More so than any other superhero, Spider-Man's origin story has continually been retold, reimagined and revisited through the years. The story's startling longevity can easily be accredited to how pitch perfect it was when originally told by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in the summer of 1962. Here's a young kid who receives magnificent powers and decides to try to cash in on the phenomenon rather than fight crime and save the world. The theme of power and responsibility is what resonates the most from Amazing Fantasy #15 (and for good reason) but the relatibility of the deeply flawed but good hearted Peter Parker is what made Spider-Man Marvel's most popular super hero.
The transition from immature teenager to the morally strong character we know today happened gradually through the infancy of the Amazing Spider-Man book. Current Spider-Man writer Dan Slott is making some changes to the immortal early years of Peter Parker though. In his current run on Amazing Spider-Man he introduced a girl the same age as Peter who was bitten by a radioactive spider the same day that he was. In this Learning to Crawl mini-series, Slott attempts to fill in the gap between stage performer Spider-Man and the crime fighting arachnid we all know and love.
In the aftermath of the death of his Uncle Ben, Peter Parker has stepped up to handle his uncle's funeral arrangements so that his mourning aunt doesn't have to. Pete soon learns that there isn't enough money in his uncle's estate to even cover the costs of the funeral so he crawls (on the side of a building) back to his agent Maxie Shiffman. After reaffirming the fact that he's still no hero, Spider-Man asks Maxie to line up some stage shows for him so that he can help pay for Uncle Ben's funeral.
Meanwhile a young blonde kid named Clayton uses his cell phone to call someone about scoring tickets for the upcoming Spider-Man show. Seeing as how nothing in the comic before this scene alluded to the modernization of Spider-Man's origin story, seeing this character wearing modern headphones and talking on an iPhone is kind of jarring. If this story is supposed to take place in 2001 (as the prologue in ASM (vol. 3) #1 implies) then why is everyone other than Clayton dressed like they're living in 1963? Anyway, Clayton's a big fan and upon learning that Spider-Man himself designed his intricate web shooters, young Clayton figures that he can design something similar.
Pete is able to use the money he earned as Spider-Man to pay for his Uncle Ben's funeral. The next few pages are the most touching and memorable moments of the comic. I don't think a Spider-Man comic has actually spent this much time with Ben's funeral in the past (correct me if I'm wrong) and it's nice to look deeper into the relationship between Peter and Aunt May during this point in their lives.
Meanwhile, Pete is set to appear in another stage performance. His typical Parker luck keeps this task from being anything but mundane though. First he can't get out of a drawn out conversation with the school counselor and then, when he finally makes it to the studio, he finds that Maxie has set up real saw blades to sling at him as he swings through the air. Surprised, Spider-Man dodges the blades and then jumps into action to save the crowd when the blades tear down most of the sound stage. Clayton Cole watches all of this from his seat in the audience. Later that night the impressionable young youth unveils a purple and white costume that he has fashioned after his hero. Move over Spider-Man, here comes Clash!
Do we really need to tell more stories about the already crowded high school years of Peter Parker? Probably not, but writer Dan Slott takes his best stab at Ditko era Spider-Man with the first issue of this four part mini-series. It's a little hit and miss with the best moments definitely being the character interactions, especially the interactions between Peter and Aunt May. May has become such a caricature through the years, bordering on joke material, that it's nice to have new material in which she is an actual relevant character.
I'm not sure I'm sold on Clayton, the only new character to be introduced in this issue. He seems totally out of place among these characters that were designed to be, and still look as if, they're in the '60s. This sliding timeline in the Marvel Universe is awfully confusing and when you revisit Spider-Man's timeless origin story by putting it in a different time yet still stay faithful to the chronology of the original comics, it just doesn't seem to work out for me. Every cell phone and laptop that are drawn pulls me away from a story that I know belongs in 1962.
Ramon Perez's artwork coupled with Ian Herring's bright colors is worth the price of this issue alone. Just as Slott tries to make these stories feel like Stan Lee's original work, Perez channels Steve Ditko by drawing a Spider-Man that looks as if it has never been influenced by that John Romita guy. Perez's Spidey looks odd and languid and his Peter Parker looks geeky and aloof. It's the type of artwork that can make you look past the fact that there's not a lot of new or interesting things going on here. That is until Perez sketches an apple on the back J. Jonah Jameson's glowing laptop.
The centerpiece of this issue is the deftly handled funeral of Uncle Ben. Hopefully Slott has more exciting things planned for teenage Peter Parker in upcoming issues.