The Many Faces of Spider-Man is a feature, posted the second Monday of every month, that explores the Marvel Multiverse and the many Spider-Men or Peter Parkers who dwell within.
“Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” We’ve heard this cliché time and time again and yet we find ourselves at a time where most comics are aimed at older teens and adults. Now, it seems, one might say, “Comics aren’t just for adults anymore!” So in 2005, Marvel decided to create an imprint for younger readers called Marvel Adventures and the first book of the imprint would be Marvel Adventures Spider-Man and introduced the world to the Spider-Man of Earth-20051.
At first the stories in Marvel Adventures Spider-Man were episodic, self-contained, and often retellings of the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era issues. There were several writers across the line and little if any continuity between the stories until late 2009 when Paul Tobin took over the series with Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #53. Tobin immediately set about creating a coherent setting and introducing recurring characters and multi-issue story arcs which focused not only on his trials as the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler but also on his relationships as the mild-mannered Peter Parker.
This Peter was slightly younger than his 616 counterpart and his adventures took place while he was an overachieving student at Midtown High, after being bitten by an irradiated spider in what one can only assume is the multiverse’s most common accident. During Tobin’s run on the character he was soon joined by several supporting characters including the beautiful Gwen Stacy and her police chief father George Stacy, the telepathic petty criminal Emma Frost, and Emma’s close friend Sophia “Chat” Sanduval.
Chat and Emma meet Peter Parker when our eponymous hero saves the duo from a falling sign. Emma, never being one to put much value on other people’s privacy, reads Peter’s mind and realizes his secret identity and where he attends school. Chat, eventually develops a powerful crush on Peter, enrolls in Midtown High, and the two start dating without him realizing she knows his secret.
Chat Sanduval and her relationship with Peter is easily the most interesting part of this story. She’s secretly a mutant with the power to communicate with animals and keeps this secret from Peter at the same time that he is (unsuccessfully) trying to keep his secret from her. She is eventually revealed to Peter and quickly becomes his confidant and partner in fighting crime and even gets a job at the Blonde Phantom Detective Agency.
The dynamic between Peter and a girl that is also clearly capable of being a superhero in her own right is fantastic to read. In issue #6 of the second volume, Peter has been badly injured but sees a woman in trouble and prepares to leap into action only to be stopped by Chat. She tells him that he doesn’t have to take on all the responsibility in the world and can always rely on his friends when he needs to and that she can and will handle it. And does. She doesn’t entirely get away from the archetype of the worried lover staying behind while her man puts himself in heroic danger, but it’s enough to be refreshing.
His relationship with the Stacy’s is also somewhat unique. Gwen starts off having a one-way infatuation with him, but their relationship never grows beyond a rather casual friendship. At times she is cold or vaguely hostile, especially as Peter’s relationship with Chat grows more serious. Captain George Stacy on the other hand immediately discovers Peter’s secret identity and the two grow to be close friends and often coordinate on cases the two are working on. Spider-Man is even briefly deputized as an official law enforcement officer and enjoys a mostly positive relationship with the police throughout the series (although a couple of incidents do encourage him to attempt a costume and name change to garner public support, both attempts fail comically).
Emma Frost, on the other hand, is a constant foil for Spider-Man. After Chat leaves her to return to school, Emma develops a crush on Peter and uses her telepathic powers to sabotage their relationship. She also sets herself up as the super villain named Silencer in an attempt to get Peter’s attention and to add a little theatricality into her already extensive criminal behavior.
As the series progressed it eventually returned to more episodic adventures, though it maintained its cohesive continuity. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man was eventually canceled in 2012 after a seven year and eighty-five issue run (thirty-three written by Paul Tobin) when Marvel decided to instead launch a new book based on the Disney animated television series. While it was sad to see a book with such a great ensemble of characters go, it was wonderful to read while it lasted and featured a wonderful Spider-Man to introduce to new, young readers.