Credits: Written by Howard Mackie, pencils by John Romita Junior, inks by Joe Rubinstein and edited by Danny Fingeroth
Cast: Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker, Ben ‘Scarlet Spider’ Reilly, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Lt Jacob Raven, ‘Kaine’, J.Jonah Jameson Jnr, Joe Robertson, Doctor Kafka, Col. John Jameson, Doctor Miles ‘The Jackal’ Warren, 3 Pete, Judas Traveller, Medea, Mr Nacht and Boone.
Plot: Seconds after the arrest of Peter Parker, Ben Reilly confronts his wife Mary Jane in his Scarlet Spider costume before unmasking to reveal the face identical to Peter’s. She doesn’t really take that well and slaps him. He takes the hit and declares that he is here to help. But looking like her husband and appearing after he is arrested, he lacks credibility and so he leaves.
Peter is being arraigned, bail is denied and he is taken to a cell to await transport to jail. He is visited by Jacob Raven, who wants to know why he didn’t run. He had to recognise Raven from his time in Salt Lake City, Utah. Problem is of course, Peter has never been to Utah and has absolutely no idea what Raven is talking about. At the Daily Bugle Joe ‘Robbie’ Robertson is wondering how they will handle the story of Peter’s arrest. Jonah acts as though he is not bothered and is throwing Peter to the wolves. He dismisses Robbie and answers his phone. The call is with his lawyer who is defending Peter out of his own pocket, but unknown to anyone else. Outside 3Pete is wandering the city, still searching for clues as to who he is. We then see how alone everyone seems. Peter is in his cell, full of questions. Jacob Raven is in his hotel room, full of doubts. Kaine is in the street, full of violent visions of a future with a murdered Mary Jane. Mary Jane is full of concerns for her unborn baby as she realises the radioactive blood of her husband could cause complications. She leaves to get air, silently followed by the Scarlet Spider.
At Ravenscroft, Dr. Kafka interviews the Jackal, who is testing his restraints, so John Jameson escorts him back to his cell. I think this scene is just to remind us where the Jackal is, just in case we care. In Queens, 3Pete comes across a mugging and goes after the mugger. The mugger threatens him with a knife, but 3Pete easily bests him, recognising that this power he has, imbues him with a responsibility to use it well.
A frantic Mary Jane is confronted by Judas Traveller, who is flanked by his associates Medea, Mr Nacht and Boone. It’s unclear what Traveller wants, beyond his continuing quest to understand Spider-Man. Scarlet Spider arrives and tells Traveller to get away from her.
At the Parker home, Jacob Raven arrives to ask some questions but is accosted by Kaine who throws him around and seems to burn his face, leaving him to examine the ‘evidence’.
Traveller causes multiple explosions trying to discourage Scarlet Spider’s interference, but as a clone of Peter, he doesn’t give up so easily. Ben shakes off his identity issues and faces Traveller, who even as powerful as he has shown himself to be cannot scare off this man. Mary Jane looks at Ben and realises he is more like Peter than not. Traveller decides that one day he, Peter and Ben will all sit down together, but for now they are done and with nary a word are gone. Mary Jane tells Ben she is willing to talk now, but meds him to keep his Scarlet Spider mask on.
On the final page we see Peter being moved to another cell, Jackal plotting in his cell and 3Pete high above the city, sure of where he needs to go for answers.
Notes: I won’t claim to be the biggest fan of Howard Mackie as a writer. However this issue does do a good job of forwarding the ongoing plot and showing you all of the moving parts. We have sub-plots relating to 3Pete, the Jackal and Kaine as well as the main plot(s) of Peter’s arrest and the ongoing war between Kaine and Ben. All of these story elements are right there in front of this story. There are lovely story touches in the way that Jonah wants to help Peter out of his current legal problems, but not in anyway that other people can see. It shows that Jonah’s gruff ‘I don’t care’ demeanour is as much of an act as his moral championing. Jonah’s neither the hero he tells people he is, nor the villain that his staff believe he is. Like most people, he’s a complicated mix of good and bad. Another nice touch is the unreality of Peter’s situation. He is innocent of the crimes he is accused of, but without outing his secret identity and throwing Ben under the bus, he can’t even offer a reasonable doubt defence. The arraignment is unreal and Peter only catches the bit where he is denied bail. The best part though is Jacob Raven. Here he is, unquestioning of his facts or motives, arresting the man who killed his partner and yet Peter doesn’t recognise him, or even try to run when he showed up. Jacob doubts and those doubts are only made stronger with his encounter with Kaine. The ‘main’ part of the story with Ben, MJ and Judas Traveller is almost an after-thought, padding for page count. Mary Jane treating Ben as a stranger makes sense and she only changes her mind, when she sees that he is trying to be the hero that Peter is. Even then, she still can’t look at him. That rang true, that idea of looking in your love’s face, but knowing he is a stranger to you as well. She tells him to keep the mask on, but when you think about it, it’s a less detailed version of Peter’s mask, so how is that better?
It’s a good middle chapter of a three part story. Kaine, 3Pete, Jacob, Ben and Peter moving into place to get this story resolved, all the while with Jackal in the background playing his games. It seems almost too busy, with 3Pete, Jackal, Traveller and Kaine all moving their own plots forward, whilst Peter and Ben are being dragged along by theirs. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about how we are often dragged along by events we cannot control and stuff. But ultimately it’s a story about how we are often facing things alone. Mary Jane is alone, because she doesn’t trust this fauxPeter, Jacob is alone because he is now the only person in the justice system not convinced of Peter’s guilt. Kaine is alone because only he can see the horrors that await Mary Jane. Peter is alone because, well he’s in prison. It’s only the actual villains that aren’t, Traveller has his entourage and Jackal has his audience. But we all start alone don’t we? Mary Jane and Ben make peace by the end and Jacob has a new perspective as well. Still the whole story has a moving it’s pieces into position feel and it’s nice to see.
