Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #4

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This review was first published on: 18 Mar 2016.

Background...

Parker Industries is now a worldwide success. PI’s CEO, Peter Parker, is now a globetrotting mogul who still finds time to fight crime as Spider-Man, often as an ally (not an employee) of SHIELD. The criminal organization Zodiac has been repeatedly targeting PI facilities for reasons we don’t yet know. SHIELD has had enough, and wants to go on the offensive...

In Detail...

"High Priority"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #4
Feb 2016 : SM Title
Summary: Zodiac, Norman Osborn, the Lizard
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inker:  Cam Smith
Cover Art:  Alex Ross
Colorist:  Marte Gracia
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Review

Like last time, the caption box informs us the action is taking place in 'Location Unknown', and features Scorpio and Gemini. Rather than casting his horoscope, Gemini are reading the stars. “Force your enemy’s hand tonight,” they say, and Spider-Man will abandon SHIELD. “Tell all the houses of the Zodiac,” says Scorpio. “It’s time.”

Meanwhile, in 'Low Earth Orbit', Nick Fury - who looks to be firmly in Earth-normal gravity, but what do I know - is coordinating a worldwide strike on Zodiac’s bases. Coulson, May, Johnny Storm, and the Prowler are all in position, but Spider-Man and Mockingbird aren’t, maybe? They’re on-board the Spiderwing, if I can call it that, jetting over Madagascar, but will they be in position for a strike on Zodiac? Fury can’t tell, because Spider-Man cuts him off to take a phone call from Aunt May. (Amusingly, her custom ringtone is Katy Perry’s “Firework”.)

May just has time to tell Peter that she’s at a village in the nation of Nadua, Africa, which appears to be a thinly-fictionalized version of Zimbabwe, as Peter remarks parenthetically that it is southwest of Madagascar. We readers also know from issue #3 that it is ruled by a Mugabe-like dictator as well. May is about to turn on the Uncle Ben Foundation’s new solar-power facility, giving free power to everyone in the region. How current writer Dan Slott is: large-scale solar farms are indeed coming on-line worldwide now, changing the way everyone gets power. But because this is not The Atlantic but The Amazing Spider-Man, this energy-policy discussion is cut short by an assault of Goblinesque terrorists with gliders and pumpkin bombs!

Spider-Man knows where his priorities lie. He diverts course to Nadua, knowing that his bailing on the mission will imperil the simultaneous strike on Zodiac. Mockingbird strongly objects, and even attempts to commandeer the ship, and in response Spider-Man hits the eject button and blasts her into the slipstream. No, that’s not murder; at some point he also fitted her costume with energy wings akin to the Falcon’s. “Not as good as Sam Wilson’s, but they’ll get the job done. A special upgrade for Parker Industries’ SHIELD liaison. Consider ‘em a parting gift… Tell Nick and the others I have to do this. I’m sorry.”

In Nadua, five terrorists with Goblin gliders and pumpkin bombs, and wearing Goblin masks combined with military fatigues, are blowing up the solar farm. While May and Jay Jameson Sr. try to evacuate the children from the site, the terrorists twirl their metaphorical mustaches and explain that imperialist Americans aren’t welcome in Nadua. They also announce their intention to brutalize May in order to send a message to other would-be American do-gooders, but thankfully the Spiderwing arrives in time to blast them a fusillade from its web-cannons.

“Oh, yeah,” exults Spidey. “They’ll knock the friendly right outta your neighborhood!”

The three remaining War Goblins, for that is what they call themselves, regroup and use their explosives to down the Spiderwing. Spidey isn’t harmed, thanks to his “web-foam airbags”, but the War Goblins use the time they’ve bought to continue their vandalism of the solar farm. Spider-Man is actually relieved by this, as solar farms have a finite replacement value but humans, especially May Jameson, are irreplaceable.

Speaking of irreplaceable humans, two of them, children, took cover under one solar array and are trapped. Spidey to the rescue! “No buildings to swing from and no cover. Time to bust out my new super-power,” he thinks; said superpower being his fabulous wealth. Unfortunately the War Goblins aren’t willing to take money to switch sides. Luckily for Spider-Man, the cavalry arrives in the form of Mockingbird, whose new flight speed must be very fast indeed for her to arrive so shortly after the Spiderwing, a small jet, did. While Mockingbird engages the War Goblins from the air, Spider-Man reaches the children.

They recognize him immediately, since he’s a worldwide celebrity now. One of them, your typica-for-comic-books child prodigy, suggests that Spidey use the magnets in the solar array to take down the War Goblins. He does exactly that, using a combination of the solar magnets and his nifty new magnetized webbing to handwave up an electromagnetic pulse!

