Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #5

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This review was first published on: Apr 2016.

Background...

Parker Industries is now a worldwide success. PI’s CEO, Peter Parker, is now a globetrotting mogul who still finds time to fight crime as Spider-Man, often as an ally (not an employee) of SHIELD. The criminal organization Zodiac has been repeatedly targeting PI facilities for reasons we don’t yet know. Last issue, SHIELD organized a simultaneous global strike on Zodiac bases, but Spider-Man bailed on the mission to protect Aunt May from a terrorist attack. His failure to report for duty (and Mockingbird’s too, because she was in his plane at the time) imperilled the mission, for whatever that’s worth: as it happens, the Zodiac bases were all false fronts! What is Zodiac really up to…?

In Detail...

"Set in Stone"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #5
Feb 2016 : SM Title
Summary: Zodiac
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inker:  Cam Smith
Cover Art:  Alex Ross
Colorist:  Marte Gracia
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A SHIELD cleanup crew arrives in Nadua and Spider-Man and Mockingbird commandeer their jet to rejoin the anti-Zodiac strike force. Why did Zodiac go to all the trouble of setting up and defending fake bases, he wonders? Why, so that, when SHIELD was scanning them, Zodiac could piggyback on the scan and take advantage of SHIELD’s worldwide satellite network.

Sure, why not? This sort of bluff and double-bluff happens all the time in super-spy stories, so it’s easy to suspend our disbelief in it.

It turns out that Zodiac found whatever it was looking for in London. “Mockingbird to Fury! Converge all forces on London! We’ll be there within the hour!”

Wow, from southern Africa to London in under an hour. That jet is pretty sweet.

At Parker Industries London, the cast assembles: Nick Fury, the Prowler, agents May and Coulson, and the Human Torch, plus local employees Sajani, Anna Maria, and new guy Aiden. All watch as the SHIELD jet arrives and Mockingbird and Peter Parker disembark. As Peter calmly apologizes for withdrawing Spider-Man from the field, he briefs the team on the Zodiac threat. Johnny Storm watches, impressed that his formerly-feckless friend is so comfortable in authority. Me, I just wonder if anyone else notices that the jet picked up Mockingbird and Spider-Man in Africa but drops off Mockingbird and Peter Parker in London. Some of the audience are spies, and most of them are supposed to be smart. You’d think they’d pick up on this.

All right, so Zodiac is in London. But where? SHIELD could access London’s notoriously broad closed-circuit television camera surveillance network, but it will take time to be granted access. Besides, who knows what Zodiac looks like under their masks?

“We couldn’t even get Leo’s mask off when he was in custody,” grumbles Fury.

“Hold on,” says Peter, “he’s not still in custody?”

“Scorpio killed him.” (Back in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #3, True Believer!) “Don’t tell Spider-Man,” Fury continues. “Saving Leo from that poison tooth was one of his only wins in all this. He seems like the kinda guy that’d bother, and we don’t need that now.”

“Uh, yeah,” manages Peter. “Yeah, he… is that kind of guy. But don’t worry. He’ll do his job.”

Meanwhile, Zodiac is going in hot at the British Museum! “Well, Zodiac?” says Scorpio to his crew of costumed agents. “Let’s get some culture.”

Zodiac’s lack of subtlety means that the SHIELD team knows the second they enter the lobby. Everyone but Parker and the Torch leave, with Peter promising that his bodyguard Spider-Man will rendezvous with them there. Peter’s not lagging behind just because of his secret identity, though. When Fury is gone, he snaps to the PI staff, “Okay, we didn’t get clearance for the CCTV feeds yet. So where did that come from? Answers. NOW!”

Sajani and Anna Maria have the answer, which Peter doesn’t like one bit: PI nanotech was released into the network, reworked it, improved on it, and “stole all of its info”, whatever that means in the context of a webcam feed. This means that Parker Industries has broken any number of laws, and has done so without Peter knowing about it.

Before he can really get angry about this, Johnny Storm says that this will have to wait, and that Peter needs to ‘contact Spidey and let him know what’s up’. As they retire to the hangar bay - I wish my workplace had a hangar bay - the Torch wonders aloud if Peter has taken on more responsibilities than he can handle, but Peter, now in uniform, brushes him off: “It’s fine. More power. More responsibility. I know how this works. And I can handle it.”

