Posted - June 3, 2013 | Updated : August 14, 2015

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Amazing Spider-Man: Back In Black

From the pages of Civil War : The Amazing Spider-Man, Aunt May has been shot! What Peter does next puts the 'Amazing' in 'Amazing Spider-Man'.

peter parker in the crosshairs of an assassin throwing wa jeep
a jeep crashes into an assassin's nest

Boom! Everybody knows Spider-Man has superhuman strength but he's usually demonstrating agility, spider sense and web-slinging. All out shows of strength are fairly uncommon. One of the most common schoolyard debates is just how strong is Spidey, well, there you go.

So the Amazing Spider-Man : Back In Black collection has two major parts. The first is the 'Amazing Spider-Man' part by J. Michael Straczynski and Ron Garney. The second is the 'Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man' part by Peter David and Todd Nauck and Ronan Cliquet. The transition from one to the other is a bit jarring but both are worthwhile reads. Right now we've started the Straczynski story.

Peter's situation is complicated by the fact that he is on the unregistered side of the recent Civil War. Therefore he is a wanted man and wanted men can't just march into hospitals with their wounded aunt. Plus, Parker isn't exactly made of money. The pressure is definitely on for our hero.

peter parker clinging to the wall of a hospital building worried for aunt may

But worry and anguish are not Peter's primary emotions here - front and center is anger. And the wrath of Peter Parker is something to behold. Here he is come to inspect the scene of the crime.

an angry peter climbing the stairs to an assassin's nest while a police officer tries to stop him

The cop is trying to stop him. It goes without saying that the officer will have absolutely no chance. Just look at Peter's face.

So you've read a lot of Spider-Man, and in those comics, Spidey, Marvel's classic nice guy, was not only joking around as he battled the criminals, he also pulled his punches. After all : "With great power comes great responsibility". If at any time during your readings you've found yourself wishing that Spider-Man would cut loose, you are in luck, this is the collection you want to see.

So Peter finds a clue. A piece of a gun. He busts in to some illegal gun dealers, lays waste to the stooges and questions the gun runner who is not very cooperative. Result?

spider-man breaks a gun runners hand

Broken hand.

Now we all know what 'Back In Black' means.

spider-man in his black costume

So another criminal gets snarky with Spider-Man as he's trying to find out who killed his Aunt.

a criminal expresses disdain at spder-man's questioning

"So what're you gonna do about it?", this lunatic says. This is what he's gonna do.

spider-man throws a criminal outside the window and catches him with a web

Spider-Man is out of control and I'm loving every minute of it.

So Spider-Man finally catches up with Aunt May's shooter. Not the brains behind the hit - the shooter. First thing, Peter breaks the guy's arm. Ron Garney handles this very creatively by showing it reflected in the lenses of Spidey's mask.

spider man breaks the arm of aunt may's shooter as reflected in spidey's

Guys tries to kill your Aunt? Of course you have to smack him in the face. Ouch!

spider-man punches aunt may's shooter

The brains behind the hit. The guy who started all this is no less than Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. Let's go take a look at the curious case of Wilson Fisk.

the kingpin enjoying his luxurious prision cell

As you can see, Wilson Fisk is in prison. But as you can further see, he's not exactly having a hard time - he has a well-furnished cell, the other prisoners are afraid of him and the guards are on the take. He has a nice arrangement. What Wilson Fisk does to himself is go from the tranquil panel above to this panel below

the kinggpin lying in his cell all beaten up

That's right, the Kingpin actually set in motion events that lead up to him being severely beaten. It's one hell of an enjoyable tale.

