Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #614

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This story is part of an Arc: "Power to the People"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This review was first published on: May 2010.

Background...

Electro's powers have been supercharged by the Mad Thinker. Furious to the point of mania at the economic state of the country, Electro has decided to take a stand. Using the internet as a platform, he has encouraged millions of equally discontented New Yorkers to support him against Dexter Bennett: the epitome of capitalist excess. With Spider-Man trapped in a burning building, there seems nothing to stop Electro from heading to the DB! offices and exacting his revenge.

In Detail...

"Lights Out!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #614
Feb 2010 : SM Title
Arc: Part 3 of "Power to the People"
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Writer:  Mark Waid
Artist:  Paul Azaceta
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Articles: Chameleon, Electro, Kravinoff, Sasha

As millions of disgruntled New Yorkers turn on their electrical appliances at Electro's behest, the television news reports the unprecedented demands that are being made of the city's power grid. In the middle of the broadcast Electro himself appears in the studio. He grabs a camera and reiterates his call for action against an unfair government – once again naming Dexter Bennett as his scapegoat of choice.

Meanwhile a group of firefighters pull Spider-Man from the burning remains of the Thinker's warehouse hideout. They are about to get busy putting out the flames when they receive another emergency call: head to the DB! as soon as possible. Something's up. But Spidey doesn't go swinging to the rescue - not immediately, anyway. He's had an idea how to shut down Electro permanently, if he can make use of the Thinker's lab before the warehouse burns down around his ears.

At the DB! Dexter Bennett is trying to evacuate his staff, but it's too late. The doors are electrified and everyone is sealed in. The building is surrounded by the police, but they are unsure how to proceed. This isn't helped by mayor, J. Jonah Jameson turning up and personally 'taking charge' of the proceedings. Fortunately, Spider-Man is not far behind. He confronts Jonah, and asks that the mayor put his little Anti-Spidey Squad under Spider-Man's command. But what's his plan?

Meanwhile, Electro is making his presence felt inside the building. He destroys the offices with bursts of electricity as he hunts through the desks for a cowering Dexter Bennett. Drinking in as much power as he can, Electro eventually corners the terrified published. But swinging swiftly to the rescue is Spider-Man, who bursts through a window and engages the villain. Bennett takes the opportunity to scamper away.

As Spidey and Electro battle, the Anti-Spidey Squad are in the basement destroying the generator and cutting the lines that connect the DB! with the city's electrical grid. With the power cut off, Electro can draw no more energy from the surroundings. Electro is furious, but he's far from impotent. He has a pretty healthy charge of power, which he now directs squarely at Spider-Man.

Outside, Jonah watches in horror as much of the top floor of the old Daily Bugle building explodes outward. He can't abide to see "his building" destroyed like this. He grabs a flashlight from a near-by cop and races for the front door, barging his way past DB! employees who are now pushing their way to freedom.

Inside, Spidey taunts Dillon. He knows that if Electro keeps blasting him, he will eventually run out of juice. And while he's still in this building, he is trapped with no way to replenish himself. Electro leaps into an electrical socket, and then pops out of a light fitting behind Spidey. He then blasts the wallcrawler through a wall. Spidey gets shakily to his feet, webbing his hands to protect himself, he punches Electro straight through a load-bearing column.

The building is starting to come apart at the seams. Jonah runs into Dexter Bennett in the lobby, and berates him for cowardice and not caring about the Bugle. As they argue, Spidey manages to web up Electro in a new formula of webbing that doesn't conduct electricity. But Electro is too strong and bursts through the webbing. The force of his exertion destroys the floor he is standing on.

Bennett takes the opportunity to lie to Jonah. He tells him that Electro has been defeated, and that the Bugle can be Jonah's again. Hoping that Jonah will die when the Bugle crashes down, Bennett turns and runs for the exit. He is a split second too late.

An upper floor upon which Electro and Spidey still battle comes crashing down, pinning Bennett under several tons of masonry. Electro is finally beaten, but the cost is Dexter Bennett, who is pinned at the waist and moaning feebly. By the time Spidey digs him free, Jonah has returned. With our hero's spider-sense going bananas, Spidey scoops Bennett into his arms, and he and Jonah run for the street.

