There's a nutjob wandering around New York leaving spider-tracers in the mouths of his victims. The police have leapt to the conclusion that this new serial killer is none other than Spidey himself, and aren't bothering to look for anyone else. Several weeks from now the future Spider-Man will be arrested and put on trial for these murders. But even a costumed vigilante gets his day in court.
The story opens as Spider-Man, sporting a broken arm, enters his plea. It's "not-guilty", in case you were wondering. Spidey's lawyer, Matt Murdock (who else is it going to be?) is trying to get the webslinger released on bail. The judge doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic about that idea. The counsellor for the prosecution alleges that Murdock is secretly Daredevil, which as we all know is an unsubstantiated urban legend.
Then the proceedings are interrupted by the arrival another attorney, who wants to prosecute Spider-Man for a civil suit. You all remember the suit levelled against Spidey by Ryan Maxwell back in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #550, right? It seems that the civil suit may well be the straw that breaks the camels back, and prompts the judge to force Spider-Man to unmask.
In a private discussion, Murdock tells Spidey that the Superhuman Registration Act actually prevents the court from unmasking him. However, the civil suit may give the judge sufficient justification to do just that. Fortunately, the whole unmasking thing is something that Matt Murdock has spent a lot of time thinking about.
Back in court, the civil attorney argues that the SHRA and Spider-Man's right to privacy have nothing to do with the case at hand. If his client was hit by a car, then the client would have a right to know the identity of the driver of the car. The same principle applies here. Murdock agrees, but asks for twenty-four hours to draw his case together.
The following day, Murdock hands Spider-Man a book on the legal system, and then he plays his hand in the court. He has asked Ronin, Iron Fist, Patriot, Arana, Black Cat, Shang-Chi and Nightcrawler to dress up as Spider-Man and prance around the court. Basically this proves that anyone could have been wearing the Spider-Man costume, and until Maxwell can prove that the Spider- Man in the dock is the perpetrator then there can be no legal ruling to remove his mask.
But it's not all good news. Spidey is still in prison and his bail has been denied. Spidey thanks Murdock for all he has done, and wonders where Iron Fist got hold of one of his webshooters. Seems that the Black Cat might have liberated a pair from the police evidence locker. The second one is concealed in that book that Murdock gave to Spider-Man.
What happens next? Why is Spider-Man in prison in the first place, and how is he going to get out? The legend says: to be continued in "Character Assassination starting in Amazing Spider-Man #582".
I love a good court-room drama! Of course, I have no understanding of the American legal system and no idea whether the ins and outs of it revealed in this story are accurate or just pure fiction. But the important think is that it sounds right, and it feels right. I'm having happy flashbacks to watching Matlock in my youth.
The courtroom scenes work extremely well, Guggenheim has a grasp for the genre and writes a very entertaining Matt Murdock and Spider-Man. Docket number "AF- 15-1962" raised a smile, and it was good to see that Murdock is involved in legally challenging the superhuman registration act. This sort of thing helps to make the Marvel Universe into a cohesive whole. It doesn't matter to this story that that the challenge to the SHRA is going through in the name of Steve Rogers, but it's a nice nod to the continuity of other books. Bravo, Mr Guggenheim.
The art from Marcos Martin is also quite good, and he manages to hold my interest in thirteen pages of talking-heads. I'm still not completely sold on his rather cartoony facial expressions, but he certainly has a gift for telling a story. If you compare p9 of this story with p18 of Amazing Spider- Man #587 (which is exactly the same scene with exactly the same dialogue) I think that Martin conveys the scene slightly better than John Romita, Jnr.
So on the whole I liked the story, and it's certainly the strongest offering from this issue of Extra. However, it's not without its flaws: the biggest of which being why it even exists in the first place. This is a very odd story to publish in a one-shot. Yes, it acts as a preview to the Character Assassination arc which was still a few months ahead when this was published, but there are elements of the story that just don't make sense without reading Character Assassination as a whole.
Why does Matt Murdock give Spider-Man a webshooter? This comes apropos of nothing at the end of the issue. We discover in Character Assassination that it's because Spidey has seen Vin in the prison, and wants to help him, but there's no sense of that here. Equally, when we read Character Assassination we have no knowledge of what is actually happening in the court with the multiple Spider-Men, so that scene doesn't work as well either.
As it's written, I can see why Guggenheim would want to hive off the civil- suit-subplot in a different story. It would have completely broken the narrative flow of Character Assassination; an arc that had already paused in issue #586 to reveal the origin of Menace. However, the story didn't need to be written this way. While I see the attraction of teasing a story like this, I think that Character Assassination would have worked a lot better if the contents of this tale had been incorporated into it from the get- go.
Which brings us to my obligatory One-More-Day-winge. It's hard to read this story and keep in mind that Daredevil no longer knows Spider-Man's secret identity. Like much of the post #546 world, the new status-quo for the characters is rather confused. The pair have so much history together, much of which was dependent on the fact they knew each other's secret identities. Daredevil refers to an occasion when Spidey masqueraded as him at a trial. So Spidey knows Matt Murdock is Daredevil, but Murdock doesn't know who is behind the webs? It's not very satisfying, and taints the story at a fundamental level.
To be continued in issue #582? Actually, #584 which does to show how the production schedule slipped during the Summer of 2008. Lucky they had a few one-shot issues lying around the plug the gaps.
And now, the Continuity bit...
This entire story takes place within Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #587, and some of the dialogue from that issue is repeated here. However, because the narrative in ASM #587 leaps between a number of plot threads there's no helpful place where we can drop The Spartacus Gambit in its entirety. Here's how it all fits together:
In Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #587, Spidey has a fresh costume delivered to his cell approximately 23 hours before the polls open in the election. Soon after he heads to the court to enter his plea in the Spider-Tracer case. We see Spider-Man declare himself "Not Guilty" in both ASM #587 and in this story. The first 5 pages of The Spartacus Gambit fits inbetween panel one and panel three of p10 of ASM #587. It effectively replaces panel two.
Time moves on and in ASM #587 we see Lily discuss the latest polls with her father, and then witness Vin's conspirators turn against him. Pages 6-8 of The Spartacus Gambit then neatly fit inbetween pages 15 and 16 of ASM #587. Spidey is brought back to his cell after Murdock calls for a twenty-four hour recess, and notices that Vin has been arrested. In ASM, Spidey confides this in Murdock, which is when Matt decides to smuggle Spidey a webshooter.
Panels 1-4 of p18 of ASM #587, and panels 1-4 of p9 of The Spartacus Gambit are identical. It's the same scene and the same dialogue, from a different angle. Then panel five of p9 to the end of p11 of The Spartacus Gambit is slotted in between panels four and five of p18 of ASM #587. Finally, p12 to p13 of The Spartacus Gambit is an extended version of panels 3-5 of ASM #587 p19.
So if you're reading Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #587 and The Spartacus Gambit side by side, here's how you'd do it:
There are a few errant text boxes that don't quite fit into the above arrangement, but I'm sure you can work that out. I'd like to see Marvel try and produce a seamless version of Character Assassination that combines both stories. I think I'd pay cash money for that.
An entertaining courtroom romp that would have been better united with the rest of Character Assassination. And can someone please do something about the altered memory/timeline plot? We understand you don't want Pete married to MJ! Fine! Just fix all the collateral damage, okay? Three webs.
This story was available for free from Marvel's Digital comics site renamed as "Spider-Man: The Spartacus Gambit" but is no longer available.