Deep breath... Peter is still living with his aunt, but it looks as though he's going to be able to afford an apartment with Vin Gonzales (a cop who hates Spider-Man). There's a serial killer in New York leaving spider-tracers in the mouths of his victims: everyone thinks its Spidey. New York is in the middle of a mayoral race: its Crowne (boo! hiss!) versus Parfrey. Parfrey is murdered my Menace (who looks a lot like a certain Goblin). Standing in her place is Bill Hollister, the father of Lily (Harry Osborn's girlfriend). Peter is falling for Lily, but Carlie Cooper has the hots for him. Jolly Jonah Jameson had a heart attack, and his wife sold the Daily Bugle to an arch-rival. A mutated crack- head called Freak has been 'obtained' by Oscorp for reasons unknown. Aunt May is working for a super villain who has a vial of Spidey's blood. Oh, and there's a new superhero called Jackpot who may or may not be MJ in disguise. Did I miss anything?
The issue opens with Spider-Man chasing a lycra-clad villainess across the snowy rooftops of New York. This is Screwball: she's not in it for the money, she's in it for the fame - or more accurately the number of hits she gets on her website. As she and Spidey perform their acrobatic dance, two accomplices are filming the entire thing and putting it out live over the internet.
Screwball has no special powers, but manages to stay one step ahead of Spidey thanks to her knowledge of gymnastics and parkour (cue pun on the Parkour Luck). Spidey snags her with a tracer, which causes Screwball to go nuts. She immediately surrenders herself to the police, believing Spider-Man has marked her for death (link to the serial killer subplot). The police move to arrest the pursuing Spider-Man who quickly makes his exit.
Later, Peter arrives at the DB! to sell photos of his escapade to Dexter Bennett. Unfortunately, he has been beaten to it (why didn't he email those photos in?). Bereft of cash, Peter accepts a new job from Bennett – working the paparazzi beat. Bennett wants embarrassing photographs of Hollywood bad boy, Bobby Carr and he thinks Peter is just the man to get them. With a five figure fee in the offing, Peter accepts. Robbie despairs at what the Bugle has become. He holds onto the hope that Jonah will somehow find a way to reclaim the paper.
But such plans are not at the forefront of Jonah's mind. He is currently in the park, attempting to settle into some restful tai chi. However, his meditation is broken when he sees a billboard advertising the DB! and its Spider- Man exclusives. He becomes understandably violent, which is when the police arrive. Fortunately, one of the cops is Vin Gonzales who lets Jonah off with a warning (on account of their mutual hatred for the webslinger). Vin mentions to his partner that Peter Parker is moving into his spare room in a few days.
Cut to the Deep End Club on Mulberry (we last saw it in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #546). Peter's initial attempts to get a picture of Bobby Carr are thwarted, but after quick application of his Spider-powers, Peter is sitting on a mezzanine over-looking Carr's private booth. Can he get a shot of Carr's mysterious new beau? It doesn't take long for the spoilt actor to perform, striking out at a waitress who has the temerity to ask for an autograph.
Peter catches the violence on camera. The flash alerts Carr and his bodyguards. Of course, the chance of them catching a spider-powered paparazzo is zero... except for the fact that on the way out Peter bounds directly into Lily Holister. The distraction gains him a quick clonk to head. The thugs grab his camera and are about to toss him into the street when Harry Osborn intervenes. However, when Harry realises what Peter was doing, he is disgusted and washes his hands of his friend.
A few minutes later Peter climbs out of the dumpster where the bodyguards threw him. His camera is ruined, but the memory stick is still intact. If Bennett makes good on his five figure promise, then Peter can repay Harry all the money that Pete owes him. He swaggers away feeling more than a little smug about the whole thing.
As he leaves a pair of eyes manifest in the graffiti on the alley wall. A woman peels herself from the brickwork, gaining an extra dimension and walking to peer around the corner. She sees Bobby Carr storming toward his car, the club manager rapidly apologising. She sympathises with Bobby – after all, she's the only one who "understands" him. It's a super-powered celebrity stalker; and she's downright creepy.
At the DB! Peter gets the success and the cheque he wanted. Robbie is quietly disapproving of the whole thing. Peter never liked how Jonah kept hounding Spider-Man, how is this any different? Peter's counter-arguments are weak to say the least. But Peter is caught up in his new role, and all the money he is making from it.
The following day, when he is moving out of his Aunt May's house, May raises her concern about Peter's new career. He always wanted to be a scientist, is this really what he wants to do with his life? Peter is dismissive of May's concerns. "It's a victimless crime," he says. Don't celebrities want to stay in the public eye?
Meanwhile at a news vendor, our hooded celebrity stalker with the white-white skin looks in disgust at the picture of Carr gracing the front page of the DB! She buys every copy, takes them to her warehouse apartment and proceeds to paper the wall with them. She takes her two dimensional paper form and merges with the pictures of her idol. "We're so good for each other, Bobby. We're so good on paper."
It's the fifth month of Brand New Day and we're beginning to recycle the creative team. It's Dan Slott's second arc, only this time he is joined by Marcos Martin. Martin is Spanish artist who has done most of his US work over at DC on titles such as Batgirl: Year One and Breach. At Marvel he's worked mainly with Brian K. Vaughan on Runaways and the excellent Doctor Strange: The Oath mini-series.
I'm in two minds regarding his art, particularly in comparison to Barry Kitson last week. Spidey looks great in costume, and Martin's design for the stalker, Paperdoll, is suitably creepy and disturbing; but his renditions of the other characters - Peter, Bennett, Jonah - look a little cartoony for my taste. Maybe it will grow on me.
So what about the story? Well, this issue is all build up. Ordinarily, I would question the wisdom of this in a three issue arc, but Slott is laying the groundwork here for a pay-off I'm certain will come in #561. You don't have to be a seasoned literary critic to work out this arc is a mini-morality tale.
The story has a message; it has something to say about the cult of celebrity. It doesn't tell us anything new, doesn't tell us anything we haven't heard, or read, or thought; but it does tell it well. Here are three individuals, Screwball, Paperdoll and Bobby Carr: each of them defined by the obsession western culture has with celebrities, and each of them different products of that obsession.
Into the middle of this waltzes Peter Parker, still naive after all these years. With a camera in one hand and a laundry list of debts in the other; he cannot see the harm he's doing to the celebrities he stalks, or the society that cares more for his pictures than it does for politics or religion. It will be Peter's dawning realisation that he is pursuing a morally bankrupt occupation that will be the emotional core of this story. Peter is Marvel's everyman, leading us by the hand through this journey.
Which is all very well, but what this actually means is that for the next three issues, Amazing Spider-Man becomes the mouthpiece for Dan Slott's opinion of celebrities and the paparazzi that chase them into tunnels. I believe the most powerful stories are driven by writers who feel passionately enough about a subject to convey their opinion through fiction, so Slott gets my respect on that level. He also gets my respect because I pretty much agree with all the points he makes, and its easy to like writers who tell you things that you agree with.
However, there will be readers of this comic who don't see a problem with the celebrity culture, who do believe – as Peter does - that celebrities court and therefore deserve this kind of attention. I will have more respect for Slott if he manages to present a convincing counter argument in favour of the paparazzi, perhaps from Dexter Bennett. I think a little balance will stop the arc from sounding too preachy.
Regarding characterisation, there's a couple of points I'm not entirely sold on. Firstly, neither Slott nor any of the other writers have convinced me that Dexter Bennett is any worse a boss than J Jonah Jameson. How has he crossed a line that Jonah would never cross? Jonah is responsible for the Scorpion and the spider slayers, for crying out loud. He's put a bounty on Spidey's head more often than he's changed his socks. More work has to be done to 'villain- ise' Bennett if we are to greet Jonah's inevitable retaking of the Daily Bugle with anything other than a shrug of the shoulders.
Secondly, I'm not convinced Peter is this much of a jerk. I know he needs the money, but would he really become a paparazzo to do it? I know there's a tradition in the Spidey comics of Peter getting carried away by his jerk-dom, and only realising later what an idiot he has been. We're seeing the same old pattern of 1) Make a mistake, 2) Exacerbate the mistake, 3) Realise the mistake and 4) Redeem the mistake. I just don't think that Peter would have made the mistake in the first place.
It's a tricky one. I suspect that the underlying message of the issue and Peter's naivety might annoy some readers. But on the whole, I like what Slott is doing and I really like Paper Doll so I'm going to give this four webs.