You really don't need too much background for this issue. I guess it would be helpful to know that Morlun is a villain that feeds off of Spider-people, but that's about it. (Gee, this may be the first totally stand-alone Marvel issue I've read in a while.)
In the Ikegami Medical Center and Research Institute, home to “world-class medical facilities and cutting-edge laboratories,” Doctor Aaron Aikman works. He is 27 years old, and already a biologist with significant accomplishments. Three years ago, Aikman administered a treatment to himself in secrecy that was meant to “resequence his DNA, inserting cloned spider genes into his own.” (Why not?) He gained amazing powers and became the Spider-Man! Among his gained abilities, Aikman has super strength, increased agility, and can climb walls. But that isn’t all! Aikman, being the amazing scientist he is, developed an enhanced helmet, silk spinners, a retractable stinger, and propulsion boots.
The Spider-Man’s first “foe” was Redeye, a former astronaut turned evil by cosmic radiation! After him, Spidey began facing more and more villains. A year ago, he fought the mysterious robotic villain, Naamurah, and she almost defeated him because his webbing and stinger had no effect on her. Naamurah is known for kidnapping people in their sleep in complete stealth, and her victims all have the same nightmare the night it occurs. During their previous confrontation, she told Spidey, “I’ve come through the door in the dark. More like me wait. You, little spider, will make great food for them. This world--will--fall.” Aikman has taken advantage of his lab to construct silk Naamurah cannot, he believes, escape from in their next battle.
At his work, Aikman’s “one meaningful relationship” was with Dr. Kaori Ikegami, his former boss. She specialized in robotics and prosthetics, and served as mentor to Aikman. Seven years ago, though, Ikegami’s daughter was hit by a car and has remained in a “vegetative” state ever since. Ikegami lost it and dedicated herself to finding a cure for her daughter, giving up her position in her company. Aikman was assisting her in finding a cure, and they developed a romantic relationship. One day, Ikegami moved her daughter to another facility, rejecting Aikman’s offers for help. They haven’t seen each other much lately, but he still loves her.
With time away from Ikegami, Aikman had fully devoted himself to stopping Naamurah, building a massive arsenal, finding a pattern in the villain’s kidnappings, and planning to finally defeat her. As he’s about to seek out the villain, Aikman gets a knock on his door and discovers it is Kaori Ikegami. She greets him with a kiss and says, “Let’s run away together. Just the two of us. We could go anywhere.” He refuses to do this, and she explains, “Aaron, I need help. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve ruined everything.” Comforting her with a hug, Aikman explains that, once he goes to the Panacea Institute for a presentation, he’ll help her get through her problems. He knows what she’s going through.
At that point, Ikegami pushes away, doubting the truthfulness of Aikman’s excuse about his presentation. She explains thing will never be okay and suddenly yells, “Why haven’t you asked me about Hannah? You’ve just forgotten about her? You never cared about her, did you? You--just wanted me.” He rejects her accusations and expounds that she was the one who forced him away from her daughter. Aikman asks if she’s dead, and she leaves the apartment, jumping into a cab before he can reach her. Thinking to himself, Aikman decides that he cannot simply drop everything to help her. “Tonight, the Spider-Man attacks.”
Soon, the Spider-Man soars above the city, saying, “Alone, I stand against the rising tide, And as I live, all evil shall fall.” Monitoring every medium for Naamurah, he finally spots her. She is right where he predicted her to be, wearing a coat and carrying a victim. Using his silk webs, Aikman rescues the innocent and she’s unconscious. Naamurah flees the scene in the meantime, and Spidey is determined not to lose her. Then, he spots her in his rear-view display, but cannot prevent being pushed off the building with her. “There’s no man nor aberration who can stop us!” Naamurah yells.
As they fall, Naamurah is choking the Spider-Man. He webs her up and allows her to smash into a car below them. Meanwhile, Spidey narrowly saves himself from splatting on the street with his silk. The villain begins to escape and causes confusion among the civilians, but Spider-Man quickly webs her up again. He asks what she has done with the people she kidnapped. Aikman is surprised when the villain’s hood falls away and the person underneath is not Naamurah. “I am Daarroh, and there are more like us.” He explains Spidey’s efforts are in vain because he’s already “let the spider inside.” Aikman asks for clarification and he explains that he saw something “in the corridor between our worlds” that will be his death. Mankind is doomed. Suddenly, The Spider-Man recognizes Daarroh as one of Naamurah’s victims! He has more questions, but Daarroh passes out.
Later at the Ikegami Medical Center and Research Institute, Aikman and other doctors look at the body of Daarroh. He is “comatose” with many fractured parts. They disconnected the robotics from his brain stem but don’t know if they caused any brain damage. A doctor explains that Daarroh may not have survived if Spider-Man hadn’t aided him at the scene medically, and she assumes his secret identity is an E.M.T. The doctor also elucidates that they have the victim’s robotic suit and, she wants Aikman to analyze it. Aikman mentions he’s not a robotics expert, and she explains it may be in his area of expertise because the suit contains a “bio-engineering neural interface” that is like what he was developing. Aikman realizes that it is his exact model and knows the only person who could replicate it: Kaori Ikegami.
