This just in: we interrupt our ongoing Spider-Man Secret Wars coverage to bring you a Spider-Man comic which is (gasp!) not in any connected to Secret Wars! That’s right, it’s part three of Gerry Conway’s tale of crime and intrigue, “Spiral.” And as you can see on the cover, Spidey once again got himself into a some girl trouble.
“Spiral, Part Three”
WRITER: Gerry Conway
PENCILER: Carlo Barberi
INKER: Juan Vlasco
COLORS: Israel Silva
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTIST: Yasmine Putri
VARIANT COVER ARTISTS: Greg Land and Morry Hollowell
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: We open at Manhattan’s 3rd district, where because both Tombstone and Hammerhead are in prison, both of their gangs are now fighting each other for control of each others turf. The Black Cat arrives are starts taking out members of both gangs before telling them she’s taking over both their territories and to swear loyalty to her. Both gangs, however, refuse to betray Tombstone and Hammerhead and leave. Suddenly, the Crime Master appears, along with The Enforcers (Ox, Snake Marston, Hammer Harrison and Fancy Dan), and he suggests to Black Cat an alternative—instead of forcing Tombstone and Hammerhead’s gangs to work for her, she can “co-opt” them by having Tombstone and Hammerhead swear their loyalty to her. When Black Cat asks how she can do this, Crime Master suggests a prison break.
At Parker Industries, Anna Maria Marconi is trying to brief Peter about the company’s latest project, but Peter is too distracted by the recent events involving Yuri. He tells Anna Maria he’s worried about “a friend” and ask if good people can go bad. Using her relationship with Doctor Octopus as an example, Anna Maria states that while Doc Ock was in Peter’s body, he made a lot of poor decisions, but a lot of good ones, as well, thus it’s hard to say whether he was good, bad or a bit of both. She suggests the best thing Peter can do is to let Yuri make her own decisions. Later, as Spider-Man, Peter goes to meet up with Yuri outside her apartment and finds she’s talking to Mr. Negative. Before Spidey can find out what he’s doing there, Mr. Negative disappears.
Yuri tells Spidey Mr. Negative has tipped her off about the planned breakout of Tombstone and Hammerhead from Ryker’s, so she, as Wraith, takes Spidey to the prison. When they arrive, all the guards are unconscious and they see Black Cat, Crime Master and his Enforcers. Spidey and the Wraith engage them, and in the scuffle, Black Cat slashes Spidey across the chest and heads towards the prison’s jail barge where Hammerhead is being kept. Feeling he has no choice but to trust Yuri, Spidey heads after the Black Cat, while Yuri goes after Crime Master and the Enforcers as they head towards the infirmary wing to find Tombstone. Using her fear gas, Yuri is able to take out the Enforcers one by one, Ox being the last who she punches one into one of the intensive care rooms. There, along with a nurse, she finds Judge Howell is in a coma on live support. When Yuri demands to know what happened, the nurse explains one of the inmates knifed Howell, and that it might have been an attempted contract killing.
Meanwhile, Spidey manages to find Black Cat at Hammerhead’s cell. Hearing police sirens, Spidey pleads with Black Cat to fighting. He tells her if they keep this up when the cops arrive, someone is bound to get killed, and he doesn’t want it to be her. He’s also says despite her having good reason to hate him, he still cares about her, that she’s still a good person, and gives her a chance to not free Hammerhead and walk away. Even though Black Cat says this doesn’t change anything between them, she does what Spidey asks. At that moment, Spidey hears a gunshot, and fearing the worst, she finds Yuri armed with an Uzi…having shot Tombstone in the shoulder.
THOUGHTS: When Gerry Conway first wrote for The Amazing Spider-Man, he was following on the footsteps of Spidey’s co-creator Stan Lee, which suffice to say is some pretty big shoes to fill, especially since Conway was only nineteen at the time. But as young as he was, Conway was smart enough to write the series in such as way that, even though those issues (Amazing Spider-Man #111 – #149) are written in different style, they still read as though they are a logical extension of what Stan Lee had previously developed to the point where Conway’s and Lee’s stories are oftentimes lumped together. Forty years later and at age sixty-two, Conway is doing the same thing with “Spiral” in regards to Dan Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man, and in many instances improving upon it.
Take for example Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat, her now antagonistic relationship with Spider-Man and her quest to become the next big crime boss of New York City. Those of you who have read my earlier reviews know how much I’ve loathe this story-line in the main series, even going so far as to say what is happening to the Black Cat amounts to “character destruction.” Even the most favorable reviews on comic-book related websites such as IGN, Newsarama and Comic Book Resources have considered Black Cat’s new status quo to be far and away the weakest development of The Amazing Spider-Man post-Superior Spider-Man relaunch. But with this comic, Conway has managed to do the literary equivalent of taking a sour lemon and squeezing out sweet lemonade by doing something which seems so obvious: just because you change her motivations doesn’t also mean having to change who she is as a character.
