Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #685

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This story is part of an Arc: "Ends of the Earth"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

This review was first published on: Jun 2012.

Background...

A dying Doc Ock has hatched a master plan to launch satellites that, once in orbit, can end the threat of global warming! The world has accepted Ock’s plan, and has given him what he says he wants: pardons, immunity, and $2 billion in cash for each member of Ock’s Sinister Six, and for Ock himself, acknowledgment that he was the saviour of the human race.

Spidey ain’t buying it. Ock’s satellites could be used to accelerate global warming as well as prevent it, as Ock himself demonstrated in ASM #682. (Of course we readers aren’t buying it either, because Ock indicated his intention to “take over” the world back in ASM #676). But the world is buying it, so Spider-Man’s crusade to destroy Ock’s satellite factories - aided and abetted by the Black Widow and Silver Sable - has made Spider-Man into the world’s most wanted man.

In Detail...

"Global Menace!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #685
Jun 2012 : SM Title
Summary: Spidey, Black Widow, Silver Sable
Arc: Part 4 of "Ends of the Earth"
Writer:  Dan Slott
Artist:  Humberto Ramos
Cover Art:  Stefano Caselli
Lettering:  VC's Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Edgar Delgado
Executive Producer:  Alan Fine
Publisher:  Dan Buckley
Chief Creative Officer:  Joe Quesada
Editor In Chief:  Axel Alonso
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Assistant Editor:  Ellie Pyle
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Articles: Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius), Rhino, Sandman, Silver Sable

We open in mid-battle: Spider-Man, the Widow, and Sable are brawling with the Rhino at one of Ock’s facilities in North Korea. By voiceover caption, Spider-Man tells us readers that the good guys have been striking facilities like this for three straight days, starting, presumably, from the end of last issue, when they beat the Sandman in north Africa. The fact that now, for the first time since then, Ock has sent one of his superpowered henchmen after Spider-Man indicates that they’ve finally hit a nerve.

While Spidey and the Widow trade quips with the Rhino, Sable calmly blows up the entire facility, which makes Spider-Man freak out: ever since ASM #655, his personal credo has been that ‘no one dies’, which includes Ock’s flunkies. Sable’s ice-queen demeanour is unaffected: while she did in fact get the North Koreans to safety, she doesn’t see why that is a concern. Isn’t this a war?

Maybe, but still, no one is going to get killed. That’s Spider-Man’s position, and he’s sticking to it. Now, beating people up, that’s just fine. One application of electrical webbing, which Peter Parker whipped up in ASM #679.1, knocks the Rhino out cold, leaving Sable to mutter to herself that Spider-Man has changed.

How, exactly? He still makes quips, still saves people’s lives, and still uses violence on evil-doers. What’s changed?

I’d love to hear more about this but the conversation is interrupted by the arrival of SHIELD. They’re there to take the bad guys into custody. No, not the Rhino... Spider-Man and his squad. The three use sophisticated stealth technology (in this case, a few smoke bombs) to cover their retreat back to Sable’s undetectable jet, which is apparently named ‘the Swan’, complaining all the while about how the world has bought into Doc Ock’s schtick. Me, I’m shaking my head as the incompetence of SHIELD. As the old security guard on The Simpsons said once, “Why do I always shout first? Just gives them a chance to get away. Well - [pauses reflectively] I’m an idiot.”

On board the Swan, Peter indulges in some angst - “oh, the world is against me, wah!” - but neither Sable nor the Widow have any patience for this, and Peter snaps out of it. He puts emo aside and tries on... torturer? Oh dear.

“Time to interrogate our prisoner again,” says Spider-Man, meaning the Sandman, whom the team captured last issue. Sandman has been reduced to only a few pounds of silicate, and Sable pours acid over them. “Now if were you,” she says, “I’d tell us the location of Octavius’ next base before the acid eats away at the one grain that holds your intellect.”

“Spidey!” pleads the Sandman. “I know Sable! She’s ruthless! She’d do it! But not you, man!”

If Sable is bad cop, Spidey is worse cop. “I think six billion lives are on the line! And if I have to waterboard you -- or acidboard you to save them -- I’ll do it! Don’t think I won’t!”

“Okay,” mutters Sandman. “I’ll tell ya. Whatever ya wanna know.”

Privately, Peter is relieved, for if Sandman hadn’t broken, Peter would have called it off. “Sable’s right. I have changed. But not that much. Not yet.”

From where I’m sitting, Peter, you’ve changed far too much. But I’ll save my bile for the ‘In General’ remarks below.

An incoming call from Horizon: Max Modell and the Horizon Five have determined that Octavius’ technology is indeed a viable solution to global warming. Just how sure is Spider-Man that Doc Ock is playing the villain here? Oh, he’s sure. Too bad the rest of the world isn’t: person-on-the-street interviews in North America, Europe, Japan, and Kenya reveal that global sympathy is aligned with Ock and his scheme. This news surprises Ock, who considers it for a moment before brushing it aside as “immaterial”.

Hmm.

On with the show! The rest of the Sinister Four want to call it quits, now that they’ve received their payday, but Ock insists the plan will proceed. That’s okay with Rhino: he doesn’t want money, he wants something else that Ock hasn’t given it yet. And Chameleon and Mysterio fancy themselves to be professionals, whose integrity demands that they finish what they agreed to start. Still, for all of that, Ock wants some muscle upon whom he can rely. He sends out the call to supervillains far and wide, promising them wealth in return for defending his facilities against Spider-Man.

