New threats appear on the horizon as we learn more about how Andi became a symbiote in another fast-paced issue.
Writer: Cullen Bun
Artist: Jorge Coelho
Color Art: Lee Loughridge
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Spoilers follow after the break—
The Plot: Flash waxes poetic about some dude getting killed in a mugging before the camera pans out to reveal Philly has been transformed into a literal Hellscape.
Flash wakes up from dreaming, only to find Andi in symbiote-form lurking above his bed. We learn three weeks have passed since last issue and Andi is anxious to get revenge on Lord Ogre for her dad’s death. Flash tries to warn her of the dangers of having a symbiote and inadvertently dubs her Mania in some clumsy dialogue.
Flash then gets a call from Katy, who has a lead for him in Texas. Flash leaves immediately telling Andi not to do anything until he returns. In Texas Flash finds the body of Damian Hellstrom with his chest pentagram symbol ripped off his body.
Back in Philly, Mania is completely ignoring Flash’s orders to sit tight. She enters a rave and seemingly slaughters some criminals. She then gets attacked by Lord Ogre’s oddly dressed muscle that we saw in his first appearance, who apparently go by the name The Freakshow based on a literal neon sign above their heads when they attack. Mania kills one of them and KOs the other two. Lord Ogre—looking more like Batman’s Bane than ever—beats a hasty retreat. Also of note, he has some glowing green vials hooked up to his chest apparatus that may or may not be the same alien gunk from the Figure/Symbiote Slayer arc.
Flash goes to a Virginia prison to check on Damien Hellstrom, who is indeed still imprisoned there from some earlier story. Hellstrom doesn’t reveal anything about his dead double but he does warn Flash that some kind of Hell-war called “The Descent” is on the verge of occurring. Flash wonders if the mark of Mephisto he bears from issue 23 is going to pull him in, only for Hellstrom to reveal the mark of Mephisto has been removed from Flash somehow.
Cut to Mania, whose chest symbol becomes a pentagram. And while that cliffhanger alone would be sufficient to end the issue on, as she webslings away we see she is being tracked by A-list Captain America foe Crossbones and a group of Nazi cultists who intend to hunt her, kill her and steal her pentagram.
Critical Thoughts: This is clearly a set-up issue, but you know what that is fine: stories need to have beginnings. Here we have several new plot threads introduced all of which are intriguing, while at the same time we got some movement on the ongoing Lord Ogre and Andi’s symbiote bonding plots.
The Andi as Mania stuff continues to be written really well. I liked her conversation with Flash as he tries to tell her of the dangers of symbiote control and he thinks it is changing her personality, and she replies “You Barely Even Know Me.” Yes, objectively Flash is right, the symbiote is highly dangerous and she probably isn’t strong enough to control it. At the same time she’s right too: Flash barely knows her and teenagers can be irrational and unpredictable under the best of circumstances. Her father was murdered in front of her and the man responsible was just a brain-washed dupe with no free will so she’ll probably never get justice for that crime. I’d expect her to be filled with rage even if she didn’t have a symbiote bonded to her. That she didn’t kill Jack in the end of the last issue showed remarkable restraint all things considered.
Even the later scene in the rave where Mania is killing people raises all sorts of interesting ethical questions for the series to explore. As teenager it is possible she would not be legally responsible for her actions even without symbiote possession. Now you throw in she is possessed by not one but two entities, and we can all agree she probably isn’t responsible for her actions here. But she is still killing people. How far will Flash go to stop her if she keeps on killing? On the one hand you can’t let her go on killing people. On the other hand she’s just a kid, and Flash already feels responsible for what happened to her and her dad as we see in his thought balloons during their conversation.
The Hellstrom mystery is also intriguing even though he is not a favorite character of mine. I’ve recently been reading the J.M. DeMatteis Essential Defenders volumes, and while overall I find his work on that series to be both psychologically interesting and ahead of its time, whenever there is a Hellstrom issue is when I start to lose interest and but the book down for a few weeks. (Although in one of the most recent chapters I read, Hellstrom had a duplicate that went on to marry and impregnate a college professor ex-girlfriend of his that at the end of the story he allowed to walk away and live a life here on Earth so maybe that is who died in Texas). That said while Hellstrom is not a favorite of mine, and while I don’t think the words “Mephisto” should ever be uttered in a Spider-man family comic ever again after One More Day; I do like how Hellstrom is used in this issue: both in the specific sense as the start of a new mystery and to foreshadow an upcoming plot, and in the broader sense that if this series was continuing I think he’d be great in the Hannibal Lector role of the dangerous and scary inmate with expert advice that Flash has to go to from time to time for professional reasons.
Finally we have the arrival of Crossbones. And hell yeah, I’m on board. I’ve mentioned before that Captain America is the other major A-list Marvel character whose stories I just love and Crossbones is one of his best villains. While Crossbones is not normally associated with the occult, it’s easy to come up with reasons for why he’s involved. My guess is his girlfriend Sinn misses that mystic upgrade she got in Fear Itself and so he’s working with her now to steal the Hell power. But see that is the fun of a set-up issue: we get to speculate now and we’ll see how it plays out soon enough.
My only real criticism is some of the wording is a little clunky. The opening scene with the man getting mugged is pretentious. And getting Flash to say the word “Mania’ in his conversation with Andi felt a bit forced. But you know what? That’s one page and one panel of what is an otherwise standout issue.
Grade A-. This was another excellent issue in a series that has really turned a corner in quality the past two months.