Aunt May has been kidnapped by someone from Pete's past. While hunting for her, Peter has also been helped by the Black Cat to fend off Venom, as the symbiote has left its original host Eddie Brock and been sold to the highest bidder – Angelo Fortunato. Unhappy with Angelo's lack of gusto, the symbiote also ditched Angelo – leaving him to fall to his death. As things went from bad to worse, Pete took a call from the kidnapper – it's time to meet…
Peter is on yet another guilt trip. Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy, Harry Osborn, Jean DeWolff, Bennett Brant, Frederik Foswell and Ben Reilly are just a few of the people he has gratuitously murdered and so he should feel guilty … or at least the way writers bang on about it you'd think so. Anyway, he resolves that he has to find Aunt May so she's not added to the list.
“Good morning Spider-Man. Are you surprised?” And with that line, Mac Gargan – The Scorpion – is unveiled as the kidnapper. Right in the middle of the city, no doubt. Pete doesn't even recognize him. He doesn't take long to pin him up against a cracking window, though. Gargan informs Pete that putting him down would be a good idea. Pete, after all, doesn't hold too many of the cards. He then suggests they go to lunch.
While supping a coke, Gargan tells Pete he doesn't know why the X-Men thought May was dead. He says she's alive and tells Pete that Osborn told him Spider- Man's identity about a year ago. Gargan says this is Osborn's masterplan. Since the 1950's, big businesses and the ruling classes have been afraid of superheroes finding out their scams and rackets. They invested heavily in super- villains. Heroes were written into their contracts, which is why the same villains keep showing up in certain heroes' lives.
Osborn was their favourite. They helped fund him by giving him expensive contracts, which helped build his fortune … that was until he went a little nuts. Now in prison he is a liability because he could blow the whistle on everything that has gone on, implicating some very high-up people in the process. Osborn is a sitting duck … and that's why he's scared. Doc Ock has been brainwashed to take him out this weekend. Osborn wants Spidey to break him out of prison … or May gets it.
Gargan also tells Pete that his Scorpion costume has been upgraded by Osborn's rich buddies. On his way home, Pete stops to help one of his pupils with their homework, while Gargan gets back to his place to be greeted by the symbiote – who's after a new costume.
I have a few minor issues with this straight off the bat. First off, Pete's guilt trips are becoming increasingly frustrating. Can't writers just give the poor guy a break? OK, I know the whole Uncle Ben “being my fault” thing is a good deal of the mythos but 40 years on real-time (10-15 years Marvel time?) do we still have to go around beating the issue to death? Also Jean DeWolff's name is spelled wrong in the issue. A minor thing, I know but if the editor Axel Alonso ain't picking these things up then what the hell is he getting paid for?
Anyway, now that's out of the way, I thought the premise of this was very good. Not much happened in terms action – a good third of it was taken up by Pete feeling sorry for himself – almost all of the rest by Gargan's revelations. I think it worked pretty well though. What was revealed has been built up to for eight months now, so an issue to sort it all out before the action all kicks in again seems fair enough.
Gargan being revealed as Osborn's lackey in the plan also works OK for me. Mark Millar has taken him up a notch from the rubbish gets-beaten-every-time Scorpion to being something altogether more sinister. Peter could have crushed him at any time but couldn't because of the mental hold Gargan now has over him with the kidnapping of May. That's an altogether more dangerous scenario because Pete can't just go wading in all guns blazing. I just wonder how May knew her kidnapper (according to previous issues) if it was apparently Gargan. Does this mean we have someone else involved in the 'napping?
Osborn as the mastermind also hangs OK for me. It does seem as if it's always Norman who infests Pete's life and makes things hard but – after he was brought back from the dead – who else could it realistically be? I think Osborn should have stayed dead when he was killed off back in the early-ish days but the fact that he is alive and is Spidey's arch-foe makes him just the right person for this outcome.
Lastly the whole super-villain premise. I think perhaps it needed a little more fleshing out but overall the idea is a good one. You can apply it to sort out a few continuity and unrealistic things in comics – such as was mentioned the fact that the same villains constantly come back to fight the same heroes. What I think could have been a bit clearer is how things quite work. Most of the villains in Marvel-land have their own unique origins and I think it could have been pointed out a bit better that some of the more sciency-villains were financed by these people. Other villains who got their powers were 'guinea pigs' in an experiment. Other skilled bad guys were simply on the payroll. That's how I understand it in any case.
Overall, a very good issue. As a stand-alone, perhaps it lacks something but as the beginning of the end of a long-ish arc it does exactly what is necessary. Millar's writing is again top notch – I liked it that Pete didn't even recognize Gargan - and the Dodsons' art is up to the usual standards. Venom looks great in the final panel.