Step one, Peter follows one of his stooges and recognizes the Kingpin's voice.

peter recognizes the kingpin's voice in  a cellphone

Threats are made by Peter, justifiably.

peter parker threaten's the kingpin

And the answer is pure arrogance.

the kingpin replies to peter with pure arrogance

What Fisk does next smacks of hubris - he actually sets up a one-on-one fight with Spider-Man in front of the other inmates.

the kingpin faces spider man one on one in prison

It doesn't go well for the Kingpin

peter parker punches the kingpin

My favorite part is when Peter points out a very important fact.

peter parker comments that he kingpin is in fact a non-superhuman

That's a fact isn't it? The Kingpin is just a glorified sumo wrestler. What was he thinking staging this fight. This isn't Daredevil - this is Spider-Man. It's all mind-blowingly good but Straczynski makes it even better.

the kingpin is informed by spider-man that he will die the moment
	after aunt may dies

And as a warning to the others.

peter parker warns every inmate to stay away from his family

For Peter Parker things start going seriously downhill. First off, he assaults a cop.

peter assaults a cop

Then follows a string of felonies as he transfers Aunt May to another hospital. Including carjacking an ambulance.

peter steals an ambulance

This panel sums things up nicely.

peter parker felon

With that, the 'Amazing Spider-Man' part of this collection comes to a close. The story continues in the pages of another collection called 'One More Day'.

But. But. The collection isn't finished. Let's head on over to Peter David's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

In contrast to Straczynki's very-focused Amazing Spider-Man, Peter David's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is a creature of many parts. Part of this run is in anticipation of the then-upcoming 'Spider-Man 3' movie where Sandman is a major villain - Therefore we have a very extensive focus on Sandman and his origin. Next, David wraps up a storyline involving the villain Ero or, as she was previously known, Ms. Arrow. Then, and lastly, we have what I would consider a tie-in to Spider-Man's big unmasking in Civil War - a reckoning of sorts between Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson. So let's get to it . . .

First stop is Sandman. Here he is when he was still a boy with his Mom on the beach.

the young sandman on beach with his mom

Here he is showing both enthusiasm and talent for art.

the young sandman's love of sculpture

Here he is after getting beaten up by some school bullies.

young sandman with his face after getting beaten up by bullies

I hate this story because its making me cry. I'm serious. Peter David writes it so well and the clean illustration by Ronan Cliquet is perfect for the innocence of Sandman's youth that I have grown quite attached to this young boy showing such promise and happy in his world. But those bullies just brings it all down and puts him on the road to villainy. But I'll never forget the young Sandman, never, some part of me will always empathize with Flint Marko because of this tale. Here's a little bit of comfort though: The young Sandman sees the water hitting the sand and . . .

young sandman looking at the behaviour or sand and water

. . . derives some kind of martial arts philosophy from it that allows him to get sweet revenge.

young sandman getting his revenge on some bullies

Martial arts philosophy from water hitting sand? Who cares? As long as he beats up the bullies. Unfortunately, he not only beats up the bullies - he becomes the leader of their gang.

sandman leads a gang

From here, it's downhill for Flint Marko. Cliguet gives us a great pinup of a giant Sandman in action

the sandman becomes a giant

Throughout the tribulations of his life, Sandman retains an affection for the father who abandoned him as a child. His fondness for creating art, on the other hand, has been warped into this.

the sandman vows to kill spider-man

This is quite a shocking series of panels. What kind of individual considers the death of someone as an act of creation? This is very far from the lovable boy we were shown early on in the story. At first, I was inclined to consider this a, well, a mistake, an exaggeration - a freakish panel that should not have been included in this story. But thinking about it a bit brings me to the conclusion that this is plausible; enough tough times and unlucky breaks can warp a person to evil. And yes, I am making an excuse for a character to which I have become rather fond of because of Peter David's story. We have more on the Sandman though, but no more flashbacks; let's rejoin Flint Marko - and Spider-Man - in the here and now.

From Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man we find out that during the events right after Civil War Peter Parker crashes in Flash Thompson's pad.

peter parker in flash thompson's apartment

All this presumably while poor MJ has to make do with a chair beside Aunt May's hospital bed. Flint Marko goes to Peter for help in Thompson's pad. Something's about Flint's father, wrongfully accused and about to be executed in jail. All this includes a subplot involving he Spider-Man of 2211- whom we don't see alive in this collection - what we do see is the Chameleon of 2011 impersonating him.

the spider mand of 2211

Terribly designed costume don't you think? From the tentacle hands to the eight-eye helmet - its pretty yucky.

