In terms of Amazing Spider-Man runs in recent history, there are few that are more iconic than J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.’s work in the early 2000s. Their run is defined by both a fresh exploration into the origin of Spider-Man’s powers and more importantly, a return to basics for the character after a decade of overly sensational storylines. So, to appreciate the successes and shortcomings of this run, we will be delving into each issue and reflecting on how they impact both the world in which they exist and us, the readers.
Amazing Spider-Man, Volume #2, Issue #32: Ezekiel’s Sales Pitch and the Introduction of Totemistic Forces
With the foundation of change laid during the appearance of Ezekiel in the first issue, we have finally arrived at the point of explanation. What is the nature of Peter’s spider powers? And what is this predatory threat that has taken an interest in preying upon him? However, as we listen to Ezekiel and his sales pitch, we’re introduced not only to the primal forces that influence the expressions of power and conflict, but we see how far outside Peter’s perspective this new world lies.
It isn’t that Peter’s world is particularly insular. It seems like Ezekiel is the one with the problem. There’s a constant effort to frame him as an outsider, someone who’s out of touch with Peter’s experience, despite his regret over not pursuing the type of life that puts the good of others before his own interests. His career as a CEO of a multinational corporation conflicts with Peter’s blue-collar upbringing and it makes his attempts at persuasion heavy handed. When he shows up at Peter’s place of work and endows the school with $100,000 for new science equipment, it’s perceived as a power move and rightfully so. This, of course, is in combination with him making it indirectly clear that he’s keeping tabs on Peter and can find him whenever he pleases. None of this is missed by Peter who, as always, is protective of his private life. Ezekiel’s status as an outsider even extends to the benign and insignificant, such as his deduction that the quality of New York City pizza is based on the mozzarella and not, as Peter corrects, the water used to make the dough.
It is at this point, over some slices of pizza, that Ezekiel shares his understanding of the totemistic forces that shape the world. Now, his position as an outsider doesn’t benefit him when it comes to convincing Peter that there are primal powers at play that influence not only his life, but also that of his enemies, affecting their choices and desires. But, as Peter was teaching his class earlier in the day, there are common threads that tie science with the arts. That math runs through humanity’s genetic code and into the music and the art that they create. It would be foolish for Peter to disregard totemistic forces when they might be connected to the scientific methods that he does embrace. Could the animal-type villains in his rogue’s gallery be attracted to him at some primal level because he exudes totemistic power? Perhaps. But does this mean excluding the villains who don’t demonstrate any of those traits? Also, true. However, Peter rolls with it, his skepticism healthy but not to the point where he closes himself off to the possibility of the occult. After all, he’s felt the presence of Morlun and the more information that he has, the better.
This, however, is only the preamble to Ezekiel’s real sales pitch. After their dinner, he guides Peter to his lavish corporate headquarters. There he demonstrates what Peter could have seized had he decided to use his powers to create personal wealth for himself, a detail Ezekiel points out. When they arrive at the top floor, Ezekiel shows Peter a vault filled with enough amenities to keep a person comfortable for four months. This is his pitch. He asks Peter if he’d be willing to stay in safety and secrecy until the monster that’s stalking moves on. And it’s here where Ezekiel’s outsider position hurts him the most, because while he may share the same powers as Peter, he doesn’t really understand his world or his role in it. Peter can’t walk away from his responsibilities even if they may seem small to someone like Ezekiel. And he can’t let him or a supernatural monster, like Morlun, keep him from fulfilling his duties as a hero, both in and out of costume. But while Peter must decline Ezekiel’s offer, he is touched by the effort. That as Spider-Man, he has rarely been granted sanctuary and support, and it’s something that he won’t soon forget.
At the end of the issue, we have a reflection of the beginning. The issue opened with Spider-Man saving a young woman who had been kidnapped by a tattooed punk, a man who is then playfully strung up in a manner that calls back to Charlotte’s Web. And again, Spider-Man finds himself saving another hapless woman, only this time it’s from Morlun. This time though, he’s punched so hard that he can’t remember when anyone has hit him harder. And it’s at this point that he begins to truly understand what his spider sense was warning him about in the previous issue and what he had sacrificed when he turned down the refuge that Ezekiel had offered.
Great Power + Great Responsibility = ???
One of the more interesting moments in an issue overflowing with them was Ezekiel’s reaction to Peter’s oft recycled adage about power and responsibility. Often when Peter breaks out the old Uncle Ben nugget of wisdom, it’s a little groan inducing. Sometimes I think he says it so much that he must mumble it in his sleep and Mary Jane must nudge him until he settles down again. It’s what drives him forward and keeps his head up when the webbing that is his life wears thin.
But unlike most people, Ezekiel isn’t satisfied with the adage as given. It seems incomplete to him. And as a CEO, it would. As upper management, power and responsibility are intertwined and the reward for bearing them as burdens is financial compensation. So, he asks Peter what’s the second half of that equation for him. He knows that it isn’t money, so he goes through a list of possibilities, including guilt and freedom. To be honest, before reading this, I had never thought of the adage as unfinished and I was curious about what the rest might be for Peter. And in true Parker fashion, he points to the cityscape through the window and says, “All that.” A city brimming with life and energy is his payment for the power and responsibility that he must bear. It’s honest, a bit superficial, but most importantly, the best salary that a wallcrawler could ever ask for.