both a killing done in body, and a killing done in heart.”

We’ll know Spider-Man is the body, and we’ll infer that Mary Jane must be the heart. Giving her a family and them wiping them out will shatter her, and when that comes, Spider-Man will be doubly pissed with Rabin. This is pretty corny in itself, but it’s an explanation.

Meanwhile, on home Earth, Peter’s absence has resulted in the gang war becoming explosive, literally, with most of Marvel’s superheroes containing the threat. This will be the reason why the FF, etc. can’t help Peter same day. If we want, let’s have a short fight scene where Peter exposits why he has to save MJ, to which any FF member, Captain America, etc, will give an approving endorsement. Now, Peter’s most convenient solution is Norman Osborn.

While that’s going on, Paul and Mary Jane will encounter the kids and be enchanted with them. Possibly to a suspicious degree, depending on how much of Rabin’s plan we want to hide. Perhaps so desiring are they for a family life with the kids (as a result of the spell), that their progress on the dimensional travel device slows to a crawl. Rabin lurks in the shadows, practically right behind them. He'll strike as soon as this new family becomes complacent.

Peter and Norman finish their device, and Peter is sent back just in the nick of time to save everyone from Rabin’s next attack. Spider-Man, renewed with hope, is the one that defeats Rabin. He can have basically the same reaction to the children, and Paul and them can come along back to Earth.

Mary Jane wants to continue raising her family with Paul and the kids. She feels obligated and does have an honest bond with Paul. The kids love Mary Jane. Peter can be disappointed and saddened by this, and will be at odds with Paul, but it’s reasonable to not want these kids to have a single father, at least for a while. Maybe the kids are like, really young?

Let’s drop some hints that perhaps the spell is not broken (if the whole family thing isn't enough, it probably is), suggesting that Rabin must still be alive, and becoming death itself in hopes of appeasing Wayep just like the real story. This is, again, somewhat cheesy.

If we want to elaborate on some other stories, now’s the time to do it. Gang War, Doc Ock, Kraven, whatever. We can squeeze in Black Cat here as MJ’s absence takes its toll on Peter.

Eventually, Rabin strikes again, coming for Spidey and MJ. We’ll have a big battle at the height of Peter’s frustration with the whole Rabin-dimension-MJ-family situation. This time, Paul comes in to help as well, having brought some of his own tech with him. While he struggles with the idea of basically having to kill his father a second time, Peter and Paul overcome their differences and defeat Rabin together. If I am a lucky and skilled writer, I can twist this into a satisfying arc.

With Rabin/Wayep defeated for real this time, the spell is broken and that’s the moment the kids disappear, this time Mary Jane is the one who holds them as they vanish. Now, this is a lot of turmoil for everyone relatively quickly. Mary Jane and Paul have to cope with their family feelings being part illusion and part reality. Instead of staying with Paul, Mary Jane decides that she wants to be alone for a while. That is, if they have to be split up a while longer for drama.

There, I think we hit most of the major story beats and made some new ones. This is the broadest outline possible and needs a lot of work and detail. I am not claiming to have instantly fixed this, because I haven't. We didn't really touch on any of the supporting cast here, which I would love to make time for. Like Randy and Janice! I just made this up within an hour, and it’s based on someone else’s work. But I think the framework is there for something interesting that doesn't involve making the audience wonder if and how Spider-Man is going to screw this up. If I'm lucky, fans won't be rabid about a Peter/MJ split caused by a mind-altering spell. If it’s not interesting, then I hope it’s at least the skeleton of something that could be enjoyable.

If you read this entire breakdown series and enjoyed it, I love you. I don’t often get to talk about things like this, and writing this up, for me, despite my tone, has been a sincerely pleasure. Now I just have to hope someone reads it!

We will revisit this run of Amazing Spider-Man again. I’m not sure when, but I have got to write about some other topics in the interim. Let’s give it another 6 or 7 months of issues at bare minimum. When we do this again, I’m hoping I’ll get to highlight more positive, enjoyable things. There's always hope, and things never stay the same for long!

See you next article!