Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #5

Background

After making a deal with the Great Weaver, Peter Parker returned from the dead. He's stronger, faster and more agile than ever before (and now he has a couple of natty stingers concealed in his wrists). But something else was born from Peter's old body. Just as he is a creature more man than spider, this being is more spider than man. Which one will endure - Spidey or The Other?

In Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #22 it was revealed that The Other is the cost Peter pays for being brought back to life. If he doesn't evolve then he will die, and this time permanently. As Peter asks Doctor Strange what the heck that means, the Other has woven itself a cocoon and is busy changing into something deadlier.

Then in Amazing Spider-Man #528 Peter begins to question whether he's really the same man he was before his resurrection, although a conversation with MJ sets him right on that issue. While off saving lives Spider-Man discovers some new powers but wrecks his last costume. But that doesn't matter: Tony Stark is already working on a new one.

Now, The Other is over, and we return to our originally scheduled programme:

Story 'Web Log'

It's flashback month on Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man! Our story opens in bedroom of Vanna Smith, a student and cheerleader attending the same high school as Peter Parker. She is busy writing her new web log, eager to tell her readers the events of her day. She disagrees with George III's most famous quotation: something important happens everyday. As her parents argue downstairs, Vanna reflects on her meeting with Spider-Man. She was not impressed.

Earlier in the day, Vanna and her cheerleading chums were sitting around the sports field, watching Flash Thompson belittling Peter Parker when the Vulture appeared from nowhere. He'd just robbed and armoured car and was looking to make a quick getaway. Vanna's friends ran for their lives, but she was rooted to the spot with fear (although she doesn't mention that part in her log). Suddenly, web lines shot out from under the bleachers and tagged the Vulture's feet. Vanna immediately assumed that Spider-Man had been hiding under there to look up her skirt.

The brief fight between Spidey and the Vulture did nothing to change her opinion of our hero. As Flash helped her to her feet, she is accused Spidey of putting them all in danger, and being a peeping Tom.

Time passes, and two years later Vanna has another encounter with Spider-Man that convinces her that he is becoming obsessed. On an ESU-sponsored trip to the New York Science Museum, Vanna is in the bathroom when Spidey is blasted through the wall by the Looter. Obviously, she attacks him with her handbag. Spidey is a bit bemused by these proceedings, but he has the Looter to take down so he puts it to the back of his mind. As the two fight, Vanna has a revelation: the Bugle is right. Spider-Man is in cahoots with all these costumed criminals. He is staging these fights to impress her! He must be secretly in love with her!

Vanna goes to the beach, Spidey is there fighting the Sandman. She goes to the bank, Spidey is there fighting the Rhino. The fact that these events happen years apart, the fact that even her therapist thinks she's a fruitcake does nothing to dissuade Vanna. She goes to court and demands a restraining order against Spider-Man. The judge thinks she's nuts, but is willing to offer the restraining order to give her peace of mind. He makes it clear that all this is nonsense, and advises that she gets professional help.

However, Vanna is immediately contacted by the one person in all of New York who would take her seriously: good old J. Jonah Jameson. As you can imagine he's more than happy to run any story that makes Spidey look bad. True to his luck, Peter is the only photographer on hand and he has to take a picture of Vanna and her restraining order for the Bugle's front page. The headline: Judge to Wallcrawler: "Bug Off".

The story shifts to forty years from now. An elderly Vanna is sitting in the park feeding pigeons, when another equally elderly woman comes and sits next to her. The newcomer knows a lot about Vanna. She knows that Vanna continued to live in her parents' house after died. She has no husband, no children and no friends. Vanna is scared, but the woman demands she stay. The woman is Mary- Jane, and she has news and proof that Spider-Man is dead.

MJ rips into Vanna. She tells her that she has never contributed anything to humanity in the course of her life. The fact that her parents screwed her up is no excuse. Peter had all her problems and a hundred times more and he rose above them every time. As far as MJ is concerned, Vanna might as well never have lived at all.

Vanna tries to contradict MJ, but she is a washed up and pitiable figure. She misses the attention she thought Spider-Man lavished on her. She misses thinking she was special. MJ leaves her alone to her thoughts and eventually, Vanna returns to her home and her blog. She writes: "Nothing important happened today".

General Comments

What a bizarre time to write an issue like this. Putting aside the merits of the story itself, this is surely not the sort of story Peter David needs to be telling this early in the comic's run. Friendly Neighbourhood Spider- Man and its creative team are only five issues old. The first four issues were tied up in a massive crossover. This is a comic that needs to establish its own identity and advance its own subplots. Telling an untold tale of the wallcrawler, and then spinning off into a possible future forty years hence is misguided. I would much preferred to see a contemporary tale; something that mattered in the here and now.

What we have instead is a perfectly serviceable story that wouldn't have been out of place in the late Spider-Man Tangled Web. As one would expect from Peter David, it's a witty and amusing effort that showcases Vanna's evolution from laughable to pitiable. By the end of the story we are left with a woman who has completely wasted her life and has nothing left to show for it. But is her obsession with Spider-Man really responsible for all that, or is there a deeper problem?

This is where the story starts to unravel. The actions of Vanna in the story are not the actions of a sane and rational person. Vanna is mentally ill. Her therapist sees it, the judge sees it, Spidey sees it, but because of the light- hearted way the story is written the reader doesn't really care about it. In the final scenes we're expected to accept MJ's dressing down of Vanna as right and acceptable.

But MJ's opinion is not right or acceptable. She dismisses Vanna's childhood traumas and the events that made her how she is as irrelevant. Peter didn't succumb to his pain, so why should Vanna? MJ is effectively slapping the mentally ill and telling them to pull themselves together. This isn't much of a moral coda. One might excuse MJ these thoughts as she has just lost her husband, but I'm convinced that this was not the effect Peter David was aiming for.

Overall Rating

An odd an ultimately unsuccessful story. There is much to like, but the ending is both flawed and a disappointment. Three webs.