The Finite Alpha

Alpha A

When it was announced that Spider-Man will have a new sidekick, introduced in a 50th Anniversary arc from Amazing Spider-Man #692-694, critics of One More Day suggested that this was hypocritical. They asked if this development didn’t undercut Marvel’s argument for breaking up Peter & MJ, as well as various mission statements from editors regarding the franchise, since it meant that Spider-Man would be the adult in the room.

These criticisms were premature. At that point, we didn’t know a whole lot about the story. We didn’t know if Alpha would still be around after the end of the arc, to say nothing of Amazing Spider-Man #700, another deluxe sized highly promoted anniversary issue that Slott was setting up. It turned out that Alpha’s appearance was rather self-contained, ending with Spider-Man removing the powers of his increasingly corrupt sidekick. Even if Spider-Man’s partnership with Alpha had become a part of the series for the foreseeable future, I think it would it still work under the Illusion of Change.

There’s no reason the status quo of Spider-Man having a sidekick had to be permanent, or restrict subsequent writers. It does seem like something that can be easily reversed without Spider-Man having to make any deals with Mephisto. If someone doesn’t want to tell stories in which Spider-Man has a a sidekick, Alpha could lose his powers, become a villain, or just decide to go his separate way.

One of the arguments for ending the marriage was that it made Spidey older, so there is the question of whether a similar presumption could apply here. Writing for examine.com, Brian Steinberg notes the origins of superhero sidekicks.

We think it’s interesting because it shows just how few ideas are left in the comic-book publishers’ arsenals. Teen sidekicks were once viewed as a way to lure young readers to the comics’ four-color pages. It was a lot easier for an eight-year-old to envision oneself as Robin or Stripesy, after all, than it was to imagine he or she was the moderately older Batman or Star-Spangled Kid. Now that most comic books are read by guys in their 30s and 40s who have yet to ditch the trappings of their childhood, young sidekicks may not be the draw they once were (and if they are a draw, well, that seems a little, um, sick).

The presumption is that if Spider-Man has a sidekick, he’s the equivalent of a father figure or a big brother. However. anyone could be the equivalent of a big brother, so I don’t think that’s particularly problematic. High School seniors have been mentors to High School freshmen. Peter Parker can still be young enough that this isn’t the equivalent of a surrogate father/  son relationship.

Having Peter Parker feel responsible for an accident that gave a teenager from Midtown High superpowers was an appropriate tale for the 50th Anniversary of Amazing Fantasy #15. While it made it clear how much Peter has changed since he got powers, that’s something that’s unavoidable at a time when people are paying more attention to Spider-Man’s impressive legacy. When celebrating fifty years of content, there’s no way to avoid the reader’s awareness that Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for some time, and that he’s had a lot of adventures.

Alpha

There is the argument that giving Spider-Man a sidekick made him more generic. His current job at Horizon Labs means that he now has a great degree of respectability, as well as access to things that make his life easier as a superhero. His financial problems are a thing of the past, and he’s on several superhero teams.

Since Alpha is supposed to be more powerful than Spider-Man, it did seem like a different dynamic than the most famous superhero duos (Batman & Robin, Captain America & Bucky, Green Arrow & Speedy, etc.) Dan Slott also suggested that Spider-Man’s personality means that this partnership will be unlike any seen in comics.

“If you put Spider-Man and Batman in the same situation, you’re going to have way more fun with Spider-Man,” said “Amazing Spider-Man” writer Dan Slott. “With Batman, he never really screws up the way Spider-Man does; he always seems to make the right decision. But with Spider-Man, he always screws up. He’s us as a superhero. Batman is a paragon of what we’d like to be, but in reality, we’re more like Spider-Man. He makes all the mistakes we make.”

Alpha’s story came and went. He left the Spider-Man books, but he’ll soon return in a five issue mini series by Joshua Fialkov and Nuno Plati. Part of the character’s hook is that he was Spider-Man’s sidekick, so it provides a branding advantage after a mostly self-contained story came to an end.

As with most stories, the quality depended on the execution rather than the concept. But there didn’t seem to be anything inherently defective with what had been announced so far. While Spider-Man has partnered with other heroes before, this was a new story engine for the series. It demonstrates that there are still new stories left to tell after fifty years.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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