Spider-Man is "Back in Black" as a result of events in Civil War and Amazing Spider-Man #538. The ancillary titles such as "Friendly" and "Sensational" seem to be only touching upon the events so as to not spoil anything in "Amazing."
A guard is whistling a tune on Riker's Island when he is suddenly attacked by living sand. When a guard in a watchtower shines a beam down to investigate we see a different man in a security uniform: the Sandman.
Sandman infiltrates the prison and comes upon two other guards who are arguing about Spider-Man, one saying that he should be arrested the other saying, "I'd rather have him chasing bad guys than haveing good guys chase him." They ask the other "guard" for his opinion and he reveals his powers. He has one question: Where is Floyd Baker?
It's another night on the town for the newly-wanted, once-again black-suited Spider-Man as he is dodging a police helicopter's attempt to arrest him. The Web-Slinger shakes them with some evasive maneuvering but their attempts bring them too close to a newscopter, which nearly crashes. But Spidey's webbing saves the day and neither of the cops in the other helicopter laments his escape.
Back at Riker's, specially uniformed troopers with water cannons drive the Sandman away. They were prepared for him to possibly try to spring Baker, whom the Sandman maintains is innocent. They point out that the elder Baker confessed to killing a homeless man. Sandman escapes through a drainage duct and dissipates out to sea.
Back at Midtown High gym coach Flash Thompson discovers that his new assistant, Ben Reilly, has been sleeping at his desk. "Ben" tells him that his wife threw him out and when Flash asks about going to a motel we see a quick flahsback about Peter escaping from police near a motel. Ben says the problem is money issues. The sleepy assistant turns to leave but Flash hurls a dodge ball at him.
"Ben" deflects the ball with ease and it hits Flash, propelling him across his desk. The jig is up and Peter shows Flash the holographic image projector given to him by the Beast in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #14. Flash says he recognized Peter by his gestures but that he always tries to bounch balls off his assistants' skulls anyway.
Peter's thinking about turning himself in but Flash lets him borrow the keys to his apartment to crash there. Peter reminds him that he's a wanted fugitive but Flash counters, "I lost count of the number of times you laid your life on the line, saving guys you don't even know. What kind of 'Spidey's biggest fan' would I be if I didn't stick my neck out for you...at least a little?"
Peter is genuinely touched but jokes that Flash could just be setting him up for the reward money. Flash makes a reference to Judas, saying "Thirty pieces of silver doesn't go as far as it used to." Once Peter leaves, however, Flash makes a mysterious phone call that seems to imply otherwise.
In Flash's apartment Peter weeps over a photo of him with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, lamenting that no matter how hard he's tried since that fateful night when his uncle was murdered, nothing has been worth it. He's talking about the "ol' Parker luck" just when his Spider-Sense begins to tingle.
Peter turns to see the Sandman and Pete reacts by trying to web and punch him instantly. Sandman finally reveals that he needs his help. Floyd Baker is innocent and the Sandman cares so much because Baker's his dad. Peter still doesn't see why he should care but Sandman says he helps strangers all the time. Still upset, Peter shows him the photo of him with his aunt and uncle, saying that these are the type of innocent people who are injured by guys like his father. But Sandman looks closer at the photo: the man in that shot is the "bum" whom the police said died in that alley just a few weeks ago.
The Spider-Man story is followed by another installment of Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius, this one entitled "Evolution Revolution" by Chris Eliopoulos and Marc Sumerak. These stories have been hilarious and I think it's terrific that they are given space in some of the marquee Marvel books.
We begin to see the repercussions of Spider-Man's stance with the "losing" side of the Civil War, as his life on the run starts to take its toll. Dodging police constantly, unable to see his wife and aunt, Peter's at the end of his rope. Spider-Man has always been a hero who's been questioned by the world at large and at times hunted. But he's always had his secret life to which he could return. Now - with his public unmasking - that life is denied him as well. It's a fascinating variation on a classic Spider-Man theme and I can't wait to see where it goes.
Todd Nauck's art is a bit of a step down from Scott Eaton's in the past few issues. Nauck's characters have sharper angles to them and a slightly cartoony aspect (not to the extreme of Humberto Ramos). His black-suited Spider-Man seems awkward and torturous. Still his art is clear and the sequencing strong.
For the second straight issue one of the early cast members has the opportunity to shine thanks to Peter David. Flash's recent reversion to high school bully was unwelcome but the revelation of Spider-Man's identity seems to have brought him back to his senses. The dialogue between the old friends/rivals is crisp and realistic, which is no surprise in a Peter David book.
It's difficult for writers of characters with multiple titles to handle these 'tweener storylines. Civil War and Amazing Spider-Man have really been given the task of guiding Spidey thematically but writing stories that don't interfere with the grander scheme is just as challenging. David does a good job of using the themes of Civil War and its aftermath to advance the story here. It's also good to see the voices of "regular people" who know how much good Spidey's done and can present the case that heroes don't deserve to be hunted in this way.
Sandman, of course, has been getting extra attention due to his inclusion in the mega-movie Spider-Man 3. His character is one of Marvel's first to straddle the line between hero and villain, a theme that is explored here as well.
A solid first-parter with good character interplay but slightly weaker art than in past issues.
This is Stephen Wacker's first issue as editor of Friendly and he calls his first Marvel letter column "one of the high points of my career."
House ads abound in this issue. There's a beautiful full page spread showing the covers to all of the "Back in Black" Spidey books from February 2007. There's also a full page ad featuring the cover of Civil War #7, showing Spidey as one of the fallen heroes as Captain America and Iron Man struggle dramatically. The aforementioned Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius gets a half-page as well as the similarly-all ages Hulk and Power Pack.