From the opening pages, we see a Black Cat who is amoral, out for her own self-interest and who doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. Yet it’s clear this is not the ruthless, single-minded, unaccommodating sociopath as portrayed by Slott; this, to paraphrase the Crime Master from this issue, is the charismatic Felicia Hardy of old, whose behaves as an inspiring mob boss the same way she did as an inspiring thief. Thus by the time Spidey confronts her towards the end of this issue, we believe him when he says to her how she’s still a good person in spite of making some bad choices. And when she accepts Spidey’s offer to stop fighting and not free Hammerhead or Tombstone in exchange for being let go, it offers a sense of hope she can be redeemed, just as Spidey once swayed her from her earlier life of crime.
Speaking of whether a person can still be good in spite of making bad choices, Conway uses this recurrent theme to also do what Slott neglected to explore during the relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man, which is how Peter tries to emotionally come to terms with Doctor Octopus having hijacked his body. As Anna Maria reminds Peter (and those who read Superior Spider-Man) Doc Ock’s actions as SpOck weren’t always presented as being so cut-and-dry or black-and-white, and has Peter question whether Otto “was a good man who did bad things, a bad man who did good things, or a bit of both?” Conway also uses this as a means for Spidey to grapple with issues of trust, even when someone has been lead astray, n his dealings with the Black Cat and Yuri Watanabee in particular. In an otherwise brilliantly-written interior-monologue, Conway has Peter see how Yuri may be following a similar path as Otto, noting how “a cop’s need for self-confidence can become corrupted” and “corrupted self-confidence curdles into self-justification.” Couple this with how Yuri has become dependent on Mr. Negative as an informant just as her late-partner did before her, and how Mr. Negative’s power is literally the ability to corrupt the souls and minds of others, then the overall message is clear: every one of us, no matter how good we may think we are, are still capable of doing great evil in the name of good.
(And by the way, five will get you ten the Crime Master is really Mr. Negative in disguise. After all, how else would he have known about the Black Cat’s jailbreak? And isn’t it interesting how he seemed to have vanished and left the Enforcers to fend for themselves when being chased by the Wraith?)
Yet while this continues to show how Conway is giving readers a more philosophic and introspective Spider-Man, it also smacks of moral relativism, especially within the context of Doc Ock’s actions before and during The Superior Spider-Man. Anna Maria’s notion that Otto wasn’t all good or bad is ludicrous when one recalls the things he did during his time as a super-villain, including his attempt to the destroy the world just to prove he could. The mere fact Otto hijacked Peter’s body just so he could save himself, and continually deceived everyone Peter ever cared about in the process, is enough to prove Otto was certainly not “a good person who made some mistakes.” Furthermore, Peter’s equating police officers’ supposed susceptibility to developing a corrupted self-confidence to that of a super-villain like Doc Ock not only comes across as a simplistic generalization but borderline offensive. Granted, there have been several instances of police officers using their authority to put themselves above the law and commit criminal actions, but it’s still stretch to suggest a corrupt cop is on par with a would-be mass murderer. Still, to be fair, it does serve as a reminder, and an awareness by Spidey, that great power doesn’t always result in a greater sense of responsibility, as it can lead to Doc Ock’s belief in Superior Spider-Man that “might makes right.”
Much better handled in my opinion is when Conway shows how Yuri’s actions have led to some dire consequences. As seen in Amazing Spider-Man #17.1, Yuri had no qualms about Judge Howell being kept behind bars even though he was innocent of charge of conspiracy and collusion with Tombstone, and knew full well his life was in danger if he remained in the general prison population. She’s even willing to put him on the same level as Tombstone and Hammerhead (talk about moral relativism!) because he “broke the law” when he purchased illegal prescription drugs for his wife. So when she sees the Judge was critically wounded by an inmate hired by Tombstone—exactly what Howell warned Yuri could happen—we don’t have to be told via word balloons that Yuri feels responsible, and as seen in the last page, she tries to assuage her guilt by getting revenge on Tombstone.
Too bad this cliffhanger is all but ruined thanks to another baffling artistic choice by Carlo Barberi. For some reason, Barberi felt the need to compose the scene in such a way where we can just make out that Tombstone, though shot, is still alive, and thus undermines Spidey’s fear that Yuri may have killed a criminal in cold blood. There were far better ways Barberi could have handled this, including showing a sequence of panels of the Wraith approaching Tombstone’s cell, pointing the Uzi at him, and then cutting to Spidey hearing the gunshots. At least when it comes the fight sequences, of which there are plenty in this issue, Barberi has a better handle on things. Like Humberto Ramos, his art style is much more suited for action and creating the illusion of movement. A great example of this is the first of this issue’s double-page spreads which show the speed and agility of the Black Cat, while the fight between Wraith and Fancy Dan is just as fluid and exciting.
