Skip directly to content

Alpha Big Time

on Wed, 06/19/2013 - 00:00

It had been over two decades since a superhero from the Marvel Universe visited Pittsburgh, but that changed in early 2013 when young Andy Maguire moved to the Steel City following his parent’s divorce. Maguire is also known as Alpha, a character that originated in issue 692 of The Amazing Spider-Man and was then given his own five-part series called Alpha Big Time. In many ways, the Alpha narrative was meant as a complimentary tale to the original Spider-Man storyline of fifty years earlier but with a twist—Andy Maguire is not the new Peter Parker, he’s the anti-Peter Parker.

Like Parker, Maguire was a loner at Midtown High School, a social outcast who went unnoticed by his classmates. When a science experiment goes awry, however, the teenager gains superpowers that transform him into someone else entirely. While the story may start out the same, however, that is where the analogy also ends.

Peter Parker may not have been the most popular kid in school either, but he was both intelligent and studious, two qualities that the C-average Andy Maguire lacks. Parker initially used his new Spider-Man persona selfishly until his unwillingness to prevent a burglar from escaping directly led to the death of his Uncle Ben. Maguire, on the other hand, is more self-centered than Peter Parker and even the near death of his own parents fails to awaken him to reality.

Because of Uncle Ben’s fate, the phrase “with great power must also come great responsibility” has become Peter Parker’s mantra, but it is also a lesson that he continually finds himself needing to relearn. It was Parker’s discovery of a powerful alternative energy source that he named “Parker Particles,” for instance, that led to Andy Maguire’s transformation into Alpha.

Parker Particles have the ability to “tap into the limitless potential of the universe,” giving Maguire powers and strength greater than that of any other superhero, abilities that grow even stronger over time. Although Peter Parker realizes that what happened to Andy Maguire is his responsibility, Maguire is either unwilling or unable to accept the lesson of “great power” himself.

While his self-centered nature rubs fellow superheroes Thor, Iron Man and The Fantastic Four the wrong way, it is Alpha’s reckless behavior of continually placing innocent humans in harm’s way that leads to his undoing. Realizing that Alpha will never be able to live up to the responsibility of his abilities, Peter Parker finds a way to reverse the effects of the Parker Particles and in effect “decommissions” Alpha as a superhero.

Andy Maguire was a distorted mirror image of Peter Parker, an example of how Parker himself might have turned out if certain events in his life hadn’t occurred, and in the end Maguire’s actions reaffirm the mantra that Spider-Man has been following since the death of his Uncle Ben.

But it was also a storyline with additional elements left to explore, and when the Peter Parker Era of The Amazing Spider-Man ended with Doctor Octopus brain-swapping with his arch nemesis, the opportunity was right for Big Time. It was not only Parker who had changed by then, but Andy Maguire’s life as well. His parents got divorced, for instance, and Maguire relocated to Pittsburgh with his mother.

With his turn as a superhero having come to an end, Maguire also returned to being a social outcast at his new high school. As part of his agreement with the original Peter Parker, however, Andy Maguire has to return to New York City every few weeks to make sure there are no residual effects from his encounter with Parker Particles.

It turns out that the Doctor Octopus version of Peter Parker has different plans for Maguire than his previous counterpart. Relishing the thought of increasing his own powers with Parker Particles, this Parker decides to experiment with the energy source on Maguire by returning ten percent of his original abilities. Maguire is first reluctant but readily agrees after the fact, although he also promises to embrace the “with great powers comes great responsibilities” adage of Spider-Man.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard Andy Maguire tries to do the right thing, it doesn’t always work out for the better. When he confronts a mugger in a darkened alley back in Pittsburgh, for example, his punch packs more wallop than he intended. Although the mugger survives the assault, he turns into a cancer-cell beast that consumes the staff and other patients at Allegheny General Hospital.

Andy Maguire is also pulled into a rash of arson fires within the city of Pittsburgh. Despite his best efforts to keep his identity a secret, everyone recognizes him from his original Alpha days, although no one seems to remember his superhero moniker correctly. This includes the Pittsburgh Police Department, who are not only willing to look the other way in regards to the mugger incident but warn him to steer clear of the arson investigation as well.

“Kid, this isn’t New York,” a police officer tells him. “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” When Maguire points out that there are more supervillains in the Big Apple than anywhere else in the world, the cop adds, “I’ll take supervillains over what we have any day.”

Within the Marvel Universe of the Twenty First Century, Pittsburgh is under the iron rule of a mob boss named Cohen, and when Andy Maguire keeps getting in his way, Cohen not only tries to kill his mother and grandmother by burning down their house but also attempts to eliminate Maguire’s pseudo-girlfriend Susan, a waitress at Eat’n Park who goes by the nickname Soupcan.

Maguire’s life is further complicated by the fact that he has no one to talk to in regards to the conflicting emotions running through his brain, not even the Mighty Thor, who makes a brief visit to the Steel City in issue four of Alpha Big Time. In fact, it is only after “kidnapping” Spider-Man away from New York that he is able to admit his mistakes and ask for assistance in cleaning up the mess he has made in Pittsburgh.

Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov, a native Pittsburgher, does a good job within the pages of Alpha Big Time of not only making the self-centered teenager of The Amazing Spider-Man more sympathetic but also crafting a narrative that ends too soon and leaves one hungry for more. Fortunately, the door is left open for additional tales of Andy Maguire and Alpha as the Doctor Octopus-inhabited Peter Parker realizes that Parker Particles are too dangerous to try on himself but leaves Maguire in Pittsburgh with his own superpowers intact nonetheless.

“I’ve got a friend, my mom’s not a depressive anymore, and I’m the, like, protector of Pittsburgh,” Andy Maguire explains at the conclusion of the Alpha Big Time miniseries. “Except if I try to fight crime in Pittsburgh, some one-eyed lunatic will kill everyone I love. And I’m technically homeless. Oh yeah, and the girl I love is scared to death of being near me. But other than that, everything is coming up Andy.”

For Maguire as well as the Steel City.

Anthony Letizia

Follow Geek Pittsburgh: Facebook - Twitter - RSS Feed