The dastardly Nurse Arrow (aka Ero) has been despatched by a not so friendly Spider-Man. Flash Thompson has been saved. Unfortunately those are the only roses in the garden for our wall-crawling friend. Aunt May is still in a coma, and Peter's world has completely fallen apart. Is J Jonah Jameson the stew that breaks the camel's back? He's already fired Robbie Robertson, who tried to dissuade Jonah from publishing further vitriolic editorials and adding to our hero's misery. Before Spider-Man was just a faceless menace, but Peter Parker is known to them: he's their friend. That makes all the difference in the world, doesn't it?
Brooklyn, New York. J. Jonah Jameson knocks on the door of the Robertson family home. He has two black eyes, and his right hand is tightly bandaged. In addition to his injuries, Jonah has brought a bottle and a desire to set thinks straight with Robbie. After negotiating Robbie's protective family, Jonah sits down with the employee he recently fired. Why is Jonah in this state? According too JJJ he walked into a door - but there's more to the story than that.
Cut to the Daily Bugle, earlier in the day. Betty is giving Jonah grief about firing Robbie, but JJJ is having none of it. Their argument is abruptly ended when Jonah enters his office to find it covered in spider-webs. There is a note from Spidey; it reads: "421a Broadway. 6:00pm. Just to talk. Come alone. Your F.N.S-M."
It turns out that 421a Broadway is a gym. When Jonah enters, he is grabbed by webbing and yanked forwards. The black-suited Spidey is perched atop a boxing ring. He says that this would be a good place to chat. However, Jonah takes the view that anything that happens here will be more fodder for the lawsuit he is building.
Spidey confronts Jonah. He says that he is the reason that JJJ fired Robbie, and asks Jonah to reinstate his old friend. Unsurprisingly, Jonah refuses. Why is he doing this? "What do you want from me?" Spidey asks. Why the law suits, why the hate? Why not "thank you" for the countless times Spidey has saved Jonah, or his son, or the world for that matter?
"How about your uncle and aunt? Or George Stacey and his daughter? How'd saving them work out for you?" In saying this, Jonah feels he has crossed an invisible line and he apologises to Spidey. Something that Spidey can't quite believe. Despite all the vitriol, and the old editorials, Jonah admits that he had a much easier time hating Spidey when he didn't know who he was. Now that he does, he doesn't know what to think. He tests Spidey by offering to drop the lawsuit or reinstate Robbie, but Spider-Man turns it back on him by telling him to drop the lawsuit. Jonah wasn't expecting that. He always believed Spidey to be selfish and unprincipled, but he never believed those qualities were part of Peter Parker's make-up.
By now the pair have moved into the boxing ring. That's important, we'll get back to that in a minute. Spidey challenges Jonah and said that he only fired Robbie to provoke this very confrontation. Jonah suggests that this might be true. But now they have met, he cannot find the words. Jonah is ready to walk out. Then Spidey says: "Hit me."
Spidey pulls of his mask. Peter Parker confronts Jonah. He says that JJJ has always been jealous of him and his abilities. Jonah refuses, but Peter keeps on at him. He calls him gutless, and a coward and how he has been hiding behind his editorials and spider-slayers and Scorpions all these years. He pushes Jonah too far, and Jonah snaps and punches him.
Jonah hits Peter repeatedly, until his hands are bleeding. Eventually, with Jonah exhausted in front of him, Peter asks: "Are we done?" and Jonah says "Yeah, we're done." Peter bounds away, leaving Jonah a present. He has photographed the entire exchange - print those in the Bugle and he'll sell thousands of extra copies. Jonah doesn't know what to say. He calls after Peter, he wants to talk; but Peter has gone.
Back at the Bugle, Jonah destroys the film. He won't print those pictures. Then he storms off and walks straight into a door - sometimes a spade really is a spade.
Robbie has listened to all this. Even though Jonah doesn't know why he destroyed the film, Robbie does. Jonah sensed that Peter was using him. Peter believes that he has done wrong, and he wants to be punished - he feels that he deserves to be punished. Jonah doesn't want to help him do that. That's why Jonah is going to drop the lawsuit. Jonah agrees with Robbie he'll be dropping the lawsuit.
And now comes the moment where Jonah admits that he only fired Robbie to get close to Spider-Man, and asks Robbie to come back to the Bugle. The fact that he will come back is an unspoken agreement between the two men. But if Robbie is unwilling, Jonah can always ply him with more booze. But the bottle is gone, stolen by a passing Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man.
Thus ends Peter David's short-lived and frustrating run on a short-lived and frustrating title. Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man has lurched from crossover to crisis and back again, never pausing for breath, never allowing the reader to find his bearings and never allowing the creative team to demonstrate their considerable talents.
This has not been a bad comic. It's been a light and enjoyable read, wittily written with a welcome emphasis on a forgotten supporting cast. After the departure of Mike Wieringo, the quality of the art was more erratic, but never unacceptable. There has been much to like, but it could have been so much more.
For the entire run, Peter David has been telling other people's stories, or treading water while major events were happening elsewhere. He has tied his narrative in knots in an attempt to comply with editorial demands that seemed almost designed to deflate any story he was attempting to build. It just hasn't been good enough.
I have been down this road before with these reviews, and I don't want to belabour the point any further. Friendly was good, but it could have been great; and the fault lies at the door of The Other, and Civil War, and Back in Black. Let's just accept that, and hope Marvel have learned a lesson and a new set of principles they take forward into Brand New Day.
So what about the story in this issue, is that any good? Well... again I thought it was lacking, and on this occasion I can't easily blame a wider crossover (although Civil War put Jonah and Peter in this mess in the first place). Normally, in a Peter David story, you would expect a seamless blending of humour and drama. In this issue there's plenty of drama, but it is undermined by the humour, not supported by it. This is not a case of PAD losing his touch, his current run on X-Factor is masterful, but for some reason there is a lack of balance in this story.
There is also a lack of coherence to the plot. There's no hint from previous issues that Jonah fired Robbie to engineer this confrontation with Peter. If something like that was going to have any impact some foreshadowing was in order. It is odd we didn't see any as PAD is usually so good at that.
On his web log, Peter David billed this as a story years in the making. Certainly, Jonah's reaction to the unmasking needed to be dealt with, but PAD might be slightly over-egging his omelette. We have been down this road before, if not quite as far. We've even been here before with Peter David, and he's done it better than this.
Compare this issue with the seminal Web of Spider-Man #13. Much the same themes, but the Web story is so much better than this one. If you haven't read it I urge you to track down a copy. It'll restore your faith Mr David if nothing else.
Where do we go from here? More crossovers next issue with J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada, then Friendly is cancelled. It is effectively replaced by the new 'thrice-monthly' Amazing Spider-Man. I have my opinions about that, but I'll save them for the review of next issue.
Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man once again plugs those continuity holes that no-one else will touch. It's a story that had to be told, but the result is another average issue. Three webs.