Ten years ago Juan-Carlos Estrada Sanchez was supposed to fight the powerful and enigmatic Gilded One (aka El Dorado) to gain the power of the mask of El Muerto and carry on the family tradition! Juan-Carlos chickened out and saw his father die at El Dorado's hands. Branded a coward, Juan-Carlos was given a chance to redeem himself. He was to seek out a masked hero of the people and humiliate him by winning his mask. Becoming the new El Muerto, Juan-Carlos went to New York where he targeted Spider-Man. Asking the willing Jonah Jameson for help, a wrestling bout was organised: a bout that Spidey has just won by accidentally poisoning his opponent. Jonah is out for Spidey's cheating hide, and El Muerto is now marked for death by El Dorado. This is the price of his failure.
The fight is over and a maskless El Muerto is laid up in a hospital bed with Jonah and Robbie watching over him. Jonah is furious that Spider-Man won the bout through cheating. This time he is going to make the webslinger pay!
Meanwhile, Spidey is gliding through New York to visit El Muerto in hospital. Iron Man joins him. The stinger Spidey used to poison El Muerto was not part of the 'Iron Spidey' costume, and Tony's worried that Peter has been making dangerous modifications to his new suit. Spidey says that this is definitely not the case, and gives Iron Man the whole spiel about his rebirth, the spider totem and the supposedly mystical roots of his powers.
Iron Man takes the point of view that science is a continually evolving animal. One set of laws is created that seem to make sense, until new circumstances are discovered in which those laws don't apply, and the process has to begin again. Maybe Peter was meant to be bitten by that radioactive spider. Maybe there's a whole field of science around it that no-one has yet mastered. Maybe science and magic are not mutually exclusive - magic is just science that hasn't been labelled yet. Tony thinks that as scientists he and Peter have a responsibility to consider all options. But he refuses to be draw into a deep philosophical discussion about creationism and heads back to Avengers Tower.
At the hospital El Muerto is slowly regaining consciousness. He opens his eyes to Jonah blathering on about how Spider-Man cheated in the match, and how the wrestler is perfectly safe in hospital. Only El Muerto can see that his own personal angel of death, El Dorado, is standing behind Jonah and Robbie.
Meanwhile, Jarvis and Aunt May are out on a date. May is curious as to what she should actually call Jarvis. As Jarvis's forename (Edwin) is used so infrequently by anyone he knows, they decide to stick to "Jarvis". As they depart in a limousine, a suspicious figure watches them from the shadows.
Back at the hospital, Jonah is attacking El Dorado with a torrent of verbal abuse. Despite Robbie's warnings that Jonah shouldn't antagonise the "large, homicidal man", JJ is convinced everything is under control - right up until the moment El Dorado summons two big swords and moves to kill him. Fortunately, Spider-Man chooses this moment to arrive and as he engages El Dorado in battle, Jonah and Robbie run for the hills.
El Dorado mistakenly believes that El Muerto has manipulated Spider-Man into coming here as an offering to the swordsman. He is so honoured, he decides to let the bed-ridden wrestler off the hook and not kill him after all.
As the sword progresses and Spidey starts to use his natty powers (his webs and his new spikes). El Dorado declares that Spider-Man must be a "creature of legacy". Just like El Dorado he has been granted his powers by magic! Spidey does not share this opinion.
El Dorado boasts that his mystical golden armour can withstand any assault. It is certainly able to deflect Spidey's fists and his stingers, that seem to be popping out of his wrists with unwelcome frequency. El Dorado grabs Spidey by the arm and throws him through the ceiling.
Meanwhile, at Avengers Tower, Tony Stark is looking over MJ's newly-mended arm. He asks how she broke it in the first place, as she never told him the exact details. Evidently MJ has (rather understandably) concealed the whole business of Peter attacking and devouring Morlun shortly before his death. MJ says that she is not used to confiding secrets about Peter to anyone, even someone who seems as good a friend as Tony. She is worried that something might happen to change that friendship. "What could possibly happen?" Tony asks. The answer this summer in Civil War!
El Dorado is searching through the hospital looking for Spider-Man. El Dorado is musing how Spidey's powers are obviously magical, and how it seems odd that he would deny it. Things like the spider-sense, or shooting webs from his wrists don't seem very natural now do they? Meanwhile, our hero is hiding out in a laboratory, desperately trying to come up with nifty concoction that will lay his foe low.
But it is too late, and El Dorado is upon him. But before the golden villain can attack, El Muerto grabs him from behind and tries to protect Spidey. The battle is brief, and El Dorado is victorious, but it has given Spidey time to mix up a batch of aqua regia. The chemical quickly dissolves El Dorado's golden armour. Spidey says that he doesn't care where his powers came from, whether they are magical or not. It doesn't matter because magic is not the only thing Spidey is about, he is grounded in science, and it is his science that allows him to knock El Dorado into next week.
At a swanky restaurant, Jarvis and Aunt May are having a wonderful time. Jarvis is kind and understanding, and May is just starting to enjoy his company more than she thought possible. Then she catches a glimpse of the face at the window, and the glass falls out of her hand. Can it really be Ben Parker?
Uncle Ben? Uncle Ben? First Peter David brings back high school Flash, and now we have Uncle Ben? Say it isn't so! No, I refuse to believe it. There is no way that any writer, let alone one as accomplished as Peter David, is going to do something as crass as resurrect Peter's uncle. There's something else going on here. There has to be. We'll know more next month, let's move on.
This was another enjoyable issue. I'm not entirely convinced by the way that Spidey defeated El Dorado, but the tradition of Spidey whipping up a scientific solution (usually a special batch of web fluid) is a staple of Spider-Man stories so I'm willing to let it slide. It was only really an excuse, for Spidey to defeat the mystic bad-guy with good old-fashioned scientific know-how and play into the magic versus science theme of the comic.
In this issue we saw Peter David take his own stab at explaining the conflict between Spidey's magical and scientific origins, that has been such a feature of Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man. According to Peter David, the powers could have come from magic, they could have come from science or they could have come from a branch of science that no-one understands and is therefore tantamount to magic. The fact is that it doesn't matter. Only what Spidey does with his powers matters.
This is the party line, and I agree with it up to a point. We all know that no rational scientific explanation can tell us how being bitten by a radioactive spider gives you super powers. The problem with Staczynski's stories is not that Spidey's powers could be magical, it's that Spidey was fated to get those powers, that he is part of some sort of magical fraternity and that he has a special destiny. Those are issues that Peter David does not address.
But there's no reason why he should address them. As far as this story is concerned, the magic versus science debate is handled perfectly adequately, it is only when you broaden the context to include previous stories that it seems a bit thin.
Stepping beyond this point, the second half of this two-part arc offered very few surprises. El Muerto's redemption was extremely predictable, but it was still well executed. The characters of El Muerto and El Dorado (although the latter gets less in the way of exposition) are surprisingly complex for a couple of throwaway guest-stars.
The art is not up to the same standard as the writing. It is perfectly serviceable and Roger Cruz does a good job at the action scenes and assorted superheroics, but his Jonah just looks plain wrong. In certain scenes it is as if Cruz is drawing a caricature rather that taking a real stab at the man.
A witty and enjoyable read with a nice foreshadowing of Civil War. Three and a half webs.