Amazing Spider-Man #36 and beyond

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Part I - Amazing Spider-Man #36

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr (p), Scott Hanna (i)

Publisher: Marvel

This issue addresses the events of September 11th. The preceding Spider-Man continuity is put on hold as this story addresses what has changed our world.

Spidey appears on the scene of the World Trade Center wreckage and does what he can to aid the rescue efforts. Both heroes and villains of the Marvel universe confront the horror that occurred in New York on that day.

This issue must be commended for its courage. Comics have often demonstrated the potential to be as outstanding as other mediums when measured by any standard, but often do not live up to their potential. That's okay, neither do television, film, literature or music most of the time. Amazing Spider-Man #36 does live up to its potential, and that says a great deal.

Whatever you think of the story (and from a strictly comicdom perspective, flaws can be found), the social awareness and responsibility demonstrated by this issue are undeniable. Remember when comics inspired you, made you think that anyone and everyone can make a positive difference and probably should? This issue provides that same sense which I think many people appreciate given all that is going on in our world. The issue appropriately sacrifices continuity concerns to address the need to maturely respond to world altering events.

Also, this issue directly addresses both the immediate horror and the broader impact of September 11th. My favorite line was, "There are no words". Another strong touch was Peter's admiration that another generation, embodied by Captain America, went through similar horror during World War II. This scene reminds us that people have endured such horror before and prevailed and grown through it. Unfortunately, this broader perspective cannot assuage the pain of this needless agony and Peter, like the rest of us, is left to confront and consider the consequences of what has happened.

This issue does not soften the blow of the attacks, but it does offer a faith in mankind and reminds us that each of us can be inspired by or can inspire another. The people who make up this world (that every other villain wants to dominate) are what make this world great and worth coveting. Our superheroes might dramatize heroics, but the comics industry has been most successful when comics engaged the reader on issues that matter to the reader. Examples include war, social alienation, drug use, death and courage, or social injustices. Heroes that operate within these contexts have greater significance. Readers don't care about clones. Readers care about heroes and characters; these are what keep readers coming back. Amazing Spider-Man #36 acknowledges that there are no heroes as profound as the ordinary people that humbly and anonymously struggle to support and improve our world and pays tribute to their daily efforts; people who are considerably more fragile than what we often see in comicdom; people who are still willing to risk their lives in order to uphold and build a better world through compassion and understanding.

Politically September 11th raises many questions but none of them have any place in this issue. This story is about the heartbreak and resolve of a city and its nation.

John Romita Jr's art has been especially good as of late, but this issue is outstanding. The intimacy of expression he puts in even the most "sideline" character seems to underscore the fact that every character in this drama mattters. J. Micheal Strazynski's writing is broad in its scope but intimate in its tones and concise in its language making the whole thing very effective. The colors are dramatic but rightfully, do not upstage the story in any way.

In closing the issue is a strong one on its own merit, but stronger still in the broader sense of what the comics industry can still do: provide stories that inspire faith and aspiration and heighten our own social consciousness. In the broadest sense, this story stands out as another response to the terrorist attacks. This one came from the comic book industry, and like many responses from other industries before it, it helps to affirm our determination and state that, we shall continue to try to live up to our ideals, to not live in fear, and struggle to do our best to make this world a better one for all of our children.

Do read it.

Part II – And Beyond…

After reading Amazing Spider-Man #36 and especially after writing the review for it, I have found myself asking a number of questions. Being an avid reader and given that I handle my anxieties by trying to understand something, I dove headlong into some books.

The ASM issue does a fine job of galvanizing our shock and emotion into a resolve, but, as I have noticed often with entertainment, I find myself emotionally convicted but without any clear direction. Simply put, "What can I do?" Well, my answer is always to learn about something. I have also read a number of books related to world events and I offer up the following recommendations. If the ASM comic (or just world events period) leaves you with more questions, I offer the following reading recommendations:

The first book addresses the question, at least in part, of "Who are the Taliban?". In the New York Times Arts & Leisure section, Larry Goodson highly recommended the following:

Ahmed Rashid's ''Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia,'' is my favorite reference on the Taliban movement. It provides [unprecedented] insight into the Taliban movement's rise and success, including chapters on its religious ideology, organizational structure, heroin economy, policies toward women and shadowy support for Osama bin Laden and the ''Arab Afghans.''... This is a must read for anyone wanting to understand America's new war.

