RHINO: I can always earn more money. Y-you don’t tell Spider-Man?
PETER: No. I won’t tell Spider-Man.
Amazing Spider-Man Family #3/Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man #3
Tom DeFalco and Todd Nauck
This is another story which DeFalco hits out of the park. Now I fully admit this is a story which honestly didn’t necessarily NEED Peter as a parent to tell. In fact I’d go as far as to say that really it didn’t serve the entire purpose of Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man as a series by showcasing the past history of Peter and MJ in the MC2 universe. This story could’ve been told inside or outside the MC2 universe, before or even after OMD. As ashamed as I am to admit this it doesn’t even need Mary Jane in it at all although it is still nice she is here. The reason I say all this simply because really this is a story which zeroes in on Peter Parker as we’ve always known him and one of his enemies. It’s about those two character specifically and thier whole histories together are almost irrelevant beyond the fact that they have been enemies in the past. Does that mean this story is bad? Hell no!
First of all the Rhino is awesome. A classic villain. And ironically enough he was the villain Peter and Mary Jane went to see on thier ‘first date’ waaay back in Amazing Spider-Man #43 (the issue immediately after MJ’s iconic entrance). What this story gives us is a absolutely brilliant look at the Rhino as a human being (and it beat BND to the punch by a year or two I beleive) and showing us actually he isn’t a black and white villain (heheheh, I suppose he’s always been ‘grey’; get it, get it????? Wait come back!). The story mainly achieves this through the same method which up until now the entire Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man series has been employing. That is of course showing parallels between the Parkers and other individuals.
In the previous instalments those parallels hinged upon thier new parenthood and in all honestly did involve Peter AND Mary Jane more effectively (hence justifying the ‘ and Mrs.’ part of ‘Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man’) but this issue decides to simply be about Peter, albeit still involving Mary Jane. Now in fairness that criticism holds water if you look at the series strictly as a series about Peter AND MJ or Peter and Mj as parents or as a simple MC2 prequel. If you look at it as a Spider-Man series wherein Peter happens to be married to MJ and is a dad (i.e. basically what DeFalco wanted to happen back in the 1990s when he introduced the baby plotline) then it is more acceptable. And the reason Why it’s more acceptable is simply because why should every issue be about the baby, or thier parenthood, or thier marriage? During the marriage not every issue was ABOUT it, it was still ultimately a book about Peter Parker’s life but he happened to be sharing that life with MJ now.
Speaking of MJ let’s talk about that opening narration. Now for all I’ve just said about how this story doesn’t NEED a parent Peter Parker it does still use that status quo, at least as a starting point. It shows us the impact that parenthood, maturing and aging has had on the Parkers. Mj’s opening narration about how years ago sh’ed be clubbing it up on a Saturday night but now hits the sack before midnight demonstrates this. It is somewhat double sided dialogue.
On the one hand haters are going to extrapolate a whole load of bullshit from her line of “behaviour I’d rather forget” and probably paint her in a bad light based upon that. Thing is when you’re young you do do stuff which in hindsight is embarrassing no matter what it is. Confession time: A few years ago when I first drank tequila I basically line-danced with a bunch of strangers on a podium whilst removing my shirt, hitched a ride on a golf buggy and challenged a woman to a drinking contest only to later discover she might have been pregnant….and it was all on film….and then on facebook. I’m not proud of that and would rather forget it happened (though it does make for a good story). In MJ’s case her narration shows us that DeFalco really understands her character and more than this, shows that he get’s how she has progressed and grown up over time.
Now a certain crowd of fans will point to that first line in this story and go “You SEE the marriage/making them parents was a bad thing because now they’re old and BORING”. It is true that MJ and (I guess Peter) would become more mature with the marriage and a baby. That doesn’t equal ‘boring’. I mean for God’s sake this was never (despite some people’s warped opinions) a series about what it is to be young like it’s some kind of grand Channel 4 drama (sorry, you might not get that if you live outside of the UK). The fact was that we first encountered Peter and MJ when they were young and therefore saw them doing things young people tend to do. But that didn’t mean this series was ever ABOUT that; that’s like saying Power Rangers or ninja Turtles was ABOUT being a teenager when they weren’t, they just HAPPENED to be teenagers. I mean who was ever buying Spider-Man to see MJ hit up the clubs? Who honestly cares it isn’t happening now? Point is yeah, MJ is not engaging in the same activities she did in her youth and stereotypically a lot of people would label that as ‘boring’. But the fact is if she and Peter are still endearing and compelling as older characters then what is the problem? Mj displays some of that endearing quality about her in fact in this very issue when she actively diffuses a potential super powered fight; bad ass.
Looking back at the fact that this story doesn’t NEED MJ or the fact that she and Peter are parents, this issue does nevertheless do some nice little touches with them as parents. The fact that thier in the hospital for a cold is a mundane and realistic aspect of life which Spider-Man is very very good at. Indeed it’s part of the charm of the Spider-Man franchise. We also get a nice bit of insight into MJ’s new mentality as a mother as she feels both guilty about May being unwell and also upset that her child is suffering. It’s an obvious thing because ALL mothers would be like that but it’s something NEW to Spider-Man. Now something OLD to Spider-Man are thier concerns about money briefly raised in this issue but that’s something I’ll discuss next time. A final point about the hospital setting is that it uses Aunt Anna in a small but nice little role by giving her a single line which does a lot of good characterisation work. When she mentions that May’s illness is nothing to worry about and MJ and her sister used to get it all the time, not only is it showcasing the kind of status quo we could have had if the baby had returned (Anna as the wise old mother/grandmother figure which was also relevant in the last issue) but it also shows us that she was there supporting MJ’s family when they were kids. In this sense we can read into just how close Anna and MJ were and also see how good DeFalco is at the ol’ continuity as he (unlike other writers) remembers MJ has a wider family circle of her own beyond Peter.