My personal and aesthetic qualms aside, “Spiral” continues to be an engaging, thought-provoking and well-written story reminiscent of classic Amazing Spider-Man. Unlike what I feared in the last review, Conway did not all but recycle the same story beats as he did in the first two chapters, giving us instead a well-balanced and contrasting character study of both Spidey and the Wraith, along with a solid portrayal of a more villainous Black Cat who didn’t come across as a more feminine version of Snidely Whiplash. With two parts left to go, this mini-series is on track to being one of the best Spider-Man stories to come out this year. Given the less than stellar performance of the main series before Secret Wars, I’d say it’s no contest it could get the top spot.
- As we are told in the recap page, and as we can tell from the story itself, this comic takes place before Amazing Spider-Man #18. But by being a point one and thus a higher number than 18, doesn’t this also technically make this comic a flashback issue? Also, how weird is it that will be getting an issue #19.1 and #20.1 yet not an actual issue #19 and #20 for the current volume of Amazing Spider-Man?
- Also, if this issue chronologically takes place before the event of Amazing Spider-Man #18, and possibly Amazing Spider-Man #16 and #17 as well, then that really makes what the Black Cat did in those issues all the more deplorable in light of her willingness to take up Spidey’s offer to walk away. Not to mention makes Spidey look like a real chump as by doing this, he endangered the lives of Aunt May and his step-uncle, Jay Jameson. You guys wouldn’t mind if I retroactively lowered my “D” grade for Amazing Spider-Man #18, do you?
- Okay, Felicia, far be it than me to tell you how to be an effective mafia don, but I’m not so sure Tombstone and Hammerhead’s men will be willing to listen to your “ease back on the testosterone” speech while you’re also beating them to submission. No wonder you had some trouble inspiring their loyalty.
- I guess everyone has Secret Wars on the brain these days even in comics which have nothing to do with it whatsoever, as we get a panel of Crime Master introducing himself and the Enforcers, explaining what each of them are and bit of their background, followed by a snarky comment from each, in spite of the fact that, by Crime Master’s own admission, Felicia has already met them before. Still, the Enforcers are not as familiar to some comic book readers, and at least this saves the trouble of them having to look up who they are on Wikipedia.
- Oh, Fancy Dan, aren’t you a sweet talker with your “ma’am” and telling Black Cat how she’s “poetry in motion.” Certainly a better line than Hammer “not-to-be-confused-with-the-Harlem-Globetrotter” Harrison’s “people say I’m good with my hands.”
- Also, a moment of silence for one of the original founding members of the Enforcers, the lariat-wielding, Stetson-wearing Montana, who as of “Big Time” is still dead. Let us pause now for a moment of silence, as this was one cowboy who was not buried on the lone prairie or wound up dying on the Streets of Laredo.
- So, why exactly is Crime Master squatting down when he’s talking to Black Cat? Did he find a penny on the ground or something?
- I guess Humerto Ramos isn’t the only artist who has trouble figuring out just how tall Anna Maria is supposed to be in comparison to Peter.
- “I hate how he does that. How does he do that?” Well, your guess is as good as mine, Spidey, because I don’t think with ever seen Mr. Negative have teleportation abilities like Nightcrawler minus the “Bamf!” and brimstone residue until now.
- “Damn it, Felicia. You always did know how to get under my skin.” Because Spidey is thinking about how he couldn’t resist the Black Cat’s charms right after she literally sliced him deep enough to draw blood from…under his skin. Do you get it, huh, huh? (Groan) So Spidey even comes up with corny puns while thinking to himself, I guess. Though what good is a pun if you don’t say it out loud.
- Hammer Harrison must have some really bad luck. Just as he managed to somehow get free from Wraith’s over-sized ribbons, he manages to get ensnared in the them mere minutes later.
- Now that I’m on the subject of the Wraith, just where did Yuri find an Uzi, and in a prison infirmary, no less? Then again, the Crime Master was packing heat, so perhaps she got it from him. But then we never saw what happened to him after she attacked the other Enforcers. Unless…the Crime Master, who I think is Mr. Negative in disguise, has also disguised himself as Yuri and shot Tombstone to frame her! Man, I’m making this nitpick way too complicated.
- “I know you hate me now. You have good reason.” Um…yeah, Spidey? Given how you know full well Doc Ock was the one who was really responsible for what happened to Felicia, I’ll let this guy do the response for me on this one: