Mary Jane Watson, the once-wife of Peter Parker has returned to New York. We readers may remember their marriage but, thanks to the infamous One More Day storyline, Peter is oblivious to the fact he was once wed. To him, MJ is his ex-girlfriend. But what an Ex! The confusion and stress surrounding MJ's return resulted Peter getting drunk, and sleeping with his room-mate Michelle Gonzales. Suffice to say that Peter's horror at the incident did not go down well with Michelle, who has something of a temper. With all this going on, you'd expect Spidey would be clammering for a good old fashioned super-villain, right?
A nameless victim is sitting tied to a chair. A recording of his voice is being played for the benefit of his equally nameless captor. The villain is repeating what he hears over and over, slowly perfecting his victim's voice. Pleased with his rendition, the villain covers his victim's face in hot latex, suffocating him and also producing a perfect copy of the face. With a flourish the chair is dumped in a vat of concentrated acid, dissolving the dead body in moments.
Yes, the Chameleon is back. And he's developed something of an attitude.
Meanwhile, Spidey is pursuing the villain Slyde across the streets of New York. But this is not the original Slyde. That Slyde was killed during the Superhero Civil War (shot by Underworld, you know). This Slyde works for the NYPD and is leading Spider-Man into a trap of J. Jonah Jameson's making. It seems the mayor has purchased a job-lot of retired SHIELD Mandroids to catch the webslinger. You can imagine how well that works out.
Having escaped the police, Spidey changes into his civilian duds and heads to an important job interview. Jay Jameson has compelled his son to offer Peter a job in the mayoral photo unit. Peter arrives to find Jonah in discussion with several of his advisors, one of which is Glory Grant, an old colleague from Pete's Bugle days, who has landed a new job as JJJ's press secretary. She takes her job very seriously, and takes Peter to task for not respecting the mayor. It's her job to make JJJ look good, and Peter is going to have to toe the line.
A reader who gets carried away by the bickering between Peter and JJJ may miss an important plot point. The office of emergency management has just gone live with its "Shadow Command Centre" - a place to govern New York in the event of a massive terrorist attack. As the mayor doesn't want to be seen soft of terrorism, a few photos of him inside this high-tech bunker (not outside, the location is secret) can hardly hurt. Of course, this is a plot point that the Chameleon hasn't missed. His hapless victim was a security guard in the mayor's office, using that face has given our villain the opportunity to overhear everything.
The Chameleon hot foots it outside and disguises himself as the Statue of Liberty (as a piece of street theatre - he's not that good). A little late Peter wanders out and, although his spider sense is tingling, he can't make out where the danger is coming from. The Chameleon surreptitiously stabs Parker with a poisoned dart which renders our hero unconscious. The Chameleon then puts a carefully thought out plan into motion, bundles Peter into an ambulances and then hurries away with him. All things considered, this can't be a good thing.
Meanwhile, Mary Jane Watson arrives at the Coffee Bean to catch up with the one friend she has yet to see since her return: Harry Osborn. Harry is washing the floor, when MJ breezes in: she is her typically exuberant self. She would have come sooner, but she has been doing rehearsals for the new fashion reality TV show that she is hosting. Harry is pleased to see her but utterly deflated. The events of the time he spent with his father are still taking their toll. MJ also notices that Harry is now living at the Coffee Bean. Life is looking bleak for young Mr Osborn and she is concerned.
Somewhere else in New York, a drugged Peter Parker is tied to the same chair we saw at the beginning of the issue. The Chameleon is perfecting Peter's voice from recordings he took inside City Hall. The name "Peter Parker" is familiar to the Chameleon. We readers know that he's impersonated Peter before, but the Chameleon cannot quite place him. There have been so many faces after all. He takes a copy of Peter's face, and dumps him in the acid bath. Bye, bye Peter Parker. Guess this must be the last issue of Spider-Man. Well, we had a good run.
As the Chameleon is putting on his new Peter Parker mask, Peter's phone rings. It is MJ. She apologises for standing Peter up, and explains what a bad way Harry is in. She says that he's been sleeping at the Coffee Bean, and that they need to help him. "Sure MJ", replies the Chameleon, sounding just like Peter. "Name the time and the place."
What a wonderfully creepy Chameleon, Fred Van Lente has created! There have been some very strong stories written about the Chameleon in the past, but I don't think anyone has nailed the concept of the 'Man of a Thousand Faces' better than Van Lente does here. The Chameleon is a step apart from reality; he is a sinister voyeur, utterly convinced of his own power and superiority. This is an outstanding take on the character. I want to see more of this Chameleon.
Some readers may consider the Chameleon's failure to recognised Peter as an enormous hole in the plot. After all Peter isn't just "another face in the crowd" to the Chameleon. The Chameleon resurrected Peter's parents as duplicates in the Lifetheft storyline. Paul Jenkins wrote a fantastic arc entitled, The Show Must Go On, in the short-live (and much lamented) Webspinners title that further tied the Chameleon to Peter and his family. Many will think that this is another example of Brand New Day brushing old continuity under the carpet for the sake of it.
In this care, I don't agree. The thing about the Chameleon is that... he's nuts. He was emotionally abused by his brother for years, he's tried to kill himself and he's taken on so many different personalities over the years, that it's not unreasonable to assume that he's rather lost himself. I can get behind that. Distancing the Chameleon from such baggage is what makes this fantastic take on the character possible.
The rest of the issue is equally strong. Barry Kitson's art is always welcome. His Mary Jane is far more to my taste that JR Jnr's effort in #600. It's also nice to see that the creative teams seem to want to do something with MJ now she has returned to the core supporting cast. Her interaction with Harry in this issue felt so natural, and true to her character.
No, sorry. Can't think of anything negative to say about this issue. A very well done to all concerned!
The Chameleon returns and he completely steals the show. Four and a half webs, and I expect great things from the next issue.