Writing: 4 out of 5 – Again, not a big Mackie fan, but he understands his assignment here. He gets everyone where they need to be and fleshes out the themes that the story is going with. His characters all seem as they should be and when they don’t it still works within the story. The only thing that doesn’t really work is the Jackal stuff and to be perfectly honest I don’t see that as the fault of the writer. This plot point makes little sense and he’s not really growing on me as a villain.
Art: 3 out of 5 – We are in the midst of a good period of JR Jr’s pencils. His Peter and Ben look enough alike to make it work and everyone seems to stay on model. The colouring isn’t great, but that is more of the times than anything. The Scarlet Spider scenes are purely filler, but thanks to the penciller, very well put together filler. I do like this issue’s art, despite my fondness for the regular penciller Tom Lyle.
Overall: 7 out of 10 – This is a good part 2 of 3 and they are a bit of a rarity. Peter and Ben are pushed to the edge and we see how this affects both them and the world around them. We get to see more of Kaine and we are reminded that Judas Traveller and his entourage exist without us getting a bit sick of them. Considering what they had to work with, this really works.
Whose Life is it Anyway?
Credits: Written by J.M. DeMatteis, pencilled by John Romita Junior, inked by John Romita Senior and edited by Danny Fingeroth
Cast: The clone of Peter Parker, May Parker and Clifford Gross.
Plot: The clone of Peter Parker stands outside the house he grew up in, but now realises he has never been to before. All he wants is to go in and see Aunt May, the only parental figure and indeed family he has left. She is waiting for Peter and MJ to arrive for dinner and is unaware of the familiar stranger in the garden. The clone leaves, the pain of all this history that isn’t his getting too much and he realises he has to leave. He goes to a bus station and gets a ticket to California, getting as far away as he can. He wants away from the pain he feels, all the memories and feelings that he knows are not his and all he wants is it to end. He is stuck sitting next to Clifford, a shoe salesman who blathers on about his job. The clone tells him to shut up. He drifts to sleep, enjoying a nightmare where the many villains he has faced berate him for his indecision and cowardice at leaving, before the Jackal tears at his face, revealing he isn’t Spider-Man, just a failed experiment before casting him into an abyss far from his loving family of Ben and May. He wakes from this nightmare to see the bus he is on swerving violently to avoid a crash. Spider-Man would already be acting to save lives, but in this agony, his clone doesn’t care and almost welcomes the fiery death that seems ahead.
Notes: Let’s call a spade a spade and recognise that this is neither proper literature nor high art. Here’s the thing, most art and entertainment isn’t. But there is more depth than one would expect for disposable super-hero based fiction. The reason for this is writers that look a bit deeper and see what’s under the surface. Alan Moore was good at this Grant Morrison does similar and many writers who have worked on Batman comics have excelled because of this kind of depth. When it comes to Spider-Man, one of those important writers is J.M. DeMatteis. Rather than do pulpy tales full of action alone, DeMatteis looks at the psychological roots of the character and shows you that the hardest battles that Spider-Man fights are internal ones as much as external ones. He doesn’t battle Doctor Octopus as often as he battles his own guilt. Here it’s a different battle. It’s who am I, if I am not me? This isn’t Peter Parker and despite that, all the stuff in his head tells him he is. How do you deal with that? How do you reconcile who you are with the fact that there’s already one of you living the life that you remember? This clone makes the decision to leave town, to not face this alienation from his own life and takes the cheapest way out of town to go as far as he can. That would be agony. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and when you came back from work, you could see yourself in the window already there? How do you deal with that? Do you fight for a life that might not be yours? Do you run away and hide? I don’t know and as we start the story, neither does this guy. (It was the 3rd act of a film called Seventh Day with Arnie in it, not a bad film, but I digress. He has nightmares about his lack of identity and agency and when danger strikes, he almost doesn’t want to save his own life, not to mention anyone else’s. I got that. That inner battle is something that I can relate to very well and this short little story displays it so well. It’s a throw away story in the back pages of a comic and is so much better than it needs to be.
Writing: 5 out of 5 – , This is another solid chapter 2 of 3 and does a lot of heavy lifting in a few short pages. Most of the writing is in captions and there’s little external dialogue and that only makes the themes of identity and internal conflict all the more at the forefront of the story. The dream sequence doesn’t add to this, but also doesn’t take away either and acts as an accent to the overall picture, you could do without it, but are happier that it’s there.
Art: 3 out of 5 – We get more of JR Jr’s pencils here and it serves his gift for progressive story telling. He gets the clone from A to B really easily and adds a lived in look to the story. His pencils aren’t overpowered by his dad’s inks, but they do add a nostalgic touch to them. The dream sequence works well on art alone as his identity being physically stripped from him leaving him a blank slate is incredibly affecting.
Overall: 8 out of 10 – This is a back up strip that is almost as good as the main story and more than Aftershocks actually made me want to skip ahead and read the next part. That is a well done story, especially considering I have read this more than once before. The story is told well and you are at the edge of your seat when you get the bus getting ready to crash.
Next time: Teenage angst after the world ends.