Spidey has been suffering from black-outs, dizziness, clumsiness and disorientation. Is there something seriously wrong with him, or is he simply unable to deal with all the good things that have happened to him lately? In the last issue Spidey tangled with a new super-villain called Tracer, got shot and then received very bad news regarding a blood test. It was also revealed that his deadly foe, Morlun, had seemingly returned from the dead and is stalking Peter in his dreams and in reality.
Then, in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #19 Spidey went out of his way to ignore the results of that blood test and tackled Tracer a second time - almost dying in the process. It fell to MJ, who had an epiphany of her own, to get him to open up and admit to his fear.
Then, in Amazing Spider-Man #525 Spidey's illness made it impossible for him to aid his fellow Avengers when Tracer launched a full out attack on New York city. But when Tracer sneaked into Avengers Tower, Peter was able to find it in himself to subdue the menace. He revealed to his wife, and his Aunt May, that his prognosis is terminal.
And now, The Other continues...
Aunt May is reading the results of Peter's blood test. She can't believe it. She can't believe that Peter hasn't got a second opinion. He is an Avenger, he rubs shoulders with the most accomplished and intelligent minds on the planet. If he won't ask for help then Aunt May certainly will!
Shortly after, Spidey is strapped to a complicated piece of Kirby-tech and being examined by Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Hank Pym and Bill Foster. Reed says that Peter has cellular degeneration, but there is no traditional cause. Pym believes that the degeneration is tied to the radiation that gave Spidey his powers. Foster points out that the world only has one expert on radiation- based mutations. As fast as they can bundle themselves into a quinjet our heroes are off in search of the Bruce Banner!
Unfortunately, when they track Banner down to a barren desert he is in the guise of the Hulk. The area is saturated with a powerful tranquiliser gas, and Spidey along with Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Yellowjacket and Goliath don gas- masks and head to confront the Hulk. Inevitably, a fight ensues as the Hulk proves very difficult to put down. In the end a joke from Spidey distracts the Hulk enough that he reverts to Banner. One whiff of the gas puts Banner down for the count.
Reed allows Bruce Banner to use the facilities at the Baxter Building to work on a cure for Spidey. Ben Grimm is not happy that Reed has effectively let the Hulk into the building (and lent him one of Ben's shirts). He foresees nothing but clobbering time ahead. Fortunately, a fight between the Hulk and the Thing does not ensue. Unfortunately, Banner cannot work out how to reverse the malady that is effecting Peter. He might succeed given time, but it is time Peter does not have. However, Bruce can suggest someone else who may help.
Three hours later, Peter is in Wakanda where T'Challa (the Black Panther) offers his aid. The locals seem to revere Peter, and T'Challa explains that they mistake him for a representative of the Spider God, Anansi. Despite the advanced technology of Wakanda, T'Challa is unable to find the source of Spidey's illness. Instead, he gives Spidey the same heart-shaped leaves that only warriors worthy of being the Wakanda king can ingest.
While the pair are waiting to see if the leaves have any affect, T'Challa suggests Peter do something "African" and the pair fly to a near-by temple to Anansi. Spidey quips that the last time he was in such a temple he was chained to the altar and nearly sacrificed to a giant spider. T'Challa considers this and suggests they leave. At first, Spidey thinks he is joking, but it is soon apparent that T'Challa is deadly serious. They leave the area without entering the temple - a good thing, as we see none other than Morlun lurking there in the shadows.
The results of Peter's tests are in. But the news is not good. Even the great technology of Wakanda cannot seem to help him. Spidey returns to New York, but he is not disconsolate. He has lived a good and full life. He's been in the super-hero biz since high school, and is amazed he's lived this long. But he regrets not making life better for MJ. He was never able to take her on a fancy vacation or shower her with gifts, or give her child... In indulging his responsibilities to everyone else in the world, he feels he has neglected her.
