Comics : Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #20

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This review was first published on: 2007.

Background...

Spidey revealed his secret identity to the world, and then joined the losing side in the superhero civil war. The Kingpin took advantage of Spider-Man's vulnerability, and Aunt May was shot. Angry and looking for someone to punish, Peter donned the black costume and embarked on a quest for vengeance. That story continues in Amazing Spider-Man. Over here in Friendly it's not quite so gloomy. Peter is still trying to hold down a job at Midtown High (although now he's disguised as Ben Reilly thanks to a handy Shiar image inducer, and working as Flash Thompson's #1 flunky). For the past few months we have been perplexed by the machinations of the school nurse, Arrow. After little romantic interest in Flash Thompson, she didn't think twice about ruining his date with Betty Brant by way of some hard drugs and several thousand spiders. You see, nurse Arrow has her own super human powers, including stingers very much like Spider-Man's. What is her secret, what does she want? Read on and find out!

In Detail...

"Running out of Time"
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #20
Jul 2007 : SM Title
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Writer:  Peter David
Pencils:  Todd Nauck
Inker:  Robert Campanella
Cover Art:  Tomm Coker
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Review
Articles: Betty Brant, Miss Arrow

In a familiar church not far from Avengers Tower, nurse Arrow is conversing with the shadow of a monstrous spider that is presumably the Great Weaver. The spider says that Arrow is sensing the urge to reproduce, and the longer she leaves it the harder and more difficult it will become: their natural enemies will track Arrow down. Arrow says that she has already chosen a mate (and host): a young lad by the name of Flash Thompson. After the mating will come the feeding. All very spider-like.

Meanwhile the black-suited Spider-Man is looking through his Aunt May's hospital window. She is in bed, still clinging to life. Mary Jane is at her side. Spidey is deep in recrimination; regretting all of the actions during the Civil War and before that had led him to this point. He swings off before the locals call the cops.

Later, Betty Brant arrives at Flash Thompson's apartment. She is looking to apologise after the previous evening's terrible date, that culminated with Flash crashing his car into the back of a police car. She is greeted by Peter Parker (disguised as Ben Reilly). Betty breezes into the room immediately suspicious of "Ben" whom she remembers from Deb Whitman's book signing. When she catches Peter in an obvious lie, he drops the charade. Betty is tearful and Peter disconsolate. The two old friends embrace.

Elsewhere in the city, Flash Thompson is picking up Kelly Kulick ("real-life former member of the Team USA bowling team and the first woman in history to earn a Professional Bowlers Association tour exemption" - according to this issue's blurb). Kelly's father is fixing Flash's car, but Flash has an ulterior motive. He has a few students at the local bowling alley, that could do with being humiliated by a professional. Soon the pair have arrived at the alley. Flash promises to pay for rental shoes.

On a near-by rooftop, nurse Arrow watches the scene with concern. After having "disposed" of Betty Brant, she is amazed to find Flash with another woman. She doesn't have much time: already her body is racked with pain. She jumps down to the street, and heads after Flash.

Back in Flash's apartment, Peter is surprised that Betty isn't angry at him for all the years of deception. She pities Peter for all those years of loneliness, not being able to confide his secret in anyone. Plus she never stopped loving Peter. This revelation completely floors Peter, but Betty is quick to point out that it's all water under the bridge and she is fine with the way things are. Odd she brought it up at all really.

The topic changes to nurse Arrow. Betty has told Peter everything that happened at the restaurant, and Peter admits that he is having his own suspicions about Arrow and the school in general. Peter has come to the conclusion that the same spiders that attacked Betty also ate the body of Roger the Principal (after he was killed by the Chameleon of 2011). Peter recounts an event from earlier in the day, when nurse Arrow surprised him without setting of his spider-sense. Arrow immediately made a play for Flash and agreed to go out with him.

The more Peter thinks about the more he's concerned about Arrow not being affected by his spider-sense. He has Betty run an Internet search on Flash's computer for "Arrow + Spider". Did they mean "Spider + Ero" the search engine suggests. Ero is the genus of spiders that Peter saw in Stark Tower months ago. The same spiders that ate the skin off his old body, and turned themselves in the Other! Ero and Arrow do sound very similar. Peter quickly dons the boots of conclusion jumping.

At the bowling alley, Arrow turns up to see Flash. He is flattered that she is so keen to be with him. He tries to introduce Arrow to Kelly, but Arrow's jealousy and desperation make that impossible. She pushes Kelly to the ground. Flash might have been tempted to head out with Arrow, but her actions repulse him and he hurries over to see how Kelly is. Arrow stops him, grabbing him by the wrist and forcing him up against the wall. She wants Flash now. It is clear from her face that she doesn't have much time. Kelly, tries to beat Arrow off Flash by hitting her with a bowling pin. This forces Arrow to play her hand, and she vomits up thousands of spiders that engulf Kelly.

