A Retrospective on The Amazing Spider-Man #36 (2001)
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.'s run on Spider-Man comprises some of the best work in the character's extensive comic book history. Because of this, there are a plethora of storylines and arcs one could recommend from the duo’s portfolio.
However, there is one issue in particular that truly stands out amongst the rest.
In December of 2001, Straczynski and Romita Jr. collaborated on an issue that recalled the tragic events of September 11, 2001. From its initial release, The Amazing Spider-Man #36 has been acclaimed for its raw depiction of the day in addition to its ability to transcend the pages of a comic book and come into the real world.
Though difficult to read, The Amazing Spider-Man #36 is arguably one of the most powerful comic book issues in history and strives relentlessly in conveying a message about the threads that tie us all together.
From its cover, The Amazing Spider-Man #36 is cloaked in a dark cloud of tragedy, one that even our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man struggles to comprehend. The opening page depicts him observing the devastation of the World Trade Center's collapse in horror. It is certainly uneasy to witness a superhero of Spider-Man's stature appear helpless. It is in a sequence such as this we come to realize the imperfections of this hero, we come to realize the incapabilities of someone we admire.
It is even more difficult to witness citizens confront Spider-Man, asking him why he did not stop the tragedy. A moment such as this serves as a harrowing reminder for readers. Even in this fictional world full of individuals with great abilities, tragedy still strikes.
In this moment, this comic book transcends the panels of its pages and enters our own. Despite Spider-Man's abilities, he is unable to prevent devastation. Rather, he is right there with us, helplessly witnessing the chaos in utter shock and sadness.
Like many of those who remember and witnessed the events of September 11th, 2001, Spider-Man struggles to acknowledge the catastrophe, face the cries of those injured, and see the faces of those who have died.
Interestingly though, he is not alone in his own devastation. Those he has fought against such as Doctor Doom shed a tear for the fallen. Despite the two’s differences, they stand together on this day, exuding empathy for their fellow human who has fallen. Despite every battle and every ounce of animosity these two have had towards each other, they are united in this moment, mourning their fellow brothers and sisters.
Upon this point, the issue transitions into its most powerful sequence as it transcends further into the reality of that day. It depicts the firefighters of New York plowing through the smoke, struggling to breathe in order to rescue survivors buried beneath debris. It depicts ordinary men and woman putting their lives in harms way to assist others in need.
It depicts the individuals on the United Airlines Flight 93 who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Following this sequence of remembrance, Spider-Man finds a boy trapped under debris, a boy who has just witnessed his father die.
To this, Spider-Man has no words, only the question of, "Why?". He ponders how to move forward from this, from all the hate, destruction, and death.
The only response he can muster is that despite the differences amongst people, each and every person is stronger than they may think they are. Because of this, they must stand tall and acknowledge the common thread of our humanity and recognize that very humanity in one another in order to build a better future built on determination and compassion.
There have been a variety of comics I have read that have alluded to real world events. However, The Amazing Spider-Man #36 was the first of these I read that truly came into my world.
Witnessing both heroes and villains walking across the rubble of the devastation without the ability to change anything is one of the most poignant images I have ever read in a comic as it grounded me. It reminded me that superheroes are imperfect and ultimately are in capable of preventing disasters such as this in my world. Additionally, there is not always an answer to why certain events take place. At times, there is no way to comprehend those very events. Throughout The Amazing Spider-Man #36, our titular hero attempts to define the tragedy, find an explanation.
He fails each and every time because sometimes there are simply no words, no answers.
Sometimes there is only the aftermath.
With this , the issue instills a glimmer of hope.
No, my world does not comprise the likes of Spider-Man or Captain America and never will. Rather, the heroes of my world exist in the common person, a concept highlighted upon the end of this issue.
It is easy to become jaded by the tragedies of our world. It is easy to become hopeless in the face of devastation and chaos. Additionally, catastrophe is unpredictable, and, unfortunately, there are those among us who are consumed by their hatred and will act upon it.
Though, as the narration states, standing together in unity, remembering the common threads we all share through our empathy and humanity, can allow us to build a better future in the face of enmity.
What Lies Beyond
I have and always will stand by the belief that comics are a literary form with the ability to maintain powerful themes and innovative ideas. Of course, there are those who believe comics to be frivolous.
I dare those individuals to read this issue and stand by that perception.
Comics often provide a means of escape.
The Amazing Spider-Man #36 breaks that mode. Though, it still gives readers an ideal to hold onto, one that may seem impossible for everyone in this world to achieve.
Yet, we must be willing to try in order to forge a better future for the generations that will follow those of us who remember.