Spidey, hearing this through a leak from the Titanium Man (who has a Russian connection to the Widow), sends out a parallel call to the also-ran superheroes of the world - Union Jack, Sabra, Big Hero Six, and others - to attack those same facilities. Spidey’s not much on speechifying, but Sable interrupts and delivers a powerful endorsement of the plan, arguing that if Spider-Man is against Ock, Ock must be wrong, because Spidey is a hero of the first rank.

After the broadcast, Spidey confesses that he’s confused by Sable’s newfound admiration for him. “I always thought that -- well, that you thought I was a big goofball...”

Sable, placing a hand on Peter’s shoulder, murmurs “There is what lies on the surface and then there is the man inside. And I want him to know, if we should fail, if there is no tomorrow... Spider-Man, I...”

Peter, proving he is indeed a big goofball, clearly misreads the fact that Sable is coming on to him, and says “We’re going to pull this off! And we’re going home. I promised her.”

“Her?” Sable withdraws her hand. “I hope she’s worth it, Spider.”

A brief interlude in New York establishes that the ‘she’ in question is indeed Mary Jane Watson.

Pardon me while I grit my teeth. I have something to say about this but again I’ll save it for the ‘In General’ remarks below. Let’s stick with the recap. Around the world, Spidey’s newfound allies attack Ock’s bases. For more on this, go read the Amazing Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth One-Shot, although I hear it’s dreadful. Our focus remains on Spider-Man, Silver Sable, and the Black Widow, who are tackling Ock’s facility in Romania, on the Symkarian border.

Except it’s empty, just like the one in the Sahara. Why? Because, as Ock himself gleefully explains (via broadcast to some TVs inside the base), he’s got all of the satellites he needs! With his plan complete, Ock is free to admit the truth. Spider-Man was right all along! Ock is enough of a sociopath that he wants the world to end when he does. If Ock is going to die, he’s taking the rest of humanity with him.

And he’s not fooling. Suddenly, super-bright light floods the chamber. Temperatures rise by a stupendous degree. Staggering outside, the three look out across Symkaria, where every building is aflame.

“Not just Symkaria,” Peter gasps. “It’s half the planet. Everywhere facing the sun. It’s all over. We failed. It’s the end of the world.”

That seems final, but no, the story is still TO BE CONTINUED.

In General...

I’ve been a big fan of “Ends of the Earth” up to this point, but the bloom comes off the rose with this issue. We’ve still got what, by my standards, is a fast-paced, exciting arc, with one heck of a cliffhanger. But in this issue we’re dealing with a second-act story: there’s no big moment here until the final two pages. The rest is just moving the plot forward. It’s hard to get excited about Mary Jane walking through New York, or any number of scenes where Spider-Man stands in front of a TV screen. This comes through in the art, as well: without many bravura set-pieces to illustrate, Ramos’ work here is much more workmanlike. The job is getting done, but without flair.

That’s small beer, though, compared to the two big problems with this issue.

First is Spidey’s sex life. I was a big supporter of the Watson-Parker marriage, and hated to see it dissolved in the “One More Day” arc. But if we’re going to such lengths to make sure that Spidey is single, well, then, Marvel, please take advantage of the storytelling options it offers. Just why is it that Peter, a single man in his twenties with what I presume is a normal libido, is so eager to reject Silver Sable’s advances? I speak for the readers when I say it would have been much more interesting had he accepted them. There’s no reason, in story, why he should be coy: he and MJ are just friends now, and Carlie broke up with him. He’s perfectly free to pursue casual intimacy, just as he has, in the recent past, with Ms. Marvel, Michele Gonzalez, and the Black Cat.

There’s also no reason out of story why he should say no: for twenty years and more we’ve had people make passes at Spider-Man, who turned them down on the grounds he was in a committed monogamous relationship. So Marvel goes to all the trouble of erasing the marriage, so that Spider-Man can turn people down on the grounds that he used to be in a committed monogamous relationship. O brave new world! What exactly have we gained by erasing the marriage, if Peter still politely rejects interesting women because of his feelings for MJ?

I’m forced, reluctantly, to conclude that there’s an unspoken equation here that casual sex equals impurity. It’s especially hard to evade given what will happen in Amazing Spider-Man #687. More on this in a future rant. Suffice to say for the moment that by having Peter reject rather than embrace Sable, the story went in a less interesting direction. I’ll argue that the story may have been indulging ugly stereotypes about women and sex elsewhere.

Speaking of indulging ugly stereotypes, my second, and far graver, concern with this issue is the editorial choice for Spider-Man to torture one of his prisoners to gain information. I feel like a broken record, having said it again and again in my SpiderFan reviews, but torture of one’s captives is always and everywhere morally wrong. There is no justification for pouring acid on a helpless prisoner, whether that prisoner is the Sandman, a terrorist, or indeed anybody. For Spider-Man, a comic-book character that is supposed to model for readers the heroic virtues, to pour acid on his captives is unconscionable. Any comics creator that depicts a costumed superhero committing war crimes has made a grave error.

Dan Slott, I’m on your team. I love your writing. But this sequence makes me ashamed of you.

Overall Rating...

I’m still enjoying the ‘Ends of the Earth’ arc, but in this issue the story only inches forward and the art is rushed. Worse, the story makes some bad choices: Spider-Man’s fear of adult sexuality is annoying, but his acceptance of torture and war crimes is ghastly. I think I’m being generous when I award two webs.

Footnote...

What’s up with the opening splash page? Not only does it feature a completely gratuitous image of the Chameleon disguised as J. Jonah Jameson menacing a beaten and disfigured Spider-Man, which is apropos of nothing, it also mischaracterizes Doc Ock’s plan as a scheme to “repair the ozone layer”, which is nonsense.

I guess Ramos isn’t the only one feeling rushed in the Spider-Office.