In our last action packed issue, Spider-Man tussled with the Molten Man and the less than supernatural truth behind Harry Osborn's return from the dead was revealed. With the police closing in on Spider-Man (believing him to be the spider-tracer killer), with the mayoral election scant days away and with the faux-goblin Menace poised to make his move, Amazing Spider-Man shifts down a gear. Spidey has returned from New Jersey to face the horrors of Betty Brant's birthday!
It is a few days before Betty Brant's birthday, and she is relying (perhaps unrealistically) on Peter Parker to organise her birthday party. As the issue opens, she is standing on a street somewhere in New York, watching Spidey triumph over a nameless super villain. After Spidey has departed, Peter catches up with his friend. The two of them have a date tonight: Betty is going to find Peter a girlfriend.
She takes him speed dating which goes as disastrously wrong as you might imagine. The pair then head to the FEAST centre where Peter is pick up Aunt May and walk her home. Unfortunately, Pete sees a mugging and takes off to apprehend the perp, leaving May alone with Betty. May makes it clear that she would rather walk home alone. Although the reader is left in no doubt this is because May is still upset with Betty (as seen in the New Ways to Die arc). Betty thinks that May is cross at Peter for cutting out on her.
Betty doesn't see Peter for a couple of days (he's out tussling with Menace). Eventually she tracks him down outside the offices of the Front Line. Peter was talking with Robbie, but Robbie doesn't stick around to speak with Betty. Sour grapes? If it is then Betty doesn't notice.
Later, while plotting to set Peter up with her old friend Haley, Betty bumps into J Jonah Jameson Snr (last seen in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #579. Obviously in the match-making mindset, Betty thinks it would be a fantastic idea to set him up with May Parker. Obviously, this sort of thing happens all the time in New York.
Later in the evening, Betty and Haley meet up and get steaming drop-down drunk. Peter eventually arrives and walks the paralytic Betty to the Coffee Bean to try and sober her up. Harry shoots daggers at her: after all, Betty has been rubbishing his girlfriend's father in the DB. Betty is too drunk to notice.
Eventually, it is Betty's birthday. She is all dolled up in her best dress and ready for her party. Enter Peter Parker, as scruffy as ever and armed with only a DVD and a Chinese meal. Betty is obviously cut up that he has failed to organise a party for her. This anger festers through the meal and the movie, until eventually she explodes and tells Peter what an unreliable loser he is.
This forces Peter to tell Betty the truth: no-one wanted to come to her birthday party. She has succeeded in alienating all her friends. In fact, everyone is so angry with her that they wouldn't even sign a card. Betty is crushed. Peter does his best to cheer her up. He tells her that they'll all come round eventually, and that it's only a matter of time. Betty is left reflecting that of everyone she knows, Peter remains her best and her truest friend.
This is a wonderfully structured little character piece that says a great deal about Peter's devotion to his friends, but also shines a welcome spotlight on Betty Brant. The story, told from Betty's perspective, ironically follows our heroine as she bumbles from encounter to encounter, her keen reporter's senses completely blind to the affect she has on others. It is replete with clever asides and witticisms, and was a pleasure to read from start to finish.
I've always been a fan of Mark Waid's writing, particularly his run on Fantastic Four, and I am pleased to report that his deft touch for characterisation is in full evidence in this tale. But in praising Waid, we should not detract from Barry Kitson's accomplishments.
There's very little action in this story. Kitson was compelled to draw twenty- two pages of talking heads. In the hands of a lesser artist, such a remit would have resulted in a turgid comic that was boring to look at. Take time to flip through this comic again; look at the speed dating scenes and notice the expressions on the characters, observe the way Kitson alters the perspective and panel structure. He makes this story work. I thought it was a good artist when he was drawing the UK Transformers comic back in the mid-80s, but this is just brilliant.
Of course, this isn't the first time in recent memory that a Spidey comic has taken the time to explore Peter and Betty's relationship. There was a memorable scene between them in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #20 (the best thing in the issue, actually), which ended with Betty saying that she was still a bit in love with Peter. An interesting direction to take, and not completely incompatible with Waid's take on the character. It's a shame we never got to see where Peter David would have taken that.
What more can I say? The story is filler, and many readers will dislike it because of that reason. But if the Spider Office is going to produce fillers of this quality, I'd be happy for them to shelve all their New Ways to Die and just publish stories like this. Fortunately, ASM's thrice monthly format allows them to do both.
Waid neatly side-steps any sentimentality, and Kitson does a fantastic job on the art. Add in a cover by John Romita Snr and this one's a winner. Five webs.
Of course, this issue of Amazing Spider-Man won't be remembered for Waid and Kitson's story. This will be forever marked as the issue with the Barack Obama back-up strip. Which is a shame, because the main feature is so good and the back-up is so weak.
However, the presence of Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #583 (Story 2) brought literally millions of new readers to this title. Of course, they were the sort of readers who would never have picked up the comic were it not for the Obama element, and are unlikely to continue to collect the title (as the sales figures for issue #584 have shown). But still they bought the title.
Some have argued that if the back-up had been bundled with part one of a multi- part story ASM might have hung onto more readers. I don't think it would have done. But, I do like to think that even in the grip of merchandising-mania, these Obama zealots would pause to read the rest of the comic. If they did, then they treated themselves to a superlative story, and the best that Brand New Day has offered. And that can't be a bad thing.