Enter Spider-Man. He quickly knocks Arrow across the room. Spidey demands to know if Arrow was in cahoots with the Chameleon of 2211. She says that the pair of them found "common ground". Then she adds, in typical super-villain fashion: "I am your nemesis... your opposite number... your significant other." Arrow turns into the same Spider-creature Spidey encountered in Avengers tower (see Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #4) and then shifts into a swarm of tiny spiders that escapes through the bottom of the bowling alley.

Meanwhile, Flash and Kelly have made a run for it. However, the spiders reach their truck before Kelly can start the engine. The truck rises into the air on a column of spiders and Kelly is flung from the vehicle. Fortunately, Spider- Man swings by just in time to save her. However, by the time the webbed-wonder has returned to the truck, the spiders (and Flash!) have gone.

In General...

The story is entitled "Running out of time" and there's a sense that Peter David is doing just that. From issue #25, Friendly Neighbourhood Spider- Man will have a new creative team. Taking into account the looming One More Day crossover, this is Peter David's last arc on the title, and he is evidently trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible. He is not entirely successful.

I find it astounding that with all the hype given to The Other crossover, with all the ground work that Straczynski did over on Amazing Spider-Man, that the whole thing is being tied up here, in a second-tier title, and at such a rush. Now JMS is also coming to the end of his long run on Amazing and for the last year he has been so deeply involved in the Civil War 'event', that he probably hasn't had the time to finish everything he started. But it is as though, once again, Peter David has stepped in to plug the gaps and shore up the consistency of the franchise. Jonah thinks his son is Spider-Man? PAD can fix that. Need to bring the Sandman back for a shameless movie tie-in? PAD can handle that. Need to tie up the "Other" nonsense before the new Spider-Man status-quo takes hold? Leave it to PAD. He's your man.

It's reminiscent of the whole Decimination event over on the X-titles. After creating the new X-Men status quo post House of M, it was evident that the creative teams on the X-books had absolutely no interest in telling any stories about it. Claremont, Milligan and Wheedon were off in their own little worlds, telling the stories they wanted to tell with no regard for the the official 'direction' of the titles. It was left to the mini-series to continue the Decimation story. In fact there was only one ongoing X-book that actually addressed the fall-out of House of M, and that was X-Factor. Oddly that's written by Peter David as well.

Whether you liked it or hated it, The Other was billed as this massive life-changing event for Spider-Man, but as soon as the story was told it was brushed under the carpet. When has Spidey actually used any of the new powers he is supposed to have gained? It was lost under a malaise of his Iron Spidey costume, the end of his secret identity and the civil war. What is the point in having all these major events if they don't actually matter, and if no-one (besides Peter David) is willing to take any notice of them? Why should we readers care?

Anyway - as a result of all that, this issue of Friendly isn't actually very good. In order to get the story into print, Spider-Man is obliged to make some extremely dodgy leaps of logic and the story's integrity quickly dissolves. I can accept that Arrow/Ero was always meant to be The Other that Peter confronted at Avengers Tower, but the way in which Spidey comes to this conclusion is utterly contrived. Arrow's diminishing health, and desperation to reproduce, is the catalyst for the story, but it doesn't strike me as very convincing. Surely she knew the time she had, why not act earlier? The Chameleon of 2211 said (in the previous issue) that he had concealed himself from Arrow, but in this issue Arrow admits that the two of them shared common ground. In sort there are plot holes large enough to pilot a quinjet through.

And then there is Kelly Kulick. Having never heard of the lady, and taking absolutely no interest in American professional bowling, her inclusion in the story had no affect on me at all. She might as well have been a fictional character. However she does exist, as can be evidenced here and here. That Peter David felt the need to include such a 'guest star' is a bit bizarre, it certainly didn't add anything to the story and I suspect it detracted from it for many readers.

And while I'm ripping a hole in this comic, let me pause to consider the art. It looks as though Todd Nauck drew it from the back seat of a moving car. The characters are blocky and rather ugly. I'm usually unwilling to criticise artists because I know that given a year I couldn't produce something that looked even a tenth as good, but this is a definite step down from his previous work on the title.

So is there anything that recommends this issue? Fortunately, yes. It is saved from being a complete disaster by the characterisation. It was nice to see Flash turn on Arrow despite her overtures. The guy is not the jerk he once was. The scene between Peter and Betty that really stands out for me. PAD has an excellent grip on both the characters here, and it will be interesting to see where he takes this in the time he has left.

Overall Rating...

Did Peter David lose the plot, or did the plot lose him? I'm willing to believe the latter, but that doesn't make this issue any better. Poor plot and poor art make this a one webber. However, the scene with Betty was too good to ignore. Two webs.