Then he hears gun shots from a near-by ally. The Ox (of the Enforcers, no less!) is shaking down a local for protection money. He's taken exception to the fact his mark (Teddy) tries to defend himself, and is grinding the man's face into the pavement to teach him a lesson. Spidey rushes to the scene, but he has no quip for the Ox. As Spidey looks at him, the Ox seems to change into Morlun. Morlun tells Peter that his time has come, and that he must get his affairs in order. Spidey lashes out and gives Morlun a savage beating. Suddenly someone stays his hand.
It is Daredevil. DD points out that if Spidey had continued he would have killed his foe. Spidey looks down at the broken figure of his opponent. It is the Ox and not Morlun. Was he hallucinating? Daredevil tells Spider-Man to take off and let him clear up this mess. Clearly shaken, Spidey realises there is one more expert he has not turned to in his quest for a cure. Fifteen minutes later he is standing in the sanctum sanctorum of Dr Strange.
Using his magic Strange determines that Spidey's illness is not a physical one. Spidey things this is a good start, but Strange cannot agree. Spidey is cursed, and the forces against him are unstoppable. "You are a good man who has a led a good life," says Strange. "Prepare to die."
Guest-stars galore in this issue, but rightly so. Spidey is dying, it's perfectly reasonable to assume the Marvel super-hero community would rally together to help him. Though frankly, I'm surprised it didn't occur to Peter to ask them. How long has he been an Avenger now? One of the main points of the recent Spider-Man: Breakout limited series was getting Spidey to realise that he was part of a team and didn't have to do everything on his own. Surely, he would ask for help - although having Aunt May do it was amusing.
However, this is a good use of the premise of the inter-connected Marvel Universe. All too often in Marvel comics the writer completely ignores other super-heroes and major events for the sake of their own story. Staczynski did it during Spidey's epic fight against Morlun in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol 2) #33. Spidey has his tail handed to him all over New York and it doesn't once occur to him to go to the Fantastic Four for help.
This issue marks the second movement of The Other storyline. Spidey's gone through his denial phase, and now he's trying to do something about it. The very fact that everyone who's ever held a test-tube turns out to help Spidey only adds weight to what is already an important story. I was half expecting to see the Silver Surfer and the High Evolutionary roped in.
I think the issue would have been improved with a scene between Spidey and the Human Torch. Spidey was in the Baxter Building, the Thing gets a line, but Hudlin ignores the friendship that has built up between Spidey and the Torch. Instead he lavishes a considerable number of pages onto Spidey's trip to Wakanda. This isn't too surprising as Hudlin is the current writer on Black Panther, but I was surprised to see Peter's nonchalance in revealing his secret identity to T'Challa and the servants in his palace.
And what is going on with these Spider temples? Is the temple in Wakanda supposed to be the same one Ezekiel took Spidey to after his defeat at the hands of Shathra? What does T'Challa know about the Great Weaver? It was a throw-away scene, and probably puput in there for comic effect, but it asks some deep questions about Spider-Man's mythos that I'm not convinced Hudlin has any intention of answering.
Wieringo provides some very good visuals in this issue - particularly in the fight with the Hulk. It was nice to see Banner lost in a pair of the Hulk's gigantic trousers rather than wearing those mysterious one-size-fits-all duds he's sported for years (must be unstable molecules). Oh, and for those of you who are wondering where this can possibly fall in Hulk continuity, I'm guessing the Avengers intercept the Jade Giant on his way from Australia to Alaska.
And then there is Morlun, who is still stalking Spidey. It becomes apparent in this issue, and subsequent issues this month, that no-one can see Morlun apart from Spidey. I'm beginning to wonder if Morlun really is back from the dead, or if he is purely a product of Spidey's subconscious. Time will tell.
The Other continues to hold my interest after four installments. The mention of "cellular degeneration" has me slightly concerned that the whole clone saga may be on the verge of being exhumed, but if the writers are clever enough, this might be an opportunity to tidy that particular part of Spidey's past.
A string of guest stars (Black Goliath for crying out loud!) lend weight to Spider-Man's condition. The script lacks the crackle of last issue, but this is perfectly decent stuff. Three and a half webs.
The Other continues in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #20, and then in Amazing Spider-Man #526 before returning to this title next month for part seven of the story. And this time, we have J. Michael Staczynski scripting.