Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #656

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This story is part of an Arc: "No One Dies"
     Part 1 / Part 2

This review was first published on: Sep 2011.

Background...

After not being able to save Marla Madison Jameson from being killed in an attack by Allistar Smythe, Peter suffered a dream where he was haunted by characters past and present that have died around him. He made a new resolution: while he's around, no one dies!

In Detail...

"Resolve"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #656
May 2011 : SM Title
Arc: Part 2 of "No One Dies"
Editor In Chief:  Joe Quesada
Senior Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Ellie Pyle
Writer:  Dan Slott
Artist:  Marcos Martin
Lettering:  Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Muntsa Vicente
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Review
Articles: Kafka, Dr. Ashley

Picking up right where last issue left off, Massacre is having a standoff with the police at a bank, and has executed one of his hostages, saying he trusts he has the police force's, and Capt. Watanabe's, attention. Watanabe refuses to try to negotiate with him if he continues to execute hostages. Massacre informs her she's playing by his rules, as he sets off some explosives in another wing of the bank, killing more hostages. Spider-man hears the explosion while swinging across town, and makes his way over.

Massacre demands all CCTV, alarms and surveillance be shut down in the building, and in a five-block radius, telling the police to pull back as well. Watanabe's officers look to her for orders, but she's frozen, not knowing what to do. Spider-man swings in, but his webline snagged a plaster section of a building, which breaks off, sending him flying into a parked squad car and smashing in the hood. He chalks it up mentally to not having his spider-sense anymore, how it must've guided his web-shots before then. One officer asks another if he's ever been seen Spider-man wipe out in that way, and the officer answers no.

Spider-man approaches the fiery front of the bank, saying he's just there to talk. Massacre deems this unacceptable, and the remaining hostages he has inside shoutat Spider-man to leave, that he'll get them all killed. Massacre unloads with a machine gun, which Spider-man barely dodges. He thinks he needs to land a spider-tracer on Massacre as he's leaning out a front window. Spider-man fires, the tracer lands on its target, but Spider-man takes a bullet through the waist. Back behind the police barricade, Watanabe runs to Spidey's aid, asking what happened, that he never gets shot? He informs her he's landed a tracer on Massacre, and that they'll track him as he escapes.

After the paramedics tell Spider-man the bullet went 'clean through', and him saying he'll get patched up later, the police discover Massacre's escape route--through a sewer system. They follow his trail, only to find a section of the tunnel walled off with more explosives. Watanabe asks Spider-man which way is his tracer telling him to go to track Massacre--"IDIOT!" Spider-man thinks, forgetting in the heat of the moment that the tracers are tied in with his former spider-sense.

Later, Spider-man goes to get patched up at the Night Nurse's clinic. He asks how much he owes her, and she's happy to help him for free, as usual. Spider-man insists on paying, as Peter Parker is making good money now. In the lobby of Nurse's clinic, Paladin sits watching a news report on the recent events, who when he sees Spider-man, asking why he had to "louse it up" for the rest of them, first by letting the Mayor's wife die? Grabbing him by the throat, Spider-man slams Paladin up against the wall, saying he's not taking his crap today. Paladin says he didn't mean anything, and that Spider-man should grow a thicker skin.

Cut to a shot of Jonah's desk, spread out with pictures and collegiate memorablia of Marla. He's on the phone with Robbie, saying he has ideas for a follow-up to the obituary on Marla the Bugle ran, perhaps a tribute in the form of a weeklong series. A harried Robbie tells Jonah all anyone's talking about is the "walking Massacre" who killed eight, blew up half a building and shot Spider-man. Robbie says Marla isn't the story anymore, Massacre is.

An aide comes to tell Jonah that the victims family members are waiting at a press conference, for Jonah to make a statement. After making a short speech on the resoluteness and strength of New York's sons and daughters, he notices the crying son of one the victims. Taking the boy back into the privacy of his Mayoral office, Jonah asks if the boy misses his mother who was one of the bank holdup's victims. The boy says, "A lot." Jonah says that he's also lost someone close to him recently, and that as Mayor, he's decided for his deeds, Massacre is dead. Outside to the chief of police, Jonah demands the death penalty for Alistar Smythe, and for any other murderers in his city starting now.

