Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #654

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This story is part of an Arc: "Revenge Of The Spider Slayer"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This review was first published on: Feb 2011.

Background...

Smythe, his slayer army, and the Scorpion tried to sabotage the Vertex space shuttle last issue--among those on board is John Jameson. Seems Smythe still has a little vendetta against Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, and plans to strike at him through his family and closest friends.

Spidey has a few close friends of his own--the New Avengers dropped by last issue to help fight off Smythe's insect hoards, who simultaneously attacked the launch site of the shuttle, the Daily Bugle, and a spa where Aunt May and Marla Jameson were spending the day. After noting that the insects were able to dodge attacks in a manner similar to his spidey-sense, Peter decided to swing over to Horizon Labs while the battle raged, to make a device that would counteract the artificial senses granted to the slayers and Scorpion. Upon getting to the labs, Peter was confronted by his new boss and famed-scientist Max Modell, who says he wants to talk to Pete regarding Spider-man.

In Detail...

"Self-inflicted wounds"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #654 (Story 1)
Apr 2011 : SM Title
Summary: Alistaire Smythe, Scorpion, New Avengers appear
Arc: Part 3 of "Revenge Of The Spider Slayer"
Plot:  Dan Slott
Script:  Fred Van Lente
Artist:  Stefano Caselli
Lettering:  Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Marte Gracia
Editor In Chief:  Joe Quesada
Senior Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Ellie Pyle
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Articles: Winters, Norah, Scorpion, Smythe, Alistaire

John Jameson's shuttle docks with the Horizon Labs space station, and John tells the crew there to get the shuttle fueled up, so he can get back to Earth and save his dad, JJJ and his family and friends, from Smythe and his army of armored bugs. The crew declines his order, saying a minimum twelve hours is required to get the shuttle fixed, to ensure Col. Jameson's safety. John says now Spider-man is their only hope down on Earth.

Speaking of which, Peter is over at Horizon Labs, trying to get his spider-sense scrambling device together while being confronted by Max Modell. Max says he's twice seen Peter disappear during recent super-villain fights--the most logical conclusion Max says he can come up with is that Spider-man hires Parker to build his weaponry and technology--that "after all, it strains credulity to think one man could possess both amazing spider-powers, and the scientific acumen to invent devices like his web shooters!". This isn't what Peter was expecting to hear, but he goes with it, claiming he's relieved to finally have someone to confide in. He says time is short, though, as Spider-man has asked him to make something that "interfere(s) with the animal-instinct senses of Smythe's slayer-swarm". Max helps him, showing him how to make the device more efficient. Max says there are restrictions in Peter's contract with Horizon against Peter doing outside work, but that since Spider-man saved Horizon Labs from the Hobgoblin a few issues back, he's willing to look the other way. He also informs Peter of the risks of the device they just slapped together, saying if Spider-man's present in the blast radius, it will "play havoc on any enhanced senses he posseses as well".

A quick change of clothes later, and Spidey swings back to the Soho Spa, where Thing and Mockingbird are still fending off Smythe's slayer army, who're targeting Aunt May and Marla Jameson. Marla realizes she can salvage some pieces from a fallen Mandroid automaton to fight off the slayer army, saying that she first met Jonah when he hired her to develop a new line of 'slayer bots' in Amazing Spider-man #167.

Mayor Jonah is escaping by car through the holland tunnel with Glory and Jay Sr., who's wounded. In his in-mask com, Spidey is able to call Glory Grant, and tell her that JJJ needs to get as far from the center of the city as possible. Jonah openly defies these instructions, telling his driver to floor it and ignore every light.

Over at the Bugle, Robbie Robertson is telling his son Randy, Norah, and Phil Urich to evacuate the staff. Upon hearing that, Norah runs for the exit. Phil says he's right behind her--Randy says he's not leaving his father. Phil thinks to himself that this display of selflessness is touching, but he elbows a concrete post, sending debris raining down on Randy. Phil catches up with Norah, saying Randy stayed back to help Robbie, but that part of the ceiling collapsed on them, and he doesn't know if they made it, but thinks that if Randy did, the Hobgoblin will be sure to try again. Robbie comes upon Randy, who says he can't move his legs. Robbie realizes the bugs are there to attack Jonah's best friend, Robbie himself.

Web-swinging through town, Spidey realizes the slayer-swarm has focused their attacks at three different points in the city, and that the Flatiron Building is "equidistant from all three locations". He decides to drop off his device on the building's roof and swing outside the effected radius before it can do anything to him. Smythe's ship looms large overhead suddenly, and Spidey realizes the building is also the perfect place for Smythe to coordinate all the attacks. Inside the ship, Smythe instructs Scorpion that before Scorp's mission was to stall Spidey, but that now he should "kindly tear out (Spidey's) beating heart--and show it to him".

At the spa, Marla says she's studied Smythe's tech long enough to know how to jam his slayer's power source on a microwave frequency. With the materials she salvaged from the Mandroid, she's able to emit a high pitched sound that incapacitates the robotic slayers--long enough for Ben Grimm and the gang to get their shots in. At the Bugle, Ms. Marvel and POwer Woman are told by Robbie that he knows how to get the slayer swarm to leave, saying they're not after the Bugle but Robbie himself. They fly him away from the building with the swarm in pursuit.

