Over the past four issues Peter and Mary Jane have taken the time to reflect over their failed non-marriage. Maybe if we close our eyes, put our hands over our ears and hum really loudly we'll be able to pretend that story never happened. In the wider world of Spidey, Peter has been fired form his job working for Mayor JJJ, and blacklisted as a photographer. He's also seen Kraven the Hunter come back from the dead, and barely survived a very nasty encounter with pretty much every villain he's ever faced.
Electro and Hammerhead arrive at the abandoned Kravinov mansion in upstate New York. After a little lively banter, they discover that they are the last to arrive at a great conclave of super-villains. It's a veritable who's who Spider-Man foes! We have Diablo, Mr Negative, the Spot, Sandman, Morbius, Mysterio, the Molten Man, the Trapster, Vermin… in short everyone who has caused Spidey any grief over the last 100 issues.
Why are they here? Well, they've been gathered by a mysterious patron for a game of hunt the McGuffin. It seems that there's a "package" that he wants, and he's willing to give this group of assorted freaks and malcontents anything they want if they find the package and bring it to him. Surely this can't have anything to do with Spider-Man, can it?
Meanwhile, Peter Parker is scraping the bottom of the barrel. He has a date with Carlie Cooper and is completely broke. Betty Brant manages to convince Pete not to sell his camera for lunch money, and lends him the cash he needs. He heads back to the apartment he shares with Michelle Gonzales, reflecting on all the ways he can't earn money. When he arrives, he discovers that Michelle has sold all his clothes (with the exception of his Spider-costume, and a woolly jumper that looks as though its fallen through a rift from the 1970s).
After a brief argument with Michelle, Pete has to run all the way to the Coffee Bean (in the searing New York heat) to keep his date with Carlie. When he arrives, he discovers that they're both sharing lunch with Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson. Lunch quickly becomes as painful as the rest of the day.
During a respite while Pete and MJ are alone at the table, Mary Jane confides in Peter that she likes Carlie. She seems genuinely happy that he's found someone, and that that someone isn't going to let Pete treat her like a doormat. Peter is just digesting this revelation, when an unwelcome tingle from his spider-sense prompts him to leap to his feet. Bounding across the room, Peter knocks Carlie to safety as a figure riding a goblin-glider crashes through the window.
It is Lily Hollister. The heavily pregnant Lily Hollister. The heavily pregnant Lily Hollister, ex-paramour of Harry Osborn. The heavily pregnant Lily Hollister, ex-paramour of Harry Osborn, who was once the supervillain Menace. The heavily pregnant Lily Hollister, ex-paramour of Harry Osborn, who was once the supervillain Menace, who is carrying Norman Osborn's baby. Yes: it's going to be one of those days.
Lily is out of control, she is distraught and seems to be in fear for her life. She wants Harry; she desperately needs him. This completely pole-axes the young Osborn, as all the suppressed feelings he had for his former fiancee bubble to the surface. Carlie is shocked as well. She was Lily's best friend. What can she be doing here now?
By this point, Peter has turned into Spider-Man behind the scenes, and quickly swings to the rescue. Lily is inadvertently smashing up the place, and Spidey snatches Harry from harm's way. Suddenly, Lily stops. She seems in pain. Is she having contractions? Is Spidey going to have to deliver a goblin-baby right here in the Coffee Bean?
A bolt of energy signals the entry of Tombstone and the Shocker. They're part of that mysterious band of super-villains from the beginning of the issue, and they've come for their payday. Spidey makes quick work of them, while MJ, Harry and Carlie rush to help Lily. The baby is already crowning! Then the villains' patron makes his timely appearance: it is none other than Doctor Octopus.
Doc Ock quickly manages to crush any resistance. Pinning Spidey, Harry, MJ and Carlie against the wall with four of his arms, he subdues Lily and then (in one of the most bizarre images in modern comics) he delivers the baby.
Hey everyone! It's a boy!
Amazing Spider-Man hasn't had a particularly successful few months. I didn't think much of Shed, The Grim Hunt was a little too grim, and the least said about One Moment in Time the better. However despite these shortcomings, this title in the Brand New Day era has always managed to be better than the sum of its parts. All the criticisms and shaky stories aside, it's been cheerfully barrelling along, creating rich and engaging characters and sub-plots. It's always seemed a comic that knew where it was going.
And where it was going is here: The Origin of the Species. This is the last story arc of the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man, and the end of the title being written by a committee of creators. From issue #648, Dan Slott will take over as the sole writer on a twice-monthly ASM with rotating art form Marcos Martin, Stefano Caselli and Humberto Ramos. So this arc should be a drawing together of all the themes and dangling plots of the last 100 issues. It should be the worthy capstone on Marvel's grand experiment, and lay the foundations for the next great thing. Does it?
Well, Mark Waid is certainly off to a good start. For a while now, Peter's introspection has been directed to the revelation that he should be so much more than he is. He has a brilliant mind, but he's never really used it to its full potential. This is the kernel of Slott's upcoming Big Time arc, so there's some timely foreshadowing to be had here.
The story itself returns to the most successful of the Brand New Day plots: Lily Hollister and the Osborn baby. It's nice to get some closure on this, and I'm genuinely curious to see how this plays out. At the moment I'm working from the assumption that the baby might somehow cure Doc Ock's current physical condition. We'll see if I'm right as the arc progresses.
There are some excellent character beats in this issue. Peter's relationship with Betty Brant is spot on, and the new status quo with MJ doesn't seem forced. Although, despite the fact that they are no longer a couple, it's interesting to see that Mary Jane is still making excuses to protect Peter' secret identity.
There are some quibbles of course. If Doctor Octopus turns up to the Coffee Bean just seconds after Shocker and Tombstone, then one wonders why he needed to employ all these supervillains in the first place. I would also question why Morbius and the Molten Man would ally with the good Doctor at all, but I guess that Azaceta could have just been told to draw "lots of villains" in the scene.
Speaking of the artist, Azaceta's visuals are particularly strong here. He draws a suitably creepy Doctor Octopus; the scene where Doc Ock delivers the baby and then holds it aloft with Lily trying feebly to reach it is well executed. More of this please.
This is a story that plays to the strengths of the last 100 issues. It's a good solid start to Brand New Day's swansong. Three and a half webs.