For everyone who’s ever had an ex in their life, I think it is safe to admit that one of the last stings a faded relationship can leave is one of jealousy. To see someone you once loved run into the arms of someone else is bound to spark feelings of inadequacy, questions of self-worth, and at worst, the pangs of anger. This feeling is the foundation upon which the story in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #12 is built, the emasculation that Peter feels seeing his ex-fiancée (remember, the wedding never happened) Mary Jane working for Tony Stark, and all that that business relationship implies.
Peter bumps into Mary Jane at a fundraiser he’s throwing for his Uncle Ben Foundation, smack dab in the center of Bryant Park, the exact location of Aunt May’s wedding to Jonah Sr. It is then that he learns of MJ’s employment by Tony Stark, who promptly appears and begins to tell Peter how erroneously he’s conducting his business. This double-fronted encroachment on Peter’s life makes him not only anxious but also incredibly jealous and overprotective of the things he considers within his own sphere of influence.
This extends to the eventual fight between Spider-Man and The Ghost, after the latter interrupts the charity event to take down Augustus Roman, the criminal, prison-owning, power-siphoning Regent. After suiting up, Spider-Man and Iron Man bicker over who should be the one to take down The Ghost, who gets to make the witty one-liner to close the battle, and who is the Marvel Universe’s prominent tech-powered, billionaire superhero.
There’s a joy to the meta-commentary of this particular issue, as readers have long compared Peter Parker’s new status quo with that of Tony Stark and in many ways it is refreshing to see it addressed so directly in this book. Yet, the bickering between the two is a troubling undersell of not only these characters’ histories with each other but also of their own respective maturities as characters. Tony seems to have altogether forgotten Peter and MJ’s time living under his roof, in the now confusing Spider-Man timeline (thanks, “One More Day“), and writer Dan Slott wisely acknowledges the confusing nature of this history with a couple quick jokes.
What I’m more confused about is why Peter suffers a sudden twinge of nerves around Mary Jane’s appearance and her potential love-life with Tony Stark. The two have been friendly with each other since before Dan Slott took over the book, with her mentoring him and giving him advice on his own love life. Additionally, this isn’t the first time that Mary Jane has been romantically involved since the two became friends after their break up; during the Superior Spider-Man run she famously dated Pedro Oliveira. Peter has even met Pedro in previous issues of Amazing Spider-Man, as written by Dan Slott. Lastly, if Peter really cared all that much about Mary Jane’s well-being, perhaps he would have checked in on her in the past eight months since her club burned to the ground.
If we hadn’t also been told in the previous issue that Mockingbird was expressing interest in Peter, only to have him say he’s not looking to date anyone in this issue, I may have been able to look the other way on this strange lapse in characterization. However, this reaction to Mary Jane is at the heart of this issue and is implied to be the reason why Peter and Tony get into a verbal fight with each other. It suggests that Peter is either far less mature than he’s been depicted previously or is just that thin-skinned and controlling over Mary Jane all of a sudden. The decision instead feels manufactured by the story’s needs rather than a natural development for the character. Hell, even The Ghost questions why the characters are acting this way, “Are you two for real?”
Still, the rest of this issue is packed to the brim with wonderful developments for Spider-Man’s classic supporting players: Mary Jane, Harry Osborn, and Liz Allan. Of the three Harry comes away the best, operating at Peter’s friend, business partner, reformed villain, and possible future ally in superheroics (I can’t be the only person that thinks Harry is flirting with discovering Peter’s secret). Liz’s story remains just as undefined and annoyingly mysterious as it was back when she was reintroduced in Superior Spider-Man, but hopefully readers are on the verge of discovering her true motives and how she arrived at them.
This issue also fleshes out the backstory of Regent, as he makes his transfer from his introductory story in “Renew Your Vows.” Slott has fun teasing that Mary Jane may have retained some memory of Regent from before but beyond that this interpretation of the character seems wholly independent from his “Secret Wars” counterpart, other than his motives. Slott’s backstory for the character is the typical and boring “my parents were killed during a superhero battle” that readers have seen a million times before, but there are mentions of superhero registration and responsibility that make Regent’s goals somewhat intriguing, if not completely evil. In the same way that he was gaining powers in “Renew Your Vows” to take on God Doom, there is a refreshing sense here that Regent really believes that his work could be for the betterment of mankind.
Last issue I commented that I was growing a bit tired of Giuseppe Camuncoli‘s artwork and that I was looking for a dramatic new artist to shake things up a bit visually for Amazing Spider-Man. I don’t necessarily feel differently now, but when I’m given a book as visually delicious as this chapter I can’t deny that Camuncoli remains one of the most reliable Spider-Man artists in recent years. While his character works remains a bit stiff, Camuncoli packs so much appropriate detail and care into the early dialogue sequences here that they refuse to be boring.
His fun pencils, splashy laser designs, and intricate New York City backgrounds elevate the rather pedestrian team-up between Spider-Man and Iron Man. Of particular note is a terrific split-page sequence featuring Peter and Tony suiting up that wonderfully contrasts the organic nature of Spider-Man’s new costume with the polygonal, mechanical design of Iron Man’s new costume. I’m still not in love with colorist Marte Gracia’s dark shading and ever-present gradients that – at least in physical form – make this book such a dark read. On that note, could be get a Spider-Man story that occurs during the day for once during this new volume?
Yes, The Ghost is a terrifically boring villain, Peter’s characterization is questionable, the humor either hits hard (the Pepper Potts joke) or is painfully strained (both the Ghostbusters and Duck Dynasty (?) jokes), and the team-up is one we’ve seen from hundreds of comics before, not to mention Spider-Man’s own Marvel Team-Up series, but this issue packs in some wonderful art and a great deal of content that it makes it hard to pass on. There are characters we love doing new and interesting things, intriguing setup for future stories, and consequences that feel real for the moment. However, none of those characters happen to be a part of the All-New All-Different Avengers, as the cover advertises; couldn’t someone have just removed that logo before the issue was sent to print?