Felicia ‘the Black Cat’ Hardy has decided that she hates Spider-Man and has dedicated herself to sabotaging his life.The Cat has teamed up with Max ‘Electro’ Dillon, who also hates Spider-Man because his electricity powers have become dangerously unstable, thanks to experiments performed by the erstwhile Superior Spider-Man. The Cat kidnapped Sajani Jaffrey, Parker Industries’ most high-powered employee, for reasons that are not yet clear, and then went to the Fact Channel, where Peter 'Spider-Man' Parker was hyping his company live on the air. Electro stunned Peter with a lightning bolt, and the Black Cat is about to unmask Peter on the air, with J. Jonah Jameson, newly-minted broadcast personality, as the master of ceremonies.
Across New York, members of the supporting cast watch Spider-Man’s unmasking. Or they’re trying to, anyway; in a delightful twist, JJJ is standing centre frame, blocking the shot completely. Yes, Jameson is a old hand at the news business, but doesn’t know how to do TV yet, which is lucky for our hero.
Before the cameras are able to reposition themselves, Cindy ‘Silk’ Moon - a fellow spider-powered individual that Peter met two issues ago - bounds into the scene and obscures Peter’s face with a blast of webbing. Thanks to her spider-strength and spider-agility (not to mention her spider-sense), she easily wrests Peter from the Cat’s grasp and exits the studio, the Cat’s whip and Electro’s lightning notwithstanding. (The Cat is annoyed that Silk seems to be faster than lightning. Way to hang a lampshade on it, Felicia.)
With their attempt to foul up Spider-Man foiled, the villainous duo splits up. The Cat goes to ‘the Bar with No Name’, which Constant Readers will recall was a drinking establishment that featured prominently in the Brand New Day era, where New York’s supervillains hang out when they’re off the job. Felicia would like to recruit new muscle to her gang, just like Spider-Man has done with Silk. Unfortunately the Cat is persona non grata with New York’s black masks, as they refuse to work with Electro, or his associates, given how dangerous he’s become.
Meanwhile, Electro grills Sajani over the device that Parker Industries has built. He’s desperate to know: will this, to use Max’s word, “cure” him? Sajani confirms that yes, the device will make Electro “completely human” again. That sure sounds like ‘de-powered’ to me, but Electro either doesn't catch the distinction, or doesn't care.
It seems like Max picked up right where he left off with Sajani last issue. I wonder why he took time out to go menace Peter Parker at the Fact Channel before getting this information?
Anyway. At the waterfront, Parker Industries is about to do a field test of their anti-Electro gear, and Peter has dragged himself out of bed to handle the PR. Sajani was supposed to do this, but of course she’s AWOL… which Ana Maria and Peter figure as her giving Peter a taste of his own medicine, given how often he disappears for no good reason, forcing others to cover for him. A quick application of Otto Octavius’ anti-webbing formula, and Peter’s face is clear, leaving him free to do public appearances again.
Or he would be, if Cindy’s spider-sense didn’t tell her that Electro and the Black Cat were about to crash the party. (“How can you tell that?” asks Peter. Cindy gives a double-talk answer that amounts to “my spider-sense is better than yours”). The two suit up, leaving Ana Maria to handle the meet-and-greet. She’s willing, but on condition that she get a promotion to ‘Senior Project Manager’. That’s actually a comedown; her initial demand was ‘Vice President in Charge of Everything’.
Ana Maria leaves the car and tries to shut the demonstration down, but too late, for the Cat and Electro have already seized the anti-Electro device. They announce their plans to use it “in reverse” to amp up Electro’s powers. Peter knows a cue when he hears one, and bounds into the scene, quip on tongue.
“I may be new to this”, asks Silk, “but why did you just give up the element of surprise?”
Good question! Peter’s lame answer: “I like to make an entrance. Shoot me.”
Electro loses his cool and begins making with the lightning bolts, but against Silk’s webbing - which, unlike Spider-Man’s regular blend, is insulated - he’s little threat. Accordingly, Black Cat ups the stakes by dialling up the anti-Electro machine to 11. This will apparently be fatal, for Electro and everyone in the vicinity, but it will certainly build up the Cat’s rep.
Silk is taken out of the action, briefly, by the need to save the Fact Channel’s newscopter, which, disabled by Electro’s involuntary electric burst, is falling from the sky. She achieves this with a gigantic airbag of porous webbing, but this is sufficiently tricky to keep her out of the fight. Meanwhile, poor Electro is being torn apart by his own energy. Spidey, wrapped up in insulated webbing like a shabby mummy, tries to work out his next move.
