Infinite Spider-Man 12.2: Mister Parker's Profession

Posted by Mister Mets 15 July 2012

One of the complaints about the Brand New Day era was Peter Parker’s employment status, as some readers enjoyed JMS moving the character “forward” and establishing him as a high school teacher. Amazing Spider-Man #546 did did establish that Peter Parker worked recently as a high school teacher, a profession he left during the “Unmasked” period.

While the exact details regarding how people remember why Peter left Midtown High are unknown (as he couldn’t be fired for being Spider-Man if no one remembers that he’s the wall-crawler), it makes sense for a high school to dismiss an educator who takes a lot of absences and often appears with unexplained bruises.

In the current Big Time era, there are some questions about whether he should have a job at Horizon Labs. One of the arguments is that it's too similar to the Tricorp era. Some suggest that Peter Parker should always be a photographer. And there's a question of whether he's currently too successful.

Peter’s traditional job as a freelancer photographer worked quite effectively for the character. It placed him in situations in which Spider-Man was necessary. And the inconsistent pay meant that he still had financial problems. It was also a setting that allowed the writers to introduce entertaining coworkers and the artists to introduce visually interesting coworkers, who could become prominent members of the supporting cast.

However, there are two problems with the photography job. It didn't really tie into Peter Parker's passion as a scientist. And it has a become a volatile industry, which can be problematic in a series that has a sliding timeline. But it what most readers associate the character with.

If he isn’t going to be a photographer, the ideal profession for Peter is something that can be temporary, so the writers can do something else in 78 issues. The job should also place Peter into situations in which Spider-Man is needed. So far, Horizon Labs has succeeded in that category, considering their involvement with Morbius, the Lizard, John Jameson's launch into space, the Spider Island vaccine and a faulty time machine that allowed Spider-Man to save New York.

His job should always be a story engine. There is potential in him working in a research capacity for a suspicious organization (a company on the verge of a merger with Roxxon or something.) But Peter's not supposed to catch a permanent break. He shouldn't be permanently rich, or become too famous. He shouldn't be the equivalent of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

We'll see how long the Horizon Labs situation lasts. Slott could have fun with it for years, and then come up with something that causes trouble for Parker, and forces him to leave. He can have a breather from financial problems for a little while. The hours are flexible, which allows him to be in action as Spidey. I'm not bothered by the similarities to Tricorp, as that was an afterthought during Howard Mackie's run on the title. I don't think Mackie's failure to take advantage of a promising concept should restrict Slott.

There are several knocks against making Peter Parker a teacher. While giving him a safe nine to five demonstrates his maturity, it doesn't add much to the stories, although there is some tension when Peter is unable to go to work because he's recuperating from a battle with a supervillain. It was a poor fit for a guy who is supposed to be able to go save the world with the Avengers at a moment's notice.

Some don't like that it puts him in the mentor role to kids who are the same age he was in the Lee/ Dtiko days. For younger readers, he's no longer a guy they identify with. As Peter Parker, he's an authority figure.  I could understand a problem with making that part of the status quo.

The big problem with Peter Parker being a teacher was that it didn't mesh well with his job as Spider-Man. There weren't that many stories in which his job as an educator contributed to Spider-Man's adventures. It starts to look unusual if too many of his students are targetted by supervillains. And it's easier to incorporate his coworkers into the supporting cast, if they're likely to need Spider-Man's help. That can work for photographers, reporters and scientists asked to help the city during an epidemic. It doesn't quite work for ordinary teachers.

The poor match with his duties as Spider-Man was the main reason the status quo of Peter as a teacher was so lousy. Hell, the guy who came up with it decided he wanted to focus more on Spider-Man's relationship with the New Avengers, and dropped the development completely.


In the previous section, I wrote about the possible schedules and formats for the series. While that's important for any writer or editor to consider, the purpose of the format is to serve the content. And the lead character drives the content.

The central question for any Spider-Man writer is what approach they would like to take for Peter Parker. Many of the questions about the direction of the Spider-Man comics regard various aspects of Peter Parker's life. Should he be married again? Should he have kids? Should he die? Should his story come to an end?

