I finished up the Gender Through Comic Books course, and one of the ideas that was discussed was what makes a hero masculine or feminine. Are masculine heroes just the beefy tanks that punch villains without stopping, or is there more of a paternal instinct? What about feminine heroes? Are they just the most attractive ones, or are they the ones who abhor violence? Obviously none of those answers are correct — or complete — and there is no master key of masculinity and femininity for heroes. But Marvel Adventures Spider-man does a good job of addressing these ideas in the first four issues of its second series, which are collected in Marvel Adventures Spider-man: Amazing and are also available to read in the Marvel Adventures Spider-man (2010-2012).
The series continues the continuity from the first volume of the series, which was penned by a variety of writers, but in the new world that they’ve built, Spider-man gets to go to some exciting places. While most of the story is the same — Peter Parker was a jerk, lost his uncle and became Spider-man — circumstances are different. For one thing, Peter is dating Sophia Sanduval (aka Chat, a Mutant who can talk to animals), and they have a pretty fantastic relationship as far as comics go. There is a lot of give and take, but they both care for each other.
Also in the picture is Gwen Stacy, just a friend of Peter’s here, whose father is dealing with the Torino family while she is dating Carter Torino, who actually cares more about doing good instead of working with the mob. Meanwhile Spider-man and Chat also frequently work with the Blonde Phantom Detective Agency.
Issue 1 sets the stage as Gwen works on a Gwen-terview (puns!) in which she’s trying to talk to Spider-man while also interviewing people about the him. It sets up the idea that Spider-man still isn’t fully trusted by the city, even though he is doing “good,” which is a recurring theme here.
Meanwhile, Spider-man is dealing with a corrupt state judge who is working with the Torino family (i.e. letting their criminal members out of jail for bribes). Keeping Gwen as the focus in the story was a great idea and altogether the issue is amazingly well done. When Gwen isn’t fighting crime, she is still doing important work.
Issue 2 focuses on Shang-Chi and Midnight having a fight in Spider-man’s school while Spider-man is trying to return a stolen pug named Attila to his owner. (The police think he stole it.) Spider-man is meanwhile questioning his own image and whether or not he should come up with a new superhero identity.
Eventually Shang-Chi, while providing a more traditionally masculine image, shows a good deal of calm and cool, and becomes a mentor to Spider-man while Chat works hard to find out how to return Attila. (The way Tobin writes the way that animals understand things is a lot of fun for kids.) The issue does a great job of bringing Peter, Sophia, Gwen and Carter together, and I could honestly read a book of them just talking about school.
Issue 3 focuses on Chat and Spider-man getting hired to hunt down Wolverine so he can act as a spokesman for a hair product. This story may be my favorite of the first arc. It mixes absurd humor with some great action, and there’s a wonderful contrast between Blonde Phantom and Wolverine. The issue really excels at the conclusion, though, when Spider-man finally meets with Bullseye face to face. There’s a fantastic moment when you know everything will change with the next issue, as Bullseye saves Spider-man from the Torino mobsters.
The big finale in issue 4 centers on a fight between Spider-man and Bullseye with Chat helping out with her animals. What makes a person a hero, the concept of masculine vs. feminine heroes and Spider-man’s standing with the city are all front and center here, though as a warning, the cliffhanger is tremendous, so you might want to have the next issue at the ready.
Altogether, looking at gender roles through the lenses of Marvel Adventures Spider-man is a wonderful experience. While there is violence, it is kept light and it’s fine for all ages. The subject matter is also kid friendly — while the Torino family commits crimes, you never really see them do them. For an all-ages title, it is easy to find one worse than Marvel Adventures Spider-man. But finding ones that are better is a nigh-impossible task.