This is part two of "Taking Wing," a storyline featuring the return of the Vulture and Deb Whitman.
As Peter falls from the sky in a half-conscious haze after his fight with the suddenly-incapacitated Vulture, he hallucinates that Deb Whitman, author of a tell-all book about how Spider-Man/Peter Parker ruined her life, is berating him. But Peter fights back against his subconscious, reaffirming his beliefs in the good works he's done. As Peter's suddenly renewed supporting cast cheers him on (even Deb), he wakes up just in time to web himself to safety and propel himself back to the fray. He catches the Vulture but realizes that something is wrong with the aged villain and takes Toomes to the emergency room.
Down below, Peter's friends react to the scene. Flash takes Deb to task for what she's done, saying she would have liked to have seen Peter die. Deb slaps him, causing a stinger to emerge from the arm of the just-arrived Miss Arrow - Flash's mysterious new lady friend (is it just me or is she changing skin color?). Deb leaves in a huff and Miss Arrow meets Betty Brant for the first time. She finds out that Betty and Flash used to date and takes on a slightly menacing aspect: "...you're so sweet, why I could just eat you up."
In the emergency room a doctor tells Toomes that he's suffered a CVA, or a stroke. It's a mild one and he should be able to recover. Toomes' response hearkens back to his memories of conversations with his brother from the previous issue (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man # 15) and is a weak "Kill me." The doctor is happy for the interruption when an orderly comes to check in on Toomes. But as Agent Madrox from SHIELD begins questioning the staff on the possible presence of a fugitive Spider-Man, the orderly flicks a switch on an image inducer to reveal that he is the wall-crawler himself.
Elsewhere a late-night knock at her door wakes up Betty Brant. Her visitor is Deb Whitman who shows her a large medical bill for her mother's recent illness. J. Jonah Jameson's people had come to her at about the same time offering her money for a book on old relationships of Peter's. The ghost writer made the relationship look even worse. Deb feels terrible but Betty has an idea for allowing Deb to tell the truth without losing the money she needs to pay the medical expenses.
Back in the ER, Vulture asks Spider-Man to kill him. When the hero of course says no, Toomes responds by saying he's weak and that it's a good thing his uncle died "so he wouldn't see...what you've become." Spider-Man responds by picking up a pillow and placing it over the Vulture's face.
Outside, Agent Madrox is getting reports on what's happening through Toomes' earpiece and is told that the bed-ridden man is talking about someone's uncle at the same time that the Vulture's heart monitor is racing. The agent heads to the room.
Meanwhile the Vulture is struggling against Spider-Man's attack, punching and grabbing at his mask with his one good arm. Finally Peter releases his pressure, saying "For someone who's begging to die you fight for life pretty hard." As he leaves Spider-Man tells the Vulture, "You can spend the next few months talking about how much you said you wanted to die or remembering how much you fought not to die." As Peter's message sinks in on Toomes, Agent Madrox bursts in, just a little late.
The next day at the Daily Bugle, Jameson is livid over a front page story in his chief competition, the Daily Globe. They have a story on how the Bugle's ghost writers changed the facts to make Spider-Man look worse. The story has no byline and claims that Deb did not cooperate. Jameson puts his new investigative reporter on the case to find out who wrote it - Betty Brant.
Wow. When I first read this issue I had to re-read it a few times to make certain that it was really Spider-Man in the Vulture's room. I couldn't believe that Peter David would really have Peter do that. Things have taken a dark turn in Peter's life (and will only get worse for him in issues to come) and that was a scary moment. Obviously Spider-Man wouldn't have killed the Vulture and was only trying to prove a point about compassion and the will to go on. But seeing the anger on Peter's face after Toomes removed his mask almost makes one wonder. Kudos to penciler Scot Eaton for the expressiveness of that scene and to the whole art team for the shadow on Spider-Man that adds to the menacing feel in the early panels on that page.
The resolution of the Deb Whitman story is tied up very nicely. It has been great to see the reactions to Peter's unmasking among those of his supporting cast who are left. Although Liz Osborn's reaction in Sensational Spider-Man was unfortunate, both Deb and Betty felt at first lied to but then proud of their friend. And how great is it to see Betty Brant coming into her own as a character? Far from the damsel in distress to whom we were introduced in the early days (and that was a product of the times more than any weakness on the storytellers' parts), Betty is now a confident career woman, Lois Lane in the Marvel Universe. Couldn't have happened to a better person.
It's always good to see characters from Peter David's other books, in this case X-Factor, turn up in a series. Agent Madrox isn't really the Multiple Man that we know, just a dupe who made his way into SHIELD.
Speaking of cameos, I'm not "in the know" enough to guess who the man is on page nine who blames Betty for chasing away his Deb Whitman autograph opportunity. He has a beard and is wearing a Cubs hat? It could be no one but my guess is that it is someone.
And Miss Arrow? Is she dark-skinned or light-skinned? I'm really not sure.
Great story and great art but we lose half a point for the disturbing - but good - scene with Peter and the Vulture.