While swinging through the city Spider-Man has a chance encounter with the Black Cat. Ostensibly, the meeting allows them both to investigate the reason a petrified corpse was found in the safe of DB! owner Dexter Bennett, and to unravel how the alchemist Diablo fits into the equation. In reality, it was an excuse to push the two back into the sort of physical relationship they haven't enjoyed for the best part of thirty years. And Kid Kraven is still inducting old Spidey villains for an inscrutable purpose.
A hotel room somewhere in New York. The costumes of Spider-Man and the Black Cat lie entwined on the floor, their occupants are entwined in the bed. The calm after the storm. Peter reflects how difficult it is to say no to Felicia, especially when he doesn't want to say no to Felicia. He lies there with her in his arms, and he sleeps.
By the time he is woken by the honeymoon couple who should be using this hotel room, Felicia Hardy is long gone. Gathering his costume, Spidey apologies and flees the scene. But he isn't ashamed or upset. He's happy, and he's had his best night's sleep in years. Felicia always did have that affect on him.
After waiting for his smile to fade, Spidey swings over to the DB! and confront Dexter Bennett about what happened last night. He tells the publisher everything, except the fact that the Black Cat was there. Bennett identifies the petrified body as Bernie Mayher – his old partner when they both worked in the construction biz in the 80s. Mayher had unethical business practices, side deals he wouldn't explain, obtaining building materials at well below cost. Bennett didn't want to get involved so he let Mayher quietly buy him out.
Bennett says that he knows nothing of the dead body or how it wound up in his apartment. Spidey has learned to read people over the years, and he believes what Bennett says. The publisher says that Bernie was, despite everything, a good man. He wants justice and asks that Spider-Man find it. Spidey agrees, thinking that Dexter Bennett may not be all bad. Then he sees the front page of today's DB which has a large picture of him and the Cat in embrace. The legend reads: "A Real Swinger".
Putting this to one side, Spidey swings down to warehouse that belonged to Mayer, hoping to pick up a lead. It is here that he encounters the Black Cat once more. She found a reference to Mayher and the warehouse in the ledger she stole from Bennett's place. She is frisky to say the least, and unable to keep her mind on the matter at hand. She sees Spidey as an escape from the reality of her life.
While they are making out above, Diablo arrives in the main office below. He freezes the staff and then starts going through the files. Spidey jumps down through a handy skylight and knocks Diablo for six. The Cat quickly joins him. However, after the initial surprise Diablo reveals he is far from a pushover. He tries to ensnare them by turning the concrete floor into quicksand, and the squash them under a ton of levitating pipes. In the end he releases a chemical that transmutes the air into gold, trapping both Spidey and the Cat.
They both immobilised in the golden cocoon, and the Black Cat is starved of oxygen. She is starting to fade, and Spidey doesn't have the strength to break free. Diablo takes the opportunity to expound on the art of the alchemist. Nothing he creates endures forever. The gold will last for but an hour, although the Cat will be dead long before then. Other creations may endure for decades, but eventually everything comes to an end. Including Spider-Man, who is interfering in a plot twenty years in the making.
Fortunately, the Black Cat is far from helpless. Just before she loses consciousness she dislodges a vial of aqua regina from Diablo's belt, that dissolves the gold, freeing our heroes. Spidey takes down Diablo, but has stop in order to administer the kiss of life of Felicia (she enjoys that). By the time that they are both recovered, Diablo has escaped. In parting, he says that he has already revealed the extent of his plan to Spider-Man, and that it all comes to fruition tomorrow.
Spidey works it out pretty soon. Twenty years ago, Mayher bought materials from Diablo at a cut price (that was the backroom deal that Bennett didn't like). This material was used to build something, somewhere in New York. Tomorrow is the expiry date on the Diablo-created steel. A building is coming down and they don't know where. The Black Cat says that she might be able to find out, if Spidey lets her do it alone. The question is: does he trust her. Despite everything: he does.
One hour later, Felicia has used a contact in City Hall to work out the identity of the building, and Diablo's plan. It's simple insurance fraud, twenty years in the making. Diablo took our hundreds of policies on the building to guard against catastrophic destruction. He was set to make nine billion dollars. So the building is evacuated, lives are saved and Diablo is denied his money. A win for the good guys.
But what for Spider-Man and the Black Cat. They've been down this road before, but Felicia is willing to try it again. She doesn't want to get too close. She wants to keep the masks on this time. A little fun and release from the danger of their lives. Spidey finds that he can live with that.
Meanwhile, Diablo doesn't take the thwarting of his plan too well. Fortunately, little Ana Kravinov appears to over him a means to get revenge against Spider-Man...
"Last night. Did you keep the lights off like you promised? Did you look at my face?"
"Eww. Absolutely not."
So Spider-Man and the Black Cat break into a hotel room and have sex in total darkness, because the Cat doesn't want to see Peter's face, and because Peter wants protect his secret identity. Does that strike anyone as a bit creepy? Joe Kelly is evidently trying to give us a light-hearted, sexy romp but he doesn't hit the right note. The Cat evidently has some deep-rooted psychological problems, and Spidey's a fool for going along her with. It's all a lot darker, and more adult than it appears... which is my bigger problem with this issue.
Amazing Spider-Man is rated "A" for all-ages. That means that any kid off the street who can read should be able to pick up an issue of this title and find something in it to enjoy. This issue of ASM wasn't for kids. Now there are plenty of readers who won't see that as a problem. It's received wisdom that kids don't read comics anymore. If the average age of your Marvel comic book reader is 40, so what does it matter if the content of the issue appeals to its true readership?
Well, nothing I suppose. Nothing if Marvel have no ambitions to get kids reading Amazing Spider-Man any more. Nothing if Marvel want their own ratings system to be anything other than a joke. Yes, the comic has tackled adult subjects and stories in the past. We've had drugs and gun crime coming out of our ears, but the stories always had a point. They had something to say, but this story has nothing to say. It seems little more than a lewd indulgence on the part of the writer. I had hoped for more than this.
I liked the 'B' plot with Diablo a whole lot more. It's nice to see a super-villain use his powers for good old-fashioned gain, as opposed to revenge or world domination. I think Diablo was well used here, and well-written. So the comic wasn't a complete loss.
Shame I can't say the same for the art. I realise that a weekly schedule must be extremely punishing for the artists, but the change between Mike McKone on p16 and Adriana Melo on p17 is painful. Different inkers don't help, but Melo isn't in McKone's league and it shows. Still, I guess sixteen pages of Mike McKone is better than none.
On the whole though, not a very good issue. I appreciated Kelly's attempts to humanise Dexter Bennett, and I'm sure that the Black Cat's mysterious employer with connections to City Hall will surface again soon - probably when they collide with Peter's work as Jonah's photographer. But on the whole it all seemed rather unnecessary.
And finally, we're left with Spider-Man and the Black Cat as a 'couple' again. Not what I was expecting, and certainly not the best move for the title. I doubt the creative teams can top the stories that originally brought the Black Cat and Spidey together so I don't understand why their trying. I guess everything new is old again. Again.
A disappointing and misguided story saved from being a total loss by some snappy dialogue and an imaginative use of Diablo. Still can't give this more than one and a half webs, though.