Comics : Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #4

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This story is part of an Arc: "The Other: Evolve or Die"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10 / Part 11 / Part 12

This review was first published on: 2006.

Background...

In the wake of Spider-Man's grisly defeat at the hands of Morlun, our hero was rushed to hospital, where his wounds proved to be fatal! But although Peter was fading, there was another rising within him: the Spider. This Spider gave Peter the strength to destroy Morlun and save MJ one last time. Peter then died in his wife's arms.

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #21 was MJ's story, as she struggled to cope with Peter's death, with Aunt May and the well-meaning members of the New Avengers. Then the alarms sounded. Something had ripped its way of Peter's body leaving only a hollow husk behind. It had broken out of Avengers HQ and spun a cocoon for itself down by the river.

Then in, Amazing Spider-Man #527 the contents of the cocoon was revealed to a regenerating Peter Parker. But in order to return to the land of the living, he had to fully embrace his spider side, to make a deal with the Great Weaver, not knowing if it would make him more spider than man. A reawakened Peter returned to the Avengers, his aunt and his wife, but the price he has to pay is not yet apparent.

And now, The Other continues...

In Detail...

"Pirate Booty"
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #4
Mar 2006 : SM Title
Arc: Part 10 of "The Other: Evolve or Die"
Editor:  Tom Brevoort
Writer:  Peter David
Pencils:  Mike Wieringo
Inker:  Karl Kesel
Cover Art:  Mike Wieringo
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Articles: Miss Arrow

Having recently come back from the dead, Peter is undergoing a barrage of tests in Tony Stark's lab. Shedding his skin seems to have completely healed any knock or abrasion Peter has ever sustained. Even his tonsils have grown back. Peter meets this news in his typical irreverent fashion. He wants to finish up and go back to MJ. It's chilly and he's suspended in an anti-gravity field in nothing but his underpants. However, any hope of a swift end to proceedings is dashed by the arrival of Reed Richards and Hank Pym.

Reed tells Peter that there have been a number of biological changes, but nothing quite as radical as shooting webbing out of his backside. As the work continues, other scientists in another part of Avenger's HQ are examining the remains of Peter's old body. Hundreds of spiders are descending on threads toward them. The scientists don't notice this just yet.

Meanwhile, across town at Midtown High, the principal of Peter's old school is interviewing a new prospective member of staff. The gentleman in question doesn't have any teaching experience, he's just come out of a coma and is missing large chunks of his memory. But he knows his sports and he wants a shot. The principal gives him that shot, and accepts Flash Thompson onto the staff. Yes, Peter's high school nemesis is back! And he has no memory of meeting Peter since high school.

At Stark Tower, MJ thanks Wolverine for making a pass at her in an effort to help her deal with her grief at losing Peter. Meanwhile in the lab, the big- brains are at a loss to explain the changes that Peter has gone through. Pym says that some spiders are able to shed their skins once in a lifetime, but why did this happen to Peter now? Peter takes the opportunity to sneak off, but Tony reaches out to stop him. They need to discuss that costume redesign.

Before Stark can even put his hand on Peter's shoulder, Peter reacts instinctively. Moving with lightning speed he kicks away Tony's legs. Peter immediately apologises. It must have been his spider sense over-reacting to perceived danger, but it has never been that sensitive before. It is as though a weight has been lifted from Peter, that he is faster than ever before. This is something the scientists definitely want to investigate. However, Aunt May intervenes. She is on her way to church to give thanks for Peter's second chance, and she doesn't think he should be using that second chance to stay cooped up in a laboratory. Peter is excused and he can finally go out and play.

Back in his costume (his last) and with a disguised MJ webbed to his back, Peter is off swinging through the city. He is oblivious to the fact that all those tiny spiders have webbed up Tony Stark's scientists and are currently devouring his old cadaver. We'll get back to them in a moment. Spidey wants to have a serious talk with MJ. He thought she'd come to terms with his double- life, but some of the things she said just before Peter 'died' has made him think that isn't the case.

MJ admits that much of her anger was feigned: it was actually guilt at her selfishness. She had found herself in a world where her home and all her friends were dependent upon Peter. If anything ever happened to him, she would lose everything. But after Peter died, she realised that she could cope. Although it was the hardest thing she could ever have done, she realises she would have survived. She thinks Peter dying was the best thing that could have happened to her.

Peter isn't sure how to take this, and doesn't have time to work it out. His spider sense flares like nothing he has ever felt before. There is trouble back at Stark Tower - trouble involving spiders! He can feel this on an instinctive level and it freaks him (and MJ) out. They quickly return to Stark Tower to find the upper floors completely covered in webbing.

Leaving MJ outside, Spidey heads in to see what is going on. He calls out to the other Avengers, but gets no response. His spider sense leads him to the place where his old body was kept. Wrenching open the door he recognises the family, genus and species of the spiders chowing down on his corpse (and he wonders how he recognises this). He tries to shoo them away, and comes face to face with a creature composed entirely of spiders.

