Have you ever talked with someone who starts bad-mouthing a friend or family member of yours, and you quickly recognize they don't know nearly as much as they think they do? I usually want to shake them, but settle for trying to explain to them what they're missing, without betraying any confidences. That's where this post is going.
Near the end of Amazing Spider-Man #621 Carlie Cooper has a conversation with Peter Parker. She was originally planning to let him have it for blowing off their lunch, but when she sees he's been kicked around, she eases off. A little. She explains (while patching him up) that from the moment she met Peter, she knew there was something about him she liked. Problem is, she there's a big difference between what she wants Pete to be (and thinks he can be) and what he is. More accurately, what she thinks he is. Carlie tells Peter he has one more chance, best not screw it up. When he remarks she seems different from usual, she responds that she went through a gauntlet today. Pete says he knows the feeling. Carlie's rejoinder: 'No, you don't. When you do it right. . . it makes you stronger, You just have to reach the other side.'
Here's the thing. I know from Carlie's perspective, she's right. Peter seems unreliable, selfish, a guy who coasts by leeching off others. The problem is, I also know Peter is out there every night risking his life as Spider-Man, that he doesn't like breaking promises to people, but if it's between saving lives and making that lunch date with Carlie, "saving lives" wins, and he goes through more grief and pain in a year than Carlie's experienced in her entire life. When I read the sequence, she comes off as a self-righteous fool. Oh Carlie, you thought your father was dead, but it turns out he was just a bent cop?
Boo hoo. Let's talk a little stroll through the Magical Fun-Time Rainbow World of Peter Parker.
- Regained the parents he thought died when he was a child, only to learn they're artificial beings created by one the Chameleon, because he believes Peter will provide him with Spider-Man's secret identity, except Chameleon's actually being manipulated by Peter's crazy best friend (who already knows Peter is Spider-Man), who wanted Peter to gain and lose his parents to screw with him.
- Was dead for two weeks, while MJ walked the streets looking for him, and Kraven ran around dressed as him, killing criminals.
- Was told he was a clone of the real Peter Parker, believed that for months, died briefly, and when finally learning he is the real Peter Parker, it's accompanied by the knowledge the crazy father of his crazy best friend, the same crazy father who abducted Gwen to mess with him, leading to her demise, is not only not dead like Peter thought, but orchestrated the whole thing. Oh, and MJ and Peter's baby is stillborn.
- Later, of course, he learns Crazy Father also had kids with Gwen, kids he raised to hate Peter's guts.
That's only crap that happened in my time as a reader*, and it's leaving out "had a living costume that wanted to permanently bond with him, then bonded with angry journalist and started eating people", or "sent to hodgepodge planet created by sentient universe, nearly stepped on by giant purple guy who eats planets", and whatever else you want to throw in there.
Peter survived all of that (well, he died briefly a couple of times, but he recovered). It wasn't always easy, and he didn't always handle it well initially (especially the deal with his parents), but he made it through each time. The idea that he's not 'doing it right' is nuts.
Again, it's not fair of me to be irritated with Carlie, because she wouldn't know about any of it**. She can only go off what she knows, and she's not the first person to wonder what is up with Peter Parker. Still, I can't help being outraged on Peter's behalf. She's speaking about things she has no comprehension of, but is doing so with total self-assurance she's right. Which, she isn't. It's the self-assurance, the judgmental attitude that riles me.
Practically everyone close to him has wondered why he's so unreliable at one point or the other, even Aunt May. In most of my reading experience, it's presented as concern, or confusion. These people care about him, but can't see what makes him behave so strangely, always late or not arriving at all, occasionally undependable, flighty, hiding things. There's anger sometimes. Aunt May was furious with him when he dropped out of grad school, wouldn't even talk to him for awhile. She couldn't understand why he would abandon his education when it had always been so important to him, and it frustrated her. The difference is she came to respect his decision, and more importantly, she's Aunt May. She's earned the right to question his decisions, even without knowing everything***. Carlie has not, at least not from where I'm sitting.
Which isn't going to stop her, obviously. I'm a reader, she's a character, it's a one-way street. She can provoke responses in me, I can't sit down and explain to her how she's misjudging Peter. Frustrating.
* Gwen dying and the original clone stuff were long before I started reading, but the events playing off those occurrences happened after I started reading comics.
** She might know about MJ's kid being stillborn, assuming that's still in continuity. I don't know why exactly she'd know, but it's the only thing up there not completely tied up in Spider-Man stuff. She might also know his parents reappeared, then vanished abruptly. I can't remember how they explained that in the comics.
*** The dropping out of grad school thing was in the '80s, so well before JMS had her learn Peter was Spider-Man.