“So what will you do?” sneers the Cat. “Will you waste time fighting me or try to save one of your worst enemies?”
This is a test, she goes on to say, to prove whether it’s Peter or Otto behind the wheel of Spider-Man. And it’s definitive: Otto would certainly have apprehended the Black Cat. Peter, of course, is committed to the principle that when he’s around, no one dies.
Knowing his own machine well enough to be certain it can’t be fixed in time, Spider-Man realizes he’ll have to free Max Dillon from its grasp. Partially protected by his insulated webbing, he muscles Dillon - who, nerveless, is jerking around, shooting blasts of electricity in all directions - from the machine and tries to drag him away from its field of effect. As he does so, he begs Felicia for help, but she’s stone cold. “No, Spider! If anything, I’m going to watch you burn! Whatever we had once… our relationship, whatever trust I had in you… that made me weak. That cost me everything!”
Lucky, the new woman in Spider-Man’s life is eager to help. Silk, fresh from saving the helicopter passengers, applies yet more organic webbing to pull Electro and Spidey free from the danger zone. As she surrounds them in a blast shield of insulated webbing, she wonders why Spider-Man is risking so much to save Electro.
“I don’t get to choose. With great power…”
“Comes great responsibility. You say that a lot.”
“Trust me, it’s never enough.”
Cut to the report on all this at the Fact Channel, which gives us a quick burst of exposition to wrap things up. The machine did indeed explode, but no one was hurt. Electro is now in custody, but he’s alive, and apparently fully de-powered. Permanently? Well, that’s what everyone seems to think. The police blame Parker Industries for the criminal escapades at the docks, but TV personality JJJ blames Spider-Man (of course). Silk is the city’s newest hero, thanks to her sizzling debut, and Cindy Moon is the Fact Channel’s newest intern. Why is she working there? Not for the money, which is non-existent, but for the chance to use their news-gathering resources to track down her missing family. The Black Cat got away, and her double blow - against Electro and Parker Industries, the would-be builder of a new supervillain jail - has earned her the respect and loyalty of the supervillains of the Bar with No Name. Sajani escaped from the Cat’s clutches with her secret intact: she told Felicia how to disable the anti-Electro device, because she wants Parker Industries out of that line of work, and figured getting rid of the prototypes might help.
And what does Peter think about all this? “We fixed [Max Dillon]. Cured him. Depowered him. And best of all, I saved his life. And no one died. Far as being Spider-Man goes, that’s a good day.”
Man, what a wet firecracker this arc has been. Marvel sent Peter Parker away for more than a year, and when he comes back, this is the best the company can think to do with him? In costume, he’s playing second fiddle to the new Spider-Woman, who does most of the heroic things in this issue: she saves Peter from Electro at the studios, she prevents the helicopter passengers from dying when their vehicle crashes, she gets Electro out of danger with a webline, she saves Electro and Spider-Man from the exploding machine with her web-dome. Spider-Man is a bystander in his own book.
Peter Parker isn’t much better: Sajani and Anna Maria are better at running ‘Parker Industries’ than he is, and Cindy is, by her own admission, only interested in him to the extent that her funky genetics compel her to be… that, and she figures she can use him as a human shield in case Morlun shows up. Sure, he has noble sentiments - cure the supervillains! no one dies! - but he can’t do anything about them without an entourage of assistants. Why is this guy a hero, precisely? From this arc, you’d be hard-pressed to say.
I happen to like the new, eeevil Black Cat, though. She’s the most interesting thing in the book right now. I hope future issues give her more room to breathe, so we can explore her new attitude, its sources and ramifications, more closely. We might have to wait a while, though, given whose name is on the book’s masthead.
Literary critics describe stories where the protagonist does not drive the action as ‘slow’. Here’s your Exhibit A. In the Superior Era, Otto was a jerk, but he had an agenda, and he could move it forward. Consequently the story, whatever else it was, was fast-paced and exciting. In the new Amazing Era, Peter has an agenda, but he can’t drive it forward: his partners run the company, his new sidekick does all the work, and his new girlfriend (same person) is only his girlfriend because of a side-effect of their powers. Even his genes are more pro-active than he is! You can see what kind of story we get: slow and unsatisfying.
Come on, Marvel, it’s the Amazing Spider-Man, not the Ineffectual Spider-Man. I can’t go higher than two webs.