Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #651

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This story is part of an Arc: "Big Time"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

This review was first published on: Feb 2011.

Background...

Spidey's hit the big time! As an Avenger, he’s finally getting respect from civilians and superheroes alike. As Peter Parker, he’s got a steady girlfriend and a fancy new job at Horizon Labs. At Horizon, he gets paid fat cash while being given wide latitude to come and go as he pleases: no more tension between working and web-spinning. Good for him!

Phil Urich has also hit the big time: he murdered Roderick Kingsley and has taken over Kingsley’s villainous alter ego of the Hobgoblin. In that guise, he stole some high-tech swag - “reverbium” - from Horizon Labs and turned it over to the Kingpin. Spidey’s determined to get it back, with help from the Black Cat, and the pair are on their way to Fisk Tower, where Hobgoblin, the Kingpin, Montana (now the Kingpin’s consigliere), and a whole bunch of ninjas await.

Now, the Hobgoblin doesn’t know that Spidey has a new, fancy stealth suit, one that makes him invisible and inaudible, and immune to Hobby’s sonic scream. But Spidey doesn’t know that Hobgoblin permitted Spider-Man and the Cat to know where the reverbium is, so he could lure them into a trap. Incidentally, the Kingpin and Montana don’t know that either. So our heroes think they’re on a secret stealth mission; but they’re actually going into an ambush!

In Detail...

"Big Time: Part 4"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #651
Feb 2011 : SM Title
Arc: Part 4 of "Big Time"
Senior Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Tom Brennan
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Humberto Ramos
Inker:  Carlos Cuevas, Victor Olazaba
Lettering:  Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Edgar Delgardo
Staff Only
Issue
Review
Articles: Black Cat, Green Goblin IV (Phil Urich), Scorpion, Smythe, Alistaire

Hobgoblin arrives at Fisk Tower, much to Montana’s displeasure, as these two really don’t like each other. Hobgoblin explains to Montana and the Kingpin that, according to his sources, Spider-Man and the Black Cat have infiltrated the tower and aim to steal the reverbium. Fisk calls down to the basement lab to check on the reverbium’s status. When the call is interrupted - thanks to the Cat choosing just that moment to cut the building’s communications feed - Fisk gets the proof he needs that something is up. The bad guys head to the elevator, and the Hobgoblin uses his goblin-strength (when did he get that?) to break open the doors. He and the ninjas proceed to jump down to the basement.

That’s a long fall. While they’re waiting, Montana opines that “before two days ago, this fella was a nobody. But now he’s got ‘sources’. I’m tellin’ ya, boss, if Black Cat and the web-swinger are pokin’ around, it’s probably ‘cause that maniac’s the one who tipped ‘em off!”

Montana is no fool, but maybe Phil Urich is, to slip up like that. Thank you, Dan Slott, for this bit of cleverness.

Elsewhere, Spidey makes short work of ninjas, thanks to his stealth suit, which keeps everyone from seeing or hearing him... except the Black Cat, who, thanks to her special googles and earpieces, can say what we’re all thinking: Spidey looks like an ad for TRON: Legacy. The truth hurts. While Spidey’s struggling to make a witty rejoinder, Hobgoblin and the ninjas plummet down the elevator shaft, with alarm bells heralding their arrival. That’s what happens when you rip open an elevator door in Fisk Tower. “Sorry, Spider,” says the Cat, “the mission’s a scrub... that vault is gonna be swarming with guards. So I’m goin’ where they won’t be.” Where’s that? Fisk’s penthouse, where she might find some stuff worth heisting. She doesn’t seem too fussed that this leaves Spider-Man to fight the Hobgoblin and the ninjas, who she passes by on her ride up to the top (she’s hiding on the bottom of the express elevator car). She’s got the grace to warn her partner of what he’s about to face, but Spidey’s still unimpressed at the Cat’s fickleness.

