It always makes me incredibly nervous when creative teams begin playing around with the origin stories of the characters I love. Much of my continued interest in Spider-Man is born directly from just how strong Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s initial story, all 11 pages of it, from Amazing Fantasy #15 was told. There is a real economy in the writing that leaves a lot up to the reader’s imagination, but how that is balanced is nothing short of masterful.
This leaves a lot of fertile grounds for future creators to fill in the gaps and provide new stories inside the continuity, even if this wasn’t Lee and Ditko’s intentions at the time. Amazing Fantasy #15 and the issues that follow are fertile grounds for this kind of exploration, but they are also incredibly sensitive and carry the weight that too many creative liberties could damage the character. Untold Tales of Spider-Man proved that good stories could be mined from those gaps, but it is a rare example of it working that stands out from a number of other less successful stories.
Dan Slott and Ramon Perez’s Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl #1.1 picks up immediately after the final panel of Amazing Fantasy #15. Peter’s internal dialogue describing his emotional state and revelation about himself after the discovery of his Uncle’s killer’s identity is incredibly poignant and truthful to the character. This is some of Slott’s strongest work, really favoring dramatic character beats over any overwhelming narrative. The issue and this sequence in particular showcase that Peter is just beginning to develop his sense of responsibility and that it wasn’t a mantra that developed overnight.
This is a unique depiction of Peter Parker, one who is beginning to adopt to the idea of responsibility but is still defined by his arrogance and pride. His priorities have shifted now that he’s the sole bread-winner of the house but he still has a far way to go before he transforms from self-obsessed celebrity to selfless superhero. Many of Peter’s early Ayn Randian philosophies, courtesy of Steve Ditko’s original interpretation, shine through in this continued depiction of Peter’s world. Peter almost completely misses the values he’s meant to learn from Uncle Ben’s funeral choosing instead to focus on money.
Speaking of Steve Ditko, Ramon Perez is absolutely the perfect person to pick up his signature style and bring it into the 21st century. The work here is beautiful and elegant in its simplicity. Sure, the inking and coloring is more advanced and nuanced than it was in 1962 but this is Ditko through and through. Perez has modernized the setting in some instances and in others it remains true to the period when the books were initially released. This design decision is never distracting but it does create a sometimes confusing world.
Dan Slott chooses not to dwell on these details too long, as the script focuses more on characters and how their moral decisions affect each other. The pacing is just metered enough that Slott isn’t able to zip around quite as much as he might normally do. This results in a more moderately paced story with scenes that are allowed to unfold and change to form a competent drama. Slott uses this time period to not only reveal Peter’s slow evolution as Spider-Man but also to explore additional facets of what it means to be responsible as a media figure.
Audiences are allowed to view Peter through the eyes of Clayton Cole, a young man who seeks to emulate the Spider-Man he sees on television. The problem is that he’s only doing it for the vanity, a lesson he picked up from a Spider-Man who only presents himself in that way. It’s an interesting wrinkle in the Spider-Man story and continues to emphasize just how key all of Peter’s actions as Spider-Man are. It appears that the future of this series will put him face to face with how his decisions are affecting not only those closest to him but everyone on the other end of the television screen. It presents the idea that our idols might not be who we think they are and it allows for some dramatics through shattered wish-fulfillment.