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 #33: The Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object
After three issues of set-up, the moment that we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived: Peter Parker’s first in-person encounter with Morlun, the predatory being that intends to eat him like a fancy pastry. With the last issue finishing with Morlun’s opening punch, the power of which sent our wallcrawler through the side of a car, we’re now treated to Peter’s reaction, an eagerness to return the favor. And it’s here that we see the theme of this fight. That if you distilled it down to its simplest ingredients, it’s a battle between two indomitable elements, each irresistible in their own way, almost to the point of being paradoxical.
Peter has rarely fought anyone like Morlun in the past. Given the webslinger’s high durability, he frequently takes a few hits in the beginning of any fight against a new enemy. Sometimes it’s due to hubris or distraction, but ultimately, he’s learned that he can handle a serious pummeling before things get out of hand. And as he gets tossed around, he ferrets out his opponent’s weaknesses, looking for ways to exploit them and win the fight. However, as he soon discovers, Morlun has no weaknesses. After punching him in the face to no effect, Peter begins to taunt his assailant, hoping for any kind of reaction other than silent engagement. So, Morlun takes a moment to humor him and explain the game, like a telemarketer and an old, worn out sales pitch. He describes what is about to transpire as an inevitability. He will pursue Peter, without tiring or getting discouraged. And now that he has touched him, he can find him anywhere. He will be relentless. Unstoppable, like death personified.
As promised, Morlun embodies this unstoppable presence as he chases Peter, clawing his way up the sides of buildings and threatening the lives of the public. Nothing staggers him as he withstands every physical assault that’s launched his way. Meanwhile the effects of a bloody, drawn-out battle start to wear on Peter. He’s becoming sluggish as the hours pass to the point where he believes that Morlun is becoming stronger rather than what’s more likely, he’s becoming weaker, exhausted. Morlun is proving that everything he said before was the truth. That he’s the Unstoppable Force. But while an unstoppable force is by definition insurmountable, Peter does have one trait that’s equally its match: his resolve. He never gives up.
From the opening sequence when Peter pulls himself out of the wrecked car, glass shards spilling off his body, he’s ready to fight. When Morlun dryly explains his fate as lunch, emphasizing that it’s not personal, Peter gets mad. Enraged. How could the threat to his own life and the city that he loves be anything other than personal? His brain goes into overdrive while he evades Morlun’s attacks, looking for any advantage he can take. In a barrage of fight sequences, we experience Peter’s desperation, with even a pose that’s directly taken from his iconic battle with Juggernaut, only this time, there’s no wet cement to save the day. Still, he doesn’t surrender to Morlun, because he’s the other side of the paradox. Peter is the Immovable Object. No matter how dire the situation, he will never stop fighting. He will never give an inch or lose his integrity.
So, our fear while following this fight is heightened, because we know that Peter is immovable. We know that he will never let someone like Morlun prey upon the people of the city as a means of sustaining his power. Needing time to think and recover, Peter steals some clothes, intending to blend in with the public and put some space between him and Morlun, only to discover that no mask makes little difference. Morlun knows him now and can find him anywhere. Their subsequent brawl ends in a crowded dive bar where Peter is surrounded by dozens of potential victims and an inhuman enemy who would kill them all if it meant getting what he wants. And while he would never let Morlun harm an innocent, he does find himself wondering about his own innocence in this situation. That he never asked for any of this. A notion that plays well with the concept of being chosen by the spider for this role. But his old mantra about power and responsibility beats its drum, forcing the mask back on his face. Immovable until the end, he punches Morlun into the kitchen, knocking him down. The victory is brief, just long enough for everyone to escape before the gas in an oven blows the bar up. When Morlun climbs naked out of the ashes, Peter is long gone. It’s at this point that he notes to Dex that something seems different about his prey, not enough to dissuade him, but definitely odd.
Though Peter might be the Immovable Object when it comes to his resolve and integrity, his physical weariness and desperation drive him to the only other person who understands his situation: Ezekiel. Bloodied and battered, he bursts into Ezekiel’s office, hoping for the help that was extended to him so generously earlier that day but finds it gone. Ezekiel has nothing to offer to a dead man.
Like a Tiger Playing with its Food
Morlun is a compelling villain, not just because of his occult nature, but also for the playfulness that he can’t quite hide. The neutral, almost banal, way that he explains his motives to Peter sits in stark contrast with how he actually carries out his hunt. If Peter was only food to him, a source of fuel for his centuries-long life, then I think our poor wallcrawler would have died in the first five minutes. But Morlun has respect for him and even more than that, he wants to play. He wants to chase Peter up buildings and grapple with him as they fall off roofs. He wants to get punched. And he wants to light a match in a kitchen rapidly filling with natural gas, even if doing so might accidentally kill his prey. It seems like these are the moments that make the centuries worth it. That he lives for a good fight and takes his time to savor its flavor. Like Pepe Le Pew, he loves the pursuit more than the catch, because it’s then that he feels alive. Everything else is just waiting for the chance to do it again. For this reason, I don’t think he could have found a better meal to chase than Peter Parker, that is until his dinner figures out how to chase him back.