Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl #1.5 brings the retro series to a close and finally gives Peter a reason to don the reds and blues that he’s so famous for. Whereas the last story in this series operated as a wisely-bookended, single tale, that dramatized the rise and fall of Peter’s selfish egoism, this chapter is very much focused on completing the overall narrative of Learning to Crawl.
What’s strange is that the character of Clayton Cole, who has operated as the secondary lead to this title, is given such a forgettable send-off. If this series was meant to highlight the differences between the two boys and explain what happened to Cole that we haven’t heard from him since, as solicits promised, neither of those topics are addressed in any compelling way here. Cole has been presented as a powerful threat when his ego and desire of having it stroked get out of control. Last issue, Peter had to accept defeat at his hands, having been outsmarted, overpowered, and humiliated. Here Clash is quickly defeated and by no new strategy that hasn’t been attempted before.
This leaves the reader with little to take away from the character of Clayton Cole, a young man whose tragic misunderstanding of the results of Spider-Man’s powers and fame led him down a dangerous path. To me, the ideal story here would be to see Cole suffer a similar fate to Peter’s loss of his Uncle Ben. The idea that egoism, selfishness, and great power without responsibility can lead to terrible loss is a defining theme in Spider-Man comics. Initially Cole seemed like a wonderful way to further explore those themes and in this issue he feels like just another forgotten idea.
While Cole seems all but lost as a character, Peter and May Parker have some truly wonderful moments in Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl #1.5. May finally decides to sit down with Peter to address the death of Uncle Ben, after being told off by a strangely villainous counselor (what is that guy’s problem?). It is here that readers and Peter are exposed to a deeper wrinkle in Ben’s lessons about power and responsibility: that having a good heart is a greater power than any kind of superheroics. The sequence is heartfelt, funny, and just enough to unearth Peter’s inner comedian.
I really enjoyed this moment and how it inspires Peter to continue living Ben’s legacy as Spider-Man but I do have to admit that it rubbed me the wrong way in terms of my understanding of Peter as a character. I always figured that his humor was his way of relieving tension under the mask and releasing all the built up tension of his everyday life on his enemies. Here it is presented as his new way of expressing his relationship with Uncle Ben. I don’t really think it’s a fault of the comic or Slott’s interpretation of the character, in many ways I think it enriches the character, but it does irk me in a way that I might not be fully able to express here.
Needless to say, Ramon Perez steps up to plate and hits another home run with his pencilwork in this issue. His layouts continue to be stellar, particularly in how they use space as another form of expression. I couldn’t be happier that Dan Slott’s script allowed for Perez to get in a wonderful two-page splash as the ultimate expression of joy from the character. The page breathes Ditko and Romita Sr. throughout and I would love to see more of Perez’s work in the future.
So how was Learning to Crawl overall? I’d say it has its merits and detractions as a complete story. The series offered some really interesting moments and meta-commentary about the fan community but I think it missed the mark in its uneven characterization of Clayton Cole and its apprehensive plotting. Amidst all of its ideas and concepts lies a focused story about how two different interpretations on how to use power can cause two young men’s lives to take wildly different paths. That said, I’m not sure Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl was told in a way that made those two stories entirely satisfying or well-defined.