As you can guess by the cover, the Circus (of Crime) is in town. Except, as the Ringmaster tells Spider-Man in this fourth chapter of Gerry Conway’s Spiral, they’re really just the sideshow for the main act.
“Spiral, Part Four”
WRITER: Gerry Conway
PENCILER: Carlo Barberi
INKER: Juan Vlasco
COLORS: Israel Silva
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTIST: Yasmine Putri
VARIANT COVER ARTIST: Justin Ponsor
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
THE STORY: After some flashbacks showing the brief histories of Peter Parker and Yuri Watanabee, we continue with where Amazing Spider-Man #18.1 left off, with Spidey seeing Tombstone shot and the Wraith holding a smoking uzi. The Wraith tells Spidey she wasn’t the one who shot Tombstone–it was the Crime Master, who as it turns out was one of Mr. Negative’s Inner Demons in disguise. The police arrive to arrest Spidey and the Wraith, forcing both to flee the scene.
Meanwhile in Chinatown, Mr. Negative is holding conference with The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime and proposes an alliance. The Ringmaster, however, refuses, and he and the Circus leave. It’s then Wraith arrives, saying Mr. Negative’s plan to win the gang war has “fallen apart.” But to the Wraith’s surprise, Mr. Negative reveals he knows she’s really Yuri Watanabee, explaining how every time he’s given Yuri a tip off, it’s always been Spider-Man and the Wraith who’ve acted pon it. Yuri, finally realizing Mr. Negative has been setting her up the whole time, tries to attack him, but she’s held back by the Inner Demons. Once Yuri asks what Mr. Negative wants, he tells her she’ll be under watch by his lieutenant, Donald, while she keeps fighting crime, and shows her a pamphlet of the New York Tech Fair—the Circus of Crime’s planned target.
The next morning, Spidey swings by the police station to check up on Yuri, when he overhears her being reprimanded by the prescient chief. The chief tells Yuri that Judge Howell has died from his wounds, and she holds Yuri responsible for what happened, adding while Yuri isn’t fired, her career as a detective is over. Once Spidey and her get a chance to talk, Yuri says how all she wanted was “to protect her prescient and take down the bad guys,” but Spidey tells her not to make things worse by denying she’s made a mistake. Later that evening, Spidey and Yuri, as the Wraith, meet up to stop the Circus of Crime’s heist of the New York Tech Fair. During the fight however, Yuri notices Donald stealing one of the exhibits and heads after him, while Spidey comes face-to-face with the Ringmaster. Turns out the Circus of Crime were hired by Mr. Negative as a distraction from the real robbery—the theft of prototype watch insured at over $10 million. The Ringmaster then hypnotizes the security guards to attack Spidey, who refuses to fight back as the guards are not in control of their actions. Spidey, however, manages to shoot webbing into the Ringmaster’s eyes, which frees the guards from their trance, and allows Spidey to punch the villain in the face. Yet it’s after the Circus is rounded up that Spidey hears a commotion, and finds Donald, unmasked, and having seizures from the Wraith’s fear gas. The Wraith, having already left, heads towards Mr. Negative, vowing to destroy him.
THOUGHTS: One of the main reasons I’ve enjoyed Gerry Conway’s “Spiral” as much as I have is that wasn’t just a return to a street-level, fight with organized crime story reminiscent of classic Spider-Man comics, it also, by having Yuri Watanabee as one of the protagonists, allowed for some subversion of police drama tropes, specifically those stories involving a cop who takes the law into their own hands. He showed through Yuri’s quest to avenge the death of her mentor and former partner that, for as bureaucratic as the legal system is, and while criminals abuse the system to their advantage, it also exists to protect those who are victims of crime, including those such as Judge Howell, and that vigilante-style justice can do more harm than good. So it pains me to say that with this particular chapter of “Spiral,” Conway is starting to succumb to the very tropes of those revenge-driven cop dramas, with plot developments which are clumsy as they are clichéd.
