Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #600

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This review was first published on: 2009.

Background...

May Parker has been swept off her feet by the rakish and witty John Jonah Jameson Snr - the father of J. Jonah Jameson, the mayor of New York and ex- editor of the Daily Bugle. We're going to call them Jay and Jonah from now on so no-one gets confused, okay? After a whirlwind romance the two are now due to be married. Sounds like a good time for a venerable super-villain to return to New York, right?

In Detail...

"Last Legs"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #600 (Story 1)
Jul 2009 : SM Title
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  John Romita, Jr.
Inker:  Klaus Janson
Cover Art:  John Romita, Jr.
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Review
Articles: Watson, Anna, Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius), Hydro-Man, Kravinoff, Ana, Winters, Norah

Four months ago, Doctor Octopus got some bad news from his doctor. It seems the amount of radiation coursing through his body (the same radiation that allows him to control those groovy mechanical arms) is preventing his body from healing all those blows to the head he's suffered over the years. Doc Ock has a degenerative condition. He's dying, and as you can imagine he's not all that happy about it. The good doctor decides that if he's dying he's going out with a bang. The world will never forget the name of Doctor Octopus! Does he think this is an anniversary issue or something?

Cut to today. Spider-Man and Daredevil are finally taking down the Bar with No Name. Deke the proprietor, as well as the host of super-villains who were enjoying a quiet drink, are putting up a fight but it's a loosing battle, and it doesn't take long for the bar to be completely trashed. Spidey fears that the police will now turn on them and side with Deke. But Daredevil has a it covered.

The police captain, Watanabe, knows Daredevil and they've hatched this plan together. After all the work Deke has put in to set up his bar and promote it as a haven for the super-villain community, he forgot to apply for his liquor licence. It's a typically Daredevil way to solve a problem, and Murdock is typically dour. He doesn't believe that villains deserve a place where they feel safe.

Spider-Man takes the opportunity to broach something he's been thinking about for a while. Daredevil used to know his secret identity; Pete's recently told the Fantastic Four and the New Avengers, isn't it time he shared his secret with his old ally? Daredevil immediately cuts him down. Whatever Spidey has done to conceal his secret identity it even prevents DD's heightened senses from determining who he is. Daredevil has lost so much because his secret identity came out. He urges Spidey not to risk it, and certainly not to tell him. And then he swings away.

Spidey doesn't go after him because Peter Parker has an appointment. After a quick detour to the offices of Front Line to drop off some pics of the evening's work, he's off to Aunt May's rehearsal dinner (you all remembered that she's marrying J Jonah Jameson senior, right?) However, the New York traffic conspires against him, and Peter only arrives after the dinner has finished, and May is saying goodbye to all the guests.

Jonah Junior (the one we love) didn't turn up to the dinner either, and it wasn't because he was stuck in traffic. Jay is disconsolate at the behaviour of his son, and blames himself for Jonah's attitude. May is worried that all this bodes ill for the wedding. She urges Peter to be more reliable on the actual day itself. She didn't seriously expect him to make the rehearsal dinner, but some things are more important.

Meanwhile small multi-tentacled robots (just like the ones we saw at the end of Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #594) are popping up all over the city, hacking into all manner of technical devices and overriding them. It is revealed that these robots belong to Doctor Octopus, who has plugged himself into a vast computer, and is using the robots to take over the city! By interfacing with the machine, the good doctor can see everything that has been observed or recorded in the city. He sees a report of Spidey and Daredevil's fight and smashes the monitor. He notices the newspaper article announcing the upcoming marriage of May Parker, and reminisces that he nearly married her once. But he dismisses both these as irrelevant to his grant plan.

The following morning in Forest Hills. Things are going from bad to worse at the Parker house (and I'm not talking about Peter's lack of a date for May's big day). The hall for the reception has been double booked, the caterers have been closed down by Environmental Health, the marriage licence has vanished and whoever they got to perform the service has been struck off. Is this an ill omen? How did this happen? Jay thinks he knows exactly how it happened, and leaving Peter and Anna Watson to comfort May he storms out.

Jay heads across town to confront his son at a press conference Jonah is holding. The mayor is trying to be appeal to the lowest of the lowest common denominator. Jay accuses Jonah of trying to derail the wedding. The press have a field day at his outburst. He then returns to Atlas Towers where he keeps a room. He is angry, and wants to head down to the golf range to vent that anger. However, before he can do so, he is set upon by a horde of Doctor Octopus's robots.

