By Theron Couch — One wonders if Peter Parker would be any fun at parties, following guests who don’t have napkins for their drink and insisting, With great power comes great responsibility…to not leave rings on tables. Or perhaps he’d examine each cocktail hors d’oeuvres to see if his spider sense is triggered, With great power comes great responsibility…to prevent food poisoning. Seriously—you never want to get sick off the cocktail shrimp. It sounds funny, but this is the kind of responsibility overdrive that was alive and well in the first Spider-Man comic book that came my way as a younger reader, Amazing Spider-Man #327.
As the story in this book would make clear, it turns out there’s good reason for Peter’s sense of overwhelming caution. Today I want to look at the elements that made this book so impactful for me as a reader, as well as the story and artwork’s strenghts and nuances.
Amazing Spider-Man #327
The Cover: As if Erik Larsen and Al Gordon’s dynamic art didn’t sell the idea that Spider-Man—complete with energy blast powers—is fighting Magneto, a word bubble on the cover also makes that clear. In fact, the word bubble gives away the fight’s ending, which to me reinforces that writer David Michelinie’s real story is about something else.
The First Page: A full page spread with a word balloon of exposition informs the reader that Spider-Man’s powers are expanding in new ways that he doesn’t understand. It’s a solid scene-setter. The image of Spidey looking at the molecular formula of his web fluid—as depicted by webs—is also a bizarre enough one to immediately make readers want to turn the page.
The Story: Spider-Man was a busy fellow at the end of 1989. He was swept up in Marvel’s Acts of Vengeance while also smack dab in the process of getting the power of Captain Universe. Amazing Spider-Man #327 is primarily a rumination of Peter’s sense of responsibility (the one that keeps away those invites to parties), and the ultimate vehicle for that is a fight with Magneto. The fight between Magneto and Spider-Man is never a contest. During the battle, Spider-Man uses the Captain Universe powers to successfully lift a fully-loaded barge, deploy energy blasts, transform a crane to glass just by thinking, form his web fluid into a giant bat to hit a car, and fly. Unfortunately the car Spider-Man dispatches hits a yacht—this is where the flying comes in—and if no one can rescue the passengers, they’ll drown. As Spider-Man handles that crisis, Magneto departs and the fight ends in a weird draw. Back home Peter laments that, as he’d predicted, his powers were too much to handle and others nearly paid the price.
The Heavy Hand of Michelinie: I always forget when I read comic books from the ‘80s and earlier just how much story used to be packed into a single issue. For starters, the books themselves were several pages longer. They also frequently still used third person narration and thought balloons. This is all a way of saying how much easier it was to do what writer David Michelinie did back then. Michelinie wrote this one like a dog that won’t let go of a bone. Having introduced the idea of responsibility in the opening panels, Michelinie turns it into an overt theme within just a couple of pages. Scenes with Flash Thompson and the exploration of Peter’s new powers reinforce this concern in the reader’s head to the point that when the fight with Magneto begins, Peter doesn’t need to say—or think—anything on the topic; every single one of his defensive moves leaves the reader thinking, Damn—who’d he just horrifically injure? The impact to the yacht is the exclamation point everyone was waiting for, poised as they were on the edge of their seats. Peter defeated Magneto using great power, but for a moment he also forgot his responsibility.
Larsen’s Master of Magnetism: Art wise, the standout images from Erik Larsen’s work in the issue are Magneto. Larsen gives Magneto his typical intensity and anger, but he also gives him a cape that seems to have a sycophantic mind of its own; the cape is always drawn in a way that makes it an extension of Magneto, defying gravity to give him a non-stop regal appearance. Magneto is in a relatively short chunk of the issue given his high billing on the cover, but Larsen makes him memorable.
Final Thoughts: This issue has a fun battle with an enemy Spider-Man doesn’t normally face, and Michelinie absolutely nails Magneto’s arrogance. But the fight with Magneto has never been what this issue is about to me, not even when I read it as a kid. Amazing Spider-Man #327 made me a comic book fan. Beyond that, it made me a Peter Parker fan. I like Spider-Man, but Peter is the character I connect with. To this day I measure my own life against the ideals Peter lives by. This issue illustrates, arguably with a heavy hand, that with great power comes great responsibility motto, and it also explains that being responsible isn’t just about the immediate and close at hand. Being responsible includes forethought. It includes gaining additional information and opinions. It includes choosing to do something in a more difficult way so as to avoid negatively affect others by cutting corners for yourself. The issue is, simply put, a must-read for this period in Spider-Man history.