Before I go on to talk about the heart of this issue I’d like to make a final point about DeFalco’s writing style. Many people say DeFalco is stuck in the past in terms of his writing style and it’s a flaw I will admit he has; and I say that as a fan of his (although it never bothered me because certain conventions of modern comic writing style piss me off royally). BUT I think there is this mentality that his dated writing style on Spider-Girl is something he can’t help, like he isn’t good enough to write beyond that. That is a lie. Right here (and in fact other stories like the previous issues) he demonstrates a different, more modern and even more mature writing style which he is employing since these stories themselves are a bit more mature than in Spider-Girl.
By that what I mean is that Spider-Girl is a series about a teenage girl growing up but Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man is a series about two adults raising a child and therefore they deal with more adult concerns which warrants an older writing style. Essentially DeFalco’s ‘dated’ style on Spider-Girl is something he does deliberately because he’s catering to fans of a bygone era in many ways. In fact that whole series in many ways deliberately bucked trends of modern comic book conventions.
Now, let us discuss the heart of the issue, the Rhino and Peter themselves. First of all well done to DeFalco for remembering the Rhino is in fact (and has always been) Russian. Often he’s characterised as just a generic brute (or a guy from New Jersey for some reason???????). That being said I do not think he’s ever spoken with an accent that thick before. I did however like that DeFalco established the Rhino as having removed his suit. This story is about showing the humanity and real person behind the Rhino and that shines through much better when he looks like a normal person as opposed to a guy in a giant zoo outfit.
Another nice touch is seeing DeFalco doing his patented ‘give the villain mama issues’ thing. For those who do not know DeFalco gave Doc Ock and Electro origin stories in the 1990s and in each case he told us that they kind of wound up the way they did because of their relationships with their mothers; they were both mamma’s boys. In this way they’re dark reflections of Peter since he’s a mamma’s boy and both stories were essentially “How would Peter have turned out if Aunt May was taken to an 11!” Sure in this story it’s not Rhino’s mum but she is LIKE a mother to him and is in that sense and even more direct Aunt May analogue (she even befriends Aunt Anna) and reveals Rhino to be a caring individual. I’ll admit though DeFalco is doing a spin on his old origin stories as the Rhino did become a villain because of his mother figure (and his other family members) it wasn’t because of the way his mother figure actually treated him as happened with Doc Ock and Electro.
Ironically J.M. DeMatteis who wrote a very noteworthy issue with the Rhino in his run of Spectacular Spider-Man in the early 1990s, tends to do the opposite of DeFalco when it comes to Spidey villain origin stories. Whilst DeFalco seems to zero in on the villains’ mothers’ smothering of them, DeMatteis zeroed in on thier father’s outright abusing them as motivators for thier villainy.
Speaking of DeMatteis, I do believe that DeFalco actually references an issue from his aforementioned early 1990s run when he has Rhino comment that he was hired to threaten Peter. I haven’t read the issue in question but I do believe that Harry Osborn hired the Rhino to threaten Peter’s family so that was a great piece of continuity there.
This story was also a strong showcase for Peter, letting us see him as a true adult who can diffuse a situation without violence but more than this, we just see him as a multifaceted human being. E.g. I loved his dialogue when he referred to MJ and May as: “my beautiful wife and my innocent daughter”. It was a subtle yet brilliant touch by a writer who KNOWS this character back to front. It’s sort of him appealing to Rhino’s human side to make him think of the consequences of his actions in case he’s thinking of kicking off but also its Pete subtly employing a bit of his classic snark.
Going back to Rhino mentioning he threatened Peter once, this shows some of the human side of the Rhino as he is in a way apologetic about it, showing he held no ill feelings towards Peter. Yet Peter is shown to be flawed and in possession of feelings as well, as he is still understandably sore about it (hence his snark earlier on). Nevertheless he is both practical (he’s avoiding a confrontation) and a shown to be a nice guy when he lets bygones be bygones.
My absolute favourite part of this issue however is the conversation they share over coffee. Rhino’s comparison to Peter is at it’s most apt here since he has an Aunt who’s like a mother to him who’s health Rhino is very concerned about (and also uses his super powers to alleviate). This is of course just like how Peter’s Aunt May is basically his mother and how he spent years concerned for her health and used his powers to make money from the Bugle to support her. But my favourite moment is when Rhino asks Peter if he’ll tell Spider-Man and he says he won’t. Now obviously the irony is full on at that point ad it could’ve been played for laughs but instead it’s a very…I don’t know how to describe it really. It’s not sad exactly and it’s not really sentimental. It’s just…fitting, I suppose. It just seems so right and somehow let’s more humanity shine through Peter Parker than in the entirety of Brand New Day.
Even though the conversation peaked by that line it is still quite compelling as DeFalco points out the bloomin obvious after decades and decades: Peter’s job isn’t completely different from his enemies’. Both of them are paid on a job per job basis and don’t exactly have the world’s fairest bosses. And it all wraps up with showing us that actually the Rhino, whilst a criminal, did what he did with good intentions as a means to survive and support his family.
Finally the art. Oh my GOD is the art and inking by Nacuk and Beredo is utterly gorgeous here; better even than the stuff in the Clone Saga mini-series Nauck did with DeFalco. I’d have preferred Frenz staying on since this is a prequel series but again, I can’t knock Nauck.
Jesus, even I’m surprised how much I extrapolated from this one 10 page story.