Oh, great. It’s another one of Marvel’s “point one” gimmicks. I wonder what pointless filler we’re going to be subjected too this ti—what’s this? Gerry Conway is listed as the writer? Gerry “That Guy Over There” Conway is back on The Amazing Spider-Man? And he’s doing a another story involving Spidey fighting organized crime?! Yip yip yahoo!
“Spiral, Part One”
WRITER: Gerry Conway
PENCILER: Carlo Barberi
INKER: Juan Vlasco
COLORS: Israel Silva
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTIRSTS: Arthur Adams & Sonia Oback
VARIANT COVER ARTIST: Simone Bianchi
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: The NYPD, including Captain Yuri Watanabee, and her former mentor, Detective Teddy Rangel, and a SWAT unit have Tombstone and his gang pinned inside a vacant building with Spidey arrives on the scene to help. Teddy, whose anonymous source tipped him off about Tombstone, wants to go in, but Yuri says the new bureau chief, Yarborough, wants this done by the book. Spidey’s spider-sense goes off and gunfire erupts from the warehouse; Spidey manages to get Yuri and Teddy out of the line of fire, but Teddy is critically wounded by a stray bullet. Inside the building, Tombstone is furious that his men started shooting against his orders, and kills the person who started it. Seeing no other option as his are plans ruined, Tombstone tells his gang to kill all the cops, but Spidey swings his way up into the building and takes them all down. Teddy is rushed to hospital, and a captured Tombstone taunts Yuri before Spidey webs his mouth shut, then reassures her this is still “win for the good guys.” However, eight days later at Tombstone’s trial, the judge states the original search warrant is “defective” because Teddy’s source remains unidentified. And since Teddy is in a coma and thus can’t name who his source is, all the evidence obtained from the warrant and arrest of Tombstone is inadmissible, thus all the charges against him are dropped. Chief Yarborough blames Yuri for the screw-up, and demands she fill-out the proper paperwork.
A discouraged Yuri visits Teddy in the hospital when Peter, who is installing a new electrical system on behalf of Parker Industries, goes in to see if Yuri and Teddy are okay. Yuri expresses her sense of hopelessness over the gang war that has risen in the Kingpin’s absence, and how good cops like Teddy risk their lives to protect the city yet criminals like Tombstone are allowed to walk. As Peter tries to reassure her, Teddy goes into cardiac arrest and dies. At Teddy’s funeral, Mr. Negative reveals to Yuri that he was Teddy’s source, and gives her photographs showing the judge on Tombstone’s case was being bribed with drugs by one of Tombstone’s lieutenants named Tats. Yuri knows Mr. Negative is doing this as a takeover play to get Tombstone’s turf, but she takes the photographs to Chief Yarborough. Unfortunately, the chief points out the photos are not sufficient evidence to arrest the judge or Tombstone. In frustration, Yuri decides to take matters into her own hands as the Wraith.
Spidey meets up with her and the pair head to a construction site where Tombstone deals his drugs. As Spidey and Wraith fight the gang, Tats attempts to shoot them with a anti-tank launcher. Spidey goes after the stray missile, while Wraith takes down Tats. Then she uses the anti-tank launcher to blow open Tombstone’s vault even though Tombstone is still inside. However, Tombstone survives, but barely conscious, and when he comes to, Spidey quickly knocks him out. Wraith finds Tombstone’s ledger containing all his drugs deals, including those with the judge. Spidey, however, states Wraith could’ve killed someone, reminding her that she’s still a cop. Wraith however says that it’s “Watanabee” who is the cop, not “the Wraith.” As the Wraith leaves, Spidey spider-sense goes off, and he begins to think Yuri’s made “a very bad choice.” And outside Tombstone’s construction site, Mr. Negative stands by his car watching as the Wraith swings away.
THOUGHTS: Those with even a passing familiarity with Gerry Conway know of his contributions to Spider-Man. The author of such classic comic book stories such as “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” the original Clone Saga from the 1970s, the creation of the Punisher and the first ever Marvel and DC Comics crossover, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (and also the rather infamous wedding of Aunt May and Doctor Octopus), Conway’s influence not just Spider-Man but in comics in general, continues even to this day. What some of you may not know is that Conway has also written episodes for various detective television dramas, most notably Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which means when it comes to crime stories, Conway is typically more grounded than most.
