A batch of old favorite comic books picked up at a Labor Day tailgate sale last year led to a conversation with an old pal about the cool stuff a new writer was doing with the Amazing Spider-Man, a favorite from adolescence. Soon enough, a trip was made to a comic book shop. Word had spread about the new Spider-Man writer, J. Michael Straczynski, meaning that the shop was sold out of the current issue. A back issue, though, was available. At double the $2.25 cover price.
The issue was as entertaining as promised, especially for an old-time fan who could appreciate the changes being rung on the character. Once again, hooked, I found myself not back at the comic book shop but at my local grocery store which actually had a copy of the newest issue.
Spider-Man, as recounted in the recently published autobiography, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee, was created in 1962 by Stan Lee, with much help from the artist Steve Ditko, as a superhero more realistic than most. To this end Stan made Spider-Man's alter-ego, Peter Parker, a teenager with the full complement of teen angst. Stan also gave Peter Parker/Spider-Man frail, elderly, widowed Aunt May. To further complicate matters, Aunt May became a widow because Spider-Man refused to get involved in chasing a petty crook who later murdered Peter Parker's Uncle Ben. The guilt!
Under Stan Lee, Aunt May is, basically, a meddling, doddering old fool from whom Peter Parker must keep his secret identity for fear that the revelation would kill her. The brilliance of J. Michael Straczynski is that he created an authentic relationship between Peter Parker and Aunt May. No longer is Aunt May merely a plot complication, and a supremely annoying one at that, but rather a major motivator Peter Parker's life.
In Amazing Spider-Man #478, Aunt May discovers that her beloved nephew is, in fact, Spider-Man.
Does she keel over from shock? No, in issue #479, she confronts Peter and for the next 21 comic book pages, they talk. They talk about trust, honesty, and familial responsibilities. And it is very moving not for the specifics of the conversation, though it is very well written, but because of its universality. This is a story of "coming out;" Peter Parker here is coming out to Aunt May as Spider-Man but this could just as easily be the story of a gay daughter or son coming out to a parent. Straczynski has turned a humble comic book into a parable of honesty and acceptance.