Later in a cluttered laboratory, the Spider-Man finds Kaori Ikegami crying. He asks where Hannah is and she begs Aaron (apparently she knows his identity) not to hurt her. Spidey shows her the neural interface from Daarroh’s suit, and she decides it’s time he learned the truth. Ikegami explains that, the night Aikman told her to give up on her daughter, she became fanatic about finding a cure until she finally got her daughter to wake up. The girl began to walk in a creepy robotic suit and told her mother she has a nightmare about a dark world with a door. Suddenly, Hannah began irrationally screaming at a person from her nightmare. She passed out and when she woke, was possessed by the voice of Naamurah.
From that point, as Ikegami describes, Hannah began ordering her to perform tasks for her. She says that she knows now her daughter was not actually in her body, but her soul was “stripped away” by “years of sorrow and guilt” so she followed her commands. The commands, Ikegami explains, were mainly for her to build more robotic suits for the people Naamurah kidnapped. In current times, Naamurah has unleased all the victims in their robotic suits, and they are kidnapping people for the next wave. “Hannah is dead,” Ikegami painstakingly admits.
The Spider-Man races down the hall, but he realizes that he is already too late. Hundreds of monsters are already outside performing “come kind of invasion from another dimension.” He wonders if he could have prevented it, but knows that he must find Naamurah and stop her.
Suddenly, a blinding light erupts from a room down the corridor in front of Spider-Man. Morlun stands in the doorway. Aikman realizes that he must be the killer that Daarroh explained. This explains the foreshadowing of a “corridor” by Daarroh and the “door in the dark” by Naamurah. Spider-Man asks who he is, and Morlun replies, “The end of your story.” Our hero realizes that Naamurah was correct: mankind is doomed and Aikman cannot save them. The robots planted by Naamurah are destined to take over Earth. And he is destined to be slaughtered by Morlun.
I’ll start off by saying Dustin Weaver’s Edge of Spider-Verse #3 was brilliant and is one of the most creative comic books I’ve read this entire year. It feels like Weaver fit a five-part story arc in one comic book. Aaron Aikman and his entire world are effectively described in only four pages, with the reader feeling they’ve known the character for a few years. Following that, Weaver slows the pacing enough to capture emotional and story cues successfully. Exposition is given with a battle leading up to the very dark conclusion.
When this comic was announced, Weaver explained it was going to have a definite Manga tone, and while this is obvious, he also captures many different feels in the story. First, the book has a great retro, nostalgic atmosphere to it. Aaron Aikman has an eighties bowl/mullet haircut and a Don Johnson suit. Weaver also channels the nineties with his trading card layouts. Second, Weaver plays with sci-fi, which is obvious with the whole plot and the Spider-Man’s costume. Last, Aikman’s universe is surprisingly similar to Batman’s. As proof, look at Pages 8-13. The many tones are very interesting and leave the reader interested to see what atmosphere Weaver will conjure next.
I also appreciated the storytelling techniques Weaver uses in this fast-paced issue. He fits in lots of foreshadowing to the stunning ending with Morlun. I always enjoy that “uh-huh” point in a story after being slightly confused by cryptic remarks earlier. (Which I have been anticipating for two years in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers (Vol. 5) run.) Weaver also manages to fit in a few twists in the story, which is always exciting. It’s surprising when the Spider-Man, on Page 13, discovers that he has been battling not Naamurah but one of her victims. The other twist that Ikegami’s daughter is Naamurah is a bit predictable, but entertaining nonetheless.
With my praise of the story behind me, this issue isn’t flawless. In sections, Weaver’s exposition is a bit heavy. For example, did we really need to learn about Aikman’s first villain, RedEye in the beginning? It distracted from the story, mainly. Also, we are left wondering why Aikman ever experimented on himself to gain spider-powers in the first place. What is his motivation? Was he ever influenced by an Uncle Ben himself? Of course, with all the exposition Weaver already gave, I can’t imagine how he would fit this in, so I won’t count it against him that much.
The best element of this comic is quickly Weaver’s artwork. Typically, if I really like art, I list the panels I enjoyed, but there are simply too many to describe in this issue. The layout for every page is brilliant and captivating. By writing, penciling, inking, and coloring, Weaver is able to fully catch the subtle qualities that can sometimes be lost when the duties are split. For example, Weaver succeeds in making Ikegami look mentally unstable on Page 7, Page 1 by drawing her with crazed eyes, inking her hair with delicate frayed lines, and coloring her skin pale and adding frantic colored lines bordering her outline. Weaver’s love for architecture is also obvious on the marvelous Pages 8 and 9 spread, which happens to be my current computer screensaver.
This is my favorite Edge of Spider-Verse issue. I really hope Marvel allows Weaver to bring Aaron Aikman back or at least let him write/pencil/ink/color another comic!