Down in the reverbium lab, Spider-Man fights the Hobgoblin and his men. Thanks to his stealth suit, our hero makes short work of the ninjas. Despite all of their training, they can’t stop a man with the proportionate strength and reflexes of a spider, especially one they can’t see. Annoyed, Hobgoblin dials his sonic scream up to eleven. This shorts out Spidey’s stealth suit, with the side effect that all of the ninjas dissolve into dust.

Let me call a time-out here to ask what the hell just happened. Can Hobgoblin’s sonic scream melt people? How can it do that and not melt other things, like walls or lab furniture? And if he can just kill people by laughing at them, why hasn’t he done it before, like say to either Kingsley or Spider-Man back in Amazing Spider-Man #649? I assume that the answers to these questions are “no”, “it can’t,” and “he couldn’t”, respectively, and that the ninjas melt because the sonic scream somehow triggers the post-mortem ability to melt into dust that all Hand ninjas have.

But that’s just my assumption. I wish the story made this clear.

Now the story gets complex, as we intercut between Hobgoblin and Spidey in the basement labs and Black Cat, Montana, and Kingpin in the penthouse. Above, Kingpin is chewing Montana out while Black Cat steals objets d’art. Too bad for her that Montana’s cowboy-sense tingles, permitting him to see the Cat and use his lariat to rope her by the throat. Below, Spider-Man, his communications feed broken by the Goblin Laugh, is unaware of her predicament. At least it’s just his comms and stealth that are down; his suit’s still got “a secondary mode where it just baffles sonic frequencies.” Now he’s immune to the Goblin Laugh! He’s also deaf, and inaudible, which means the fight to come features many, many blank speech balloons, as neither Hobgoblin nor Spidey can hear what the other is saying. Nice touch, Slott!

Above, Cat uses Montana’s lariat to whip the cowboy into a big pile of debris (where did that come from?). This allows Kingpin to grab her. Now it’s not just Monana’s lariat around her neck, it’s Kingpin’s big meaty fist. Below, Spidey is bobbing, weaving, and staying just out of reach of Hobgoblin’s flaming axe. For this, Spider-Man is prepared! He flicks a spider-tracer made of anti-metal, a.k.a. Antarctic vibranium, onto the axe; as we readers learned last issue, anti-metal instantly melts metallic objects, such as the Hobgoblin’s fancy weapon. “Somebody’s just lost his favourite toy,” Spidey muses. Muses to himself, of course, because no one but the readers can hear him right now.

And he can’t hear the Cat, who, above, is pleading that he come and save her from the Kingpin, who announces his intention to pop Felicia’s arms off. Ick. Below, the Hobgoblin tries his Goblin Laugh again, but all he manages to do is trigger a feedback wave from the reverbium. “It’ll bring this whole building down!” Spidey yells. “And a couple of city blocks! How could Fisk have this down here without any safeguards?!” In silence, the Hobgoblin and Fisk’s pet scientist depart, leaving Spidey to deal with the problem.

With Hobgoblin gone, the wall-crawler turns off his sonic baffle, and finally clues into Felicia’s predicament. Thanks to the swaying floor, she was able to escape Fisk’s grasp, but she’s too banged up to escape on her own. Up, up, and away leaps Spider-Man, leaping and climbing up the elevator shaft to the penthouse, even as the building collapses. He arrives just as the floor begins to give way, giving him just enough time to banter with the Kingpin before grabbing Felicia and leaping to safety. Meanwhile, Hobgoblin swoops in to save Kingpin... but not Montana, who presumably falls to his death. Not that Hobgoblin could have saved him - “I only got two hands,” as he puts it - but he’s predictably callous about Montana's fate all the same.

Spidey and Cat chill in a web Spidey spun between two adjoining buildings and talk about what just happened. Cat’s convinced her bad-luck powers saved the day; after all, just as Kingpin was about to kill her, the building shook, Fisk fell, and Spidey “made it up a dozen falling stories [sic], got us out, and spun a safety net in time[.] Pure luck. Ergo: me. You’re welcome.”

