Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #8

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This story is part of an Arc: "The Dark Kingdom"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This review was first published on: 14 Sep 2016.

Background...

Parker Industries (PI) 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.

Tyrone ‘Cloak’ Johnson and Tandy ‘Dagger’ Bowen have been enslaved by Martin “Mr. Negative” Li’s corrupting touch, switching their moral intuitions, as well as their dark/light orientations - though their powers remain unchanged: Cloak still teleports, for instance, he just emits a lot of light when he does so. Negative maintains his hold on them by dosing them with the designer drug Shade, which has the same effects as his touch - which is to say, it not only reverses moral polarity, it makes its victims Mr. Negative's mind-controlled pawns. Spider-Man has an edge over his foes, though: Negative believes that, like Cloak and Dagger, Peter Parker is also corrupted and subject to his control, but Negative is mistaken about this.

But Negative isn’t the only one operating under a dangerous delusion. For his part, Peter mistakenly believes that his girlfriend, ace mechanic Lian Tang, is on his side, but we readers know that for months she’s been Zodiac’s mole in the organization. Now, desperate to save her dying mother, Lian has agreed, in exchange for medical treatments for her dying mother, to kill Spider-Man.

In Detail...

"Black & White"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #8
Apr 2016 : SM Title
Summary: Cloak, Dagger, Mr. Negative
Arc: Part 3 of "The Dark Kingdom"
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Matteo Buffagni
Cover Art:  Alex Ross
Lettering:  VC's Cory Petit
Colorist:  Marte Gracia
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We open at Parker Industries, where a surly Dr. Wu has used the pure dose of Shade that Peter gave him last issue to create both an antidote and a vaccine for Shade. Spider-Man’s spider-tracers are now dosed with the antidote, and the local police are immune to its effects, forestalling a debacle like the one that happened at Negative’s lab (also last issue).

That evening is the big gala at Parker Industries. To a cheering crowd, Peter enters the Spider-Mobile, which Lian pilots up the side of the building to the rooftop, where the ceremony awarding Shen Quinghao is to be held. Peter hands Quinghao an award statuette, which Peter was to have secretly dosed with Shade. Of course nothing happens; rather than losing his composure under Shade’s effects and revealing his criminal past, Quinghao instead gives an interminable speech about making the world a better place, while Peter discreetly goes backstage.

Mr. Negative, watching the TV feed, is incensed, and in a fit of rage, plays right into Spider-Man’s hands by ordering Cloak to teleport the whole gang right to the gala... where they all fall right into a police ambush. Before Cloak can lead an escape, Peter - now in Spider-garb - tags him with a dose. It takes effect immediately, turning him back to his old Darkforce-wielding self. Without an escape hatch, battle turns quickly against Negative and his men… which is when Lian busts through the wall in a souped-up assault Spider-mobile. Her initial assault against Spidey carries the two outside, onto the side of the building.

Inside, a furious Negative orders his men to kill Quinghao, even at the cost of escape. Quinghao is dropped by a bullet, but thankfully he’s wearing a vest. As Dagger comes forward to do what a rifle couldn’t, a groggy Cloak attempts to keep his partner from committing murder, but the touch of another Darkforce user overloads Tandy’s circuits, or something, permitting him to tag her with an antidote dart he picked up. The emotional force of the moment is ruined by the fact that colourist Marte Gracia got carried away and coloured Dagger to look like her old self even before the panel where Cloak uses the antidote. Or perhaps her change of colour scheme was a side-effect of the short-circuiting? Marvel, send me my No-Prize care of Spiderfan.org.

Negative manages to reach the prone Quinghao and uses his corrupting touch to enslave the old man. Ordered to confess his crimes, Quinghao begins to tell the watching camera of his gangster past as a slaver and human trafficker, but Inspector Sun, head of the police operation, grimly shoots the camera, denying Negative even this victory. Negative decides he's got to have some satisfaction, and orders Quinghao to jump out the window. Quinghao helplessly obeys.

Meanwhile, outside, Spidey and Lian continue their duel on the heights, which is interrupted by Mockingbird calling Spidey on his mask-phone. She tells him that Lian is the Parker Industries mole, which he knew, and that Zodiac’s leverage over Lian is medical treatment for her dying mother, which he didn’t. He asks Lian, in the name of her mother, not to become a killer, which apparently was so inspiring that she stops the fight and uses the Spider-Mobile to catch Quinghao, who just plummeted by. Unfortunately doing so costs the Spider-Mobile its grip, which means Spidey has to save both of them.

Shoot a web-line, right? Not when it’s braced against glass; even with Spider-Man’s wall-crawling ability, the weight is such to shatter the window and send all three falling. Enter Cloak and Dagger, heroes again, who get the trio, plus the Spider-Mobile, to the ground safely via Cloak’s, er, cloak.

