Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #568

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This story is part of an Arc: "New Ways to Die"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

After denying DB! owner Dexter Bennett a choice selection of paparazzi- style photographs, Peter was sacked from his job. This couldn't have happened at a worse time as Peter had just moved in with Detective Vin Gonzales, and he didn't want to come across as a deadbeat lowlife. Meanwhile, the mayoral race between Crowne (boo! hiss!) and Bill Hollister is heating up. Crowne has the DB! in his pocket, and will do anything to discredit his opponent. The goblinesque villain, Menace, is also targeting Crowne's opponents. He murdered congresswoman Parfrey. Is Bill Hollister next? And then there's the little matter of the Thunderbolts...

In Detail...

"Back with Vengeance"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #568 (Story 1)
Oct 2008 : SM Title
Arc: Part 1 of "New Ways to Die"
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  John Romita, Jr.
Inker:  Klaus Janson
Cover Art:  John Romita, Jr.
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Review
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility #7
Articles: Freak (Cameo), Green Goblin I (Norman Osborn), Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Menace, Mr. Negative, Crowne, Randall

Our tale opens with a quick retelling of Spidey's origin, that neatly segues into the present. Harry, Carlie and Lily are helping Peter search for work, so Peter can pay the rent he owes Vin. Of course, Peter is so unreliable that even Harry wouldn't hire him for a 9-5 job.

A little while later, the faux-goblin, Menace, is flying maniacally around the town as is his wont. Passing below is a FEAST truck, valiantly serving the needy homeless. It bears the legend: "The FEAST Project Supports Hollister for Mayor". Menace blows the thing to kingdom come. The blast destroys a near-by building, that looks to be on the verge of crushing a host of innocent by- standers until Spidey swings to the rescue. Menace takes this display of altruism as a personal insult.

The two battle, Spidey taking the opportunity to mock the villains choice of name, wardrobe and the lovely monogrammed balls he is tossing around. As it is, Menace is more dangerous than he appears, and has manoeuvred Spider-Man into a position where he is surrounded by explosives. Menace escape under cover of the ensuing detonation, that buries Spider-Man under a couple of tons of rubble.

Digging himself out, Spidey has to enjoy the cat-calls of the crowd who far from being grateful that he saved their lives, berates him for being a serial killer. They also point out a crowd of people staggering from the ruins of the building Menace destroyed. They are obviously beating a retreat before the police arrive. But why? Spidey takes some photos, but then has the dilemma of how he can sell them.

He calls Harry Osborn for advice. Pete's idea is get a staffed at the Coffee Bean to front the pictures to Bennett and split the profits. Harry has a better idea. Soon Peter is at the offices of the Front Line newspaper. This is the paper that Ben Urich formed with Sally Floyd after he was fired from the Daily Bugle during Civil War Front Line.

It seems that Urich has employed every disgruntled employee from the Bugle to work in his chaotic newsroom. Fortunately, with Robbie Robertson as editor things shouldn't remain too disorganised for long. The pictures that Peter took at the scene are revealed to be of row after row of hand operated machines. An illegal sweatshop, staffed by illegal immigrants in the heart of New York? Worse! Sally Floyd confirms an illegal sweatshop, staffed by illegal immigrants in the heart of New York, and owned by nefarious mayoral candidate Randall Crowne! Now this is a story Ben Urich can run with!

Suffice to say that Randall Crowne is not happy with the headline of the Front Line the following day. All this negative publicity is having an adverse effect on his standing in the polls and his company's profitability. And so, Crowne has decided to call in a favour. He's inviting the one person who's popularity and standing is such that mere association with his name will guarantee a successful result in the election. Who? Who else? Norman Osborn!

But Osborn wants something in return. He wants Crowne to use his contacts in the current administration to get him "zoning". He wants to bring the Thunderbolts to New York City to hunt Spider-Man.

Cut to Thunderbolts Mountain in Colorado. Songbird, Radioactive Man, Bullseye and Venom (Mac Gargan) are beating the hell out of a bunch of training dummies. Just as Venom goes nuts and starts munching on a Spider-Man mannequin, some guards arrive delivering Osborn's message and the T-Bolts new assignment.

Meanwhile at the DB!, Dexter Bennett is on the phone to Randall Crowne. They're on the verge of revealing something important about Crowne's future plans when Betty Brant walks in. Bennett informs Betty that they need to meet negative publicity (like the Front Line's recent story) on its own terms. He wants Betty to rake up dirt on philanthropic millionaire, Martin Li - founder of FEAST, and a known supporter of Bill Hollister.

