“Amazing Spider-Man #692”

“Amazing Spider-Man #692” celebrates the 50th anniversary of the old web-head, and like many other true believers out there I gave him $5.99 for his birthday. Turns out he really didn’t deserve it, as he wasn’t very good this year.

The story kicks off by following Andy Maguire, a Midtown High student who is akin to vanilla syrup on vanilla ice cream. He takes a field trip to Horizon Labs where Peter gives a demonstration on his newly discovered Parker Particles. Tiberius Stone, a scientist at Horizon and a mole for the Kingpin, sabotages the experiment by disengaging the machine’s safeties. A residual charge fills the room and blasts young Andy, giving him super powers.

While I do respect how these events mirror the classic tale of how Peter gained his spider powers, I can’t help but feel that this was an idea that worked better on paper than it did the printed page. (And Fun Fact: I would know! I actually work for the company that prints Amazing Spider-Man.) Arguments for suspension of disbelief aside, I found it difficult to accept that this seemingly multi-million dollar experiment could be transformed into a highly unstable kid killing machine with the simple twist of one knob. That one act made the entire scene feel childish to me and persuaded me to believe that that’s exactly who this issue was intended for, a child. Simple twists, indeed.

Andy is later tested by the world’s top super-human specialists to determine the extent of his new powers. Earlier in the issue when Peter is describing the Parker particles, he states that they’re “a hyper-kinetic form of energy tied to the forces of universal expansion itself.” Sounds pretty interesting, right? Turns out all that amounts to is energy projection, super-strength, super-speed, flight, and (yawn…) the same banal power sets we’ve seen countless times before. Despite his uninspired abilities, Reed Richards deems his an “Alpha-level threat,” a danger more serious than Omega-level threats such as Hulk, Sentry or the Phoenix. He charges Peter with the task of training Alpha, as he comes to be known, and just like that, Spider-Man has a side-kick.

This story begs the question does Spider-Man need a side-kick and, if so, why this one? Why should I care about this new teen hero? I cared about the Young Avengers who have yet to get their due. I invested in The Runaways who no longer have a book to call home. I even believed in Gravity who I was told would be the next big “Spider-Man.” I’ve given so many teen heroes a chance only to have them fade into that most dreaded place known as comic book limbo (you know, that place where half the Avengers: Initiative cast went to die). With the future of the Avengers Academy kids still unclear, introducing yet another teen hero is a hard pill to swallow.

Also, why not choose from the plethora of pre-existing candidates? There’s Anya Corazon, who was formerly Arana and is currently Spider-Girl. She was last seen with the students of Avengers Academy adding some formal training to her previously acquired real-world heroics. She’s also half Mecixan and half Puerto Rican, which would give the title a much needed sense of diversity.

Interestingly enough, another grievance came in a scene that I think was supposed to make Alpha the most approachable, ultimately driving me away for good. There’s a scene in which Alpha and his new girlfriend are looking at his online fan-page and someone refers to him as being “Poochie.” “What’s a Poochie?” he asks. Many of you will remember the episode of The Simpsons where The Itchy and Scratchy show creates Poochie the Dog in an attempt to revitalize the series and make it appear more edgy and in-your-face and every other buzz word you can remember from the ’90s. That is Alpha to a tee! Shining a light on this comparison may have been an attempt for Slott to get it out in the open and make it “okay” because he said it first, but frankly I don’t think the character benefits from it. The fact that Alpha doesn’t even understand the reference makes me dislike him even more.

As far as the artwork is concerned, Humberto Ramos does his best to polish this turd. He substitutes realism for more of an animated approach, and Amazing Spider-Man is a book where that style certainly fits. While I didn’t care for what Slott was having him draw, he draws it well, proving that the sun even shines on a dog’s ass every now and again.

The issue’s only real saving grace is the two back-up stories. “Spider-Man For A Night” by Dean Haspiel tells a humorous tale about a mugger who finds Spider-Man’s costume after the memorable “Spider-Man No More” story from “ASM #50.” Then Joshua Hale Fialkov and Nuno Plati tell a delightful tale about just how unlucky Peter’s life can get sometimes, and what it really takes to be someone’s hero. All things considered, this was the spider story that should have taken precedence in this anniversary issue, as it serves to highlight everything we’ve grown to love about Spider-Man since he was introduced fifty years ago.

Time will tell if the story of Alpha is a flash in the pan or here to stay. After his much hyped debut, however, I’m left wishing Peter had just gone to Olive Garden like everyone else who turns fifty.

“Catch you on the flip-side, dudemeisters!” -Poochie