This is the first Earth X/Universe X book I've read, so parts of this explanation may be wrong! In the near future of the Marvel Universe, the world is a very different place. An experiment that went wrong, caused a virus to be released that imbues all the inhabitants of earth with mutant powers.
Considering the fact that I haven't read any of the main series, that this special comes out of, I wasn't too lost. But, to help lessen the confusion I will just outline the status quo for Spidey in this alternate universe.
In this reality, baby May didn't die. She grew up with Peter and Mary Jane, has spider powers and has also bonded with the venom symbiote. She's really the main character of this story. Mary Jane is dead though, from cancer. Pete is about 40 to 50 years old, has had his secret identity revealed and is now part of the police force.
The story is told mainly from the point of view of May and we start off with her reflecting on when she was a child and worrying with her mother about her father. We cut then to a different scene. Pete is hanging out with Gwen, MJ and Harry. Pete and Gwen are married, while Harry is with MJ. They laugh and joke about Pete's days as Spidey. We cut back to the present and a task force is being assembled by the Police. Spiders-man and a group of terrorists have captured a major food supply and need to be stopped. Peter volunteers to go in by himself, before the Police take action in force. Again, the scene changes back and Pete is with MJ, Gwen and Harry. This seemingly 'perfect' world unfolds and we find that Norman Osborn was jailed early on his career preventing him from killing Gwen and causing so many of the tragedies in Pete's life.
Back to the present and Pete has been gone for a few days, with no word and May is worried. She infiltrates the terrorist stronghold and finds her father locked in a conflict with Spiders-man. Apparently, Spiders-man's main powers are those of illusion and it seems that Pete is trapped in one. May enter the illusion to try and save her father. May rushes through the illusion, finds and interrogates Spiders-man and finds out that her father is supposed to be in control of this illusion. She then finds her father, in his 'perfect world' with Gwen, MJ and Harry. Pete attacks May, as she tries to struggle to figure out what is happening. The battle continues, as May tries to reason with Pete, Pete refuses to believe that his world isn't reality. May finally retreats from the illusion.
May then realises she can control the illusion by joining with Spiders-man, via her symbiote. She controls the illusion and confronts Peter with reality in contrast to his illusion. This continues until May is attacked, in the illusion, by another Spider-man. This Spider-man is revealed to be Peter's son (in the illusion). May interprets this to mean that not only did Pete not really want MJ, but didn't want her as a daughter either. She breaks down and leaves the illusion. She attacks Spiders-man, taking out her anger on him. She goes to make a killing blow, when Peter grabs her hand, stopping her. He tells her that it was his fault, it was his illusion and he's sorry. After some heart wrenching moments, Pete seems to strike a deal with Spiders-man and that's the end.
This comic was excellent! There are so many things that are good about it and I don't think I'll have room to fully expouse them all, so I'll try and keep it short.
First of all, this comic was new reader friendly; I didn't feel lost at all in this different reality. Which could have easily happened. The other area I could have got lost in was the complexity of the plot, with the jumping between the illusionary world and the real one. But, this was handled so well, that it added to the story.
The art and writing throughout the book are excellent. I haven't really experienced Guice's work before, but you can't go wrong with John Romita, Sr! And the use of these artists in this way was brilliant. Both artists excel in this issue.
The real strength of this book though is that essentially, it is an exploration of Spider-man's character. We have a deep and meaningful look inside Spidey's head and look at his life from a slightly different angle. We see what his life could've been and along with him, we too wish it could've been that way. The scenes of Pete's 'Perfect World' are great and extremely enjoyable. The reader feels the same temptation the Pete feels and you wish that Spidey's continuity were really like this now. This also makes it great when it's turned around at end. In fact all the characterisation here is top-notch and leads to the reader being deeply involved in the story.
I noted above that this issue was great for new readers of Universe X and even Spidey. But, it is also a real kick for long-time Spidey readers. It was a real treat to see fantasies such as "What if Gwen didn't die?", played out. Especially pencilled by Romita Snr.
There really isn't anything at all to complain about here. Except that to find out more about these fascinating versions of these characters then you have to pick up Universe X.
I enjoyed this enormously, each time I've read it (about 5 or so times now). An easy 5 webs. If you don't own it, buy it. Thus, commandeth spidermad!