At first he thinks that it is the Gatekeeper he encountered before in Amazing Spider-Man #506 but he knows this is something different. The same stingers he used to kill Morlun shoot from his wrists unbidden. Spidey doesn't try to work out what is going on, and attacks the spider gestalt. It dodges easily, seeming to know Spidey's moves before he makes them. Then it bursts through the reinforced wall and escapes into the city.

In General...

This is Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man's final contribution to The Other crossover. Once again, the issue only contains part of the full story, which makes a little difficult to analyse. However, I have cheated and read the final two acts so I know how it all ends, and I have to say I'm not very impressed.

The Other reminds me a lot of House of M. The individual parts have been most excellently written, the dialogue has sparkled, the characterisation has been spot on. Unfortunately, nothing has actually happened. Now, I'm more than happy to read a comic that is nothing more than a well-written character study, and I don't have a problem with the way The Other has been paced, but if a writer introduces a plot it is normally considered polite to tie it up.

This isn't a half-length effort from Spider-Man Unlimited. The writers have had twelve issues to tell this story, but they haven't really explained what is going on. It seems little more than a set up for stories to come, and as prologues go, twelve issues is a little excessive.

We have had no explanation about the disease Spider-Man was suffering from in the first movement of the crossover. He didn't die from the disease, he died because Morlun killed him. This illness was built up and built up and then promptly forgotten. Even the characters have forgotten about it in the wake of Spidey's murder. That is just bad story-telling. The arc running through this month's spider titles goes nowhere. The spider entity flees Avengers tower, Spidey gives chase but loses it and that is that. Aside from Spidey coming to terms with a few new powers nothing more is added. This crossover doesn't have an ending, and I was always taught they were quite fundamental to a story.

Yet, this is not the biggest problem The Other has to face. I take issue with the entire concept behind it. For me, one of the defining aspects of Peter Parker is that he's no-one special. He was just an ordinary kid who gained fantastic powers by accident. What makes Peter unique, and makes him such an appealing and enduring character, is what he decided to do with those powers. The burden of responsibility to do good with his new abilities would have crushed or been dismissed by lesser men. Peter was made of stronger stuff, and it's that integrity, grit and determination that makes him the hero he is.

Peter Parker should not be the Chosen One. He's not Buffy the Vampire Slayer in blue tights. He should not have been fated to have these powers, no sentient spider should have sought him out and bit him in its dying moments. His adventures shouldn't revolve around death and rebirth, or his position as a pawn in some otherworldly chess match. These things don't fit; they are completely antithetical to the character.

JMS wants us to believe that the two versions of the character can co-exist, that in essence it doesn't matter where Spidey's powers came from. Well, as long as stories that exploit these mystical aspects are being written, it does matter. These are two conflicting concepts, and they do not sit comfortably side-by-side. Playing up the mystical angle, making Spidey fated to gain his powers and giving him a destiny actively harms the character. The sooner all this is debunked, the better.

Of course, none of this is Peter David's fault, and it's a shame to have to mention it in a review of his work. The most appealing parts of this issue have nothing to do with the crossover, but PAD's use of the characters, and the promise of future stories. I like his take on Mary Jane, she's shown as less of a cipher, and more than a one-dimensional handkerchief for Peter to cry on. And then, of course, there is the return of Flash Thompson!

Flash has been in a coma since Peter Parker: Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #46 back in 2002. In fact Flash hasn't been up and moving around since issue #3 of Spider-Man/Black Cat shipped, and we all know how long ago that was! I confess to a little concern about his new direction for his character. Hitting the reset button and returning Flash to his high school personality undoes decades of character development. However, Peter David has earned my trust over many years and I expect this is going somewhere interesting.

What I think is more important is that the return of Flash demonstrates PAD's willingness to start using Spider-Man's rich supporting cast. What are the chances that we finally see the return of Liz and Betty? Hell, I'd even settle for Jill Stacy at this stage. Spider-Man has become too divorced from his roots in recent years. I for one, would like to see him return to them.

Some things are a little odd here, though. Flash deciding to be a teacher and give something back to the kids, isn't that surprising. But it is odd that the principal of Midtown High is willing to give him a shot. Has everyone forgot that the reason Flash was in a coma was because he crashed a tanker truck into Midtown High? However, this does track with the Reginald Hudlin run over in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. The school only let Peter go over the Summer, when he starts the new school year he is certainly in for a shock.

Commercially, The Other has been a great success for the Spider-Man titles. Whoever had the idea of getting each writer to script an entire month's worth of comics should pat themselves on the back - that worked very well. The problem is that, on a very fundamental level, this is not the sort of story that should have be told in a Spider-Man title. The writing was excellent, but The Other is not equal to the sum of its parts.

Overall Rating...

Peter David is a gifted writer. Mike Wieringo is a talented artist. This comic looks great and reads very well. I'd give this four webs without much hesitation. But, this time out I have to judge the crossover. And the crossover doesn't deserve more than two. Let's be mathematical and call it three webs.

Footnote...

The Other continues in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #22 and concludes in Amazing Spider-Man #528. Next month, it's back to business as usual as we investigate the new status quo of the webslinger.