Last Christmas my brother gave me a booster pack of random, non-sequential issues from a variety of popular comic book titles that syndicated in the late eighties to mid nineties. The nineties was a time of groundbreaking work in the comic community that gave birth to the age of modern comics. Sometimes, not so much. These are snapshots of the industry at its best and worst. This is Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag.
Ultimate Spider-Man #67 Volume 1
“Jump the Shark”
Writer – Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler – Mark Bagley
Inker – Mark Bagley
Letterer – Chris Eliopoulous
Movies like Freaky Friday emphasize the futility of the “mind swap” as a literary device. This is because the concept values complicated scenarios and compromising situations when, in actuality, what is really going on here is a finely tuned study of brand compatibility. So, naturally, to a Marvel executive, a comparison and contrast between Spiderman and Wolverine in the Marvel universe seems like a perfect dichotomy to explore. Spiderman’s chaotic good conflicts with Wolverine’s lawful neutral (to use a shameful Dungeons and Dragons classification), but the circumstance is exhausted before the end of the first page. Though my grab bag of comics contains mostly comics from the late 80s to mid 90s, I am surprised that modern comics (this one from 2004) could stoop so low. Then again, being that the issue is titled Jump the Shark (a reference to the slippery, creative precipice television and entertainment skirt between fresh, original stories and stagnant, declining ones), the tired motif is nearly excused.
Issue #67 picks up where #66 left off, setting up the primary, though petty, conflicts that Peter has with Wolverine’s body. The comic follows the set up of a crime in progress, causing Peter to jump into action as Wolverine, but now exposed and without a suitable disguise. What is interesting about this, is that Peter’s origin story, the source by which he has gained superpowers, follows standard comic book fare, whereas Wolverine, along with his X-men counterparts are victims of circumstance and poster children to dramatized characterizations of genism. The mind and body switch unwittingly opens up wider philosophical problems that Marvel’s mutant ecology pursues. Why isn’t Peter Parker’s alter-ego persecuted with the revilement and blanketing of stereotypes that Wolverine and his mutants face? A mask, which is both iconic and impersonal, keeps people at a distance, and functions as a type of social wall against serious introspection. (Yes, Peter is maligned by the press occasionally as Spiderman but, in light of greater populist praise, he is not perceived to be a bordering antihero like Wolverine.) Peter Parker, then, gets a taste of his own medicine, being able to feel what it’s like to be in a mutant’s shoes. It’s only a shame then that he doesn’t learn anything from it, exclaiming,
“This isn’t my fault!! I’m not the mysterious mutant with a mysterious past who lives in a mysterious school with a bunch of mysterious mutant misfits with mysterious freaky powers who fight giant mysterious robots!! Of course this is somehow your fault.”
In light of this pejorative, genist classification of mutants, Writer Brian Bendis, perhaps unwittingly, stumbled upon the greatest character study on classification. Peter Parker, a miracle of modern science, is a heroic, modern deconstruction of the mutant, whereas Wolverine is a “freak of nature,” literally. Both characters are, in essence, metahumans, with remarkable abilities and talents, only Peter’s powers were imposed upon him by modern medicine. The difference between Peter and Wolverine is an issue of control, where to possess the ability to change one’s self is a sanctioned act because it is an expression of individualism. To be a mutant involves classification, being a member of a group classification. Mutants are seen as the “Other” while Peter is recognized as “Self;” this illustrates the human conflict between Western individualism and Eastern homogeneity, the staying of individuality for the survival of the group. Attitudes towards mutants amount to Orientalism, which Peter subscribes to in full, becoming a bigot in the process. This is illustrated by his continual disgust of Wolverine’s habits and customs that are alien to his own understanding.
The plot of the comic, following up to the resolution of the primary conflict, entertains Wolverine’s own misgivings about the attitudes felt toward mutants. Wolverine’s life experience butts heads with Peter. Logan is used to being marginalized and mistreated, hence his preoccupation with his reputation, and the apprehension he feels when Peter compromises his integrity by being caught by the police. Peter comes off like a spoiled kid, having been raised in an environment of opportunity rather than discouragement. His naivete saturates his outlook. Peter’s obsession with conformity informs his conceptions of justice, which consist of the polar opposite when he is in costume, undertaking acts of heroic deed. Peter must be “normal” when he is Peter, whereas, as Spiderman, he must be “Amazing.” Wolverine does not posses this duality, but is always Wolverine. Peter scorns the loss of his duplicitous identity throughout the course of the comic, but when the X-men arrive to assist the two heroes, Peter is at the mercy of the “mysterious” mutants. In order to be aided, Peter must confront what he doesn’t understand.
What appears to be a wonderful analysis of perception and conception is ultimately ruined by Jean Grey, sadly, who is discovered to be the ring leader of the switch. Despite having swapped the two’s minds, she shows no compassion for the collateral damage caused by Spiderman in Wolverine’s body. One could argue her separation of Wolverine’s mind from his body is fully justified by her reasoning that Wolverine is being punished for “hitting on her.” But it stands that, in a school for gifted youth, run by a powerful psychic, a good counselor or Human Resources sexual harassment investigation could have solved this problem. The finale of the comic only highlights that Jean Grey is capricious and that Peter Parker has learned nothing about diversity. It’s a comic with the beats of an after school special, only Stevie stays “hooked” on Marijuana and steals a TV set to buy more.
Marvel’s push to reestablish their brand via the Ultimate Marvel print was by all accounts a success. Given that both #66 and #67 proceeded a darker exploit involving Carnage and the death of Gwen Stacy, the lackluster, follow-up served as a safe alternative to the mature and heavy subject matter of the previous arc. What seemed crass and shallow becomes the necessary catharsis for the reader to experience. (Funny, then, that Peter is only further tortured by the events depicted in #67. As if his life couldn’t get worse.) Still, what is presented is the sludgy remnant of creative deluge, and only undermines Peter Parker, depicting him as an asshole that antagonizes Wolverine needlessly. The modern take feels modern, with some goofy exceptions, such as all mutant women looking like supermodels and not ostracized youth trying to fit in. (That alone is another article all on it’s own!) If only the deeper philosophical subtext between Peter and Wolverine wasn’t plundered by the X-men arrival, which serves as a deus ex machina, it would have been a better read.
3 Unintentionally Genist Peter Parkers (of 10)