And with that, the two are off, declining to use any of PI’s Spider-vehicles, like the Spider-copter, Spider-cycle, or Spider-underground-drill-car. It’s webs and Torch flight all the way.

Our heroes bust into the British Museum, where Zodiac has refrained from killing anybody thus far, largely because the guards only have truncheons and pose no threat to the heavily armed and superpowered Zodiac. As the melee begins, Spider-Man warns the team to be careful; the British Museum is filled with irreplaceable artifacts, and it would be a crime to damage any of them.

Luckily, the fight goes well for the good guys, with Zodiac crumbling under our heroes’ assault. It’s all part of Scorpio’s plan, though; he’s sacrificing his troops to buy himself time, time to use his Zodiac Key to trace his prize. As Spider-Man watches in horror, Scorpio slices the Rosetta Stone in half (“No check’s gonna fix that,” Spidey moans) and retrieves a strange artifact from a cavity inside.

“The game’s over, Spider-Man. All the other pieces are just pawns to me,” exults Scorpio. “Sacrificial pawns. Remember Leo? I wonder. How many can you save?” And he uses his webware (ouch) to trigger the poison suicide pills in each of his comrades’ jaws.

In a nice splash page, Spidey vaults around the room, shooting every Zodiac soldier with a spider-tracer packed with antidote. He saves them all, but at the cost of Scorpio’s escape.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Peter traces the hack of the London CCTV network and finds that the initial intrusion was done right outside the home of a PI employee… “Someone with a history of going behind my back and doing damaging things - even fatal - to this company.” Sajani pleads her innocence, but Peter isn’t having it. Sajani is out the door, albeit with a threat from Peter to buy her shares in PI, which means a soft landing for her, I guess. Anna Maria now runs PI London, which gets to keep operating, though CEO Parker has to eat humble pie in front of the Home Secretary, the British public, and his own shareholders.

In a conference with his biggest shareholder, Peter receives reassurance. “I have faith in Parker Industries,” says the man. “And I predict big things for it in the future, just as soon as the stars align”.

In the background, we see that this is no idle remark… Parker Industries’ biggest shareholder is Scorpio! So that remark earlier in the issue that SHIELD has no idea what any of the Zodiac soldiers look like under their masks was not an idle remark, but pipe-laying. Well played, Dan Slott!

In General...

The Torch’s point that Spidey has bitten off a lot more than he can chew is well taken; this issue and last illustrate the point that Spider-Man can’t be everywhere and save everyone while also running his company the way he should.

I, for one, am glad that Sajani has finally gotten the boot, even if it was for the wrong reason. If I were Peter I would have fired her way back in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) #18.

A lot of mysteries remain regarding the Zodiac; I look forward to learning more. But then I’m also interested in the Otto-Octavius-inside-the-Living-Brain subplot, which is foregrounded in this issue, and the other subplots not referenced here: Regent, the Green Goblin, and Red Suit. As we wrap up the first arc on this title, things are going well, I think.

One thing I would like to know more about is just what was hidden in the Rosetta Stone. I’m no historian of antiquity, but I thought that the Rosetta Stone was not a notable object in its own day, it was just a proclamation carved three times in three different languages on a single slab. It was very important to latter-day types to help learn how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics, but in its own day was no more interesting than any government document written in a few languages to ensure citizen comprehension. So does that mean that the Zodiac treasure was hidden in it after its construction? I hope Dan Slott graces us with an explanation, eventually.

Overall Rating...

This issue fits right in with the new status quo: exotic locations, fancy technology deployed in interesting ways, and brisk action sequences. Good stuff, but not earth-shattering. Three webs.

Footnote...

Stinger time! During the big fight scene, Mockingbird is briefly pinned down by Sagittarius, who proclaims himself to be the world’s greatest archer.

“Heh,” she smirks. Go on, Spidey. I got this.”

A nice side joke which Slott trusts the audience not to need explained to them.

The icing on the cake is that later, when we the Zodiac troops rounded up, Sagittarius has his bow thrust over his torso, pinning his arms to his side. Nice.