The EMP shorts out the War Goblins’ gliders, and Mockingbird’s wings to boot, but Spider-Man deftly leaps to catch her before she hits the ground. The War Goblins aren’t so lucky, and hit hard. They are quickly taken into custody by the Parker Industries security detail, which certainly took its time making itself useful.

Now all that remains is the cleanup. May and Jay Jameson are safe and well. Mockingbird is angry with Spider-Man, but holds her peace for now. The Naduan village leader, however, doesn’t: he knows that the Parker Industries solar farm put his people at risk, and that the man he’s certain sent the War Goblins - Naduan strongman General Mwenye - will send more if the solar farm returns. So, to preserve his people's safety, he orders the Uncle Ben Foundation team to leave. He cares so much about safety, in fact, that after the American visitors leave, the village leader barters the remains of the Parker Industries equipment for weapons to defend the village… unknowingly doing business with Norman Osborn, the very man who equipped the Goblins in the first place. “Business is booming”, Osborn exults.

Norman Osborn, everybody: sticking a thumb in Peter Parker’s eye while also turning a profit. Wait, does he know that Peter is Spider-Man any more? After the Secret War, who can say?

More wrap-up: SHIELD’s coordinated strike proceeds, even without Spider-Man’s assistance, but every Zodiac base they hit, while guarded, is empty of any assets; they’re all just sets and props. So why, I wonder, did the Zodiac bother to guard that stuff, losing key personnel like Capricorn, Aquarius, and Ares in the process? And what is their scheme? I guess we’ll find out next time, True Believer!

But before we go, one more subplot gets to advance: Red Suit, whom we've seen previously buying the Rhino’s service by returning to him his dead wife Oksana (in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #2) now pulls the same trick with the Lizard. It seems Curt Connors isn’t imprisoned at Regent’s ‘Cellar’ facility on Ryker’s Island, but at Andru Correctional Facility (cute) in upstate New York. The prison guards courteously escort the Lizard into a waiting room, and he thanks them politely. According to Connors’ visitor, Red Suit, the Lizard has become a model prisoner. “Even helped save the mayor and a number of innocent civilians a while back. A good man trapped in a monster’s body.” (Red Suit is referring to the events of Superior Spider-Man #13.

Anyway, the Lizard doesn't recognize Red Suit, who says that “we’ve met before”. That would seem to strike against my theory that this is Mephisto in human disguise, but before we can pursue that interesting line of conversation, the Lizard recognizes the scents of his other two guests: the late Martha and Billy Connors, who greet their murderer with eerie lack of affect.

“This can’t be real!” howls the Lizard.

“If you could break out of here and join me,” says Red Suit, “I could make anything real. I could give you all you’ve ever wanted… Do we have a deal, Dr. Connors?”

Connors agrees.

In General...

This is a fun issue that feels like a one-and-done, which is my favourite kind. It isn’t really, but the unexpected problem of the War Goblins is introduced briskly, features some unexpected twists, and has a nice finish: Spider-Man using Science! to defeat some supervillains is a classic trope from the Silver Age, and clearly one of Dan Slott’s favourite moves. Showcasing Spider-Man’s willingness to work with others but also to abandon ship when his priorities are threatened makes it clear he’s not a company man but an independent guy, which is part of the fantasy we readers have about being super-rich in the first place; Slott understands well the itch we readers want scratched here. I hope future issues explore just what price Peter Parker will have to pay for being so cavalier here, though.

I also like the acknowledgment in the story that not every human problem can be solved with techno-optimism, which issues up to this point have seemed to suggest; even Silicon Valley has to submit to politics sometimes, and politics can be ugly. A shame we had to make that point with black African villains, though, especially ones who suggest that American interventions overseas aren't always done from the best of motives... a claim the story expects us readers to scoff at. In the real world, Africans have every reason to regard First-World charitable interventions with suspicion, and there’s lots of examples of politicians thwarting good projects for selfish reasons back in the USA. I wish Slott had gone a different way here, but I suppose a story about corrupt politicians in league with arms manufacturers would have had a very different, and politically sensitive, thrust if told in an American context, so I won’t belabour the point.

Let me shift gears and ask the question, is Red Suit the Jackal? If he’s not a supernatural entity actually bringing Oksana or the Connors family back from the dead, he must be using super-science, which means clones, which means the Jackal, right? That would explain why the revivified loved ones are so robotically blank: they aren’t the originals restored, but physical copies with a less-effective mental overlay. Or so I guess.

Overall Rating...

A fast, fun romp that still succeeds in advancing some subplots and making a point about who Peter Parker is. Good show.