Questions about supporting cast members depend on how they affect Peter Parker. What does Aunt May bring to a book about her nephew? What effect would bringing back Gwen Stacy have on the main character? How about Harry? How did J Jonah Jameson becoming mayor affect his interactions with Peter Parker and Spider-Man?
So the main thing for any writer or editor to figure out is what Peter Parker's life is going to be like. Tom Brevoort was correct to prioritize this in his Brand New Day manifesto.
Spider-Man is about Peter Parker.
This is the biggest and most basic concept that had kinda escaped us in the Spidey titles for the last decade or two. Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Spider-Man is not Peter Parker. By that I mean it's Peter and his life and tribulations that's the through-line of the Spider-Man titles, or should be, and Peter being Spider-Man is just one component of the overall whole.But in the last few years, it seemed like Peter is Spider-Man, fiest and foremost- and he kinda half-squeezes a life around being Spidey- and that's wrong. 
What made Spider-Man the flagship title of the Marvel line was the soap opera element of Peter's life, the fact that he was a young character, a character who could screw up, a character who life seemed on occasion to dump on in interesting ways, and yet would keep striving to do right by everybody. An everyman, a schlemiel. Grounded in the real world. Grounded in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn. 
One of the advantages that ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN has, beyond the fact of starting again at Ground Zero, is that there's only one book with one writer. So the soap opera element of Peter Parker's life is clearly the backbone of that series, and the engine that drives it. Even when a particular adventure isn't particularly compelling, readers want to know what's going on with Peter and Mary and Gwen and Kitty and Flash and so forth and so on.
The focus on Peter Parker before Spider-Man was a key part about why the movies, both the Raimi trilogy and the current Marc Webb relaunch, have been so successful. Before figuring out what to do with supporting cast members (especially Harry and MJ) and the villains, the plotting has to be about the main character, and what happens to him.

Despite Brevoort's intentions, it's one aspect of the series that suffered under the Brand New Day era. This is difficult to pull off with multiple writers, where it's easier to focus on either the A-plot that's going to be resolved at the end of the story, or ongoing arcs with villains and supporting cast members who can disappear from the title for a few months, as occurred to Harry Osborn between Character Assassination and American Son. It was much stronger in the Big Time, when you do have one guy in charge of everything.

It's interesting to consider how earlier writers dealt with this aspect of the Spider-Man comics. Brian Michael Bendis reimagined the series as a really good teen drama, and kept it interesting for 170+ issues. Gerry Conway killed off two members of the supporting cast, turned another into one of Spider-man's greatest enemies, and just when Peter was recovering from these traumas, introduced the clone of Gwen Stacy. He really put Spidey through hell. 
Peter David always kept Parker's life interesting in the satellite books in two different decades, and made sure that Miguel O'Hara was different from Peter Parker. Tom Defalco turned Mary jane into Peter's greatest confidante, and then into a supporting character in Spider-Girl. J.M. Dematteis explored what made made Peter tick, and showed why the life of a superhero's wife can sometimes suck. He also wrote one of the few comic books that made John Romita Sr cry when he killed off Aunt May.
Paul Jenkins showed the toll being Spider-Man had on Peter Parker, along with the quieter and more ridiculous moments of a young man's life in New York City. Joe Kelly introduced Norah Winters, gave us Peter Parker's prom, and hnd had Deadpool visit the Lee/ Romita period.
Dan Slott: married off Aunt May again, had Peter Parker hit the big time, and  showcased five different periods of Peter Parker's life in the Spider-Man/ Human Torch mini-series. He liked the explore the character's history. and all the things that had changed.

Roger Stern: wrote Peter Parker as a young man, balancing his duties as Spider-Man with his experiences in Grad School. And something had to give. J. Michael Straczynski pared down the supporting cast to the essentials. reunited Peter & MJ, while bringing May in on Peter's secrets. And then the superhero aspect of Spidey's life slowly became all-encompassing as Peter moved in with the Avengers, became Tony Stark's protegee and revealed his identity to the world. Marv Wolfman was big on the illusion of change.

It all started with Stan Lee, who turned high school student Peter Parker into a different kind of superhero. The series became even more popular when the lead went to college, a ballsy move on par with replacing the classic Avengers with Cap's kooky quartet. While a handful of comics professionals and critics, including co-creator Steve Ditko, think it was a mistake to have Peter graduate, it doesn't seem to have hurt the character's popularity.

Writers can have different approaches for Peter Parker's life. I think the main rule is to remember is that we're always in the second act, and never at the conclusion of his story. So the obligation of the writer is to make sure that the next guy can do something completely different.

If I wrote the book, Peter's personal life would probably get more chaotic. And his health would suffer. First, he'd get Malaria from a trip to Africa as Spider-Man. Then, he might get leukemia. I'd borrow a bit from Doctor Who, with Spider-Man realizing how so many around him suffer. But I'd be careful not to break the character. And there are two ways that can happen: irreversible changes that ultimately hurt the series, or that make it harder for readers to relate to Peter Parker.

There's some argument about whether Peter Parker really is a everyman character, as he's smarter and more handsome than the average person. He may not be an everyman, but he feels like one. He's a stand-in for the reader, and most readers have an inflated sense of their own intelligence and charisma, as is the case with most people. The secret identity metaphor is quite powerful, relating to the reader's sense that people don't really know/ appreciate him.



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