It used to be the case that many people knew that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Numerous other super-heroes had discovered the secret long before the unmasking at the end of Civil War #2. Among these heroes were the Fantastic Four and, notably, Johnny Storm, who became a good friend to Peter both in and out of his costume. When knowledge of Spider-Man's secret identity was erased from the world, Johnny forgot all about it too... until now. A return trip to the macroverse has convinced the Torch that there were things he used to know that he cannot simply recall. He wants answers and, despite the fact that our heroes are in the middle of an extra-terrestrial warzone, he aims to get them.
Johnny looks up at the unmasked Spider-Man in disbelief. He can't see a thing. Sue has made Spidey invisible, and attacks Johnny at completely betraying the trust Spider-Man has shown in them. But what trust? Spider-Man shared secret identity with them and then took that knowledge back. That doesn't seem very trustworthy.
Reed finds it all a bit hard to swallow. He voices some of the concerns that many Spider-Man readers have been having for the last year. In order for his identity to be completely forgotten, Spider-Man would have to wipe the memories of everyone on Earth including telepaths and magic users, not to mention destroy or alter all the physical evidence. How could someone with Spider-Man's resources accomplish such a thing?
The "mindwipe" issue is timetabled much to the Torch's chagrin, and our heroes enter the battle against the dinosaur-riding Dregans. Patronus also enters the fray against the Dregans. He is amazed that the five "gods" his antecedents worshipped spend their time bickering like school children. After the Dregans are defeated, he confronts our heroes.
He says that he has been fighting the Dregans all his life. It has been a "lifetime" since the five were last here and started this war. Reed explains that although it has been two years since they were last in the macroverse, time here moves more quickly - and what is more the difference between the two worlds is increasing exponentially. Sue fears for her children. This doesn't make a lick of sense, by the way, but take it as read for the moment and we can have a chat about it in the comments below.
Spider-Man is aghast. Just how much time is passing in the real world, for every moment they are standing around the macroverse? Reed reveals that for every hour that passes in the macroverse, thirteen and one third days pass on Earth. Even in the short time they have been here, they've already lost a month! As Reed explains, we flash back to events with Spider-Man's supporting cast. What's happening with them?
Carlie and Harry: On Tuesday, Carlie is at Harry's apartment clearing up all the empty bottles and getting the drunk and depressed Harry out of bed. A week the following Saturday she's going with him to A.A. meetings, and by the next Thursday he's opening up to her about Lily and his own feelings of foolishness and inadequacy. Three days later, he and Carlie are in a cafe celebrating Harry's first thirty days clean and sober. They seem to be getting really close. Are they holding hands?
Jonah and Marla: On Tuesday, Jonah is at his estranged wife's door, he's blustering and shouting and demanding that she resume the marriage. But by a week the following Saturday, he's changed his tune and is trying to woo her with flowers and honeyed words (being Jonah, he's not very good at it). By the following Thursday, he has resorted to desperate pleading, and he determines to sit by the front door until Marla agrees to see him. That takes three days, but she eventually deigns to go to a restaurant with the old skinflint.
Norah and Randy: On Tuesday, at the offices of the Front Line Norah is looking for Peter. In Peter's absence, Robby decides to introduce the reporter to his son, Randy. The two hit it off, and as time progresses they become progressively more intimate. Wait a minute. You can't remember who Norah is? Go back and read Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #575 and stop goofing off.
Jonah Jameson Snr and Aunt May: You remember that Betty gave Jonah's dad Aunt May's number in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #583, right? On Tuesday he finally plucks up the courage to make her acquaintance. As time passes they get closer and closer, and go an increasing number of dates, culminating in a dinner in a swanky restaurant. Seems that JJ Senior inadvertently poaches his son's table reservations.
A month has already gone by? Spidey wants to return to Earth now. However, he is quickly convinced that he and the FF need to stay and sort out the problems between these two races that they inadvertently caused two years ago. Patronus has a plan to end the fighting. He needs these "gods" to get him into the audience chamber of the Dregan royal family. Once there her is convinced that he can end things peacefully.
With the power of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, the Dregans don't stand much of a chance. But the Torch continues to lay into Spidey. Eventually, Peter completely loses it. He just can't afford his secret identity to get out any more. Not now, not with Norman Osborn in charge of everything. He has to protect his real friends, and his real family. He misses them. You know what? I do too. Let's check in on them again:
Peter's answering machine is really filling up in his absence, as are a succession of problems that our hero will have to deal with on his return . Ben Urich calls ask Peter to cover the under-attended mayoral rally between everyone's favourite philanthropist, Martin Li, and Walter Declun (corrupt CEO of Damage Control). His realty company rings to tell him a problem with the lease on the apartment (it's in Vin's name). It looks like low circulation figures may cause Dexter Bennett to lose the DB!.
It also looks as though Jonah's reconciliation with Marla was just a ruse. He needed to present the view of a stable home life for his "backers". What backers? Backing him for what? Betty Brant is going to be mad that Peter missed Flash's sadly wheel-chair bound sporting prowess. And Aunt May is desperately trying to get in touch with her nephew, so he can meet JJ Senior.
Then there's the last message on the machine: "Hey Tiger, I... I thought you should know I'm..." Which is of course where the machine runs out of space. Glad to see the Parker luck is still running close to form.
Meanwhile, back in the Macroverse, our heroes deliver Patronus to the Dregan royal family where he reveals that he is half-Dregan (to prove it, he shows off his pink mohican). Suddenly Patronus is the king of both cultures and the way is over. The reader shares Spider-Man's general boredom with the plot, and everyone heads back to the FF's space ship.