Meanwhile, Smythe's ship has caught up with JJJ's car, and opens fire on it. Back at the Flatiron, Spidey and Scorpion tussle. Scorpion notes the device on the rooftop, the remote start for the bio-electro magnetic pulse generator, saying it's a weapon Spidey got from his "Avenger's buddies". With a flick of the tail, he destroys the remote for the device that was webbed to Spidey's wrist. Spidey realizes he has no choice but to be right in the center of the blast when it detonates, and sets it off, sending a pulse throughout the city. All of Smythe's army, as well as Scorpion and Spidey react to the pulse. The pilots of Smythe's ship crash it into the street. Scorpion yells that it feels like Spidey cooked the inside of his brain, and that Spidey did the same thing to himself, and says "hell's the matter with you?". Spidey says it's simple, it doesn't matter if Spidey himself goes down, as long he takes Scorpion with him, and sends him reeling with a powerful uppercut. After webbing up Gargan, Spidey says he talks a good game, but that he's feeling woozy and hopes everyone else is all right.

Spidey meets up with the rest of the New Avengers, Marla, May, Jay and Jonah, as well as Robbie. Spidey says he's crawling into bed to sleep after this fight, but it's not over yet: Smythe explodes out of the side of his crashed ship. A piece of debris clocks Spidey square in the head, giving him a concussion. He says he never even saw it coming, and that his spider-sense appears to be gone. Smythe says he's invulnerable to whatever it is Spidey did to his swarm. Smythe busts out with his "cybernetic enhancements", which look like long spider-legs that pop out of his back and knock Thing and Ms. Marvel flying. Spidey is reeling from his concussion, and he calls out for May to look out, but falls to the ground. Smythe says he was going to leave JJJ alive to deal with the deaths of his own loved ones, but that now that he's there he'll finish Johah off. Smythe's razor-sharp extensions are about to pierce Jonah, but Marla pushes him out of the way at the last second, and get run through with one herself. Spidey finds his fortitude and screaming "Enough!", bashes Smythe in the jaw, subduing him.

Jonah is holding Marla in the street, telling her to hold on, that he'll get the best doctor there right away, that he's the Mayor and he'll do whatever has to be done--she cuts him off, in pain, telling him to listen to her for just once. She tells him not to be mad, to not blame anyone for what's happening--the spider-slayers, Spider-man, or even Smythe. She tells Jonah not to waste anymore of his life on hate. She is unable to finish saying "I love you" and---dies. Spidey begins to tell Jonah he's sorry, but JJJ says he's not going to say it was all Spidey's fault--that he knows that the fault is all his own.

In General...

Well, wow--that's a lot to take in at once. For starters, one of the most major developments here is that Spidey has probably (temporarily) shorted-out his own spider-sense. Not only does the spider-sense aid Spidey in battle, but it alerts him to his secret identity being compromised, among other abilities. Seeing him have to do without it for awhile should be interesting, as well as seeing what he creates at Horizon Labs to compensate for the loss.

As well, for all intents and purposes, there was a death being hyped this very issue, and we now see that it's none other than Jonah's longtime, at times estranged, wife Marla. Marla herself was the very reason Peter got hooked up with Horizon Labs at the beginning of Big Time, and she's been an on and off mainstay of the cast since the late seventies, so it's a bit sad to see her pass. Rest in peace, Marla. The panels of Jonah's reaction were very wrenching. On a side note, I'm guessing now's not a good time to tell Jonah what happened to his foster-niece Mattie Franklin in Grim Hunt (is Marvel ever going to address Jonah knowing or not knowing Mattie's fate or what?).

I liked the scenes with Max Modell--it seems to me that Modell actually believes Peter is Spider-man, but is keeping that knowledge to himself for now, in a way similar to that of Captain Stacy. His line about credulity being strained by the thought of one person having super powers and the science smarts to craft his own web-shooters reminded me of the similar argument given for Spidey not having mechanical but having organic webshooters in the Sam Raimi-directed set of Spider-man movies--really seemed as if this line was a dig or at least a nod at that reasoning.

The story this issue is tight and suspensful--but it almost cuts away from Spidey to the supporting cast too much. I was hoping for more of a battle between Scorpion and Spidey here as well--but what we got wasn't bad. I like how the color palette and overtones seem changed here for each respective scene. Stefano Caselli's rendering of Spider-man is great--the attention to detail he puts into drawing the costume, particularly the lining on the gloves, is commendable. This issue's cover, too, is simply eye-popping. Some of Caselli's drawings of the fight scenes between Spidey and Scorpion place the reader at a distance, though (I really think it's the over-armored new Scorpion outfit--must be hard to fit in a panel; I'd like to see that armor get pared down a bit); I really like when artists make you feel like you're right in the middle of the action, particularly during battle scenes--and Caselli's art does just that at times, as when The Thing is battering one of Smythe's bugs. In spite of that very minor nitpick, I greatly look forward to when Caselli comes back on the book for another arc. Fred Van Lente also scripts over Slott's story plotting again this issue--I think this is a fine combination and made for a seamless couple of issues--all the better if it keeps Amazing Spider-man on its twice-a-month shipping schedule without delays.

Overall Rating...

Very nearly a 5-webber, this issue brings a highly-intense arc to a close. Big things were promised by the start of Big Time, and so far the creators haven't greatly disappointed. I see them killing off Marla to show it's effect on Peter as well as Jonah, but I hope the bloodthirsty creative team doesn't make a trend out of it. Roderick Kingsley was beheaded by Phil Urich, for what seems like largely shock value (and to prop-up Phil as the next Hobby). Montana of the Enforcers was dropped down an elevator shaft by Philgoblin a few issues ago, and is presumed dead. Billy Connors was killed in last year's Shed, Mattie in Grim Hunt, and now this issue Marla, all within the span of a mere twenty or so issues--I'd think that's enough kill-craziness for the Spidey books for awhile.