Meanwhile, May is sitting in the cemetery talking to Ben's grave. She is having doubts about marrying again. She is seeing signs that she and Jay should not be together. She says that she needs Ben to give her a sign. While this is happening, Peter is phoning Carlie to try and get her to go with him to May's wedding. Carlie is more than receptive to his overtures, but the conversation is cut short by May calling in. She tells Peter that she is worried about Jay. She can't reach him on his phone, and she is fearful that something terrible has happened. Peter changes into Spider-Man to go and check it out. Still on the phone to Carlie, he arranges to meet her at Jay's apartment.

However, on the way there the city seems to come alive and attack Spider-Man. Closed circuit TV cameras explode, lights short out and cars career out of control and slam into one another. At first Spidey thinks that Electro is behind it, but when every single machine in the city seems to be affected he begins to have his doubts. Who could do this? He has to get to the bottom of it!

Which means that Carlie arrives at Jay's apartment alone. Well, not quite alone. She bumps into Front Line reporter Norah Winters, just as Norah is trying to break into the apartment. Norah arrived to interview Jay, to follow- up on his argument with Jonah from earlier in the day. There was no reply, and the neighbours heard sounds of a struggle from within. The pair break in to discover a trashed apartment and the remains of an ominous looking octopoid robot.

Meanwhile Doc Ock is ready to broadcast to the city, and it is not the broadcast that either the reader or Spider-Man is expecting to hear. Projecting an image of what he used to look like (as opposed to his new wizened and almost cybernetic form) on every TV, monitor, VDU and mobile phone Otto Octavius announces that he has taken control of every machine in the city. However, he has done it for the benefit of New Yorkers. He has created a smart city, a new New York organised and run by the power of his mighty brain. In a city run by Doctor Octopus everything will work and all the trains will run on time. This will be his gift, and his legacy.

However, New York city itself seems to be acting in a manner contrary to the good doctor's words. In fact it seems to be out to get Spider-Man. He can't swing across a street without something exploding and trying to destroy him. Spidey does his best to stay out of harm's way and protect the general public but, as always, it's a thankless task. Fortunately, he is not alone. The Avengers make an appearance! After suffering Spidey's witty put-downs, Wolverine and the others point that the chaos and destruction in the city seems to be centred on Spider-Man. His very presence seems to be making matters worse and placing innocents in danger. He should clear out while there's still time.

Trying not to be offended, Spidey leaves the scene. Then he gets a phone call. It's Carlie and Norah. Carlie has reconfigured the Spider Tracer-tracer she used in the Character Assassination arc to trace the signal that was controlling the "spider-like" robot she found in Jay's apartment. Carlie and Norah are now out in the middle of nowhere, with no back-up trying to trace the signal - and hopefully Jay - to its source. You can just imagine how this is going to end can't you? The line abruptly goes dead.

What does Spidey do now? Well, he needs help and he reckons that there's one spot in town that even Doc Ock couldn't control: the Baxter Building. My, there are a lot of guest stars in this six hundredth issue. As you would expect, Reed Richards has already worked out how to stop Doc Ock. He has strapped a massive piece of Kirby-tech to the Thing's back. He intends to use a "stronger brainwave pattern" (i.e. his own) to override Doctor Octopus's mental control of all the machines.

Believing that Reed has the matter well in hand, Spidey asks for help in tracing the last call made to his phone (i.e. the one from Carlie). The Torch is at first unwilling to help, until he hears that some girls may be in danger. That is something that Johnny Storm's heroic libido cannot abide.

Carlie and Norah are indeed prisoners of Doctor Octopus, although he is slightly mystified as to why his "octo-bots" captured them in the first place. The pair see Doc Ock in his new form, and it is not a pretty sight. The man is gaunt and withered, clad in a mechanical suit that keeps him alive. A cybernetic visor is attached to a massive computer bank, and he is supported by eight (not four) mechanical arms. He says that his body is now a withered shell, but that his mind was always his greatest weapon. With it, he shall reach out seize control of every machine in the world. Every aspect of life will be under his influence, and he will make things better on a global scale.

Meanwhile the Torch and Spidey head to the scene in a fantasticar. The Torch reminisces about Spidey's first meeting with Doctor Octopus (from way back in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol 1.) #3 kids), and the two engage in the sort of banter your would expect when Dan Slott brings Spider-Man and the Human Torch to the table. Following the clues, the pair break into Doc Ock's secret base, when they come face to face with a shocking revelation: Jay, Norah and Carlie each strapped into mechanical harnesses and charging towards our heroes, four mechanical arms flailing menacingly.

The Torch takes the opportunity to hit on Carlie and Norah (that doesn't go down too tell). After a brief fight, the pair of heroes are able to neutralise the "octo-suits" and free their friends. Spidey tells the Torch to get Jay and the girls to safety while he tackles Doc Ock. Beating the doctor after all these years should be second nature to him. One swift blow to chin and he collapses like a house of cards.