Outside of the costumes, we get nice flirty panels of a date between Betty Brant and Flash Thompson.

betty brant flirting with flash thompson
betty flirting

So Sandman and Spider-Man are on this adventure together and they start joking around, trying to be funny.

sandman and spider-man try to make a funny

Maybe its the lame repartee or maybe because Peter is wearing that hedious helmet but I am struck by how jarring it is to be reading this knowing that all this is supposed to be happening in the same timeframe covered by the Amazing Spider-Man story. Going back to that Straczynski tale, Peter is so focused that he just could not possibly take time out to go on a jaunt with Sandman. He was so distraught in the Straczynski story that he could not possibly be joking around with anybody like he is here. And you know what? That's fine. If we go by the mood in the Straczynski story Peter David would have nothing to write. I'm willing to overlook that, sit back, and enjoy this Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man adventure.

What's to enjoy you say? How about a Spider-Man/Sandman alliance against the Chameleon of 2211?

spider-man and sandman against the chameleon of 2211

I'm undecided if the Sandman portion of this collection felt so-so because I just came from reading the intense Amazing Spider-Man story or just because of the Sandman story's own merits (and demerits). One thing I know though, when we get into the Ero part of the collection Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man starts to get much better.

What is 'Ero' you say? Here's an Ero.

an ero spider

According to wikipedia: "Ero is a genus of pirate spiders in the family Mimetidae . . . Spiders in this genus are specialised spider killers. An individual will attack a potential victim by biting one of its legs and injecting toxins. It then retreats and the prey spider quickly becomes paralyzed. The attacker then advances and starts to feed, sucking out the body fluids of its victim".

In Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, this is Ero.


During the course of the story Ero manages to kidnap Flash Thompson, leading up to this amusing page.

flash thompson asking how things are going to be ok
ero gloats over her capture of flash thompson

"How in the name of God is this remotely going to work out fine?", I love that.

We also get to see Spider-Man's not very well publicized stingers.

spidey's stingers

Another unexpected treat is the surprisingly sexy Betty Brant in fighting mode.

betty brant in fighting mode

Todd Nauck does good art but I like this panel the best

beautiful panel of spidey-man and ero against a cityscape

Beautiful layout. I particularly like the blue starry night and the well lit buildings in the background. Put in the perfect action poses from both Spidey and Ero and this panel art is as perfect as they come.

So how does Ero get defeated? It's amazing. Spider-Man introduces her to the Ero spiders' natural predator - birds.

ero is defeated by birds in an aviary

That was a very nice story but the collection isn't over yet. Now we have a much needed showdown between J. Jonah Jameson and Peter Parker. Before this, Jonah first does something that is patented Jonah - he fires Robbie.

j. jonah jameson fires robbie robertson

Don't worry though by the end of the story Robbie will be rehired. Before that though, Robbie's firing causes Peter to call out Jonah for a 'talk'

j. jonah jameson beats up spider-man

Peter pretty much lets Jonah work out his aggression without fighting back; he can take it - he's Spider-Man. This whole interplay - the dialogue and the fighting - between Jonah and Peter has some very subtle aspects that reflect the long history between Peter and Jonah. It's no longer as simple as Jonah hates Spider-Man. Don't get me wrong, this story doesn't clarify why Jonah hates Spider-Man; at least I didn't see it. But this shows that its not that simple with Jonah - he's angry and resentful, but he also, very strangely, cares about Peter. It's one of the most complex relationships in comics and I'm very happy that something like this can be created in this medium.

And that's the colection. Spider-Man: Back in Black (you have to be specific, there is another collection called Peter Parker Spider-Man : Back in Black) contains a very varied selection of Spider stories. You get two legendary writers in J. Michael Straczynski and Peter David and as for the artists Ron Garney, Todd Nauck, and Ronan Cliquet - well, just take a look at those panels. The Amazing Spider-Man parts are wonderfully intense while the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man section is more mainstream and colorful. Remember that these stories run parallel to each other (and to issues of Sensational Spider-Man too). All of them leading up to the controversial, divisive and direction-changing One More Day. Thanks for joining me on this ride and see you again soon.

Next: Amazing Spider-Man Brand New Day