At Horizon Labs, Peter has been working around the clock on something that will give him an edge against Massacre. Locking his creation in his lab's "black box", he heads to the Lab's common area to get a coffee. Fellow scientific geniuses Sanjani, Tyler, Bella and Grady are all there, talking about a viral video of a gerbil on a foosball table on You Tube and whether it's actually animated or not. Peter overhears and yells at them: people are dead, part of a building got blown up, and they're going on about a stupid, trivial viral video? Sanjani tells him to back off, asking does he get this worked up people getting killed in Haiti or Somalia? "Or only for eight, mostly white, New Yorkers?" She tells him to let them have their triviality, that perhaps that's how some of them deal.

Uatu ("the boy genius," not the real Watcher, an editorial caption helpfully calls out to "Dear Marvel Handbook writers", which includes some of our very own Spider-fan staff), comes to gather Pete at that moment, telling him the Lab is already on the case. Uatu brings him to Max Modell, who is with Captain Watanabe, showing her his newly developed Suspect Identification Software app (S.I.S), which he invites Peter to see in action. It's a facial identification program that matches a photo with web data. Watanabe shows him the Massacre photo they pulled off of surveillance. Scanning it (all on an iPAD-type device in Modell's hands), he pulls up a video file from Ravencroft Institute for the criminally insane, recorded by one Ashley Kafka (drawn here to look like a perfectly representational middle-aged woman, as opposed to having her look like a supermodel, as she was drawn in many 90's story arcs).

In the video, Kafka relates the story of one Marcus Lyman, a successful investment trader on Wall Street, married to his wife Judy who was in the same profession. Tragedy struck the couple when they were caught in a car bomb near their offices, set by a "client who'd lost their savings due to poor investment advice". Judy was killed in the explosion, while Marcus was left with a shard of shrapnel wedged in his brain. Holding his dead wife in his arms, "Marcus felt nothing. Certain connections in his brain were no longer functioning." The shrapnel in his head has basically left him an unfeeling psychopath, and Kafka recommends that he be "held under observation indefinitely".

At that moment, Watanabe gets a call on her cell--Massacre is at it again, this time on Wall Street. Peter already makes his exit, to Uatu's surprise.

It's raining at the scene--Mayor JJJ pulls up in a limo to talk to the police chief. Seven hostages this time--Jonah says whatever happens, "it doesn't leave here alive!".

Inside the building, Massacre's hostages ask why he's doing it. Seems they are former co-workers of his. He says outside of his wife, they are all he has, the closest thing to family. And yet still he feels nothing. Fingering the spider-tracer that was stuck to him, he says Spider-man violated his simple rules, and that he needs to be punished.

Web-swinging in the rain, we see the Spider-man's hands, in an outfit we don't recognize. Snipers on nearby rooftops report in to the chief--they have a shot on something, but it's not Massacre. Leaping from a building, Spider-man crashes in through the window of the office where Massacre and the hostages are. Right off, he webs up all seven hostages with webbing around their midsections. Massacre pushes the button on his detonator--nothing. Spider-man covered them in magnetic webbing, which blocks radio frequencies. He fires on them with an automatic gun--Spider-man stands in front of the hostages, his new bulletproof suit deflecting all the rounds. Spider-man tells Massacre that he's not in control here, and no one dies.

Massacre fires concussive grenades, in an attempt to bring the ceiling down on everyone, but Spider-man webs up the debris. Massacre holds up another detonator--"Nine people strapped to gelignite a block away--you'll never get to them in time". Another quick shot of the magnetic webbing. Spider-man then kicks him in the face, saying he's a "poor, one-note psycho" who doesn't deserve his usual snappy patter.

The hole Massacre fired into the office wall leaves him vulnerable to police sniper fire, though they note that he is unarmed. Getting their target, the chief orders them to take the shot. Spider-man jumps in front of him, and takes all the rounds of fire, protecting Massacre. "I said no one dies. Not even you."