It’s this experience writing for those shows which undoubtedly come in play for his return to The Amazing Spider-Man, which reads like the episode of a cop show which just so happens to have Spider-Man in it. Given the several long months of “Spider-Verse,” having another story which takes Spidey back to the street is highly welcome. In addition, Conway also allows Spidey to reflect with far more profundity over recent events such as “Spider-Verse” in ways that are both subtle, thought-provoking, and even augment Spidey’s own moral compass. In the hospital scene, for example, Peter remind Yuri about how there are lines one shouldn’t cross while images of the Superior Spider-Man are in the background. With just this one scene, we see Peter legitimately wrestle with the ramifications of Doctor Octopus taking over and using his body over a period of several months than he has ever done within entire issues of The Amazing Spider-Man post-Superior. It’s a perfect reminder to us that Conway understands who Peter Parker really is at his very core.
Yet the first chapter of “Spiral” is less about Spider-Man and his readjusting towards being back home from his multi-dimensional adventures and more about police captain Yuri Watanabee, the latest to don the mantle of The Wraith. Moreover, Conway portrays Yuri as the “Cowboy Cop” who takes matters into her own hands to break loose from the legal red tape. The twist to what is otherwise a formulaic narrative is that Yuri wants to be a “By-The-Book-Cop” because of her experiences as a vigilante. What’s more, in another subversion of the “cop seeks revenge” plot, it’s Yuri’s more maverick mentor, ex-partner and father-figure, Teddy Rangel, who gets killed is also one who gets established as the one more willing to say “screw the rules, I’m doing what is right!” And instead taking away from her mentor’s death a first-hand example of how not following the rules and proper procedure can get a person killed, the subtext is that Yuri believes she got her mentor killed because she chose to be “by the book” instead of following her instincts.
Another nice touch Conway gives to Yuri’s frustration with being a cop is that the legal technicalities which prevent Tombstone and his associates from being brought to justice are within the confines of actual law, though one instance stretches credulity far more than the other. The judge at Tombstone’s trial dismissing the charges on the basis of a “defective search warrant” due to the anonymous source (Mr. Negative) on which the warrant was obtained remains unidentified (because the detective who can identify Mr. Negative as his source is in a coma) is, as far I know, can indeed be considered a legally correct ruling (any one with any legal or law enforcement experience is free to correct me on this if I’m mistaken); yet the reason Teddy is even in a coma at all is because he was caught in a shoot-out between the police and Tombstone’s men while in the act of serving that very same warrant! Granted, the judge is later revealed to be in Tombstone’s pocket, thus explaining the real motive behind his ruling after the fact. But even barring all this in mind, it’s still implausible to the point of absurdity that a convicted felon such as Tombstone wouldn’t still be facing multiple charges of assaulting police officers with the intent to kill, along with at least two counts of murder (but then the absurdity of Tombstone being free is very much the whole point). Much more believable and clever though is the scene in which Yuri shows the precinct chief photographs pointing towards the judge from Tombstone’s trial receiving drugs as a bribe. However, as the chief rightfully points out that not only could the photos be doctored, since only Tombstone’s lieutenant is with the judge instead of Tombstone himself and is giving him a nondescript bottle, it’s not enough to prove even if an actual drug deal was taking place or even if Tombstone sanctioned the deal. In any case, Yuri’s transition into becoming the Wraith again feels natural because it’s not a broken legal system which disillusions her—it’s her seeing criminals taking advantage of an otherwise working legal system she wants to believe in.
What also works in Conway’s story is his dialogue. Even while the plot is all-too familiar for anyone who has seen the likes of Dirty Harry, 24 or the McBain segments on The Simpsons, each character’s voice from Spidey on down is believable and distinctive, and he establishes who each of them are and what they want in as short a time as possible with minimal fuss, even if you were not all familiar with characters such as Tombstone, Mr. Negative, or the Wraith before. Even the times in which Conway has no choice but to go into more expository narration, it doesn’t feel the least bit awkward or clunky because he ties it to not only what Spidey or Yuri are feeling at the moment but also ties their thoughts to whatever action is occurring on panel.
There are, however, two big problems. First of all, even though we’re supposed to see Teddy’s death as a tragedy, since he’s only been just introduced at the beginning of this issue, we have no personal connection to him whatsoever. Nor, apart from his gung-ho attitude, do we see just what kind of person he was other than what Yuri tells Spidey about him, and thus reader, about him. It’s not the same as the murder of Jean DeWolfe in that, because we saw her and her relationship with Spidey over the course of so many years, her death in the opening pages of Peter David’s story truly shocked us and made us just as sad and angry as Spidey was; Teddy here is nothing but a two-dimensional McGuffin serving only to advance Yuri’s story and nothing else. Also, Spidey cautioning Yuri about her overstepping her bounds as the Wraith when she’s supposed to be a cop is borderline hypocritical given Spidey himself is not a police officer. To be fair, Conway does have Spidey himself acknowledge he’s the last person to talk when it comes to “doing something stupid,” and compared to Marvel’s other costumed crime-fighters such as The Punisher or Moon Knight, Peter deliberately chooses not to cross certain lines. Nevertheless, Spidey lecturing Yuri on the slippery slope of taking the law in to one’s own hands is like someone who cheats on their taxes telling an IRS agent not to defraud the government, or someone who gets ticketed for speeding telling a professional race car driver, “don’t drive so fast, it’s dangerous!”
