Peter Parker and his Aunt May meet at the gravestone of their beloved Ben on the anniversary of his killing. Husband, uncle, inspiration – the immediate pain of his passing is gone, but the sorrow lives on. Yet the sorrow stems from the good memories of a man who helped his wife and nephew find their inner strength. They’ve both moved on – Peter as Spider-Man and scientist, May as wife and partner to Jay Jameson – but they’ll never forget.
And I won’t forget this lovely issue for awhile. Fans of slugfests should look elsewhere, as the obligatory super-villain is despatched by the end of page two. But fans of good character writing are likely to like this look at Peter and May’s relationship as much as I did. Writer Zeb Wells captures the quiet grit, wisdom and humour of the woman who raised a teenager alone, all the while dealing with mounting bills and ailing health. And he deftly demonstrates that Peter has tried many times to tell May the full story of the night Ben was killed by a burglar, but she doesn’t want to know.
If there’s a failing in this smart tale, it’s the idea that even though she can’t believe it would be Peter’s fault that her husband died, May doesn’t at least let him unburden himself. If she knows just why he believes he shares the guilt of Ben’s death, she’s in a much better position to reassure, or forgive. Especially given the hint that she already knows about Peter’s double life.
I still really like this issue, though. Peter, May and, in his brief appearance, Jay feel like people I know, good folk engaging with life even in the bad times. The dialogue is understated, steering well clear of the bombastic soap with which Marvel made its name; there’s still a time for melodrama, but this issue isn’t it.
Chris Samnee’s unusual cover composition works well, with the Spider-Man figure adding drama to what might be too quiet a scene for many potential purchasers. Inside, Steve Dillon does an excellent job of capturing the dazed bemusement of Peter and May in the flashbacks, while lending them appropriate serenity in the current day sequences. A script like this might tempt younger artists to give us a talking heads issue, with photocopied panels, but not Dillon. He varies the angles and compositions to emphasise the story beats, controlling the reader’s emotions.
Well, this reader’s, anyway. I won’t deny a little tear dripped onto the final page. If Aunt May were here, she’d pass me a hankie right about now …