Every year since Brand New Day began, the Baltimore Comic-Con has been my opportunity to pick up a large chunk of the back issues I've missed since dropping Amazing Spider-Man, cheap and secondhand. Because I got so many comics this year, it's taken me a while to get to the recent back issues, but now I'm finally through.
I expected to have issues. I've certainly read all the criticism here on the board, and obviously my own view on the issues I had read was not positive.
But I wasn't prepared for how depressing these stories would be.
If there's one thing that's standing out to me in the recent issues I've been reading, it's that Spider-Man doesn't win. Kaine and Raptor escape him. Deadpool tricks him. Mr. Negative beats him easily. And yeah, there's the occasional triumph against someone like Mysterio, but by and large, it's not pretty.
But it's not just about the fights. It's the more pointed failures that hurt the most. Spider-Man saves the Sandman's (not really) daughter, and she's forced into foster care. Just when it looks like he's going to triumph over the Vulture, Spider-Man not only lets him escape, but goes on to make a stupid and uncharacteristic breach of ethics that costs him his job. He can't stop Morbius from killing Martine. (Of course, she died more than a decade ago, but Fred Van Lente doesn't really care.)
And then, after feeling genuine hope for the Rhino as he finds some genuine peace, his wife is killed, he reverts to supervillainy, and he kills his would-be successor.
Taken alone, the Rhino issues were actually quite good. But all together, this is outright demoralizing. And, yes, I know, most of these issue comprise the Gauntlet. It's supposed to be exhausting. But most of these things have nothing at all to do with the simple fact that these villains are upgrading and wearing Spider-Man out. Most of these are just abject failures on Spider-Man's fault.
The Gauntlet has nothing to do with Peter Parker screwing up his own life, destroying his journalistic reputation and letting at least three women regularly walk all over him. Seriously, whether or not you think it's out of character for Spider-Man to have a friends-with-benefits relationship with the Black Cat (and I do), he's basically the punching bag in that relationship, especially when the Black Cat sells his blood to Morbius.
And, hell, even when there is some genuine victory, like in the very good conclusion of "Character Assassination" (the one issue of the story I'd not yet read), Spider-Man only wins because Harry Osborn saves him.
It gets to a point--it has gotten to a point--where these books are outright painful to read. I have issues with the quality, but it's not about the quality. It's about a Spider-Man book where "victory" is a foreign idea. Yeah, it's crucial to the character that Peter Parker has flaws, and fails from time to time. It's important that Spider-Man get in the way of Peter Parker.
But I can't think of any other point in the history of the character--even that issue in the relaunch era where Peter slept in an alley--when he was this pathetic.
Say what you will about the era that preceded this one, but whatever crap Spider-Man faced, he ultimately came out on top. What made J. Michael Straczynski's first story so good was that ultimate impossible victory, snatched from the jaws of certain defeat at the hands of a nigh-unstoppable opponent. In any era of the character I can think of, Spider-Man has his failures and his down periods, but he is still eminently capable and usually successful, and he comes through where it counts.
This is the first time Peter Parker has ever felt truly pathetic to me. And ironic for an era that has sought to be all-ages, the books have never felt more cynical.