If Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl is meant to be an illustration of the events, occurring between the first several issues of Amazing Spider-Man proper, that slowly influenced Peter’s growing moral compass and adoption of the identity of Spider-Man then issue #1.4 is a needed step in the right direction for the series. Peter’s tale, which in the past two issues has felt like a misguided side-story, returns to the forefront here and in much greater clarity.
The story is cleverly bookended with dramatic twists of fate for Peter that echo common Spider-Man themes as well as early Amazing Spider-Man comics’ Ayn Randian philosophies and how they fail Peter. We get to read about how Peter’s selfish tendencies and willingness to ignore the responsibilities of Spider-Man have rewarded him with friends, success in school, and a valuable internship. Yet, like usual, Peter gets carried away in his arrogance and is humbled yet again by someone he felt superior to. Sound familiar? That’s because this is as classic of a Spider-Man story as they come.
Dan Slott’s vision for the series is slowly being revealed through the contrast between Peter and Clayton, which finally become apparent and clearly defined in this issue. Clayton is a teenager who refuses to be humbled by his mistakes and lashes out at the world for more attention. When both young men are labeled as “losers” one kindly accepts his role while the other outright dismisses it. It is easy to imagine Peter acting similarly to Clayton if he had never learned the lesson impressed upon him by Uncle Ben’s death, though Dan Slott’s sudden predilection for turning characters into murderous villains doesn’t feel fully motived here. Could it be that Clayton has an even greater tragedy set to befall him in the future?
Amazing Spider-Talk: Learning to Crawl has also operated seemingly as an interesting meta-commentary on the world of fandom. So often fansites (like this one) or fan-fiction can seek to gain the attention of creators and the public, like Clayton does in the form of Clash. When rejected or told they are just “mimicking” the work of the person they adore they can often turn against the people who they imagine stole or hijacked their character/interest/obsession, instead of learning to move on or learn a lesson in humility. This is exactly what happens to Clayton throughout this story and I think that’s it’s no mistake that the final battle in this issue takes place at a publishing house. This comic isn’t the first time that “fans” have used their words to damage or harm, in this case the words take on a physical form, the very thing they once adored and perhaps misunderstood.
At the same time, the issue begins with Peter utilizing his powers for financial gain, as he did back in Amazing Fantasy #15, and becoming the very thing that he’ll criticize Jonah for in the future, spinning acts of charity into questionable judgment moments for super-powered heroes. Finally, this series has found what it wants to say and presents it clearly. The past two issues have been muddled in this attempt. Here even the title page reflects this confusion by describing how “Clash tried to team up with Spider-Man, he didn’t understand the strength of his sound powers and nearly killed the web-slinger,” an event that never really happened in the way it is described here.
The combined artwork of Ramon Perez (artist) and Ian Herring (colors) continues to dazzle, particularly their experimentations with Clash’s powers. Peter has always battled the damaging effect of Jonah’s words but having them become physical threats is just so delightful. This is especially true thanks to Herring’s inverted colors that feel like they never escaped the color palette of Silver Age comics. Perez’s locations and characters are warm and his Bugle feels like a place I would want to hang out in for hours, especially with the cute Betty Brant typing furiously behind her desk.
Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl #1.4 gets the series back on track with two solidly conflicting characterizations of Peter Parker and Clayton Cole, both struggling to understand the responsibilities of their powers.