Marvel's multiverse has been destroyed and all that remains is Battleworld! If you're unfamiliar with the latest Battleworld it is a "patchwork planet composed of fragments of worlds that no longer exist." Clear enough for you? Great!
Secret Wars: Spider-Island is one of those fragments and, you guessed it, this world is based on the Spider-Island event that ran from Amazing Spider-Man #666 to #673. This domain is now the Kingdom of the Spider-Queen and she works hard to make sure all its inhabitants remain under her mind control.
With Spider-Man presumed dead, Flash Thompson (aka Agent Venom) leads a band of resistance fighters against the Spider-Queen. Flash managed to gain a few allies after converting Captain America into the Man-Wolf, Captain Marvel into a vampire and the Hulk into the Lizard. These conversions allowed the Avengers to break free of the Queen's mind control. They now fight alongside Agent Venom to bring an end to the Queen's reign.
This story picks up right where Secret Wars: Spider-Island #1 left off, as Agent Venom and his newfound allies are under attack by Spider-Iron Man and his minions. The Hulk and Captain Marvel aid the team’s escape, but Stark continues in pursuit of the resistance. Once Spider-Stark catches up to Flash and his team, they pin him down and Flash sprays Stark with Norman Osborn’s Goblin Formula. Stark, although appearing to be a bit more crazy than before, is seemingly cured of the Spider-virus.
Agent Venom and his team, now including Tony Stark, return to the resistance’s headquarters. Whilst there, the group names Flash as their undisputed leader mainly because he is the one of the most sound mind. Flash explains to his team that he wants to attack the Queen at her headquarters, which is an old A.I.M. base. Flash’s plan is to create a distraction with a frontal assault and then infiltrate the base whilst the Queen’s forces are occupied. In preparation for the attack, Stark fashions a new set of armor (since his was damaged) using Osborn’s Goblin-tech. Within a few hours the Iron Goblin is born!
Flash’s plan to infiltrate the Spider-Queen’s headquarters was successful, they were able to extract Stegron the Dinosaur Man from the Queen’s captivity. Flash was interested in rescuing Stegron because he had once made a device, the retrogeneration ray, that would be useful to combat the Spider-Queen’s mind control. However, Stegron was not the only prisoner they managed to free…they also found the presumed-dead Spider-Man and they take him as well!
This story had a lot of good things going for it, for one we're getting a peak at the humility Flash Thompson seems to be exuding these days. It's no secret that he has traditionally been depicted as a blow-hard/bully, but the Agent Venom/Thompson combination leads to a much more rational guy. He questions his own ability to lead, but once given the approval by the mutated-Avengers he quickly finds the confidence to devise a plan to defeat the Queen. I think his mind-state has been handled really well, he's certainly much less insufferable than you would expect as a lead character.
Now on to the juicy part...Tony Stark becomes the Iron Goblin! What more needs to be said than that! I have to admit after the first issue I was surprised that Flash didn't use the Goblin Formula on the Avengers, since that concoction seems to be one of the most widely disseminated formulas in the 616 universe. But I'm glad that the creative team waited to use that on Stark, especially since he has a long history of hating Norman Osborn. I thought the concept of the Iron Goblin was destined to be explored during Osborn's Dark Reign, but unfortunately we never got to see it. This armor has the potential to become a mainstay of the 616 universe and I would certainly support that!
One nitpick about the Goblin Formula and the madness side-effect (and this is coming from a long-time Goblin fan so bear with me). I think its fair to say that Norman was not a psychologically healthy individual prior to his exposure to the Goblin Formula. The notion that the formula drove him to madness has always been a bit inaccurate to me. If anything, the Goblin Formula took a pre-existing condition and made it worse. In fact, this rationale is proven by Roderick Kingsley's approach to self-administering the Goblin Formula. By limiting the dose and his exposure time Roderick was able to evade the madness side effect altogether (something many of the Goblins could not manage to do). So I thought it was a little too cliche to have Stark immediately becoming a bit unhinged as soon as he was exposed to the formula. Ok, I made a mountain out of a mole-hill here so I'll stop now, but I hope some of you see my point.
Solid book, keeps the momentum going from the prior installment.