Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign as the top cop of the world continues, and the Avengers are on the run. Thankfully it’s only the Avengers' costumed identities that have been criminalized, so to speak: the Avengers who wear masks are still anonymous to the law when they’re out of uniform. That includes Avengers like Carol ‘Ms. Marvel’ Danvers and Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker.
Some criminal, who is so unimportant to the plot that he doesn’t even get a name, is flying through Manhattan’s concrete canyons, with a duffel bag filled with stolen cash slung over his shoulder. Spider-Man shows up, which forces Mr. Anonymous to take to the clouds. Unfortunately for him, Spidey’s got a team-up in effect.
“Hi, I’m Ms. Marvel. I’ll be beating you senseless this evening.”
In the space of one page, the “goony high-tech bank robber” is incapacitated and webbed up to a lamp post. With the requisite action sequence out of the way, the story can get down to business. “Get your civvies on,” says Ms. Marvel. “I owe you a date.”
The two change clothes, Peter going the old-fashioned route of finding his webbed-up street clothes and donning them over his uniform, while Carol borrows a trick from TV’s Wonder Woman - or, if you’re more literal-minded, uses advanced Kree technology - to simply warp from one outfit to another, no undressing required. Since Peter is broke, Carol will foot the bill for their night out.
“Hang on. Am I the girl on this date?” asks Peter.
“Yes... and I hope you’re prepared to put out.”
As a public service to our readers, let me point out to the SpiderFan.org audience that making sexist quips to your date doesn’t usually result in promises of imminent sexual congress, so don’t try this at home.
Peter seems nonplussed at Carol's frankness, and mutters “umm... look...” but Carol won’t have it. “Oh, come on, Parker. Lighten up. And I hope you have nicer clothes than those.”
“I have a too-small jacket and a clip-on tie.”
“Well, break it out, bucko. If I’m buying dinner, we’re going somewhere nice.”
“Somewhere nice” turns out to be Blue Hill, “one of NYC’s finest restaurants, smack dab in the middle of Greenwich Village”. I would have thought that one of NYC’s finest restaurants would require a reservation well in advance, but not being a foodie, I’m only guessing on that point. Peter is indeed now wearing a jacket - I guess they made a stop-off at his apartment, which, in this era of continuity, he was sharing with Michele Rodriguez - but no tie. Just as well; he looks fine going business casual.
The two make small talk over dinner, which serves to establish two things. The first thing it establishes is an in-universe point, namely that Carol and Peter don’t actually have anything in common. They might be friends, but there’s no romantic chemistry or spark between them. The second thing it establishes is meta-textual: it serves up the recent history of Ms. Marvel in a reader-friendly way, all the better to entice visiting Spider-Man readers to check out Ms. Marvel’s book. So we learn how Ms. Marvel recently died but then got better; how she’s a former author with a comfortable investment income; and how she has an arch-nemesis, just like Peter does. His is Norman Osborne, while hers is Mystique.
In an interesting lacuna, when Carol asks why Norman Osborn hates him so, Peter deftly evades the question, saying “he’s crazy and he wants me dead”. When Carol presses him - “I don’t know any of the details” - he continues to evade: “what details...? Crazy implies no details”. And then he smoothly redirects back to her. “Don’t you have a Norman Osborne of your very own?” This prompts a few panels of Carol reminiscing about Mystique.
One of the things I like about this issue is the subtext. Here’s one piece of it: Peter is not prepared to talk about how Norman murdered Gwen, Peter’s first love. That would have been an interesting conversation, had they gone that way, given the compare-and-contrast between Carol and Gwen. But Peter is, for reasons we can guess, unwilling to have that conversation, and so very smoothly elides it, far more smoothly than we readers have come to expect from the usually-tongue-tied Peter.
Maybe they should have had that conversation, because without that topic they’ve got nothing. They sit, toy with their food, make bathroom trips, and joke about how they can only talk shop. Awkwardness ensues, which is thankfully broken when a pair of HAMMER goods burst through the window and try to arrest Carol. From an earlier interlude, we know that these two recognized Carol by chance from an earlier encounter, and they think that if they apprehend her personally, they’ll get rewards and promotions. Conversely, if they call for backup, they’ll be “forgotten in the deal”.