Betty is rather sceptical that there is any dirt to find, but Bennett is convinced that this whole business of FEAST patrons being miraculously healed of their ills is a good place to start. "Everyone has a dark side," he says. It is a conflicted and nervous Betty that arrives at the FEAST shelter only to get a earful from Aunt May, who can't believe that Betty is working for the disreputable Dexter Bennett. However, Martin Li has nothing to hide and is happy to show Betty around. One of the first things she sees is Eddie Brock.

Eddie Brock? Isn't he dying of cancer? Is his cure another one of Li's miracles, and if it is, isn't Eddie still a murderer? What's he doing here? Li and Brock talk to Betty. Li maintains that Eddie's remission is due to faith and refusal to be a victim. Eddie says that it was the symbiote that was making him sick, now that he has abandoned it he is much better. Li explains how he asked Matt Murdock to represent Eddie at an exoneration hearing and prove that everything Brock did while under the influence of the symbiote was not his fault.

Betty isn't buying any of it. People don't just recover from the late stages of cancer. Li says that they should respect Eddie's belief in miracles, and lays a hand on Brock's shoulder. Within Brock's body white particles materialise, hunting out the disease. But on closer inspection the target looks less like cancer as it does the remains of the Venom symbiote. What sort of power does Martin Li have?

Meanwhile, Peter leaves Ben Urich and returns to his apartment. He is congratulating himself at landing the job at Front Line. Outside his apartment he is attacked by a host of goons. He starts to fight them off, but then remembers himself and allows them to 'subdue' him. The goons carry Peter to his apartment, and throw him to the floor. There Peter sees Venom, Songbird and the Radioactive standing in Vin's living room. Norman Osborn is sprawled languidly on the sofa. "Parker," he says.

TO BE CONTINUED.

In General...

I have been waiting for this issue for some considerable time. Oh, not because of Norman Osborn, or the Thunderbolts, or the hint that we might get some revelations as to what the devil is going on in Peter's life... there's something far more important than that in this issue. Finally, after four years, John Romita, Jr has returned to Amazing Spider-Man. It's about time.

I first encountered JR jr when he was drawing Daredevil back in the late 80s. Of all the artists drawing for Marvel at the time, he was by far the most distinctive. Often when we think of distinctive artists we think of people like Humberto Ramos, or Chris Bachalo or Rob Liefield. Those artists, accomplished as they may be, put style over substance: the style of their art can actively detract from telling a story. Not so John Romita, Jr.

JR Jr's art serves the story; enhances it. The action is never confused, talking heads are compelling, the action is often breathtaking. His rendition of Norman Osborn in this issue is faultless. When Osborn is shaking hands with Crowne you can almost feel the presence, the menace of the man rising out of the page. This is superior art in anyone's book, and whatever rating I end up giving this story gets one more web because of John Romita, Jr.

So, onto the story itself. It was only a matter of time before the Thunderbolts and Spider-Man collided head-on, and I'm glad that it's happening here in Amazing Spider-Man and not in the T-Bolts own title. Slott adds a few nice touches to the story that raises it above average.

I like that way that Menace was able to use Spidey's arrogance against him, to manoeuvre the webslinger into a dangerous position. Spidey's been underestimating his villains for years, it's good to see it coming up again. The characterisation of the cast: Betty, Ben Urich, Norman Osborn... is all spot on. Slott has really found the voice of these characters.

So we have excellent art, a sensible storyline that grows out of past events, great characterisation and some top notch action... it all adds up to a five web book, right? Oh, I wish it did! I've read the comic at least four times now, and I can't help but feel cheated by it.

Part of the attraction of Norman Osborn, what makes him such a fantastic villain for Spider-Man, is the history that they share. The death of Gwen Stacey, the fact that Osborn knows Peter's secret identity - those are the elements that make confrontations like Peter Parker: Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #47 so powerful. Because we know how much these two hate one another, and why they hate one another, any conflict becomes a significant character study.

Brand New Day has ruined that for me. Yes, we know the two have a history, but we no longer know what it is. Obviously, Norman has forgotten Peter's identity along with the rest of the world, but did he ever know it? There are too many unanswered questions, and every one of them diminishes the impact of the story.

