The Hobgoblin of the year 2211 has brought a version of Uncle Ben from an alternative universe into the mainstream Marvel Universe. This Uncle Ben lived while Aunt May died, a change which created a Peter Parker bereft of his ethical compass. Ben is horribly confused as to what is going on. Spider-Man is also at a loss, finding himself face-to-face with his long dead uncle, and in the sights of a homicidal goblin who wants him dead.
We flashback - or should that be flashforward? God, time travel gives me a headache. Anyway, it's the future and we're about to be treated to the origin of the Hobgoblin of 2211! Listen carefully, I'll be asking questions later.
In the year 2211 the world is completely devastated and mankind lives underground in complexes that resemble enormous shopping malls. At Empire State University (still going after all these years), a girl called Robin Bourne is explaining to her boyfriend, Lar Nyven, how she is going to save the universe.
Considering the current state of the Earth, Lar suggests that Robin's philanthropy could be better spent at home, but the pink-haired Robin disagrees. The universe is not stable: for two hundred years scientists have been speculating that parallel universes are more than just parallel, they intersect. By using a series of complicated equations, Robin demonstrates that these intersections have profoundly affected their reality, and that the number of intersections are growing at an exponential rate. She fears that a larger parallel universe will swallow their reality whole, and that everything they are will cease to exist.
Lar is not convinced. He suggests that Robin take this to her father, as it seems more his sort of thing. Robin says she is talking about alternative realities, and not time travel. And besides, she wants to do something that will make her father proud. This seems incredibly important to her.
At that moment, Robin's father arrives. As it turns out he is the Spider-Man of 2211 (real name Max), and he is dressed accordingly, with no less than four cybernetic arms. This version of Spider-Man is part of an organisation that protects reality from time travelling tomfoolery. He has come to arrest his daughter, and asks her to surrender. He calls her "Hobby" - an old childhood nickname. He isn't arresting her for something she has done, but something that she will do: unauthorised time travel, chronal displacement, jumping the tracks to other realities. He needs to find the equipment Robin is building and contain her for thirty years until the "window of temporal opportunity" has passed.
Robin is furious. This is what she has worked to her entire life. It is what will save the universe. It is more important that anything - even her relationship with Lar. She just wanted to make her father proud, but now she hates him. Lar makes a feeble attempt to hold Spider-Man at bay while Robin escapes, but it is to no avail. Robin Bourne is webbed up and incarcerated, all the while screaming how much she hates her father.
Robin is held in "the Zone". A virtual reality world where she lives a benign and trouble-free existence in what appears to be Kansas. Years pass until eventually, Lar succeeds in hacking the Zone and finding his way into Robin's prison. He tells her that everything is an illusion. He says that he is going to download a virus into the Zone that will free Robin (and several other prisoners). Robin doesn't believe a word of it. Then she gets this splitting headache.
Something has gone wrong with Lar's virus. It succeeds in releasing Robin and several other inmates, but it also drives them insane. In their enraged state, Robin and the other prisoners succeed in overpowering the guards. All Hobby wanted to do was make her father proud, but now she will make him gone.
Shortly afterward, the Spider-Man of 2211 is taking his frustrations out on Lar. Lar defends his actions: he loved Robin, that's all that matters. Spider- Man never loved his daughter, Lar accuses, he is only in love with his job. As the two bicker, Robin makes her presence known from the ether. She has been hiding in a "temporal fold", and now she is ready to attack.
She hurls a pumpkin bomb at her father, he dodges and it strikes Lar. This is no ordinary bomb, it is a "retcon bomb" that completely erases the target from reality. Lar fades from view. He has ceased to exist and very soon no-one will remember him. Spider-Man is aghast. If Lar never existed then he couldn't have released Robin and he could never have been made to not exist! It's uncontrollable paradox!
Robin doesn't care. She is dressed in an outfit reminiscent of the Green Goblin, and calls herself the Hobgoblin of the year 2211 (her nickname as a child was "Hobby" - handy, eh?). She says that she is going to impose her own reality on all existence. She is jumping to different realities and in each one she is going to remove the Spider-Man. All revenge on her father.
All this happened some time ago from the perspective of Spider-Man 2211. He is standing in a control room reviewing the history of his daughter and wondering where he went wrong. Does his work cause more problems than it solves? His subordinates are using all their high-tech wizardry to track down the Hobgoblin. Eventually, the technicians get a lock on Hobby's whereabouts.
Bobb the technician reports that that Hobby is in 2006 facing off against the current Spider-Man (that's out guy, folks) and that she has "derailed" a Ben Parker into the mainstream Marvel Universe. It seems that without the steadying influence of that Ben in his original reality, the Spider-Man there will turn into a big Spider Monster and kill the Avengers. This is obviously, quite serious so Spidey 2211 prepares for action.
Finally, we cut to last issue's cliff-hanger. Alternative Ben and Spidey are facing down Hobgoblin 2211. Spidey recognises Hobby, he's seen her before (see below), but he doesn't have a clue what she wants this time. She says that she has given Spidey his heart's desire: returned his Uncle Ben. The fact that she knows so much about Peter's life tells our hero that she is not lying and that all this is for real.
But the real reason she is here is to kill Spider-Man. Using a high tech gas she seizes control of Spidey's new suit and gets the webbed-wonder to smack himself roundly about the face. Ben tries to intervene, but to know avail. Hobby snags the punch-drunk Spider-Man with tether and flies off with him. Ben Parker is left on the street, face to face with Aunt May.
Historical note. Spidey has met both the Hobgoblin and the Spider-Man of 2211 in the one-shot Spider-Man 2099 Meets Spider-Man, published back in 1995. Do you need to have read that story to enjoy this issue? Not in the slightest. In the one-shot Hobby tries to wipe out the present day and the year 2099, but is stopped by Spidey and Spider-Man 2099. Spider-Man 2211 turns up, reveals nothing, then clears off again.
This arc builds on the original one-shot, but it never struck me as story that really needed a sequel. It was a throwaway crossover from the 1990s, heavy on the action and light on the comprehensibility. It is almost as though Peter David was rummaging through his desk one day and found all his old notes from the one-shot. He realised that he had bags of background material that he'd never used, and hey presto: the Jumping the Tracks arc was born.
Which doesn't mean that it's a particularly bad story, just that it's a bit pointless. The plot hasn't been advanced any further than it was at the end of issue #9. We know everything we could want to know about Hobgoblin 2211, but do we really need to know any this? 90% of this issue is devoted to the back- story of a villain who is either going to fall back into obscurity, or is going to be killed next issue, so who cares? PAD spent time building up the character of El Muerto in the recent two-parter, but he didn't devote this much time to it. It might read well enough in the trade, but stories still have to be paced for the monthly serial format, and this falls far short of that.
This is a significant climb-down from the previous issue. I do like Peter David's work, but nothing he's produced in this run on Friendly has so far gripped me - and I'm not the only one. The title has shed 30,000 readers since the end of The Other crossover, and although it still has a perfectly sound sales figures one can't help wondering that a third Spider-Man title should be selling more than this.
To finish: a note of trivia. "Argattha" - which is written on a manhole cover on the opening page - is the name of the stronghold of a dark angel in the EA series of fantasy books by David Zindell. Not having read the series, I can't say what relevance the word has to the plot of this comic, but I suspect it has none. If anyone out there has read The Lightstone and its sequels, and has any enlightening comments I would be happy to hear them.
Generally disappointing after last issue. I'm underwhelmed by the origin of Hobgoblin 2211. Two and a half webs.