Back in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #8 Peter showed Jonah some incriminating photos that 'proved' Jonah's son, John, was Spider-Man! Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Jonah was willing to part with half a million dollars to buy Peter's silence. More recently, Flash Thompson, awoke from a coma having lost all his memories since high school. Oh, and Spidey's got a new costume, you may have heard about that.
Spidey's back in the wrestling ring, and he's not doing too well. It's just like old times. In the audience Flash is Spidey's cheerleader and Jonah is baying for his blood, while back at Avengers Tower, MJ is fearing for Peter's life. It seems her fear may not be entirely misplaced as Spidey's opponent, a masked powerhouse called El Muerto, is determined to bring the webslinger down.
Flashback a few weeks. Jonah and his son John are tied to chairs and being held hostage by a gunman who blames Jonah's editorials for the execution of his father. Jonah beseeches John to save them both, that now is not the time for "secrets". When it becomes clear that John hasn't a clue what Jonah is talking about, it dawns on JJJ that John is not Spider-Man as he previously suspected. Just when it seems the editor's number is up, El Muerto comes crashing through the window and affects a daring rescue. But this isn't a coincidence: El Muerto wants a favour from Jonah. He needs to battle Spider- Man, to humiliate him - his life depends on it! Boy, has he come to the right place!
In the present the fight is continuing. Spidey is his usual glib self, spending as much time mocking El Muerto as fighting him. In the audience, Robbie turns to Jonah and asks him to explain why he has arranged this pantomime. For a while Jonah seemed to have got over his hatred for Spider- Man, but now he has firmly regressed. Jonah explains that Peter convinced him that John was Spider-Man. "But they've been seen together repeatedly!" exclaims an incredulous Robbie. Jonah knows he has been made a fool, and he is not finished with either Spider-Man or Peter Parker.
Another flashback. It's a few days earlier and Peter is at school administering to student's broken nose. It seems wandering jock Brad pushed bespectacled Jeremy into a locker just for being in his way. Jeremy was trying to get into that "good head space" his coach advised. Peter takes exception to this, and says he will take it up with the coach. Of course, the coach is Flash Thompson whose amnesia has rekindled all that anti-charm he lost over the last forty years of continuity. He is loud, he is brash and he is bullying and he completely refuses to admit to the possibility that he and Peter could ever have been friends. His hero worship of Spider-Man is still intact, however, and he is looking forward to watching the million-dollar charity bout between Spidey and El Muerto that has been organised by JJJ.
Back to the fight. El Muerto has Spidey in a head-lock, but the webbed-wonder will not surrender. We now flashback to a scene from El Muerto's past. The wrestler (whose real name is Juan-Carlos) is much younger and is standing with his father, who is wearing the El Muerto mask. They are meeting a shadowy figure called the Gilded One. Each son must show the courage to battle the Gilded One to gain the superhuman powers of El Muerto. But Juan-Carlos refuses to fight, and as a result his life is forfeit. His father intercedes to stop the murder, but the Gilded One kills him in a most gruesome fashion. Now alone with the Gilded One, Juan Carlos receives a chilling quest: he has ten years to train and to travel. At the end of that time he must find a hero of the people to unmask and humiliate just as he humiliated himself. Only then will the scales be balanced. If he fails then he will be killed.
Once more with the flashback. Peter, MJ and May are discussing Jonah's latest challenge to Spider-Man. A wrestling match with El Muerto. The winner gets one million dollars donated to charity. Peter is determined to do it - no one should think he is afraid of Jonah. Aunt May cautions against getting into a fight for the sake of ego, but Peter isn't listening. He leaves the room, which is just as well otherwise he would have overheard May and Jarvis arranging to go out on a date.
Back in the present, MJ and still watching the wrestling match on television. Wolverine has joined her. He's impressed with El Muerto's moves and isn't sure Peter is going to walk out of the fight a winner. El Muerto challenged Spidey to "mascara contra mascara", which means the winner gets the loser's mask. No, Wolverine doesn't like this one bit.
