Alongside the debut of Alpha – Spider-Man's newly minted sidekick – Marvel Comics 50th Anniversary celebration for the wall-crawler will include another story of Peter Parker connecting with a young New Yorker. Though as writer Joshua Hale Fialkov explains it, his back-up story drawn by Nuno Plati in August's "Amazing Spider-Man" #692 takes a different spin on the idea.
"There's such a classic shape for a self-contained Spider-Man one-shot that I wanted to take this and flip it on its head. There's no supervillains. You don't see any of the supporting cast. It's just Peter trying his best to be awesome," the writer explained of his tale focusing on Spider-Man helping a young boy stand up to bullying. "I think Spider-Man is a character who's defined by his supporting cast in a lot of ways, but what people forget is that he as a character is really strong. The idea of doing the story for me was 'I want a story about what's it's like to be Spider-Man on an average day.' And on an average day, Doc Ock does not try to blow up the world. But every day, Peter has to be Spider-Man. He has to walk that tight rope that's at the core of his character – that he can't live with himself. Peter Parker is always just trying to be Peter Parker until Spider-Man inevitably gets in the way."
A push back against being picked on is a hot topic for parents, teachers and children alike these days, but Fialkov said that his story isn't filled with platitudes. "What I always liked about Peter is that even as Spider-Man he's bullied. He's picked on! He's bullied by his villains, and even when he became an Avenger, he's still always the underdog," he said. "For me, what this story is really about responds to the whole 'It Gets Better' campaign where we tell children that things are going to get better. The thing is, I dispute that. It doesn't get better. You just learn to deal with it. You face bullying and life handing you crap cards for your entire life. But as you get older, you learn how to cope better.
"The great thing about Spider-Man is that he as a character has evolved. Even now he literally has his dream job on both sides – as an Avenger and in his work at Horizon Labs. So he's achieved all these things, but at the end of the day, he still feels like he's not good enough. He still has to race against the world caving in on him. So I wanted to parallel that with what Peter was like as a kid. I wanted to show how far he'd come and how far he hasn't come."
The writer admitted that while he's best known for his darker, edgier work both creator-owned and work for hire, he feels like this story represents him at the top of his game. "Actually, this Spider-Man story is probably my favorite work for hire thing I've ever done. I'm immensely proud of it. This is my 'This is what Spider-Man should be' story. So having it be a 50th Anniversary thing is amazingly flattering, and the story really fits with the idea of 'Let's look at what this character means on the inside.'"
Of course, that feat was accomplished alongside Plati, who's teaming with Fialkov for the second time. "Nuno and I did an 'X-Men: Marvel Girl' one-shot together last year. So we're in a 'one book a year' kind of relationship now," the writer laughed. "He's amazing. Nuno has an expressive, wonderful style that captures both the joy and the pathos of the character. You get both 'Oh my God, it's awesome to be Spider-Man!' and 'Oh my God, it's so exhausting to be Spider-Man!' at the same time. He's so good at making his characters expressive and real. So I'm psyched. If I only get one issue a year with him, I'll be a happy guy. And I think that I can be associated with dark stuff, so having a guy with a lighter, cleaner style makes me happy because it differentiates this work from something like 'Echoes' or 'I, Vampire.'"
Overall, the story in "Amazing Spider-Man" #692 does fit within the writer's previous work in one important way. "Because I have a kid, I'm obsessed with making comics that will help perpetuate new fans coming to the medium," he said. "And the way of doing that here was a story that's essentially continuity-free. You don't have to know anything other than the fact that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. That's a priority for me. I try in everything I do whether it's Spider-Man or the 'Superman/Batman' run I did or even 'I, Vampire' to make things as accessible as possible."