Something else which I found to be a bit of a mixed bag was Carlo Barberi’s art. True, it’s decent to look and illustrated with meticulous detail and precision, but there’s nothing distinctive or outstanding about it, either, and there’s also no specific visual from the issue which really grabs your attention either. The only exception appears to be a glaring coloring mistake by Israel Silva during the scene where Wraith hauls the injured Tombstone out of his vault, in which Tombstone is inexplicably no longer an African-American albino and has dirty blonde hair. There are also moments where it’s difficult to follow the action on panel, such as when Spidey attempts to catch and deflect the anti-tank missile. In short, it’s by no means terrible, but it’s still generic.
On the basis of this first part alone, Conway’s “Spiral” may not be as groundbreaking or extraordinary as his past work on Spider-Man, but it is entertaining. And though Spidey has tackled turf wars between various factions of organized crime before (most notably by Conway himself) it’s also great to see a Spider-Man getting back to fighting against more street-level criminals and villains, especially if through his partnership with the Wraith, there’s the potential for Peter’s mantra of “with great power must also come great responsibility” colliding against the unintended consequences of taking the law into one’s own hands. Perhaps it’s due to having read all of Conway’s run via back-issues and reprints, but it’s so nice to see him back writing issues of Amazing Spider-Man again, even if it is for only a short while.
- If any of you are wondering exactly what “alimentary orifices” are, let’s just say they’re connected (literally) with the digestive system. Which mean, biologically speaking, there are strictly two alimentary orifices Spidey could’ve been referring to, though one is probably more “family-friendly” than the other.
- “Coming mask to mask with a different you? That is a hit to the gut.” And with those two phrases, we see now what potential “Spider-Verse” has squandered. Because I sure didn’t remember Peter feeling like he was gut-punched when he saw all those versions of himself, did you?
- Wait a minute? People know the Kingpin is still alive?! Isn’t he believed to be dead as of Superior Spider-Man #15 and #16, as they found the body of his double in the ruins of Shadowland? And also, the Kingpin is “gone in Europe?” So it’s not just the designated hiding spots for Goblins to lay low after faking their deaths? Though to be fair, I guess an enormously big man like Wilson Fisk would be pretty dang hard to blend into a crowd and disappear.
- “You dated Carlie Cooper.” Darn it! Did we really have to be reminded about Carlie “I’m so perfect for Peter because I’m a nerdy scientist like him” Cooper? I know she and Captain Watanabee were colleagues and worked together to investigate SpOck but she’s was written out of the books for a reason. Even if she ceases to exist as result of the Incursion between the 616 and Ultimate Universes, Marvel is still going to make us remember her, aren’t they?
- “Is this a personal thing for you?” Of course Yuri getting evidence against Tombstone is personal, Spidey! You already know about Teddy’s death since you’re the one who brought it up when you cautioned Yuri not to let her anger over his death make her do something stupid. I know you were “just asking,” but it really was a stupid question to ask in the first place.
- Seriously, how did Spidey catch up to the missile and grab it with his hand when we see he’s being pulled by his webbing behind it? Or were there two missiles since it looked as though one of them exploded. But if that’s the case, when did that Tats guy fire the second missile?
- Far be in for me to understand how the criminal mind works, but why would Tombstone keep a vault with all of his illegal dealings at a construction site? And in the very high-rise that’s being built, no less? You would think he’d want to keep all evidence of his illegal activities far, far away from his supposedly legitimate business fronts, no?
- So remember how in “Spider-Verse” that because SpOck tampered with the Great Web that all the spider-totems, including Peter, would have a diminished spider-sense, with the implication this would severely dampen Peter’s ability to sense danger more effectively? Well, so much for that idea because not only is Peter’s spider-sense working just fine, it actually seems to be even stronger? How else to explain his ability to sense the presence of Mr. Negative several stories down and several yards away from the construction site and thus posing no direct danger to him? So much for that whole spider-sense not being so powerful all over again.