Wrap-up time! Quinghao has confessed, but apparently Inspector Sun knew about it his criminal past all along, and doesn’t care, provided that Quinghao continues to feel remorse and use his fortune for good. In a similar vein, Spider-Man forgives Lian her betrayals and attempt to murder him, and persuades her to be a double agent for SHIELD against Zodiac. And Mr. Negative escapes in the confusion, presumably by turning back into Martin Li and blending into the crowd. Spidey, Cloak, and Dagger return to the crimelord's safe house, but he’s already cleared out. He video-calls the base, however, to tell them that they’ve won a battle, not a war; Li and Negative are united in the desire for revenge, and they’ll use their gang army and their knowledge of Shade manufacture to rebuild their power and strike back.

Cloak and Dagger aren’t having it. They’re immune to Shade and to Negative’s touch, and they promise to stay in Shanghai and take Negative down.

“So,” says Spidey. “Dim sum?”

In General...

Dan Slott, always a professional story-teller, is really bringing his A game right now: this story manages to tell a complicated plot, with lots of characters with their own agendas and capabilities, in a tidy, exciting package. Unfortunately, in 22 pages, something was bound to give; in this case, it’s Lian’s betrayal, which gets so little panel time that its emotional impact is seriously blunted… to say nothing of her redemption, which suffers even more.

Speaking of redemption, Quinghao gets off the hook pretty easily here. Apparently it’s okay to sell women and children into slavery if you use the profits for social good! At least, that’s Inspector Sun’s opinion, and apparently it’s his call to make? I find that conclusion morally indefensible, and it seems to me that Peter Parker would feel the same way. Conveniently, then, Spider-Man isn’t present for Quinghao’s confession nor Inspector Sun’s decision to overlook it. Thus we readers are spared having to judge Peter by his reaction.

I should add that the story doesn’t draw attention to Peter’s ignorance of this outcome. In fact it’s easy to miss unless you’re paying attention. This seems to me to be a deliberate choice by Slott. It would have been just as easy, from the storyteller’s perspective, to have Sun grimly (or reluctantly) take Quinghao into custody; it could be done in just as few panels, and with as little consequence to future stories - I strongly doubt we’ll ever see Quinghao in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man again. So why did the story go this way?

A few possibilities present themselves. Possibly Slott wanted Parker Industries Shanghai not to suffer any consequences from all this? No, that can’t be right - the one piece of blowback from Quinghao’s past is that the greentech company that was to work with him and Parker Industries pulls out of the deal in moral disgust. Possibly it’s thematic - the opposite of Negative’s induced evil is goodness, which is made tangible in mercy and forgiveness? So the story ends with two acts of mercy: Peter’s forgiveness of Lian for her bad choices, and Sun’s forgiveness of Quinghao for same. If so, it’s inelegant: Spider-Man can forgive Lian for trying to murder him, because he’s the injured party. Inspector Sun, an agent of the state, can’t forgive Quinghao for injuring third parties. He has a responsibility to protect those third parties from people like Quinghao, or people like Quinghao used to be.

At least, he would if he was an American police inspector. But he’s not; he’s a Chinese inspector, a functionary of a one-party state that is certainly in the business of allowing individuals to suffer in the name of achieving social, political, and economic goals. Maybe the point of all this is to subtly critique contemporary Chinese political mores? If so, it’s very subtle indeed, embedded in a story where Chinese officialdom is portrayed as serious, professional, and flexible enough to solve problems creatively. But perhaps that is as subtle as a critique must be when it’s made as part of an entertainment product produced by a media conglomerate that depends heavily on the Chinese market, and the notoriously sensitive state apparatus that governs that market.

Overall Rating...

This issue, and this arc, was a nice, cleverly-plotted story with lots of action. The interesting moral choice at the end of the story, for Quinghao’s crimes to be revealed but overlooked, and for Spider-Man to be ignorant of those facts, and for the story not to underscore the point, adds texture to what was already a smooth, solid arc. Four webs.

Footnote...

Cloak’s curing of Dagger is marred by what is either a colourist’s error or a confusing side-effect of two Darkforce users touching. That confusion may distract from one of the issue’s sillier touches: Tyrone eating his heart out over using the Shade antidote to cure Tandy.

“I - I know you’d hate this, me trying to fix everything with a magic drug, but I don’t care. Forgive me.”

Are both Cloak and Dagger so hardline now that they don’t draw a distinction between drugs and medicine, or to put it more precisely, between the use and abuse of pharmaceuticals? Does Dagger not take anesthetic when getting a filling at the dentist? Does she not take ibuprofen when she has a headache? Does she refuse to take birth-control pills? I respect people who want to be straight-edge, but Tyrone’s concerns seem ridiculous.