Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Andrea Di Vito
Spider-Man’s origin is probably one of the best known in comics. An interesting experiment, then, to use Marvel’s “What If?” event this week to give this origin a tweak, and provide an alternative history which sees Aunt May killed off and the chance for Uncle Ben to take centre stage in the young Peter’s life. But such mixed blessings don’t necessarily bode for a happier life for Spider-Man, and as Ben decides to take the rap for the death of the criminal who killed Aunt May, Peter is left more alone than ever before…
From the off, it’s good to see that Brubaker clearly knows his stuff, tying in many events of the early Spider-Man issues into his skewed view of Peter Parker’s superhero origins. His re-invention lends a darker edge to the character, giving him troubles of a far more serious nature than the regular continuity Peter Parker endured in his early years. Passed around foster families and living on the streets, this Spider-Man is less sure of himself as a superhero, more aggressive and quick to anger, and in many ways a more psychologically interesting character than the original. His encounter with J. Jonah Jameson, for example, shows a much rougher edge to the definitive good-hearted character we’ve come to expect from Spider-Man comics. However, Brubaker also has the good sense to allow the core morality and strength of the character to shine through, giving him some positive character moments in an arc which is surprisingly complex given the limitations of the single-issue format. Parker gets a chance to take responsibility for his own life willingly, to really grow up and face adulthood, and accept himself and his role in society to a far greater degree than he perhaps has even in regular continuity.
Unfortunately, in places the story feels a little over-silly and illogical, even acknowledging in the text that certain plot elements have been messed with just to create an entertaining, diverting story. We get wisecracks about the Spider-Man movie, unconnected sub-plots playing out differently to how they did in the original Spider-verse, and even a silly development towards the end that sees Ben team up with Peter in a crime-fighting team. One could also question the fact that Peter chose to reveal his secret identity so readily to Ben when it was kept a secret from May for many years under similar circumstances. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with these myriad additions, it seems to go against the principle of “What If” stories, which exist to show us how a single moment can affect the course of your life, Sliding-Doors-style. However, the result of Brubaker’s tinkering is a fun examination of Peter Parker’s attitude to guilt, shame and responsibility - and even if the final outcome gives us an only subtly altered Spider-Man, the changes that are present are an interesting insight into how Spidey was shaped through the twin influences of his Aunt and Uncle, and how a tip in the balance could have drastically affected the web-slinger.
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