Spidey's flippant words are overheard by Octavius who, considering how his degenerative condition got started, is more than a little incensed. He prepares for his final battle against Spider-Man. Spidey isn't prepared for the volume of octo-bots nor the new ten-armed Doctor Octopus. Octavius has no time for Spidey's witticisms. He has no time for anything apart from his vision of an automated future. He doesn't believe Spidey when the webspinner tells him that New York is on the verge of destroying itself. He views the destruction as nothing more than a minor setback.

Spidey manages to bury Ock under some masonry and find his way to the neuro- interface that Octavius has been using to control the machines. He hopes to duplicate Reed's plan and broadcast a stronger brainwave to seize control of everything. Octavius is amused. How can an insignificant insect like Spider- Man possibly think his brain can overwhelm he brainwaves of the great Doctor Octopus? Guess what? Turns out Spidey's got a pretty mighty brain himself.. Our hero uses the helmet to turn off the doctor's arms, still the rampaging machines in the city and save the day.

The whole city is in the palm of Spider-Man's hand, so it's not surprising that he intends to put a few things right: like correcting all the problems that beset May's wedding, for instance. That combined with news that Jay has resurfaced well and alive seems to be the sign that May was waiting for that she should go through with the wedding.

As Spidey finishes his work the octo-bots spirit away the doctor's broken body, while others swarm all over him. Spidey is saved by the Torch before the octo-bots can completely devour him, but Doctor Octopus has escaped with a renewed hatred for Spider-Man. Ock decides last grand gesture will not just be something great, it will be something great and terrible. If this was a Marvel motion comic, surely that statement would be accompanied by a few dark chords on a large church organ.

Back at the Baxter Building, Spidey is united with the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. He says that Daredevil was right about him being too blasé with his secret identity. He has downloaded his brain patterns onto every machine in the city. Fortunately Reed already has a logarithm running that will sort that out. For a moment, standing there with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, Spidey starts to think that mixing his personal and super-hero lives is not such a bad thing. Then the Torch drops the bombshell that he's been invited to May's wedding as Carlie's +1, and Spidey swears always to listen to Daredevil in the future.

And thus it comes to the big day, the marriage of May Parker and John Jonah Jameson (senior); and Peter still doesn't have a date. This circumstance doesn't persist for long, as one misunderstanding later he has invited his room-mate Michelle Gonzales. The pair head to Bryant Park, where the wedding is taking place - all paid for from the deep pockets of our beloved mayor, who is trying to make good on a public relations disaster. Johnny, Carlie, Betty, Flash, Randy, Norah as well as Robbie and his wife, Martha are present. No Harry Osborn, though - which isn't surprising after the events of American Son.

In a touching scene May encourages Peter to embrace the good things in life as she is doing in her whirlwind romance with Jay. And then Peter walks her down the aisle to two Jonahs. Seems that they couldn't find another preacher at short notice, so JJJ is officiating at the ceremony. However, not even the old blowhard's showboating can stop the wedding from taking place without a hitch. May and Jay are married.

However the scenes during the ceremony are intercut with scenes of someone else rushing to the church in a taxi. Who could it be? Someone intent on stopping the wedding? A supervillain out to ruin the party? The identity of the newcomer is not revealed until May tosses the bouquet. It sails through the air and ends up in the hands of Aunt Anna's +1.

Mary Jane Watson has returned.

In General...

Amazing Spider-Man #600 is 104 pages long. There are no adverts. Now Marvel have produced plenty of comics this big in the past, but they have always contained a healthy portion of reprinted material. Incredible Hulk #600 (published the same month as this title) is the same size, but only has 39 pages of new material. Not so Amazing Spider-Man. All the content in this issue is brand new. The main feature I've just summarised above takes up three quarters of the issue, and all told there's enough material to fill more than four issues of a regular-sized comic. And all for just $2 more. You can't accused Marvel of not giving us value for money.

Maybe it's because a thrice-weekly ASM is such a financial commitment for fans. Maybe Marvel felt it appropriate to give something back with this issue? Maybe. I don't like to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I'm both pleased and grateful at the work and energy that went into this comic... it's just that I can't help wondering why they bothered.

Now, there's little wrong with the main feature. We'll get to that in a minute, but it's a solid and enjoyable piece of story-telling. However, the rest of the issue is just pointless. The stories are just there to fill a space. There's no sense that the writers had any desperate desire to tell these stories, and they certainly don't matter in any wider context. I believe that if there's no meaningful reason to tell a story, then don't bother telling it. I'd rather have seen a 72-page issue with just the main feature, than have to wade through ten sub-standard back-up features.

