Last issue saw the Sinner Six brutally defeat Spider-Man after his re- appearance. J. Jonah Jameson has become leader of a youth movement that demands an end to the dictatorship that has installed the WEBB, a defense system that they claim is needed to stop super-terrorists.
The Sinner Six is not the only villain Spider-Man encounters. At the end of last issue's events the thing that was Dr. Octopus takes Spider-Man in its tentacles and seemingly attempts to bury him next to his family graves.
Needless to say, Spider-Man is utterly defeated and there is no hope in sight. Issue #3 reveals the true purpose behind Dr. Octopus's actions as well as revealing a surprise villain that has been in hiding up until now.
Issue #3 begins with a battered Peter weeping next to the grave of Uncle Ben. The WEBB system lies activated in the sky. Peter laments that he has failed and could not save anyone. He asks to himself why Ben lied to him.
Meanwhile, Jameson is sent in as a prisoner to Mayor Waters's office. Waters makes motions to cut Jameson's throat. Instead, Jameson grabs the dagger held by Waters and manages to stab his would-be killer in the throat. Waters's advisor, "Edward," looks unperturbed. Jameson realizes he has been played and attempts to attack "Edward." He succeeds in only making "Edward" ooze black liquid.
We return to Peter and Octopus. Octopus communicates to Peter that he has brough the web-slinger here to dig up the remains of the Parker family. Peter is shocked, thinking that Octopus was going to kill him. Octopus wants Spider-Man "to bring them all back" and he flings open the grave containing the corpse of Mary Jane.
Still delusional, Peter recalls the day Mary Jane died. He lay there watching Mary Jane struggle as the cancer (caused by Peter's irradiated bodily fluids) ate her away. Gunshots are heard outside the hospital window. Peter reluctantly leaves and he recalls that Mary Jane meant to say "Go get 'em, tiger." Back in the present, Peter cries out in despair while holding the corpse of Mary Jane. He calls himself a liar for saying he would never hurt her. And with that Mary Jane's corpse disappears back into her grave via Octopus's tentacles.
Our next scene depicts Kasey mulling over the murder of the young hacker by Kraven the Hunter (see the review of Spider-Man: Reign #2 for more details). She takes off her head garment and it is revealed to be a make-shift mask.
We once again return to the newscasters on the Daily Bugle telecast. They comment on the positive benefits of the WEBB system and cut to "Edward" announcing why WEBB is needed. It is then revealed that Mayor Waters survived Jameson's attack. He argues with the old man that enlisting the help of "Edward" was necessary. Jameson attacks the deal and flatly states that Waters made a pact with the devil. "Edward" interrupts their argument and promptly shows his true form...the alien symbiote known as Venom (still not shown to the reader)!!! Even the Reign officers present are shocked by the turn of events. Mayor Waters stands by vainly stating that "we can work this out." At this moment he has realized what a fool he was for associating with Venom.
Back on the streets of New York City, citizens and reporters are shocked when the WEBB system breaks down. General chaos engulfs the city as Kasey runs away from symbiotic remnants of Venom. The real reason behind WEBB was not to protect the city but to act as a conduit for Venom's monstrous outgrowths. These remnants are forcibly swallowing up the people of New York City. Kasey has the foresight of running to an abandoned church, previously seen as the meeting place of Jameson's followers. She informs the children to run for their lives.
The Reign officers don't know what to do. They stand in utter horror as the symbiotic monsters rip into the crowd. An attempted desertion prompts the group to take faith in the men running the WEBB system. It seems as if some of the Reign might finally develop a conscience.
We finally return to Peter. He opens the casket of Mary Jane and looks for something he hasn't worn in a long time. Meanwhile, Venom takes great pleasure in taunting Jameson (now fully revealed). Another short scene shows Kasey ringing the huge church bell in defiance of the monstrous Venom remnants. The creatures disappear. Kasey realizes that Jameson always suspected something was afoot and chose the church for protection. He knew all along. Kasey leads the children in adopting masks and they go out to take back the city.
The ringing of the church bell signals the dawn of a new era for New York City. The masks are finally back. And with a bursting of the casket, the red and blue good ol' Spider-Man emerges as well. It is Peter's true self. Venom makes final preparations to defend his headquarters by instructing the Sinner Six to take up positions. Loyal Reign also form up on the building. Jameson tells Waters to be quiet as he watches what appears to be the final battle unfolding right before their eyes...
This issue marks a turning point for Spider-Man: Reign. Previously, Reign had worn its Dark Knight Returns influences on its sleeve. While this decision wasn't a bad thing, it did make me wonder when the turning point, if any, would occur. Kaare Andrews made sure I was not disappointed.
Issue #3 takes the theme of an oppressed people fighting for freedom and turns it on its collective head. The journey becomes more personal as a result. The inclusion of Venom makes this tale sinister and foreboding while offering a wrinkle that is freshly received in the formula established by Frank Miller so long ago in 1986. Unlike in Miller's TDKR, the government really isn't the true villain. Mayor Waters may be an idealistic fool but he isn't truly evil. Reign tells us that men only choose to follow evil. Jameson knew this but was unwilling to accept it until he attacked Waters.
Peter Parker's journey is symbolized by his long-time nemesis, Dr. Octopus. The good doctor realized that Spider-Man needed to break out of collective funk. It wasn't about revenge for Dr. Octopus, unlike the Sinner Six. Rather, it was about redemption. It wasn't enough for Jameson to persuade Peter to go out and fight crime. What was needed was for one of Spider-Man's greatest foes to admit defeat and offer a way to re-take the responsibility that was lost ten years ago.
I must admit that, at first, I didn't like the revelation that Peter inadvertently killed Mary Jane. The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense from a spiritual standpoint. Peter's religion is his wife. The fact that he killed her makes him lose faith and allows a villain such as Venom to take advantage. It was touching in a disturbing way (hugging the long dead corpse = really gross in my book) when Peter realizes this fact. Peter has a whole city to protect as his true calling. Mary Jane always wanted to impart this belief to Peter but he has failed to realize it up until now. Uncle Ben was really speaking the truth after all.
There are fantastic nods to Spider-Man's past history and continuity. Astute readers will note that when Spider-Man re-emerges in his red and blues, he sings the 1960s Spider-Man TV program theme song. Kasey's ringing of the church bell to ward off the Venom monsters was an inspired touch as well. I challenge jaded readers not to pump their fist when she takes up the mask. In addition, the WEBB's funneling system in conjunction with Venom's symbiote was a rather sinister way to create chaos.
The pacing of the issue works much as the Model-T factories of the Progressive Era worked. Point A moves to Point B without a hitch. The narrative structure also wisely doesn't choose to lead the reader by the hand. This makes the reader actively engage themselves in Spider-Man's world. The controversial plot points also are not dwelled on. It is almost as if Andrews is saying "this is what I want to do and I don't have any regrets." Too often, in the mainstream Spidey titles I find that whenever a controversial decision is made that the writers feel obligated to apologize for perceived mistakes. The trick is that Spider-Man: Reign does not apologize nor should it.
P.S. The art remains stellar.
There is something for everyone in this issue. We have the redemption of Peter and Octopus. Kasey's arc takes off strongly. The reason behind Mary Jane's death is finally revealed. Jameson is thankfully revealed not to be a coward. All of this and we get the return of the red and blues and the big reveal of Venom. The concerns I had after issue #2 are water under the bridge. I am eagerly anticipating the final installment. Let's see the rejuvenated Spider-Man beat down on Venom and the Sinner Six.
Solicitations for issue #4 indicate that Venom and Spider-Man will have their final battle...but with a surprise lurking. Might we see Norman Osborn?