Amazing Spider-Man #583 (Special Tribute-to-Dating Issue with Barack Obama)

And I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free—- that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.
--Barack Obama, paraphrasing Spider-man in a letter to his daughters1

Of course Spider-man met Barack Obama. He's met Stephen Colbert and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. The Fantastic Four met the Beatles back in the '60s, and pretty much everyone else referenced them. Superman has saved Franklin D. Roosevelt's life, confided his secret identity to John F. Kennedy, and debated Ronald Reagan. If someone or something becomes popular, that way goes the funny books. We accept the whoring nature of our superheroes, and some readers even seek out the crossovers

But did the story have to be so bad? And did it have to take a backseat to a tale that seems ripped from the pages of Archie? And did Marvel have to create an entirely artificial frenzy by printing so very few Obama covers? That's right-- Spider-man met America's history-making president, and the Chief Executive didn't rate mention on the cover of most issues. A handful promote the historic team-up, and these were sought after by frantic collectors.2 The rest advertise what Marvel Comics thought most readers wanted: a "Special tribute-to-dating Issue!!" Picture this: the web-slinger spies on his alter-ego, Peter Parker, who here resembles a grown-up version of America's Favourite Teenager. He peers smugly out at the reader, his arms around two equally comely, lovestruck lasses. "Action is his Reward!, proclaims the cover. And, in an echo of his first meeting with Mary-Jane, ol' Pete announces, "Sorry Web-head, I'm taking the night off! Face it, cougars, you've just hit the jackpot!"

The woman are in their twenties. I, for one, would have found the issue far more amusing if this scene had actually occurred, followed by the sort of reaction two twenty-something woman might have had to being identified as "cougars."

But the women must wait for their Peter. The story begins with Spider-man and a former U.S. president: Lex Luthor.

Actually, since Luthor belongs in the DC Universe and this issue only crosses with real-life characters, it's not Luthor, and in any case he hasn't been president (in the DC Universe) for some years. Instead, we have a supervillain wannabee who resembles pointedly the "Battle Armor" version of Superman's #1 foe. We never learn his name, but he allows us one of the few spots of superhero action in a Peter Parker-oriented issue.

Now, the appearance of Not-Necessarily-Lex may indeed have political implications. It could be a swipe at a certain unpopular American president, out of work as of January 20, 2009. It's more likely, however, a dig at DC, who, after years of success with Business Class Lex Luthor, reintroduced the cackling Battle Armor version, backtracked, and then reintroduced him again. This issue, in fact, has a lot to do with DC.3 But we'll discuss that later.

The main story plods along, Riverdale with fewer laughs and a somewhat more adult tone (Two supporting characters, for example, get drunk). Basically, we're looking at Parker's dating life, sans Mary Jane Watson, who had been his wife for many years, until Marvel summoned Mephisto and ham-hoofedly, retroactively annulled their marriage. Peter's characterization in the story fluctuates between the nerdy guy he'd been in high school and the more polished character he grew into later. With Marvel's head honchos resetting Spidey's life, no one's really clear who he's supposed to be.

Never mind that. It may be the lead story, but Peter Parker's personal life isn't the reason people lined up, shops sold out, and hucksters shilled the issue on ebay. No, we all wanted to see how Spider-man would interact with the One.

Briefly, as it turns out.

We're in Washington, D.C. on inauguration day. Peter Parker, ace photographer, takes pictures of the event. Suddenly, a situation develops. A second Barack Obama appears. Parker quickly dons his familiar outfit, and notes that he has a "a little experience with imposters, be they clones, robots or Tobey Maguire." A quick set of personal questions reveals the surprisingly clueless doppelgänger, the Chameleon, whom Spidey easily dispatches. He then announces his attention to leave; he doesn't want the future president to be associated with an outlaw vigilante, and anyway, he thinks "Biden's still mad" about the time he confused him with the Vulture. Obama, however, thanks the webslinger and shakes his hand. We're assured that the United States is in capable hands, and the story ends.

It's short, not especially well-done, and inconsistently drawn. Obama's face changes in appearance as much as any shape-shifter's. It proved enough, however, to beat Marvel's historical rival in sales and media attention.

Consider, that, at the same time Spidey was crashing Obama's inauguration, DC was killing their most popular character.

Yes, a comic-book universe away, the Batman died, apparently gone in Batman: R.I.P., actually alive, but then reduced to a charred corpse in Final Crisis. They killed Batman, a character known and loved even by those who don't read comics-- and all the press went to a mediocre back-up story in Spider-Man.

Let's face it. The media has grown cynical of headline-grabbing comic-book tricks. The readers have grown even more cynical. When Supergirl and the Flash died back in 1986, it made mainstream headlines. Supergirl, of course, was replaced by a series of pretenders and, since DC had declared that she retroactively never existed, they finally reintroduced the original version, though with an updated personality and an out-of-date stripper outfit. Various (frankly, more interesting) individuals took on the role of the Flash, as Barry Allen remained the one character fans could point to who had died and remained dead. Then, for no internally meaningful reason, they brought him back. Superman died in '93, and it became major news. Of course, everyone knew from the get-go he would be restored to life. Marvel killed Captain America in 2008; you can guess the rest. Death rarely takes in comic books. Heck, the Big Two can't even keep Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd in the grave. Batman's death received very little attention. We know how this will turn out. And so, Marvel cashed in on Obamamania and drew all the attention. Clever marketing, I grant-- but I doubt many people will start buying Spider-man because of it.

The Amazing Spider-man #583

Mark Waid: writer
Barry Kitson, Adres Mossa: art

"Spidey Meets the President!"
Zeb Wells: writer
Todd Nauk, Frank D'Armata: artists

1.No, for real-- although many have noted that Spider-man's famous quotation echoes Luke 12: 48.

2. The comments on the cover apply to the first printing. Once rapacious fans and speculators had gobbled up the available comics, Marvel went into additional printings, flooding the market with the Obama cover.

3. The discussion of the DC/Marvel intertextuality has been influenced in no small part by comments made by Scott Slemmons.