"Family Ties" (part 2)
Out of the several great scenes in this concluding issue, the strongest is a single page exchange between Peter Parker and his roommate Vin Gonzales. It simultaneously explores the theme of Peter’s social conscience and develops his relationship with Vin. While other vignettes into Peter’s periphery world have felt cumbersome (namely in the hands of writer Bob Gale), Kelly smoothly inserts the scene into the structure of his narrative.
After getting his butt-handed to him by the newly improved Hammerhead, Peter sits at his small kitchen table sipping his breakfast through a straw. From off-panel Vin comments on his roommate’ condition: cuts, bruises, a bandaged fist, a busted jaw, and one hell of a shiner. Pete quickly covers with a lame excuse that Vin sees through. It’s curious that someone like Peter who has held a secret identity for this long is incapable of telling a decent lie to cover his tracks. Yet, his “very heavy television remote” excuse could be read as a sort of emotional bait for attention. By not giving a plausible answer outright, Pete’s pulls Vin’s interest into knowing the truth and garner pity from him.
Eventually Peter tells Vin a half-truth that he was beat up by a gang for taking pictures of them. The conversation takes a very apprehensive turn, where Vin, a NYPD officer, describes Pete’s assailants as “animals.” Pete becomes defensive of his alleged assailants, who in reality are frightened kids he is trying to save from Hammerhead’s world of crime. “We were all kids,” Vin rejoins. “And we’ve all been scared, but I never shot anyone over a pair of sneakers. Have you?” Peter again defends himself, knowing that if he gives up on these kids, they’ll probably become life-long criminals or end up dead. He’s offended by Vin’s criticism of his social responsibility, which is probably the closest thing to objectivism Amazing Spider-Man has seen since Steve Ditko left in issue #39.
Essentially, objectivist morality dictates that one’s life is in pursuit of happiness or self-interest and that pursuit is in full regard of other’s individual right to do the same. Vin sees Pete’s point of view that these kids are scared and left with very few options for survival, i.e. self-interest. But there are clearly marked acceptable and unacceptable actions, and beating Peter up is unacceptable. And considering these gangs’ penchant for this unacceptable behavior, they are beyond the realm of altruism (which is contrary to objectivism). “They’re soldiers, trained for war from day one. Think of them as anything else, and you’re gonna wind up with worse than a bruised jaw.” Of course, I could just be reading far too much into this scene, but Kelly adds this wonderfully meaty dialogue.
Structurally, Vin’s words come back to haunt Spider-Man, when the gang ambushes him to obtain Hammerhead’s favor. Although Spider-Man convinces them to do the right thing, he does so exasperatedly. Initially, he tries painting Hammerhead as a coward and then describing the cycle of violence in the crime world to the gun-toting kids. It isn’t until he appeals to situation at hand that he finally reaches them: “Besides, do you guys really want to me? Spider-Man?” It’s a lukewarm solution to the greater social predicament that these young people and others like them face. Although Kelly doesn’t provide Spider-Man with some moral proverb, he allows the hero to be susceptible by not having all the answers.
Spider-Man’s conceit is partly being an imbued with inhuman power but not devoid of human flaw and ignorance. He knows that protecting these kids from a life of crime is right, but in lieu of an argument to do otherwise, he puts his own life on the line to prove that they are doing something wrong. As a result, he is more heroic than stating from a god-like pedestal there is a social contract in which these young people take part, and that their pursuit for blah, blah, blah-- “Do you wanna be the guy who shot Spider-Man?” No. Its not the best argument, but it’s persuasive.
Finally, Bachalo’s last page caught my attention with its brevity. There is only one panel on the last page and it’s not a splash. Little more than halfway up the page is the final shot of Peter looking through the narrow opening of a door. Above and below the panel is blank white, save for the words “THE END” in a bold, but featureless font. I have never seen a layout like this in a mainstream comic. I could suggest that Bachalo ran out of stuff to draw because he was to busy cramming the issue into awkward, tiny panels.
Nonetheless, the page’s layout actually mirrors the story. Despite reading “THE END,” the narrative concludes on an open-ended note, specifically with Pete’s new co-worker Norah. Kelly gives a satisfying conclusion, but has unlocked so many new doors in Peter’s life that you want to see more. And this last page, however it came to be, reflects that breadth and blank space on which to tell these new Spider-Man stories.
Amazing Spider-Man #575 & #576 are the best six dollars you’ll spend on Spider-Man related merchandise. Not good enough? Do you wanna be the guy who didn’t buy two of the best Amazing Spider-Man issues this year? Thought so.
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