At the end of the Civil War, Aunt May was shot by a sniper aiming for Peter Parker, Spider-Man. Now, as she lies in the hospital, dying, Peter has gone to Dr. Strange to get help, to save her life. However, no one was able to help him...
In the streets of New York, Peter meets a young red-haired girl, who says that if he wants to save his Aunt, he has to hurry up. She berates him for being selfish, and for putting his pain at the center of the universe. She reprimands him for needing to have a good night's sleep, and calls him an idiot, and says she'll take him to the next step.
Peter tries to follow her, and comes across a man sitting on a park bench, a computer prgrammer. The man talks about how badly he wishes he was somebody, how he wishes he could be a hero, and how happy he'd be if he could live that life. As Peter is getting frustrated at not getting any closer to finding the little girl, he gets beckoned over by a man in a limo.
The man talks about choices, about life, about being in inventor, and a millionaire. He ruminates on how even with all his money, and being better than those who tormented him in high school, he's not happy because he doesn't have everything he ever wanted, as he lost a young woman he knew from high school.
The man walks with Peter down a street, talking about how he would trade everything for that special woman. He tells Peter that "she" is waiting for him down the street.
Peter finds a woman in red at the end of the alley, who talks to him about choices, about fate, about crossroads, and tells Peter about how the tiniest changes can change the future forever. She explains that the last two individuals that Peter met were alternate versions of himself, of what he could have been if he hadn't been bit by the spider, and hadn't been Spider-Man.
The woman transforms herself into Mephisto, and reveals that he is the only one who can save Aunt May. Mephisto offers to save Aunt May's life, and Peter asks if its in return for his soul, to which Mephisto says that he asks for more interesting things than souls now. He says that he wants something else, to enjoy loss, misery and despair. Peter says he needs to talk it over with MJ, so Mephisto brings Peter to the hotel room, where MJ is. In the hotel room, she's there with Mephisto, discussing the deal. Mephisto declares that he doesn't want their souls, but that instead he wants their marriage, their love.
Peter tells Mephisto no, or at least starts to, before MJ stops him, wanting to listen to Mephisto's terms. Mephisto declares that if they give up their marriage, a small part of them will forever remember that which they had and lost, and that he shall enjoy the agony for eterntiy. He declares that they now have until midnight to make their decision...
The script starts out fairly strong, but takes a major nosedive from there. The showing of alternate versions of Peter Parker doesn't end up coming off as more of a narrative conceit, a way to try and make things all the more dramatic and high-minded, when what it really is is filler. There's just not much actually going on in this issue, and when it finally gets to Mephisto's deal, and he mentions Peter and MJ's marriage, you can hear collective fandom shaking their head and muttering curses under their breath.
The writing by Straczynski is sloppy, yet at least he tries to do something interesting here, by giving the alternate reality versions of Peter Parker, etc. The artwork by Quesada is spot-on.
But regardless, this story can't feel like anything less than an editorially-mandated storyline. It just feels like it was written by committee, and that not much thought really went into the writing here. This storyline needn't have lasted this long, that is for sure.
I'm giving this 2/5 for story, and 4/5 for art, giving it a 3/5 web average. The art by Quesada is some truly fantastic stuff, his rendition of Mephisto, in varying forms (the woman, and his true self) are excellent pieces of artwork. The story, however, just plods along, as we finally get to the deal with the devil, being proposed.
I dread the next installment of this storyline, because things aren't looking good coming up to it...