On September 12, as the world reeled from the worst terrorist attacks in history, Adventures of Superman #596 hit newsstands. On page two, the Man of Steel looks on as the LexCorp Towers ó twin giants uncannily reminiscent of the World Trade Center ó hemorrhage smoke from two gaping holes left by an alien attack. Although the issue had been in the works for months and was completed before September 11, the sickening coincidence hit far too close to home for most. A sheepish DC Comics offered immediately to buy back issues from retailers.
Now DCís rival, Marvel Comics, has taken the opposite approach. With Amazing Spider-Man #36, the publisher has put together a beautifully drawn, poetically scripted issue in which its flagship character reacts to the very real events of September 11. Unlike DC, "the Marvel universe has always been set in the Ďreal world,í " explains Matt Lehman, owner of Comicopia in Kenmore Square. "And Spider-Man has always been a New Yorker."
The issue, written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by John Romita Jr., is a solemn affair. Behind its black cover, a two-page spread shows a distraught Spider-Man staring into the smoking abyss of the two fallen towers, the hulking debris around him rendered in horrific detail. "Where were you?" asks a dazed and bruised survivor. Wracked with grief, Spider-Man wends his way through the disaster site, witnessing the true heroics of the rescue crews, musing that "[w]ith our costumes and our powers we are writ small by the true heroes."
Straczynski had initial misgivings about conflating imaginary pen-and-ink creation with such viscerally real tragedy (he almost passed on the project), but Lehman thinks the issue is a success. "I thought the story was very moving for a comic book," he says. "I thought the artist did a really nice job; I like Straczynski as a writer. He was in an unenviable position, and I think he did well. He might have gone a little overboard with Doctor Doom crying, but overall I like what he did."
Comicopia has ordered several hundred copies of the issue. Lehman isnít sure if it will be hugely popular, but heís prepared for that eventuality and is committed to making it available to as many people as possible. "If it looks like weíre going to sell out, weíll impose limits on purchase," he says. "As far as Iím concerned, every extra copy someone buys for themselves is one less copy that can be read; Iím just interested in getting this into as many hands as possible."
If people are looking for a comic book to distract them from the dark events of the past couple of months, Spider-Man #36 isnít it. But for all its austerity, the issue has an ultimate message of redemption. "For a long time, comics were viewed as escapist vehicles," says Lehman. They werenít meant to be relevant. They werenít meant to reflect any real world." Perhaps, like so much else after the September 11, that too has changed.
Amazing Spider-Man #36 is on sale now for $2.25. Comicopia is located at 464 Comm Ave #13, in Boston. Call (617) 266-4266.