Following the events of Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #545, Peter's marriage to Mary-Jane has been erased from existence and many other untold aspects of Spider-Man's history have changed. Last issue, we discover the newly single Peter Parker has given up being Spider-Man in the wake of the superhero civil war. Living with Aunt May, and desperate for cash to move out, Peter borrows some money from his best friend Harry Osborn, only to have it (and his webshooter) stolen by a mugger masquerading as Spider-Man. Pete goes to get a cheque from the Bugle only to find Jonah fighting off a take over bid from arch- rival Dexter Bennett. In the ensuing argument, JJJ has a heart attack.
Peter gives Jonah the kiss of life, keeping him alive long enough for the paramedics to arrive. In Jonah's absence, Robbie takes charge quickly galvanising the Bugle's staff into action. Three things spring to Robbie's mind: covering the imminent new advertisement from the Crowe mayoral campaign, the Cirque d'esprit performance in Battery Park, and a sit down meeting two powerful Maggia families. Plots for future month's perhaps?
Taking Peter to one side, Robbie confides what a terrible state the Bugle is in. They need something big for the front page. They need one of Parker's miracle pictures of Spider-Man. If Peter wants to save Jonah, then he has to save the paper. No pressure. Realising what has to be done, Peter dons the his Spider-Man costume once more and swings off across New York. His target: the low-life Spider-Mugger who stole his web shooter.
Across town, Harry takes Lily and Carlie to the Coffee Bean to unwind after the rigours of the evening. He clears the place so they can have some privacy (he does own it, after all); Lily is impressed by such gestures. Carlie doesn't need comforting after the close call with the mugger. She's more worried about Peter.
Meanwhile in a shady waterfront dive called the Blind Spot, the Spider-Mugger is trying to sell Peter's credit cards and webshooter to his fence. As they bicker over the price, lowly mobster Bruno Karnelli is bellyaching to the bartender. It seems that he's not been invited to a meeting the Karnelli and Manfredis crime families (the Maggia crime meeting that Robbie mentioned earlier). Bruno has a chip on his shoulder, he's the only one related to both families, and he thinks those connections make him a high-up in the Karnelli organisation. He's made unwise alliances to try and cement the power that should rightfully be his! These things never turn out well, do they? Meanwhile the Spider-Mugger desperately tries to demonstrate that the webshooter has some value (it's obviously not a watch) and accidentally shoots a spider-tracer at Bruno, tagging him.
Spider-Man is swinging overhead, trying to pick up the signal from his tracer, he's confused to suddenly receive a signal from two tracers. Bruno and the Spider-Mugger both exit the bar from different doors. Spidey pauses, wondering which one to follow. Then he sees Bruno bundled into the back of a fast-moving van which rather makes his decision for him.
The pursuit is cut short, by the van careering into a crane and knocking loose a giant awning. Spidey grabs it, saving a crowd and getting no gratitude of course. The awning sports a giant picture of JJJ and the legend: The Daily Bugle thanks J. Jonah Jameson for getting rid of Spider-Man. Say, how is the old skinflint anyway?
At Mount Sinai hospital, Jameson's wife Marla is being consoled by Betty. JJJ is still alive, but Marla knows that he is working himself to death. The paper will be the death of him. With JJJ in a coma, she calls her lawyer and asks for power of attorney. If Jonah won't sell the paper to Dexter Bennett, then Marla will. It's for his own good.
Meanwhile in Chinatown, Bruno Karnelli wakes up strapped to a table and stripped to his underpants. It's not a pretty sight. A number of vicious- looking tubes are fashioned to his bare chest - some sort of device to siphon his blood. Karnelli is a prisoner of Mr Negative, and his trio of demon-masked heavies. It seems that Mr Negative is the partner Bruno was hoping who help him gain his birthright as head of the Karnelli family. Mr Negative interpreted the finer points of their deal differently. He has need of his blood, very large quantities of it. Then Mr Negative discovers the spider-tracer on Bruno's coat, and he realises Spider-Man is on the way.