The problem is that the whole mystery of what changed because of One More Day, and what happened in the six months between issues #545 and #546, is not actually a mystery to the characters. Peter knows exactly what happened in the new history, it's we readers who are puzzled. We're not discovering the truth with Peter, we're just waiting for the odd narrative crumb from the writers - such as Peter's throwaway line "I have bad mojo with weddings" in this issue.

This is all immensely frustrating. Read the story as a stand-alone event and it holds up very well. Put it in the context of Spidey's wider history and it's a horrible let down. This story doesn't have the impact it would have done if One More Day had never happened.

And so we come to One More Day. Again. It's been eleven months since that story was published, I don't want to keep coming back to it! The Spider- Man "braintrust" better have the world's most spectacular rabbit ripe and ready to be pulled from the hat in issue #600. Six months into the new direction, and it's still a tangled and frustrating mess.

Overall Rating...

My frustrations over Norman Osborn knock this down from an excellent issue to an average one. Add the promised extra web for John Romita, Jr's return and call it four webs.

Footnote...

Norman Osborn hasn't appeared in a Spider-Man comic for a while - not since Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #12 back in May 2005. However, he has been far from idle. Following Osborn's escape at the end of Mark Millar's Marvel Knights run, he returned to Europe but was eventually arrested in France by SHIELD. This was never seen on panel, but merely reported in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (A-Z Update) #1.

At this point the Marvel Universe was on the verge of a Civil War, and Tony Stark hit upon the idea of using Norman Osborn (or more accurately the Green Goblin) to encourage errant heroes to register with the government. Osborn was shot full of nanites designed to control his actions, and sent off to uncover an Atlantean espionage ring in New York city. Unfortunately, the nanites weren't working properly and he killed scores of Atlanteans and very nearly Wonder-Man.

That happened in Civil War Front Line #7. The following issue, Osborn (sporting an increased dose of nanites) tried to assassinate the Atlantean ambassador. He was overpowered by the local police, making no effort to resist them. I should point out that Stark's plan was never to kill anyone, simply to annoy the Atlanteans enough that they would seem a credible threat to the USA, and get neophyte heroes lining up to join the Initiative and defend their country. He's just whiter-than-white, that guy.

Under interrogation in Civil War Front Line #9, Osborn was taken away from the police by shadowy government operatives. He didn't want to go, even begging the police to hold on to him. Although not explicitly stated, it is widely believed that these operatives were members of the Commission for Superhuman Activities (CSA). This is where things get a little complicated.

The CSA is an American government organisation that enforces the Superhero Registration Act. SHIELD are an international peacekeeping organisation that the American government asked to help during the civil war. SHIELD has no direct authority over the CSA. Tony Stark was, at this time, head of SHIELD, not the CSA. So, from this point onwards, the fate of Norman Osborn is completely out of Stark's hands.

The CSA appointed Osborn as the new director of the Thunderbolts. Following the disappearance of Baron Zemo, Atlas falling into a coma and the general disintegration of the team, the Thunderbolts were retasked by the US government. Only Songbird, the Radioactive Man and Swordsman survived from the original line-up. They were joined by Moonstone (a regular thorn in the side of the team) as well as some A-list psychotics in the shape of Penance, Bullseye and Venom.

The Venom on the Thunderbolts is the ex-Scorpion, Mac Gargan. Gargan, for those of you who can't remember, never knew or simply don't care, acquired the Venom symbiote in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #9, after Eddie Brock tried to sell it when he was dying of cancer.

This brings us to Thunderbolts #110 and the beginning of the twelve- issue Warren Ellis run on that title. I won't go into the ins and outs of it here, but it's a extremely good run (much better than Ellis's work on Iron Man), and you really should check it out for yourselves. Suffice to say:

Norman is still quite mad, and has to pop pills to control his psychoses. Moonstone wanted to lead the team and fed Norman the occasional placebo in the hope that he'd go nuts and get fired. That somewhat back fired on her. Meanwhile, Gargan is having a terrible time dealing with the Venom symbiote. He loves the power, but hates the way it makes him feel. It sickens him. Songbird was the old leader of the Thunderbolts, and she is desperately trying to keep a rein on the maniacs she currently has to work with. The Radioactive Man is her silent ally.

From what I can tell, the appearance of the Thunderbolts here takes place between issues #121 and #122 of their title - i.e. just after the end of Warren Ellis's run. I assuming that the entire run in Amazing since the beginning of Brand New Day, is still set before Secret Invasion. Of course, later events might revise that opinion.