After having read the book, I agree with Goodson. Be warned that this is probably the most difficult read on my list, but since the opening 2 pages details executions held in a United Nations constructed stadium by the Taliban, it immediately compels the reader through its topic if not through its language. The whole history and various local elements leading to the creation of the Taliban and their association with Osama bin Laden are detailed in this book. The whole book is quite good, but if you read no other sections of this book, at least read chapters 3 and 10. Chapter 3 discusses Afghanistan's desperate need for order and how the Taliban brutally addresses that need, while chapter 10 examines how Osama bin Laden became associated with the Taliban.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find anything available on the Al Quaeda terrorist network that I would recommend. Time magazine ran a piece 2 weeks ago, but I could not find insights that I had not found elsewhere. I would be interested in hearing about anyone's recommendations on that.

"Fighting Terrorism" by Benjamin Netanyahu examines the question, "What do we do about terrorism?". The author was an Israeli Prime Minister and a soldier in an elite anti-terror unit in Israel. This book is outstanding and before anyone infers any political slant I may possess, the book rarely brings up the Palestinian/Israeli issue. It focuses on how to fight terrorism. It is an easy but insightful read with a new preface reprinting the author's address to Congress on September 20th. The great insight of the book is that terrorism and the political agendas of the terrorists must be separated. According to the author, nothing should ever justify terrorism, which he defines as "the deliberate and systematic assault on civilians to inspire fear for political ends". He explains how terrorism was effectively diminished in the 1980s, specifically during the Reagan administration and discusses current and potential terrorist threats and how to eliminate them. If you read nothing else, try to read the preface of this book. The whole book provides a resolve and direction that I have not found matched anywhere else.

Another outstanding book that looks at the growing clash of cultures occurring thanks to the information/interconnectivity age is "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" by Thomas Friedman, a foreign correspondent and editorialist for the New York Times. This book does not discuss world events directly, but it does explain a major trend that underlies most events called "globalization". The book is very easy to read despite its somewhat daunting length because it consists of very simple but insightful vignettes that, when viewed as a group, point towards trends and conflicts for the next ten years. Specifically, economic integration theoretically can lead to a stabilization throughout the world, but it can also profoundly disrupt local people and cultures. The author, prophetically, discusses rebellious movements such as Osama bin Laden's to prevent the intrusion of a new infrastructure and its potential stability. Whatever your feeling on globalization, the strengths and difficulties herein are expertly discussed and provide a new perspective through which to view international trends for the next 10 to 20 years.

For current analysis of world events, the publication that I recommend above all others is The Economist magazine. It has concise reports on what happened the preceding week and provides its own analysis including why the events are significant, what the long range implications might be and their hopes and recommendations for improvement. I usually read things that interest me, but I read most of The Economist whether it interests me or not because I learn so much about things I did not know were important. I find it so useful that I read it with a pen, underline it and always keep my back issues -- next to my comic books! Go figure. I look forward to it the way I look forward to the latest comics, but what can I say, I am a freak. Slow comics week? Try The Economist.

There are many other things that I could recommend to read, but the above 4 items stand out as the easiest and most informative. Roughly, other items would include The New York Times and The New Yorker Magazine, Henry Kissinger's "Does America Need a Foreign Policy", and another book by Thomas Friedman called "From Beirut to Jerusalem". These books however are somewhat more peripheral and the periodicals, as outstanding as they are, are not quite as distilled as The Economist. Ultimately, you cannot go wrong with any of these. Presumably many of you can also offer thoughts and insightful reads and I encourage you to share them.

In previous reviews, I have written about the significance of comics as a medium that can provoke thought about our world. Comics of this nature encourage a broader and keener awareness on the part of the reader. Simple examples of this would include the Avengers, X-Force and the latest Spider-Man. For the foreseeable future however, comics will primarily try to entertain us and rightfully so. The drive to pursue the ideas engendered in our favorite medium is up to us to maintain and channel. To that end, I have written the above.

My hope is to help maintain the resolve that Amazing Spider-Man #36 tries to establish, by encouraging more discussion and awareness of world events through some of the more insightful reads I have discovered. (I have spared you some of my more laborious and less worthwhile reads). As I mentioned in part one, the characters in ASM #36 demonstrate a compassion and a need to understand what has happened and what can and should be done about it. Given the significance of the issue, I wanted to address world events in a direct but purposeful manner. Given our community, I believed that building understanding through reading would be our most common and most potent link. Let me know what you think.

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