They barely manage to get clear before the entire building collapses behind them. The DB!, the Daily Bugle is no more. Jonah looks up in utter disbelief.

The following day, the headline of Front Line tells the grim truth. Peter and Betty Brant are standing at the site of the Bugle's destruction. Betty is numb. The destruction of the paper is even more horrific than Bennett being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The pair reminisce about the time they spent in that building, and how important it was to both of them. Betty leaves to grieve, and Peter reflects that the destruction of the Bugle is a turning point in his life: "a dividing line between everything that ever happened, and everything that ever will."

He also reflects on the carnage that Electro has wrought, and his surprise that Electro of all people was capable of such a thing. What happens if the rest of his villains become this effective? Just as well he doesn't know that the Chameleon and Sashia Kravinov have just sprung Electro from jail. Whatever can they be planning?

In General...

Mark Waid has provided an energetic ending to his three-part tale. The final victory over Electro requires a little forward-planning, some scientific know-how and a special webbing formula that Spidey manages to cook up in two minutes. Class stuff, that goes out of it's way to push all the right buttons. Azaceta is on fine form too. He convenes the fight well, and the letterbox shot of Jonah staring up at the destroyed Bugle building is a master stroke.

But there's something about the whole thing that rings rather hollow. As if the story was just an exercise in connecting the dots, rather than one that really deserved to be told. The characters seem to be gripped with selective amnesia, and the segue into the wider Gauntlet arc is rather clumsy.

Firstly, and most importantly, this is not the first time the Daily Bugle has been destroyed. Most memorably it was blown up by the Green Goblin in Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #98. It was then rebuilt for the subsequent reboot back in 1999. In light of this, the conversation that Peter and Betty have in front of the rubble rings rather false. This is not the building that Betty worked in every day through her adult life; it is not the building where Peter and Betty first met.

Now I grant you that the destruction of the Bugle at this time has some significance because it's unlikely to be rebuilt any time soon. But I fail to see why it should have this resonance for Peter and Betty. They've been through this at least twice before. They haven't worked at the Bugle or with Jonah for at least a year. It's a scene that tries to play on the reader's emotions, but it's conjured out of nothing.

Then there's the matter of Electro. Peter says how surprised he is that Electro was such a threat, and worries what might happen if his other villains "level up". Well, long term readers might remember the whupping that Electro gave Spider-Man in Peter David's excellent Return of the Sin-Eater arc in Spectacular Spider-Man. That made the same points about Electro that Waid is trying to make here, but it made them far more powerfully. So well in fact that I remember the story clearly twenty-two years later, even though I've only read it once.

Now you could say that Waid can't be expected to remember a story written two decades ago, and if he does remember, he shouldn't be expected to care about it. You may have a point. What is worse though, is how the end of the story tries to trick the reader into thinking that the Gauntlet is somehow significant.

I mentioned in an earlier review that the recap page at the beginning of each issue of Amazing Spider-Man has been telling us how important The Gauntlet is for months. Marvel's Mighty Hype Machine has been in overdrive, peppering the internet with press releases. The only place where the Gauntlet has not been hyped, or built-up or, indeed, mentioned is in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man itself.

Parker's soliloquy at the end of this issue is a painful meta-contextual reference to give the Gauntlet greater credence than it deserves. If we compare this to the sensible build-up given to the election campaign and identity of Menace last year we can clearly see that this isn't remotely as well done. The self-styled 'Season Two' of BND, is not as good as 'Season One'.

The issue isn't all bad. Bringing Betty in at the end of the comic was a shrewd narrative move. Destroying the Bugle through the eyes of JJJ is also evidence of Waid's good instincts as a writer. It just didn't come together in the context of Spidey's wider history, and suffered from The Gauntlet's general lack of coherence.

Overall Rating...

It's not often that a story reaches its peak in the middle, but Power to the People did just that. A well-paced, but ultimately hollow conclusion. Two and a half webs.