The fight is getting vicious as El Muerto is more and more desperate to win. He has Spidey pinned to the canvas, and reveals that he must have his mask. Spidey is surprised. In that surprise he involuntary unleashes those new stingers he has concealed up his arm. Shocked and paralysed with poison, El Muerto collapses to the floor. Spider-Man tries to apologise, Jonah cries foul and high above a watching Gilded One decides now is the time to take El Muerto's mask and his life.
Whether you believe Mark Millar's run on Marvel Knights: Spider-Man was inspired, misguided or down-right awful, no-one can deny it caused something of a continuity headache. JJJ thinks his son is Spider-Man; as a result, he lays off Spidey and stops writing his vitriolic editorials. Quite the bombshell for Mr Millar to drop before leaving the title. None of the other Spidey titles bothered to take this into account, so for the last year the status of Jonah's relationship with Spidey has been completely up in the air. Then Bendis wrote New Avengers #15, and made it perfectly clear that JJJ hates the webbed wonder as much as he ever did.
I tip my hat to Peter David for caring enough to address this. He seems to be turning himself into the go-to man for fixing dire inconsistencies in Spidey's history: first he picks up the Flash plot and now he turns his attention to Jonah. Personally, I think he should address the fate of Baby May next.
So does his explanation work? Well, it requires a little generosity of spirit on the part of the reader, but I think it explains things adequately. The trick is assuming the flashback where Jonah and John are being held hostage is a very long time ago. In fact, given Reginald Hudlin's Marvel Knights work, these scenes must have taken place shortly after the end of Millar's run. As the main story happens in the present (Spidey is in his new costume) we then have to assume that Jonah keeps El Muerto waiting for quite a while to set up his bout with Spider-Man. This is less believable given El Muerto is running to a tight deadline, but it isn't beyond the bounds of possibility. The discussion between Jonah and Robbie also fits. It's particularly fitting that Robbie points out how stupid Jonah was to believe such a thing in the first place.
Continuity aside, the rest of the issue is a perfectly solid and enjoyable read, although it didn't grip me in the way much of Peter David's comics have in the past. Frankly, he's doing better work over on X-Factor at the moment.
The disjointed narrative and that way in which Peter David cuts the scenes together is extremely well done. It allows the short wrestling bout to provide the action for the entire issue, which frees him to deal with things like Jonah, Flash, Damon Runyan and El Muerto's history at a proper pace. It's also notable that David manages to introduce El Muerto, give him a back story and a compelling motivation for his actions all in the space of a few pages. The reader really does feel for this guy, which is an impressive feat of writing.
The art is less impressive. When I opened the comic I thought for one horrible moment that I was reading a new issue of Araña, as the entire art team from that series has been reassembled. But Roger Cruz's work never looked quite so rough on Araña. This looks a bit rushed to me. I miss Mike Wieringo, but he'll be back in issue #8 so I'm willing to be patient.
Finally, I'd be doing a disservice if I didn't point out the parts of the story that didn't work for me. Given John Jameson's convoluted and very active history in the Marvel Universe, I just don't see him begging for his life at the hands of petty thug. The man's dating the She-Hulk at the moment for crying out loud, he's made of sterner stuff than that. I know David had to write the scene in such a way that Jonah realised John wasn't Spider-Man, but this was a pretty heavy handed way of doing it.
Also, I'm not completely sold on the direction Flash is heading in. He has been completely reset to his high-school persona, which is all very amusing for a couple of issues but it's going to get very tired very fast unless Peter David does something interesting with it. If I want to read the adventures of Flash the Jock I can pick up some back issues or go and read Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man (which is always a giggle). I expect more from a book set in the mainstream Marvel Universe, and I hope to see it soon.
Again, a good and entertaining story. The art lets it down slightly, but Peter David is taking the time to untwist a nagging bit of Spidey's recent history and that has to push the issue above average. Three and a half webs.