One onboard, Reed questions Spidey about his secret identity. Unable to lie to the Marvel Universe's big brain, Spider-Man admits that Johnny is right, but it isn't really a mindwipe, it's a psychic blindspot. Even if you had a mountain of evidence that led to the conclusion Peter Parker was Spider-Man, you wouldn't connect the dots. Or rather, you would draw the wrong conclusion. Which explains why Eddie Brock, Norman Osborn and new pre-pubescent Kraven never realised the truth when it was staring them right in the face.
Spidey says that the only way the spell can be broken is if he is unmasked, or he unmasks for someone. The Torch urges Spidey to do just that, they're all friends. Where's the harm? Spidey says that he's sorry, but he just can't risk it. Not again, there's too much at stake. Fortunately, Reed thinks of a way around this. He can create "psychic firewalls" for the rest of the Fantastic Four. They can know Spider-Man's secret, and keep it as well.
And thus, Spidey unmasks before the Fantastic Four. It is a touching reunion of old friends. But it is brief. Because our heroes are back in the real world, and two months have passed. Spidey swings off to find out what has been happening in the Marvel Universe without him. As it turns out... quite a bit.
A crowd has gathered to hear the results of the special election held to vote in the city's new mayor. It's an all too familiar face: J. Jonah Jameson!
I really don't know what to make of this issue. This comic was released a little after New Avengers #51, although it's set before. In that issue, Peter reveals his secret identity to his fellow Avengers, in this issue he reveals it to the Fantastic Four. So what exactly has been the point of the last three years of Spider-Man comics?
We've gone from a situation where a number of super-heroes know Spidey's identity, through everyone knowing Spidey's identity, and no-one knowing Spidey's identity, and now we're back to where we started again. Was this always the intention? Is the whole thing just a plot against Daredevil, who now seems to be the only hero who doesn't know that Spider-Man is Peter Parker?
I thought I would like this direction for the comic, but now that it has arrived I have to say that it's leaving a rather bitter taste in my mouth. Marvel can't keep doing this. They can't keep setting up stories and the backing down, chickening out or retconning their way out of them. Spidey lived a whole other life in the House of M? Forgotten. Spidey gains new powers? Ignored. Spidey reveals his identity to the world? Retconned. Spidey makes his identity secret again? Swept aside.
It is as frustrating as it is disappointing. Are Marvel saying that the preferred the status quo before Civil War, they just weren't keen on Aunt May knowing Spidey's identity, and on Mary Jane existing at all? If that was the case, then why drag us through all these pointless stories? The JMS run on Amazing Spider-Man post-Skin Deep wasn't really that good. At the time Joe Quesada said that the events that spun out of Civil War gave writers the potential to tell great stories. Yes, Joe, they certainly did: but where were those great stories? I remember them being set up, but I don't actually remember anyone delivering them.
As I predicted, we don't actually find out how Spider-Man concealed his identity in this issue, beyond the fact that it's a "psychic blindspot". We are meant to assume that Mephisto pulled this off on Spidey's behalf, but hopefully there is more to it than that. I hope they don't keep us waiting very long for the real answers.
Spidey says that when he reveals his identity to someone, that someone "remembers everything". So how much do the FF remember now? Sure they remember that Peter is Spider-Man, but what about MJ? They met her, they even went on holiday with her with Aunt May. Do they remember that? Does Reed remember being unable to save Aunt May from an assassin's bullet? I have faith enough in Slott to believe he has thought this through. I'm interested to see where this goes.
This issue is credited with three different pencillers. Ordinarily this would start alarm-bells ringing, but this issue uses the different art styles very effectively: with Dale Eaglesham drawing the scenes set on Earth, and Barry Kitson drawing the scenes in the macroverse.
In fact the flashbacks to Earth are the best thing about this issue, particularly the way in which first selection interconnect. Norah and Randy pass the window of the coffee shop where Carlie and Harry are sitting. The scene where JJ Snr accidentally steals his son's dinner reservations was definitely snigger-worthy.
But in a wider sense, these scenes bother me. Now I know that the special election couldn't be an ongoing plot in the title. We've just suffered through fifty issues of the mayoral race bubbling away in the background. Another fifty issues would have been narrative suicide: something the writers and the editors wisely saw. But spinning the timeline on two months - regardless of how imaginatively it was done - feels as though the writers are simply bored with their old stories and want to wrap them up as quickly as possible.
Peter is not there for Harry and Flash, therefore he suddenly has their enmity again. JJJ is the new mayor of New York. Dexter Bennett looks as though he's going to lose the DB. Aunt May and JJ Snr are trysting. This just smacks of rearranging the scenes between series. It is as though this arc is both the epilogue for Brand New Day season one, and the prologue for Brand New Day season two. And I don't really like that.
Then finally there is Reed's techno-babble goof. Many years have passed in the two years that Spidey and the FF came to the macroverse. So time in the macroverse runs more quickly than time in the real world. However, now every hour they spend in the macroverse corresponds to thirteen days in the real world. This means that time runs more quickly in the real world now.
It's a mistake, and one that Stephen Whacker and Dan Slott have the good grace to set straight on the letters page in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #593. It's always good to see someone admit their mistakes, and very satisfying to see them set it right in such an entertaining fashion. Whatever else I may have said about this issue, there can be no doubt that Whacker and Slott love Spider-Man, and take their role as stewards of this book very seriously. I commend them for that.
I'm glad the secret identity plot has finally moved forward, although I'm not sure about wisdom of having Pete reveal his identity at all. Many of the new plots have potential, but the two-month jump seems a bit lazy to me. On the whole, Slott's shifting narrative and Eaglesham's pencils stop this from being a disaster. Two webs.