Last Saturday, I was nearly beside myself in grief as a long time fan and comics aficionado completely struck Amazing Spider-Man from his comics pull list at the comic shop where I work. This is someone who used to get two copies of every book, even when it came out three times a month. Someone I certainly respect, as we had whiled away moments at the store talking comics, character and storytelling. A fan who knows what he likes and is adamant about what he doesn't.
Amazing Spider-Man had crossed a line that he would not follow. Holding up a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #657 (give the man a break, it had been awhile since he'd dropped by), he simply stated he was done. He declared that Stan and Jack would have said everything that needed to be said in three panels regarding Johnny Storm's demise and that the issue had dragged it out too long. Keep in mind, he didn't even read the Fantastic Four, so just 28 pages dedicated to a classic character's death had taken it over the line. He thought the costume was stupid and that there had been too many changes to Spidey's look.
But most importantly, the thing that got me thinking was his downcast declaration of "Spider-Man shouldn't be on the Fantastic Four." And you know? He was right. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn't help but agree. I fully admit I hadn't always seen eye-to-eye with this particular Spider-Fan (sorry, but Brubaker's Captain America was pretty brilliant), but he has just the right way of holding true to the tenants of comic book storytelling. And he was most certainly right.
Spider-Man should not nor ever be a member of the Fantastic Four. Should he even be a member of the FF?
Yeah, for all of you holding in that "Actually..." you can exhale it with pride as yes, I am fully aware that the Fantastic Four is no more and Spider-Man has signed up with the Future Foundation. I think my Spider-Fan, at heart, knows this, too, but his declaration still holds weight. You see, Spider-Man works best as a loner, Dottie. A rebel. One man against the world shouldering his own responsibility under his own power. He is our best point-of-view in the Marvel Universe because the Marvel Universe never successfully sweeps him away from us. Fighting Doctor Octopus in head-to-head action doesn't seem as impressive if Spider-Man has a direct line to the Avengers and can get Iron Man to nuke his foe from orbit. One man against the Sinister Six is pretty impressive. Four heroes, including some of the smartest and the strongest, versus six guys isn't as dramatic. Mr. Fantastic, for all his personal story and strengths of character, is recognized as part of a larger whole, his family and team. Spider-Man is essentially recognized as himself, and its hard to put him in groups without thinking of everyone else as "Amazing Friends."
At the same time, the Fantastic Four doesn't need Spider-Man. Though they have taken on replacement heroes to keep their numbers even, the Fantastic Four is a family unit. These replacement members just come and go because the family element of their story is key. It's a guy, his wife, his brother-in-law and his best friend. Spider-Man at best fits in like a guest star and should take a backseat to the adventures of Marvel's First Family. Their challenge of the unknown (see what I did there?) isn't for everyone; the adventures the Fantastic Four flourish in are their own unique style of storytelling. It's a combination of high science and interpersonal relationships and on one hand, the science adventure can just get too "out there" for the average hero, requiring people who take on the unknown every morning after breakfast. On the other hand, their family unit would benefit too much from an outside perspective, the same way that complaining about guilt trips from your mother to call her more often are simply solved by just calling your mom. When you're involved and invested in relationships, answers don't come as quickly, and having a wacky pal with none of that investment might disperse a lot of the dramatic tension.
Both Spidey and the Fantastic Four would lose a lot if you were to mush them together into one unit; they would lose a lot of essential traits that make them unique in the Marvel U. The good news is that Spider-Man didn't join the Fantastic Four, he joined the FF. In fact, a lot of people joined the Future Foundation, so many that they had to have a huge chart in the back of the first issue to help you keep track. Despite being more of a "family" book than before, with the heavy involvement of Franklin and Valeria Richards, there's a decided lack of warmth between the characters that hasn't returned in Johnny Storm's absence. This is an entirely new team of superheroes, and it's going to have new standards.
Now, this isn't the first time Spider-Man got a new costume or modus operandi. And this is certainly not the first time that the Fantastic Four was all-new and different. Remember this?
Yeah, some of you do. For those that don't, there's a blurb on Wikipedia and a home-grown explanation from the guys at CSBG for you. From the Wikipedia article, please note the phrase "Members of this short-lived team." From the Comics You Should Own segment, please note "we recognize that Marvel is cashing in." Was it cool to have Spider-Man, the Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider as part of a team? It was the early '90s, of course it was awesome! Did it last? Good gracious, no! Hey, remember when Black Panther and Storm were the New Fantastic Four? That lasted for longer that the '90s funky bunch, but Marvel's First Family will never be officially supplanted. I think the name change should have been our first clue that this wasn't going to be the Fantastic Four, but I think it's just an issue of familiarity for the reader. If you put Jean Grey, Cyclops, Iceman, Beast and Angel on a team and don't affiliate it with an X, I think the comic readers brain will just tack one on there.
So, to my Spider-Fan and treasured customer, I will say this: this too shall pass. I'm sorry it's not what you were looking for in a Spider-Man book and I understand why you had to drop the title. In some ways I agree wholeheartedly with your assessments, in other ways I know that this isn't permanent. I would be surprised if this new position lasted through Spider Island, an insular Spider-Man event if I ever heard one. I'll keep the title off your pull for now, but I may throw in a new story once the weather's changed again. Hang in there, True Believer.