Later, outside, paramedics are taking Massacre away on a stretcher. Spider-man is accosted by Mayor Jonah, who screams at him for saving "that lunatic". Spider-man responds that they have to save everybody, that they don't get to be God. Jonah says even if he's locked up, he could escape, and then every death will be on Spidey's head. Spidey replies that if he gets out, Spidey will be there, that no one dies, that's the new rule. Jonah says that he always thought Spidey was a threat, a menace, but that he was wrong about him. He's a !@#@ idiot! Jonah tells him to get out of his city, calling him a bleeding heart half-wit. Standing on a water tower in a full page splash, Spidey says he has the resources, power and resolve to make his "no one dies" pledge happen, and promises that he will.

In General...

There's a clarity of storytelling here, that fits this installment where last issue's style was a disturbing fever dream.

One of my favorite parts is Peter's interaction with Horizon's Sanjay et al, where he chastises them for talking about what he perceives as frivolity in the face of dead citizens--as anyone who's been in that situation can attest, death doesn't stop the world, and the sense of hopelessness it brings can be frustrating. Similarly, Jonah's heartbreaking planned tribute to Marla in the Bugle, scuttled by Robbie saying she's not the story anymore, Massacre is--a person's life and their accomplishments don't grab headlines in our society the way a killer's do.

One of the darkest scenes here comes in the form of Jonah telling the victim's child that he'll kill Massacre. Isn't that what many of us would want as retribution in the event of the death of a loved one? Throughout the story Jonah's reactions run a direct parellel to Peter's and serve as a counterpoint. They're both helpless in this situation, and both are reactive in different ways--Jonah attempts to abuse his power as Mayor, while Peter resolves to take the moral high ground, as uneasy as it may be.

The villain of Massacre himself is the story's only real weak point (as Spidey himself calls him a one-dimensional psycho). Though it is interesting that there's no real moral code the villain operates under, his actions are the result of losing his own wife (as he is shown holding his dead wife in the street in an echo of Jonah and Marla from ASM #654), and having no capacity to feel any emotion anymore as a result of the accident. It's what sets him apart from former Spider-villain, gun-toting psychos such as The Punisher. But perhaps that was the author's design all along--the villain doesn't get to be more than one-dimensional, as the story here refuses to glorify murderers or their intentions.

The climax comes in the form of Peter donning the new bulletproof suit, blocking the spray of bullets from the innocent and serving as an expiation of his own guilt at not being able to prevent deaths and serves as a catharsis for the reader.

Peter's (admitedly preposterous) resolution--'No one dies, not when I'm around'--is nicely emphasised in the penultimate scene of him saving Massacre from police fire. It's a lesson that Spider-man has already learned at least as far back as The Death of Jean DeWolff, that a hero cannot morally serve as judge, jury and executioner of his enemies. Peter as Spider-man has never been the grim anti-hero type, though as stated in last issue's review, its been tried. Here, Slott cleverly does one better by taking the concept further: in light of events he couldn't prevent, Spider-man becomes the anti anti-hero.

As a bonus, whatever equal footing Jonah and Spider-man were on in the wake of Marla's death, where her dying words to Jonah were to not waste his life on hate--is dashed by Spider-man refusing to take the life of the killer. Slott slyly restores the status quo between the two in just a few pages.

As good as the writing here is, I don't think this two-parter would've carried the same weight had Marcos Martin not lent his ability to it. Last issue's trippy lyricism is replaced here with a straightforward, classicist openness, mirroring Peter's resolve. The range that Martin has shown in this two-parter on art duties is rather astounding.

Overall Rating...

The thinness of the Massacre character notches down this issue's overall grade just a bit. However, this is easily my favorite story arc thus far of Dan Slott's era as writer, and no doubt one of the finest modern Spider-man stories. 4.5 webs.

Footnote...

Captain Watanabe goes on to use Modell's facial recognition tech, introduced here, to oust Martin Li as Mr Negative in ASM #664.

The bulletproof Spider-suit introduced here hasn't really been in use since, as of yet. But similar to how Peter used the idea of the stealth suit and its sound-deadening capabilities to create noise-canceling ear buds, it's also later shown in ASM #663 that Peter utilizes the same bulletproof material to make a better motorcycle crash helmet.

One would think if he were to combine the invisibility of the stealth "God" outfit with the bulletproof costume, Spider-man as a hero would be near-unstoppable.