This being Spiderfan, we'll still review all the back-up features. Some are better than others, although on the whole they're just a bit dull. However, this review is solely looking at Last Legs by Dan Slott and John Romita Jnr, so let's get on with it.

The first thing that struck me when I read the story is that this certainly feels like an anniversary issue. We have guest stars galore (Daredevil, the FF and the New Avengers), the return of an old villain from the past (Doctor Octopus), and a change in the book's status quo (May's wedding and the return of Mary Jane). This story has all the elements that you would expect, and handled them competently. It probably falls short of some of the great anniversary issues of the past, but if you like reading Spider-Man stories this is still going to press all the right buttons for you.

The story made excellent use of the interconnected nature of the Marvel Universe. There's an attack on New York. Obviously, this is Spidey's book so it's up to Spidey to solve the problem, but his story doesn't happen in a vacuum. The Fantastic Four and the Avengers live in New York too, and it's right and proper that they should at least attempt to deal with what is happening. It's this sort of thing that helps to ground the book in a wider context, and give it some much needed verisimilitude. The guest stars don't dominate the issue, the reader doesn't need to know any extraneous continuity, but their presence enhances the tale.

The Human Torch is called on to play a greater role in the proceedings, and it's always fun to see him and Spidey play off each other. Slott has a soft spot for these characters and he writes them very well. I've plugged Slott's Spider-Man/Human Torch limited series before in these reviews, and I will continue to do so until every one has gone out and bought the trade.

Doctor Octopus has been off Spider-Man's radar for quite a while now. He hasn't appeared since he learned of Spidey's identity back in Sensational Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #28, and that was three years ago. He made an appearance in a few issues of Thunderbolts during the Civil War, but nothing that brought him into contact with Spider-Man. And now we learn why he has kept such a low profile.

I'm always cynical about major make-overs of established characters because I know that it's never going to stick. Whatever dark journey Otto Octavius is on, he's going to come out the other side of it, put on his old green boiler suit and start robbing banks again. The trick is whether or not we trust the creative teams to take Doc Ock somewhere interesting before that happens; on the strength of this story I'm not sure that I do.

The plot of the issue was working from a very strong premise. Doctor Octopus thinks he's dying and therefore wants to do something for the good of humanity before he dies. However, his subconscious mind keeps sabotaging his efforts. He doesn't mean to ruin May's wedding, kidnap Jay or keep tying to kill Spider- Man, he just can't help himself. I really like that idea, but I don't think that it came through strongly enough in the issue. You only seem to get a sense of the story that Slott thought he was telling by reading between the lines. That's a shame; but worse is the ending that seems to suggest that Doctor Octopus is abandoning his altruism in favour of one last plan of revenge on Spider-Man. The story teased us with an interesting story, and then took a sharp left into a road we've been down many times before. It could still redeem itself, and I would be pleasantly surprised if it does.

What makes the issue an enjoyable read are all the little asides that Slott throws in. Such as Blindside using his powers on Daredevil, or Hydro-Man trying to escape the police by flushing himself down the toilet. It was also good to see Slott address the issue of Spidey's secret identity with Daredevil. It seemed very in character that Daredevil didn't want to know. I guess a lot has happened to him since Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #110.

Which brings us to the art. Normally, I'm the first to sing John Romita Jnr's praises. I've been enjoying his art for the best part of twenty years and even though I think he's never drawn Spider-Man quite as well as his father, I've always looked forward to seeing his work. This issue isn't an example of him at his best. JR Jnr's art has developed a more cartoony quality over the past couple of years that I haven't liked very much. Usually this is balanced by everything else that's so good about his pencils, but that isn't the case here. Frankly, the whole thing looks rather rushed.

Now, this is not to say that there isn't some excellent art in this story. Look at the expression on Anna Watson's face while May is saying her vows. That's a excellent depiction of a woman on the verge of joyful tears. But then look at his full page depiction of Mary Jane. It doesn't look quite right does it? Her facial features are a little too large, and she doesn't look elegant, in fact she looks rather awkward. She isn't stunning.

And Mary Jane should be stunning don't you think? Back when he was drawing MJ during Joe Straczynski's run, JR Jnr's Mary Jane was gorgeous. Maybe the story was too long, and the deadline too tight, but it is a little disappointing that MJ's long-awaited return to the title didn't completely blow me away.

Overall Rating...

A good, solid and entertaining story littered with funny moments, and great one-liners. But the plot isn't as clear or as interesting as it might have been, and the art seems rather rushed. Better than average, but only just. Three and a half webs.