Just as with the anonymous goon at the beginning of the issue, Carol makes short work of these two armoured thugs, grabbing them and conveying them back out into the street with extreme prejudice. She’s expecting a full-scale HAMMER assault team, and finding only two soldiers makes her extremely non-plussed. But she’s got poise: in just a few panels she’s stripped the two of their armour, bound them in folded-up parking meters, and told the restaurant manager to send the bill to HAMMER.
“You are the real deal? Ms. Marvel?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I swear on TV you got a new costume...”
Yes, she did: Osborn chose to dress up his personal enforcer squad in the guise of existing heroes, who starred in Dark Avengers. In a well-observed bit, writer Brian Reed shows how even in this digital, 24/7 age, lots of people don’t pay close attention to the news. Carol takes advantage of this to get away scot-free.
Not having had a chance to finish their meal, the two elect to grab chili dogs from a street vendor. Peter wonders why Carol is okay with that plan, and she confesses that she went to the nice restaurant in order to impress Peter. “I didn’t want you thinking I had lousy taste in food.”
Peter is charmed that she cared what he thought of her. As they sit on a nearby rooftop, enjoying their chili dogs, Peter says “This is nice”.
“Yeah?” asks Carol.
And we’re out.
Okay, not quite. There’s a two-word closing caption: “Next - Mystique”.
There’s lots to like about this issue. I’m reviewing it almost three years after its cover date, but it still holds up. Kudos to writer Brian Reed.
It’s not perfect, of course. The art duties are divided among three people, which makes for a jarring reading experience, because all three have very different styles, from Mike McKone’s realism, Rob DiSalvo’s more exaggerated style, and Derec Donovan’s flat-out cartooniness. I suspect the editor had to farm out the pages when McKone couldn’t get it done on time, which led to at least one editorial slip-up: a word balloon on p. 20 is attributed to the wrong character (the male HAMMER agent rather than the female), which transforms a mildly-amusing joke into a moment of confusion. This further takes the reader out of the story.
But I’m nit-picking. This issue does so many things right:
Regarding this last point, as I noted in a recent piece of correspondence with a SpiderFan reader, there are three textual cues that I took as evidence. On p. 9 (counting story pages only, not ads), as the two are changing from their action uniforms to their civvies, Carol says to Peter "...I hope you're prepared to put out"; the story ends before the date does, i.e., we don't see the two of them part company; and the final dialogue of the story runs as follows. Peter says "This is nice". "Yeah?" replies Carol. "Yeah..." says Peter. The 'yeahs' are a Brian Reed tic, but note the use of ellipsis.
As a whole, the way I read it, Carol took the lead and signaled her interest in sex early on. While Peter wasn't sure about it, by date's end he's enjoying Carol's company. And how the date ends is left undisclosed, though the ellipsis implies that there is more to be said.
So did they or didn't they? It's possible to read it as just a platonic night out for two friends. But the first time I read it, I took it for granted the two were intimate that evening. For the record, I like this approach to Peter’s sex life much more than the take we find in the ‘Big Time’ era, which is ongoing as I write this. Where this issue keeps sex - if there is any - off-screen, so much so that a reader who wishes to may infer was is going on, Dan Slott addresses it explicitly, but has Peter take creepily asexual attitudes, such that Peter goes out of his way to avoid having sex with the beautiful girls who want to share his company.
Incidentally, our crack investigative team at SpiderFan was sufficiently curious about this that they asked Brian Reed whether he intended to imply a hook-up between Peter and Carol in this issue. Word has come back that he intended no such thing. So there you have it! In a 'death of the author' world, of course, authorial intent doesn't affect how we read a text, but let the record show that Reed is not friendly to the sort of reading I suggest above.
By the standards of Spider-Man of this era, this is better than normal, but the inconsistent art holds it back. Three-and-a-half webs. Sorry, but I can’t say how this compares to the rest of Reed’s Ms. Marvel run, as I stopped reading it regularly about twenty issues previous to this one.
If the point of this issue was to bring in new readers for Ms. Marvel, I’m sorry to report that the gimmick wasn’t given a chance to work: the book’s last issue was #50, which was already in the can by the time that ‘The Amazing Spider-Date’ was published.
Also, memo to Brian Reed: please stop having characters use “yeah” to terminate their sentences. You do it here, you do it in your Secret Invasion books, you do it everywhere. To the best of my knowledge, no one talks this way, with the exception of working-class English people. So unless you’re writing Captain Britain, please knock it off.