Somethings been off lately, the Parker luck has been noticeably worse than usual. He's cooled off his relationship with Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, who gained actual bad-luck powers with the help of the Kingpin. If you think these things are tied together, you'd be correct--and in this story by Peter David, they're set on a collision course.
The story begins following one Brenda Burman, who hates being alone, but has gotten used to it after her looks made her an outcast in school. She's walking home by herself on the NY city streets at night after a movie, when she hears furtive footsteps coming up behind her. She begins to think being alone isn't so bad.
She then surreally runs into some thugs dressed in superhero masks from the Marvel U: Captain America, Hulk, and red webbed Spider-man mask. She tells "Spidey" she doesn't have any money--he replies that he and his friends are just looking for some laughs. She says they could find a prettier girl than her and to why not leave her alone? They set upon her but immediately the real deal Spidey appears in the black & whites.
"Cap" grabs a trashcan lid as a makeshift shield--the real Spidey punches through it and into his face. Spidey takes out the one in the Hulk mask, then grabs the fake Spidey and starts running up the side of the building with him until the thug faints. Brenda says she can't believe the things she was saying, that she was a coward. Spidey says there's no shame in being scared, that everyone gets that way. When she says "you don't" Spidey jokes that he had to screw up his courage just to appear in public in his get-up. He webs up his camera to take pics of the webbed-up thugs.
Elsewhere at a penthouse office, a redheaded man is trying to fence a solid gold notebook to the Foreigner. Forry says he'll take it--but challenges the fence to two identical boxes: one containing half a million quid, and one containing "a very touchy snake"--and to pick one, saying the fence will die if he picks the wrong one. The fence passes, Forry says a much smaller fee is waiting outside for the gold notebook. As he leaves Forry says little did the fence know that both boxes contained money, saying the fence must've lacked courage, and that next time maybe he'll put snakes in both boxes to make things interesting.
Felicia's working out in tights to the song from Flashdance thinking she has to be in top form to break into the Foreigner's office. She thinks he's supposed to be the deadliest assassin in the world, and that 37 law-enforcement agencies swear he doesn't exist; that whatever she finds in his office will go to an orphanage or charity, and wondering how "Spider" would react if he knew of her plans?.
Meanwhile, upon developing the pics that Spidey took of the assault on the girl by 'the masks', Peter notices they have the girl in every frame. He thinks it'll be hard enough just testifying against the men, much less having her picture plastered everywhere, but then Peter thinks the pictures are too good and Brenda will just have to look after herself. He decides to do the right thing though, and lie to Kate Cushing saying they didn't come out. Cushing is slightly angry, calling Peter worse than useless since she took over as the Bugle's editor, but throws him a job with Joy Mercado anyway--a teacher with a child abuse complaint. Cushing tells Peter to pretend he's a pro photographer, like his rival Lance Bannon. Peter goes to change into costume to meet up with Joy, thinking things were better when Joe Robertson was city editor, that nothing ever fazes him.
Speaking of which, Joe is picking up his son Randy at the airport, just in from Pittsburgh State U. Joe is shocked when Randy introduces his dad to his new white wife, Amanda.
Spidey too is swinging around, thinking about how shocked he was to learn Flash Thompson is the Hobgoblin, and how everyone around him has been threatened by or a part of violence, Aunt May and the boarders, etc. He arrives at the townhouse to meet up with Joy, where a nasty scene has broken out between young Alex's father, Mr. Woolcot, and Mr. Estevez, from Alex's school. Woolcot accuses Estevez of taking a perverse interest in his son. Estevez notes the packed up apartment and accuses Woolcot of running away like the coward he is. Woolcot gets enraged again, Alex's hand flares up with the strange energy which sets off Spidey's sense something wild. He busts in in costume and cools the situation out. Woolcot threatens to call the police so everyone leaves. Spidey thinks to himself that something is amiss with young Alex.
Pete catches up to Joy and Esteves out of costume. They go to a diner. Esteves says despite the trouble, he has to do something for Alex, for he knows he's being abused. Pete thinks that Kate Cushing is going to be furious at Pete for arriving too late to get any photos. Later on, she is furious, telling Pete his freelance status is hanging by a thread. Pete thinks he needs something to go right, even a simple coin toss--he flips once, twice, four times--and calls the wrong face each and every time. He realizes something weird is going on--his web shooters and tracers failing at weird times He goes to see Dr. Strange, suspecting Black Cat's hex may be the cause. Wong, Strange's assistant, lets him at Strange's front door--Spidey cracks that he hopes the Doctor has some new magazines in the waiting room. Meanwhile, Cat breaks in to Foreigner's penthouse office, making her way to his office safe, but a certain mohawked thug has been sent in to fetch cigars for Foreigner, Cat hiding in the shadows.
Over at Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, Strange says there is indeed a bad-luck aura clinging to Spider-man, that he can remove it but the results may be unpredictable. Spidey says he's got nothing to lose, and to get cracking--meanwhile Cat has cracked into Foreigner's safe and found the solid gold notebook. But his thugs have found her. Strange says what he does may affect the bad luck at it's source, and does Spidey want to time to issue a warning to that source? Spidey says it's a she, and someone who he thought he knew, but who hexed him to get back at him, and that he doesn't owe her anything. Cat says her bad luck powers didn't work on the hidden silent alarm in the safe, but tells the big mohawked thug to plant a punch right on her cheek, while above him there's a ceiling fan that's starting to become unbolted---as a result of Cat's hex. Strange lifts the hex, the fan doesn't fall, and Cat gets whacked a good one by the thug. Spidey asks what are the chances that Strange can wipe Cat's memory of his identity, but Strange tells him not to push his luck, and not let his hardened heart corrupt his sense of responsibility, that he needs to go to Cat with an open heart. Spidey thanks him for being a lifesaver, when on the last panel we see Foreigner's thugs standing over a crumpled Cat.
David's been the writer on this title off and on since around issue #103, and here, various plot threads he's been developing are set up to further be explored. There's so much going on this issue--Pete's Bugle responsibilities, Black Cat's plot to turn herself around, Randy Robertson's new wife, and the Dr. Strange cameo--but things never feels too overstuffed. From the Foreigner, the gold notebook, the super-powered Alex Woolcot, Cat's power loss and entanglement with Foreigner, it's all very nicely woven into the regular Spidey continuity, and gives Spectacular a singular identity separate from but complementary to the Amazing Spidey title of the time.
There are very clever transitions between scenes via dialogue. The opening street crime bust up would've been run of the mill, but is eerily memorable due to the choice of the mugger's Marvel Heroes disguises. Mark Beechum's artwork (with Bob McLeod's inks, which are fantastic) is dark and atmospheric, perfectly complementing this dour but fun and funny tale. And, I have to mention, I'm not sure I've ever seen Black Cat drawn sexier than here.
Could've been disastrous with this much set up and exposition, but Peter David sets up a half dozen or more forthcoming issues here with some excellent plot development and characterization. Though the title of this story is "Things Fall Apart", things definitely fall into place here for this title, as the creative team locks into a consistently excellent stride. With this heavily compressed story, there's enough material in one issue for nearly a year's worth of storylines, so it just seems like even more of a bargain that it's all mostly resolved in another 6 or 7 issues (due to the story or art not being done soon enough perhaps, there are many gaps as other creators take over for a couple issues, so it's not a wholly perfect run in regards to consistency I suppose). I know I'm always raving on and on about Peter David, but I still think the modern Spidey brain trust could learn a lot from these novelistic issues for telling a compact, satisfying Spidey story that fires on all cylinders.