Parker Industries is now a worldwide success, thanks to its marketing of ‘webware’, a mobile Internet device with fantastic storage and data access. PI’s CEO, Peter Parker, is now a globetrotting mogul who still finds time to fight crime as Spider-Man. Taking a page from Tony Stark, Peter’s told the world that Spider-Man is his ‘bodyguard’; when the two need to be seen together, Peter’s old friend Hobie ‘The Prowler’ Brown wears the uniform.
Last issue, we found that the criminal organization Zodiac has been repeatedly targeting PI facilities for reasons we don’t yet know. After thwarting one attempt to capture PI’s data servers in Shanghai, Zodiac struck again and stole Peter’s personal webware, which apparently has admin privileges over the entire webware network. Peter managed to encrypt it, which has bought some time for Spider-Man and the Prowler to retrieve the McGuffin before Zodiac finishes cracking its security.
Peter’s taking a meeting in his San Francisco offices, one of 47 offices he has across the globe. Interestingly, the building has the PI logo on it, rather than a label for ‘Horizon University’, which answers my question from last time about how extensive PI’s west-coast operations are.
Speaking of questions from last time, one of those was just how PI is organized: as a private or public company? That matter is clarified somewhat here, as Peter Parker is taking a virtual meeting with the people he describes as his “biggest investors”. They’re concerned about Zodiac’s repeated attacks on the company and the loss of Peter’s webware. Peter, manifestly unconcerned, tells them that PI’s chief of security, Hobie Brown, will retrieve the device shortly, and then ends the meeting. When his investors complain, he says, with a smirk, he’s going fishing.
Hmm. So were these big investors the PI Board of Directors? I guess not, since Peter was pretty cavalier with them. It seems to me that PI must be privately held with Peter controlling at least the plurality, if not majority, of the shares. At least, that will be my assumption until more evidence comes along. That also means I’ll assume Peter’s whole schtick about his annual salary being capped at middle-management levels is just eyewash; if he’s got giant holdings of PI stock, then his personal wealth must be vast indeed.
But we don’t read a book called The Amazing Spider-Man to think about matters like this. We read it for action, and writer Dan Slott understands that. We immediately cut to the middle of the ocean (one assumes the Pacific) to a spider-themed hovercraft piloted by Spider-Man and the Prowler, who are kibitzing about the spider-tracer attached to the webware they’re tracking. Peter’s now vastly improved the technology, commercialized it, and sells them, under the slogan “just like the kind Spider-Man uses!”, to the general public at a 67% markup over cost.
“And people used to call me a crook”, remarks Hobie sourly.
The hovercraft descends to the ocean floor, where a Zodiac ship is patrolling the perimeter around a hidden Zodiac facility buried in the seabed. The Zodiac pilot isn’t happy about this. Firstly, there’s nobody around, because the base is secret. Secondly, if anybody was around, patrolling would draw attention to the area, exactly what you don’t want when your base is secret. In other words, what’s he’s doing is both pointless and harmful.
Too bad - what’s he’s doing is useful, because Team Spider-Man is coming. But he doesn’t know it, because Peter’s used a holographic rig to disguise his ship as a humpback whale. Once past the perimeter, the holographic display turns the ship transparent, and Spidey and the Prowler, uncharacteristically silent, infiltrate the base.
The first to fall are two unprepared guards, who are so busy arguing over whether Aquarius is an air sign or a water sign that they are quickly silenced and incapacitated. After that, the two wall-crawlers quickly penetrate to the heart of the base, where Pisces, Aquarius, and Cancer are trying to crack the webware. Light comedy and brawling ensues, until Aquarius presses a button on the wall.
“If you’d trusted your spider-sense, and your speed, you could have dodged my last attack. Maybe even stopped me. But now those files have been sent to every Zodiac base around the globe.”
Yes, the data is stlll encrypted, but now every Zodiac base can put its minds to work on the problem. I wonder why they didn’t do that earlier?
Anyhow, Aquarius triggers the self-destruct timer, and everyone runs for the exits. The Prowler is keen to capture one of the Lords of the Zodiac, but Spider-Man vetoes that plan, as the spider-sub only holds four, which in this case is our heroes, plus the two guys they knocked out.
“And when secret underwater bases are blowing up,” Spider-Man says, “good guys never leave people behind.” As he says this, he flashes back to the conclusion of the ‘Ends of the Earth’ arc in ASM #687, when he left Sable and the Rhino to die in order to save the world from Doc Ock.
In last issue’s review, I wondered just what moment taught Peter Parker that ‘no one dies’ was an impossible standard. Clearly, in writer Dan Slott’s mind, it was this one.
Once the Spider-Sub surfaces, our heroes contact Mockingbird and Nick Fury, and in the course of their conversation, the plot twists: it turns out Spidey didn’t flake out in the fight with Aquarius, he pushed her just hard enough that she felt compelled to share the data with other Zodiac bases. Somehow, that act allows SHIELD to pinpoint the location of those facilities. It’s still the case that Zodiac has the encrypted data and will be able to crack it, but before that can happen, SHIELD can roll up the whole organization with a coordinated attack. All their base are belong to SHIELD, it seems.
“Less of a plan and more a recovery of Parker’s fumble,” says Nick. “But I’ll take a win wherever we can get it.”
In the epilogue, we cut to Tahuexco, Mexico, where Alexsei ‘formerly the Rhino’ Systevich is drinking alone in a beachside bar. A figure in a red suit, whose face we readers can’t see, asks Alexsei to join his organization, but Alexsei refuses… until Red Suit produces a mute Oksana, Alexsei’s wife, who died in ASM #625.
“All things are possible for me,” says Red Suit. “And they will be for you too, if you join me.”
Alexsei, overwhelmed with shock and gratitude at meeting his wife, alive once more, says “I will do anything you ask. Anything.”
It’s a fun read, even if it’s a little goofy for my taste. It’s hard to take the Zodiac seriously when their troops are constantly making Harry Potter references, or quibbling over astrology lore, or bitching about their organization’s poor HR policies. When Aquarius looks up and sees Spider-Man and Prowler creeping along the ceiling, she doesn’t scream or attack, she says “That’s Spider-Man and some guy up there. You see that, right?” If last issue was James Bond, this one is Get Smart.
Still, these Zodiac people have personality, at least. And there’s more to them than meets the eye: Aquarius’ remark to Cancer, when he can’t crack the webware, that “...we’re twelve hours in. That’s the half-way mark. You know how the Zodiac works. We lose the day, we lose our advantage”, bears some scrutiny, I think.
So who do we think Red Suit is? Norman Osborn? Probably not: Alexsei doesn’t seem to recognize him. Plus Norman would never wear a red suit. If he didn’t have standard office black or blue, he’d certainly go green or purple. I’m going to make an idle guess: red suit plus “all things are possible for me” equals Mephisto? That’s all I got, even if it’s unlikely. The fact that Red Suit’s face is kept from us means we should be able to recognize it, and Mephisto-disguised-as-a-human isn’t anyone we readers would identify immediately.
A strong issue with action, interesting locations, and twists, but the tone is too parodic; we’ve only had one issue in the new format, it’s too soon to begin making fun of it. Let’s call it an even three webs.