For example, we find out through a series of flashbacks that Yuri came from a family of cops, and that while her grandfather was a highly decorated officer, her father was convicted of bribery. The implication is obvious: Yuri is driven by the need to restore her family honor, and implies her becoming Mr. Negative’s unknowing patsy has set her on the path towards corruption that doomed her father. At the very least, if gives us an understanding as who Yuri is as a person and where she’s coming from. Problem is her family history and her father’s fall from grace had nothing whatsoever to do with why she did what she did in this particular story; what motivated her to become the Wraith again was the death of Teddy from part one, which happens to be one of those flashbacks. Even if the idea was to create further empathy with Yuri, then her background is something which should have been established well towards the beginning of “Spiral,” not when the story is almost all but over. Finally, her flashbacks are shown along with Spidey’s origin, the death of Gwen Stacy, and the death of Doc Ock as seen in Superior Spider-Man #30, with some heavy-handed interior monologue suggesting both Spidey and Yuri are alike in that tragedy has made them “different people” than what they once were, while also being “different” in how they’ve responded and dealt with them. Except Spidey and Yuri’s tragedies, because they are so different, are not even comparable; Peter is motivated to be a superhero because of the guilt he feels, whereas Yuri has been motivated all this time by vengeance and a belief the legal system wasn’t serving the cause of justice. Thus the notion Peter and Yuri have more in common than they realize falls utterly flat.
Then we have the resolutions to last issue’s cliffhanger of Yuri seemingly shooting Tombstone, which once again due to how Carlo Barberi drew the panel one can barely see. I suppose I should have guessed it was actually the phony Crime Master who pulled the trigger given how he was shown armed the same uzi Yuri is seen holding, but it also begs an obvious question: if Yuri knew she was being framed, then why did she pick up the gun? The answer, of course, is so we can have the obligatory cops point their guns at the heroes as they make their dramatic escape, and to have Spidey have a momentary crisis of doubt. It’s a purely contrived scene in what has been an otherwise character-driven story. Even worse is when Yuri learns Mr. Negative knew she was the Wraith the whole time he acted as her informant. It’s meant to be a shocking twist, but readers could have figured this out by the end of part two, if not the end of part one. Moreover, when Yuri tells Mr. Negative he set her up, I couldn’t help but think, “You’re supposed to be the detective, and you’re only just figuring this now?” Granted, it was a given Yuri’s dealings with Mr. Negative would come back to bite her, just as Spidey said they would, only the previous issues made it seem as though Yuri knew Mr. Negative was manipulating her but didn’t care so long she got the results she wanted. Here, she written as though she’s been oblivious to who she’s been dealing with all this time. We even have the unoriginal “You set yourself up” line from Mr. Negative just to hammer the point of obviousness home.
And it doesn’t stop there. We have yet another scene in which Yuri gets a talking to by the Chief, telling her how much she screwed up and how “she’s finished in the department.” We have the robbery which turns out to be a “distraction” for the real robbery. And we end with the Wraith heading off to potentially kill Mr. Negative in revenge for making her into his patsy, not unlike how Conway years ago had the Punisher swear vengeance against the Jackal for being used as his patsy. It’s almost shocking that somehow of Conway’s talent, who has been consistently delivering a decent but clever narrative up to this point, could wind up scripting something this uninspired and dull.
Things get a whole lot better, however, once Spidey and the Wraith (but mostly Spidey) fight the Circus of Crime, with the web-slinger using his patented wise-cracks at the villains expense. While Conway could have used any number of Spidey’s B or C list villains here, The Circus of Crime (first introduced way back in 1941 within the pages of Captain America Comics #5, with their “modern” incarnation first appearing in a back-up story for The Incredible Hulk #3) are a colorful bunch with a shared gimmick. It’s not every day you get to see Spidey go toe-to-toe with a fire-blower, a fat lady and a clown with a high-pitched bicycle horn. Also, having the Ringmaster allow Conway a chance to show Spidey being both clever in bringing him down while also doing his best to protect his hypnotized victims. And what better way to illustrate how the crime is based off of distracting Spidey than to have villains who dress as circus performers and are all about showmanship? Finally it also reminded us how even Spidey’s allies, when it comes to his sense of humor, misunderstand his jokes as proof he doesn’t take crime-fighting seriously, though it also had the effect of making Wraith’s monologue once more seem like Frank Castle-lite. If anything, I wish the comic was able to use the Circus of Crime more than what Conway presented here.
