Back in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #617, Marvel Comics made an important breakthrough. The Rhino (classic villain known well by all) was superseded by a new Rhino, a mechanically-enhanced super-beast created by the latest bio-surgeon on the block, Doctor Tramma.
As related in that issue, the woman behind this all is Mrs. Kravinoff. Wife of Kraven the original, she now seeks to restore her family's honor, etc. Naturally, the largest part of that exercise involves defeating Spider-Man in a particularly intricate fashion understood only by herself and nobody else. No, I'm quite sure the writers at Marvel don't understand it either. But don't panic, it won't stop the comics being published.
Anyhow. The breakthrough of what I spoke is the fact that the Rhino (Aleksei Sytsevich) has recently found himself released from prison. More interestingly, he decides to go straight. Even more interestingly he finds a love interest (Oksana) and seems to be making things work.
Now, at that point you would expect the old formula to be trotted out. You know what I mean. The set-up is all present and correct. To wit: Villain has gone straight, falls in love. New, more powerful version of villain is created by mysterious forces and challenges the original, also threatening love interest of original.
Like Bonnie & Clyde, Gingers & Rogers, the inevitable follow-up is... classic villain tries to follow ways of peace, new villain kills wife, burns down house, performs unspeakable sexual acts on dog. Former villain is reluctantly forced to don his gun-belt once more and meet new villain in showdown at noon in middle of town.
But ASM #617 avoided all that. Instead, the Rhino just walked away with his wife. Brilliant. Novel. Groundbreaking!
Eight issues later, the Rhino story is revisited. The new Rhino appears once more, demands to fight Sytsevich. Threatens wife. It's ASM #617 all over again. Why are we doing this again? We already did this story?
Aleksei agrees to fight at noon. Wait. No, agrees to fight at midnight. Then again, brilliantly scripted, asks Spider-Man to help him run away. See. We're just repeating ourselves here.
Oh, hang on. New Rhino cheats, and kills Aleksei's wife before midnight even comes around. Old Rhino is forced to don his Rhino suit and battle the newcomer, totally destroying him.
And there it goes. Joe Kelley just couldn't leave well enough alone. After having written a story three months back that defied all the cliches, he now had to re-hash the whole thing and undo all the good he had earlier done. And more.
Dammit Joe! You wrote a good story, and now you phuqued it up.
There's a subplot running through here. Remember that last issue in ASM #624 Peter got fired from his job as Mayor Jameson's official photographer after he was caught faking photos to try and make Jonah look good.
Well, now he calls on Mary Jane, who berates him for only ever calling when he's in trouble and tells him to sort things out himself. Then Peter heads into the unemployment office to find work and sign up for social security. But in fact, Peter is so depressed that he walks away without even claiming his entitlement. I know how he feels. I've had days like that.
Look, I'm not saying that the events of the Rhino story told in this issue are bad. In fact, they're perfectly acceptable by all the standard conventions of story writing. There's plenty of precedent to support that - this is a story already told many times in cowboy movies and action films the world over.
The tragedy here is that by going for the path more traveled, Kelley has taken his "Matrix" and turned it in to "Matrix Revolutions". Yeah, harsh words. But that's how strongly I feel about the cop-out, formulaic, soft option we've been given.
Still, I'm going to try and be objective here despite my disappointment. The sub-plot stuff is good, and this story is only bad because it failed to live up to its earlier potential. Let's call it two webs and move on.