In the spite of trying to lay low after being accused of kidnapping Normie Osborn and killing Joey Z., Spidey still ends up in the middle of a fight between Sandman and Hydro-Man.
At the Parker home, Aunt Anna is teaching sign language to deaf next-door neighbor Hope Hibbert. Hope lets slip that she knows Peter is Spider-Man but Anna (so dense on this subject she didn't even believe it when Mary Jane told her back in Spectacular) does not catch on.
The Daily Bugle is accusing Spider-Man of kidnapping Normie Osborn. In his bath (which is made up of himself) Hydro-Man concocts a plan to draw out Spider-Man so that he can collect the five million dollar reward.
At the Bugle offices, a bit of Ben Reilly's past turns up in the person of Desiree. She wants to speak to Peter because she has had weird psychic feelings ("I felt it when Ben died. Like I was with him.") since the infamous events of Peter Parker: Spider-Man #75. God knows where Todd is going with this bit. Pete doesn't stick around to find out. Hydro-Man has kidnapped a busload of people in the Bronx and is holding them hostage in a water tower... and demanding Spider-Man's presence.
At the tower, Hydro-Man is shocked by the appearance of the Sandman. ("Don'tcha know that when ya issue a statement to the news tellin' Spider-Man t'come and save all your hostages... everybody else hears it too!", says Sandy.) Water and sand go at each other, with the two combatants ending up outside the tower. An arriving Spidey tries to be subtle but bounty hunters take pot-shots at him. Inside, his rescue is hampered by the fear exhibited by the hostages who think he is a murderer.
The battle outside starts to topple the water tower. As Sandman sacrifices his body to capture Hydro-Man, Spidey must figure out a way to save the hostages and avoid being gunned down or apprehended in the process. His escape succeeds, but serves to convince him that it is no longer safe to patrol the streets as Spider-Man. He goes to his old friend Hobie Brown, the Prowler, to get a new super-hero identity.
For the most part, this issue is simply biding time, waiting for all the titles to get their ducks in order, so that Identity Crisis can get underway in the Spider-books, but there are some nice touches in this story that elevate it above its function. I have no use for this "Hope Hibbert knows Peter is Spider-Man" sub-plot. Aren't there enough people who know this already? I also don't see much promise in the fledgling psychic abilities of Desiree. No, this time, the best touches are reserved for the main story. Hydro-Man taking a bath. ("Actually he is the bath", says Todd.) The Sandman forming little sandy images of himself and Spider-Man out of his hands and having them fight like two punch puppets. (The sand-derived Sandman knocks Spidey's head off even as the real Sandman is defending the web-slinger.) Hydro-Man not realizing that his ultimatum could bring other heroes. ("I woulda thought that you'd have that 'dumb as a box of hammers' thing fixed by now", Sandman tells him.) The bounty hunters firing away at Spidey even in a hostage situation. Pete finally forced to admit that sometimes Spider-Man is more problem than solution. All these things make this issue worth reading for itself, rather than as a springboard to the next cross-over.
The art is sort of faux-Weiringo. Nauck and Hennessey are trying to mimic Ringo's style but they aren't quite up to it. Whatever you may think of Ringo's work, at least it is distinctive. We don't really need people imitating him, do we? And why must Aunt Anna continue to look like the publisher from the old Lou Grant TV show? Whatever happened to the real Anna Watson we all used to know and love?
After a whole slew of mediocre issues, Todd is starting to win me over. (Ringo too.) Too bad this series is headed for oblivion. Three webs.