Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #661

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This story is part of an Arc: "The Substitute"
     Part 1 / Part 2

This review was first published on: Jun 2011.

Background...

Peter's been busy cavorting around time and space with the Future Foundation; while investigating a temporal interference with the team on a Caribbean island, they ran into robotized versions of certain Sinister Six members. Doc Ock and a few of the real deal Six-ers furthered their unknown plot by breaking into the Baxter building while everyone was away. And Peter has finally found the time to get busy, or rather to finally consumate his romance with Carlie.

In Detail...

"The Substitute"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #661
Jul 2011 : SM Title
Summary: Avengers Academy, Psycho Man appear
Arc: Part 1 of "The Substitute"
Story:  Christos Gage
Artist:  Reilly Brown
Inker:  Victor Olazaba
Cover Art:  Ed McGuinness, Morry Hollowell
Lettering:  VC's Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  John Rauch
Executive Producer:  Alan Fine
Publisher:  Dan Buckley
Chief Creative Officer:  Joe Quesada
Editor In Chief:  Axel Alonso
Senior Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Ellie Pyle
Assistant Editor:  Ellie Pyle
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At the FF headquarters, Ben, Peter and Sue come to fetch Reed out of the classroom, where he's teaching the kids about something called "The Schrodinger Equation". Reed puts young Alex in charge of the class while he and the rest of the FF go face off with a giant monster attacking the city. As Spidey tails behind his teammates, he thinks back to how he misses seeing a classroom full of students excited about science, reminiscing briefly on his years spent teaching.

He offers to stay behind and teach the class but Reed says the class' work is at a critical point and they can't afford any distractions. Pete rankles at the thought that he might be thought of as a distraction. Hopping into the Fantasticar (Foundationcar?), they chase down a giant gorilla causing havok. As they attack, Spidey thinks aloud that teaching was one of the few good things he did with his life. Reed says his readings suggest the beast has come from the micro-verse, and its microscopic size has somehow become inverted.

Hank Pym, aka Giant Man appears on the scene and takes the gorilla out with a few haymakers. He asks if the team can help him out in return: the Avengers Acedemy, training of young super-powered kids Pym runs with other Avengers, is in need of a substitute teacher for the following day. Reed defers, saying he need investigate the beast's connection to the microverse, but Pym says he was actually thinking of one of Reed's teammates, one that's also a fellow Avenger. Spidey begins to accept, flattered, but Pym offers the job of sub to Ben.

Spidey says to wait one flipping second, that he was the original teenage hero and he even now has a teacher's license. Furthering Spider-man's embarrassment, Pym says Spidey is the ideal choice, seeing as how Spidey himself has made every mistake in the book. Pym also says without the right guidance, the students could all become very powerful criminals instead of heroes. Each kid gets a panel and a description to introduce them: Hazmat, Mettle, Finesse, Reptil, Veil and Striker.

Later during a walk, Peter is expressing his doubts about going back to teach (which he passes off as a one-day subbing gig). Carlie says he'll be great, and Peter says he only stopped because of budget cuts (when actually he thinks to himself it was because of revealing his secret identity and having 'magicked' the world into forgetting that he's Spidey).

The next day Spidey is in the red and blues before the class who are also in full costume. A few awkward scenes ensue before Spidey suggests they all go on patrol in the city. The kids take out a couple of purse snatchers a bit too aggressively for Spidey's liking. The emotionally charged situation between the thieves, the victim and the young heroes raises Spidey's suspicions, and with the disturbances in the micro-verse, he puts two and two together that Psycho Man is causing it all, who appears overhead. Psycho Man says the FF's recent trip to the micro-verse in Amazing Spider-man #658 led him to this reality.

The young Avengers try to attack Psycho Man, but one by one he turns all their own worst fears against them. Spider-man himself is crippled by doubt and inactivity. He overcomes this, thinking of Uncle Ben, and kicks around Psycho Man, in the process breaking Psycho's control box that Mettle called "an iPad on steroids". Psycho Man says it's no bother, that he's modified the box so that his powers no longer come just from it, but are now inside him. With that power, he turns the young heroes against Spider-man.

In General...

I wasn't too familiar with the Avengers Academy kids, but this issue does a fair enough job in catching up readers, and there's even a tangentical connection to Spider-man in that it's stated Norman Osborn experimented on the young heroes, torturing them to "mold them in his image". On their own they seem like potentially interesting characters, but they're a bit too 'X-Men'-flavored to me to pass for Avengers-in-waiting.

Which brings me to the next point; with the Future Foundation and their extended family appearing regularly for the last 5 issues and now the Avengers Academy (and the New Avengers appearing just issues before), it has to be said: in this reader's opinion, Spider-man is sure feeling crowded out of his own book right now.

Christos Gage does well enough with the guest scripting here, however, as the story is mostly Spidey-centric. The interaction between Spider-man, his FF teammates, and the kids in Avengers Academy is well penned. Having Giant Man appear needing a class substitute right after having Pete ruminate aloud on how he misses teaching is preposterous enough at face value, but Gage manages to wring some laughs out of it at Spidey's expense. It's actually good to have Peter Parker's teaching years referenced, and I couldn't help but note Pete's mental shout-out to the identity reveal and the mind-wipe that followed it, which seems to never be referenced much in these pages. I have to also mention Reilly Brown's linework, which is solid throughout.

Overall Rating...

Not a bad setup for a two-parter by Gage and Brown; it's nice to see references to Peter's teaching and other events that regular Spider-man writers seem to try to steadfastly ignore. But the glut of guest characters and teams lately is making me think they should just bring back Marvel Team Up and be done with it. Besides Carlie, we haven't seen any of the supporting cast in what seems like ages. (And did the two-page resolution with Carlie's mystery tatt and her suspicion of Peter last issue feel just a bit too tidy to anyone else?) I have to wonder how Peter explains his absence at Horizon Labs during all his FF adventures, or if this has already been touched on and I just missed it.

Also, similar events such as Spidey being crippled by fear and doubt because of a villain's powers make this feel a little too close to what's happening in the recently released Spider-man: Fear Itself tie-in issue. Still, this story stands well on its own, and there's enough to like here. Three webs for starters.