Superhero comics should have lots of action. Fights! Explosions! Team-ups! Colourful costumes! Megalomaniacal villains! These are what make the genre the cultural and entertainment powerhouse that it is today. But you can have too much of a good thing, and as a storyteller you don’t just want there to be action scene upon action scene, you also want to give readers these quiet moments between big adventures. Often these take place in-between larger story arcs and they are self-contained single issue stories. They might be about a minor character in the shared universe, or about the civilian life of the superhero, or even a dream or fantasy sequence that relates to an aspect of the character. It is my favourite of these types of stories that I wanted to share with you today in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #35.
Tale of the Tape
Peter Paker: Spider-Man (Vol 2) #35
Written by Paul Jenkins
Pencils by Mark Buckingham
Inks by Wayne Faucher
Cover by Humberto Ramos, Wayne Faucher, and Edgar Delgado
Coloured by Transparency Digital
Lettered by Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott
44th ed. Overstreet Guide puts a 9.2 at $3
Available on Marvel Digital Unlimited
Lafronce, a young African-American boy, lives in a rough neighbourhood with his alcoholic mother, but despite growing up in such adverse conditions, he works hard in school, is respectful to his aunt and uncle, and has a positive outlook on life. His prized possession is a Spider-Man trading card that he reads over and over again because he is Spidey’s secret sidekick! Spider-Man visits Lafronce and asks him how his day was at school, reminds him that his mother loves him, and won’t let him go out on patrol until he can count to twenty.
Lafronce’s aunt and uncle want to take him into their care but government services won’t let that happen as he isn’t in any imminent danger. The aunt and uncle are shown to be a positive influence on Lafronce, taking him for ice cream and ensuring he understands the importance of school with the uncle’s words echoing that of Spider-Man. Eventually, the aunt and uncle do take Lafronce into their custody when tragedy strikes and the mother dies/is killed (the death is never fully explained).
Before Lafronce leaves to live in his new house he has one last goodbye with Spidey. The Web-Head instructs Lafronce to take care of his aunt and uncle and keep an eye on the other side of town. Spidey then says that men don’t hug goodbye; they shake hands. Spider-Man removes his gloves and mask and reveals he is African American like Lafronce. While this revaluation shows with certainty for the reader that Spider-Man is just a figment of Lafronce’s imagination, it has great emotional impact and makes a poignant statement about how important the hero is to Lafronce.
For many who read comic books the superheroes within are role models. They show us an ideal that we try to live up to. Never giving up. Working hard. Trying to do what is right even when it isn’t easy. These are the aspect of heroes that have inspired generations even before comic books and will continue to inspire long into the future.
For Lafronce Spider-Man is an escape and a role model. I’ve talked to many fans at conventions that tell heartwarming stories about how a hero or comic story helped them through a rough time during their lives. Despite the fact that they are works of fiction, these heroes matter to people.
And we see our heroes as ourselves whenever possible, so of course under that mask Lafronce knows that Spider-Man is black. Why wouldn’t he be? Because it was a fantasy story this issue didn’t set off the furor that occurred when Miles Morales took over as Spider-Man, but I l think that it is at least a precursor to acknowledging the importance and benefits of seeing a diverse range of heroes, and having an increasingly diverse audience see themselves reflected in these tales.
If you are looking for other great, and moving, one shot Spider-Man stories I would suggest “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” in ASM #248 and ASM #574 where Flash Thompson loses his legs while fighting in Iraq.
These types of issues can often be found at a bargain price because “nothing important” happens in them, but really they are the most memorable stories in the series.