Spidey’s unimpressed, but he still has to admit this is a win. No more reverbium in the bad guys’ hands, and Fisk took a real hit. Not a fatal one, as we readers know: he’s not dead, and he’s simply relocated his criminal empire to Shadowland. But he’s in deep enough that he needs Hobgoblin on his team. “From now on, you are my Hobgoblin. Say it.”

Where Kingsley hesitated, Urich is decisive. “I’m your Hobgoblin.” But why? Because Kingpin’s putting him on the payroll, that’s why, and is setting up a line of credit with Phineas “the Tinkerer” Mason. Too bad that the gear Urich wants isn’t cheap to fix: looks like Phil will have to keep selling footage of his alter ego to the Daily Bugle. It’s not all bad, though. Norah’s happy to date Phil in exchange for his scoops, and Robbie Robertson is happy to buy what Phil is selling, given how important it is that New Yorkers see the Hobgoblin “for the menace he truly is.”

Phil’s uncertain about all this. “Just gotta keep Kingpin happy. Keep the Tinkerer tinkering. And keep the Bugle money coming in. All these responsibilities! But with ‘em, comes everything I’ve ever wanted. And power. So much power!”

And that’s where 'Big Time' ends. Phil’s hit the big time, or so it seems. Certainly Peter has. He’s impressed his boss with his sound-baffling tech, which will soon be incorporated into noise-cancelling headphones. Peter’s also moved all of his spider-gear into his black box, which means his personal life is spider-free. He’s got a new condo, a new girlfriend, and an aunt that’s finally proud of what he’s accomplished.

And so we end on a note we rarely hear in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man: Peter Parker, dignity intact.

In General...

As I observed earlier, the last two pages of the book make it clear what stakes Dan Slott is playing for in this arc: Peter Parker and Phil Urich are each growing up. They’re taking risks, using their talents, and impressing their mentors. Both are keenly aware that their powers and responsibilities are intimately linked.

I’m good with all of that. Seing Peter behaving like a functional adult and not an arrested-development teen feels fresh and exciting: perhaps because, after twenty-five years of reading Amazing Spider-Man, I finally fall more in the former category than the latter. (I hope.) So I have no objections at all to where 'Big Time' takes Peter. But I have to reiterate my complaint from last issue, namely that what Slott does to Phil Urich is a travesty.

Not that Phil turns to crime, no. That we don’t understand why he does so. Phil Urich, former superhero, is now a callous, cold-blooded thief and murderer. How did he get here? We never learn. That won’t do at all. As I wrote last time, you can’t turn an established character into an antagonist, trading on the reader’s associations and familiarity, without linking up their antagonism with what we know of them already. Not to do so is misappropriation, an abuse of continuity rather than an addition to it.

Think about it this way. Phil Urich is the doppelganger of young Spider-Man: he’s a loser who lucked into great powers, but whom fate keeps from profiting from those powers in a straightforward way. His circumstances force him to sell pictures of his alter ego to a news publisher worried about a menace. And his love life is pretty tangled up too.

Fair enough. But we know why Peter became Spider-Man. Not ‘how,’ that was the spider bite. The answer to ‘why’ is Uncle Ben.

I know Phil Urich’s how - a chance encounter with Roderick Kingsley. What’s Phil’s why?

Sadly, 'Big Time' doesn’t tell us. And to be a success, it needed at least to gesture in that direction, to give us a sketch to be filled in later. It doesn’t do that.

That’s a shame.

Overall Rating...

There are lots of nice touches: Spidey using his big brain pro-actively, for once, with his stealth suit and anti-metal; the intercutting between the Spidey battle below and the Cat battle above; the blank word balloons; Phil Urich’s inversion of ‘power and responsibility’. And Humberto Ramos’ art is back up to par, after the shakiness last issue. Four webs, no doubt.

And the “Big Time” arc as a whole also gets four webs. The changes to Peter’s status quo are delightful, and making Phil Urich the new Hobgoblin is an exciting twist. Only the fact that Slott doesn’t pay for this twist with the explanation the readers are due holds it back.