When it comes to tales of the infamous symbiote, it is safe to say that very few of them traverse the subconscious of the symbiote itself.
Writer Saladin Ahmed's The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (2018) provides a unique take on the initial relationship between Spider-Man and his symbiote as he depicts the two's first interactions via the viewpoint of the symbiote itself.
The story that results from this viewpoint is undoubtedly an unexpected, tragic tale.
Friend and Foe
The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 closely follows the events of Secret Wars, in which Spider-Man first encountered the symbiote.
Thus, in the context of this story, Peter has yet to learn about the symbiote's darker qualities. Rather, he is getting accustomed to it, adjusting to the symbiote's unique qualities.
As aforementioned though, this story is not that of Peter Parker. Rather, it is of the symbiote itself. Therefore, from page one, Ahmed provides the issue's narrative through the symbiote's own introspection.
With this, the narrative begins with the symbiote claiming that its bonding with Spider-Man freed it from confinement. Additionally, this bonding allowed the symbiote to find a "friend".
Interestingly, the symbiote perceives itself to be caring for its host, its friend. It perceives itself to be an understanding entity as it recognizes Peter's personal conflicts that stem from job instability, relationships, and even failures as Spider-Man.
Thus, in an effort to help its "friend", the symbiote decides to take on the job of Spider-Man itself in order to let Peter rest. So, the symbiote literally takes control of Peter's body while he is unconscious and swings into the streets to take down criminals.
The Hero of New York
Ultimately, the symbiote believes it is doing its "friend" a favor by subjecting its host to sleep long hours and take down criminals for him. Additionally, the symbiote manages to instill reassuring dreams in Peter, including those that depict Peter saving Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy's lives.
Though, as Peter dreams and rests, the symbiote is taking justice into its own hands, which results in it ruthlessly beating criminals, seemingly, to death.
One night though, a young man calls the symbiote out for its actions, saying that they do not align with what Spider-Man stands for. Feeling inspired, the symbiote perceives this young man to be a new "friend", one that he also wants to make proud.
Unfortunately for the symbiote, it is not long before Peter grows increasingly alarmed by his erratic sleeping schedule and pays a visit to Reed Richards.
Upon this visit, Richards informs Peter that the symbiote actually has parasitic qualities. Peter immediately attempts to remove the symbiote from his body, resulting in Richards using a sonic blaster to complete the job, causing the symbiote great pain and removal from its host.
This event leaves the symbiote heartbroken as it fails to understand why Peter would want to part from it. The symbiote recognizes the bond the two maintained as well as the dependency it had on Peter. Therefore, their separation leaves the symbiote feeling utter betrayal.
Interestingly, I find that reading The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 as a companion piece to Web of Spider-Man #1 provokes some compelling insights into the state of the symbiote's consciousness.
In the context of this story, we come to understand that the symbiote is greatly influenced by the actions and motivations of its host. In a way, the symbiote believes itself to exist for its host, its friend.
However, the actions by which the symbiote exemplifies this perception are flawed. The symbiote fails to understand its host's discipline when it comes to crimefighting as the symbiote perceives good and evil as distinct binaries that require dramatic, unrelenting action.
Additionally, the symbiote fails to understand its host's role as a symbol in addition to a crimefighter. That symbol is what motivates people's hope in Spider-Man and his noble acts. Finally, the symbiote does not perceive its actions as controlling. It does not recognize that its influence in Peter's actions, dreams, and general subconscious are actually invasive, akin to the formula of a parasite.
Interestingly though, and briefly alluded to in Web of Spider-Man #1, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 demonstrates the symbiote's ability to learn from its host and actually act upon what it has learned.
So, once more, the interactions between Peter and the symbiote in the context of this issue beg the question of whether the symbiote is capable of understanding what it means to be human. Unfortunately for the symbiote, Peter did not give it the opportunity to address this question in the events of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.
Thus, one cannot help but wonder, should Peter have made more of an effort to understand the entity to which he bonded with?
Perhaps there is no correct answer.
Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 provides a thought-provoking, innovative take on a character and series of events that are generally well-known.
However, this installment gives readers a fresh perspective that can challenge anyone's perception of the symbiote and its capability of becoming empathetic.
The concept of the symbiote may have debuted long ago. However, its depiction and complex backstory is one that continues to captivate audiences and will continue to do so for generations.