Finally, Barberi’s penciling is better used here than in has been in the last three issues, allowing for some truly dynamic visuals, particularly when it comes to the Wraith and her serpentine ribbons. He also doesn’t do as many wide and distant angles this time around, as much of the action sequences are closer to the panels’ foreground. One other quality he has is a sense of where characters are placed relative to their space within a given scene regardless of the view; in one subtle example of this is when he shows Yuri’s hair being blown to her right, and when she turns to face Spidey, it’s being blown from the left, thus showing us which direction the wind is blowing on that rooftop. Even so, there are more than the occasional moments which take you out of the story. Characters on panel on not always in the correct proportion to one another and often look too rigid. His foreshortening has the effect of making arms and limbs appear stunned in growth as opposed to creating an illusion of depth. There are scenes in which he clearly used a cut and paste technique. And in the issue’s one double-page spread, it was hard to tell whether the security guard was being thrown by Bruno the Strong Man, or if he was leaping at him with a pseudo-karate kick.
The penultimate chapter of “Spiral” still makes for an okay comic, but it’s also a serious disappointment in comparison to the previous parts. It makes for a fun, down-to-earth and traditional Spider-Man tale, but it’s beginning to look too formulaic when it seemed as though Conway would avoid doing so. Given the glimpse of the cover for Amazing Spider-Man #20.1 and seeing how Amazing Spider-Man #19.1 concluded, it seems all too likely this story will conclude with Spidey forced to fight Yuri in order to prevent her from killing Mr. Negative, her getting the chance to do, but deciding not to after realizing she’s still and always will be an officer of the law. Here’s hoping, however, things won’t turn out to be that predictable.
- Gee, thanks for reminding me of the lackluster way The Superior Spider-Man ended, comic. And no, trying to equate Peter’s supposed guilt over Doc Ock having to essentially kill himself to “save” Anna Maria isn’t nowhere near the same level in terms of angst and tragedy when it comes to the death of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy. Not when you remember that since Doc Ock hijacked Peter’s mind, he had stolen Peter’s life, meaning it wasn’t really his to give back in the first place.
- I suppose I should be grateful we had a panel showing us once again Spidey trying to save Yuri and Teddy from Amazing Spider-Man #16.1. That’s because I had completely forgotten who Yuri’s former partner and mentor’s name was, and was too lazy to go back and re-read that issue to find out. Guess that shows just how much of an impression that character made, huh?
- “Not me. One of Mr. Negative’s Inner Demons. Masquerading as the Crime Master.” Um…how exactly do you know this, Yuri? I assume you saw the guy pretending to be the Crime Master shoot Tombstone, but then did he somehow conveniently show his real identity to you for no good reason? How do you know he wasn’t that guy from the Maggia who bought Bennett Brant’s gear from the Hobgoblin? And where the heck is he? I don’t see him in any of the panels? Did you just let him get away after you thought, “Hmm, maybe I should get pick up the sub-machine he just fired. It’s not like anyone will accuse me of shooting Tombstone with it, right?”
- You know, Mr. Negative, you’re snake-skin shedding metaphor would have been more effective (though a bit less sublte) if you had addressed Princess Python instead of the Ringmaster. She is, after all, in the same in room.
In case you folks are wondering what Mr. Negative is referring to when he mentions how the Ringmaster was blinded, he’s referring to when Kate Bishop shot the Ringmaster’s eyes out in Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye Vol. 4 #2.
- While it’s clear Mr. Negative knew Yuri Watanabee was the Wraith, it would have been hilarious if someone had mistook Yuri for being Spider-Man based off of Mr. Negative own line of reasoning. After all, he does point out both Spidey and the Wraith showed up to locations Yuri was told about, and it wouldn’t be the first time Spidey was mistaken for a woman. Alistair Smythe once though Mary Jane was Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #19, and Mattie Franklin pretended to be Spider-Man herself during the first few issues of Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2.
- So Spidey meets up with Yuri at the police station, they talk, and she leaves. Then they meet again, to which Yuri tells Spidey “It’s about time you show yourself” and thus implying Spidey was late, and they go off to foil the Circus of Crime’s robbery. So why not just team-up to go after the Circus when they first meet up at the police station? Better yet, why not have it so Spidey doesn’t show up at the police station at all? Wouldn’t the scene of Yuri getting a talking to worked just as well without Spidey having to be there?
- Wow, Spidey…you’ve been in the superhero biz for how many years now, and you allow the Ringmaster, a guy you know can hypnotize others into doing his bidding, go off on a villainous monologue—on distractions, no less—just long enough for him put the security guards under his control when you could have saved yourself a whole bunch of trouble by just taking him out right then and there? Someone needs to watch The Incredibles again.