As if on cue, Spider-Man crashes through the skylight. As the "Inner Demons" attack, Mr Negative says he is impressed at Spidey's continued attempts to thwart him. Spidey doesn't have a clue what he is talking about, but Mr Negative reveals that Spider-Man thwarted his courier Overdrive from delivering his prize several weeks ago, and now just as Negative's plan nears completion, Spidey turns up again.
Mr Negative reveals a mystical tablet that Spidey mistakes for the one that caused so much trouble way back in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #68. But where that one was the tablet of life and time, this one is the tablet of death and entropy, and Negative plans to use it to create a special poison called the Devil's Breath. Spidey quickly destroys the tablet, but Negative (not being a complete idiot) took the precaution of copying down the runes. With the formula complete, Negative and his scientists depart, leaving Spidey to try and save Bruno before he is literally drained dry.
Meanwhile, in a alley the Spider-Mugger has discovered how much easier it is to mug people using a web-shooter. Of course, now he's being mistaken for the real Spider-Man. Suddenly it dawns on the mugger that in order to have this web shooter he must have mugged Spider-Man. He can't remember the face, but he must have held Spider-Man's wallet in his hand. If he could just get that back then he would know the webslinger's secret identity!
In Forest Hills, May realises that Peter hasn't been home all night. She's not happy about it. But Spidey has been doing good work. Bruno Karnelli is alive and well, and Mr Negative's Inner Demons have been defeated. After a quick discussion Bruno voices his fear that the sit down meeting between the Karnelli and Mafredi crime families is Mr Negative's intended target. Bruno appeals to Spidey to save them.
At the Valdemar hotel, Mr Negative and his men have disabled security and are busy pumping their mystical poison into the hotel's ventilation system. Spidey arrives to try and same the day, but the Maggia families don't listen to what he's saying and instead try to riddle him with bullets. That plan turns out about as well as it always has.
Suddenly, the red poison streams from the ventilation system taking out everyone in the room: including Spider-Man! The last thing the web-head thinks before his head hits the floor is that he didn't remember to get any pictures for Robbie.
"It's like he's in high school all over again," says Aunt May as she discovers Peter's unmade bed. Isn't that the truth? The Maggia! The stone tablet! It feels as though I'm reading an issue of Spider-Man from the 1970s without the hip-cat lingo. I'm still not convinced this is a good thing. The issue holds together well enough, but I worry that this reboot has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
In fact this issue suffers quite heavily from the shadow of the-arc-that-is-not- to-be-named. Are we seriously supposed to feel any tension from the fact that the Spider-Mugger could be on the verge of discovering Spidey's identity? Haven't Marvel just spent a ridiculous amount of effort, and altered twenty years of continuity, to make Spidey's identity secret again? If this is a plot point it's a poor one; and if it's a tease then its poor judgment, because I just don't care.
And "not caring" is a problem that I have about the issue in general. This is not a problem with Slott and McNiven, who are at least as entertaining as they were last week, this is my meta-thinking. With so much of the character's background and history already changed, why should I care if Marvel want to change something else? A gunman is going to track down Spidey's house? Yawn. JJJ has a heart attack? Who cares?
I spoke in my last review about having to get over all the horrors visited on Spidey-Man in the last arc, if we are ever going to enjoy reading the comic again. Well, I'm having trouble with that.
So what else can I say about this issue? Slott finally clears up the mystery of whether the Swing Shift story from Free Comic Book Day 2007 (Spider-Man) is in continuity or not. Apparently, that story showcases the only time since the end of the Civil War that Spider-Man has been seen in public in his costume. Quite what that does to continuity over in New Avengers in anyone's guess.
Speaking of New Avengers, the Maggia families mention the problems they are having with the Hood's nefarious activities. So this story also attempts to validate what's happening in New Avengers. I'm confused, anyone else?
And because I'm feeling excessively nit-picky: the names of mob families are a bit confused in the issue. What we have are two Maggia families called the Karnellis and the Manfredis. However, they are referred to as the "Karnelli and Maggia" families on at least one occasion. The editor should have caught that.
I don't want to be excessively negative. Taken in its own terms this is perfectly acceptable stuff - better than average, even. Three and a half webs.