When I was growing up, if someone asked me who my hero was, I'd have said Spider-Man, and I'm sure that a lot of other kids in the world would have said the same thing. This issue will show that the same is true in the Marvel Universe, at least for one little boy.
This issue opens with a school bus dropping off a young black boy with a Spider-Man cap in an inner-city neighbourhood. He runs into his filthy apartment building to find his mother passed out on the couch, surrounded by liquor bottles and beer cans. When he asks for dinner, his mother tells him it's in the refrigerator, but upon checking, he finds only more beer cans. So the boy wanders into his room where he takes out a Spider-Man trading card, and after a moment, Spider-Man himself appears in his room. The boy, named Lafronce, is Spidey's "secret sidekick". He and Spidey talk, and Spidey encourages the boy, helping him make living in such squalor more bearable.
The next day at school, we see the drawings that the children have done of their heroes. Some kids drew their father, or Martin Luther King, but Lafronce drew Spider-Man. It seems that Lafronce loves to draw, and the school's principal is looking at the pictures with Lafronce's aunt and her boyfriend. They seek to take the boy into their care, but because his living situation with his mother is not officially dangerous yet, the law won't allow it.
Lafronce comes home later on, to find his mother being thrown around by a drug dealer. Lafronce runs to his room, frightened and crying, when Spidey comes by to comfort him, and invite him out on patrol. Meanwhile, Lafronce's aunt is on the phone with a social services worker, who insists that the law won't allow her to take Lafronce into her custody. He insists that social services is doing everything they can, just as he wheels his golf clubs onto the course.
Later, Lafronce is picked up at school by his aunt and her boyfriend, and he eagerly tells them about his adventures with Spider-Man. They take Lafronce for ice cream, and as they're walking him home, they see police cars and ambulances outside the building, as two bodies are being taken out.
Two months later, Lafronce and his aunt return to the apartment, to find that the landlord has sold all of Lafronce's possessions, because his mother owed him money. Lafronce's aunt argues with the landlord, as Lafronce wanders into his old room where he finds his old Spider-Man card, all battered and bent. He picks it up, and Spidey shows up in his room again. Lafronce explains that he can't be Spidey's sidekick anymore since he has to move in with his aunt. Spidey accepts this, and tells Lafronce that he's a big man now, and that big men have to shake hands when they part ways. So Spidey takes off his glove and mask, and he and Lafronce shake hands, and we see that Lafronce's Spider-Man is actually a black man.
This month, Mr. Jenkins presents us with yet another touching tale, this time of the optimism and imagination of a young boy living in less than ideal circumstances. Once again, this was a nice little story, and I couldn't help feeling moved by the resiliency of Lafronce's spirit. And the art is perfectly suited to this story. I've often criticized Mr. Buckingham's art as being weak when depicting action scenes, but this issue is entirely character-driven, and it is drawn beautifully.
Yet I'm going to have to give this issue a somewhat weak rating. This is the third consecutive month where we've been given a nice, emotional story, and I love these kinds of stories, but not month after month. I like seeing super-villains in gaudy costumes and Spidey making dumb jokes while he throws trucks at them, and lately, that hasn't been happening here. I hate to say it, but I'm bored. I want to see something actually happen in this book.
Three and a half webs for a good story that just seems to have come out at a bad time.
Jonathan Couper, the site editor, wanted to toss in his two cents:
I had to choke back a tear reading this comic. It still haunts me, the day after I read it, and I hold it as a future classic. I have however heard a couple of bits of criticism, which I would like to take the time to gently debate.
Firstly - "The art is pretty ordinary". Yeah? So what? The art tells the story 100%. That's all that is needed here. Save the art for the massive battles, rocket ships and skimpy bikini-clad She-Hulks.
Secondly - that Jenkins is writing too many quiet thinking stories and not enough action, i.e. the two preceeding stories were quiet thinkers, and this makes three in a row.
Well, yeah, #33 the baseball story (Maybe Next Year) was reflective. But the guy with glowing eyes in #34 (If Thine Eyes Offend The) had a guy walking round doing extensive property damage. Was it really that reflective? I don't think so. I don't think it was very good either, but that's a separate matter.
Anyhow, what about the "Fusion" three part storyline that just preceeded those two issues? Full of brutally destructive, skull-popping, spine-crunching action! What, you need a double digits body count each issue to keep you awake?
Maybe I do agree with a little of the sentiment of the second point above. There are expectations for the genre, and especially for the two core titles. Maybe Jenkins has to realise that he's only going to be able to write stories like these a couple of times a year. But I'm not going to let this distract from the rating which the story fully deserves. If ignore the context and judge the story as a standalone work, I think it's worth five webs.