Having recently participated in the Superhero Secret War on Battleworld, Spider-Man returned to Earth with a new (and improved!) black costume. The costume itself appears to be somewhat sentient, as it obeys Peter's commands allowing him (amongst other things) to shift between his costume and civilian attire with a simple thought. A fairly nice upgrade for Spidey!
Former New Orleans Harbor Patrol member Monica Rambeau had also recently gone through an upgrade of sorts after she was caught in an energy blast that gave her the powers which enabled her to become the next Captain Marvel. Spider-Man had first met Monica in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, not long after she received those powers. Monica is now an active member of the Avengers and unbeknownst to her and Spider-Man, she would soon cross paths once again with the web-slinger...
A string of recent robberies leads Spider-Man to the Nassau County Science Exposition where, huddled inside the ventilation system, he listens in on a tour guide's description of Roxxon Corporation's latest invention, "Technafoil." This "miracle conducting material" has the ability to help power New York City for a fraction of the current cost. The tour guide leads a group of onlookers through a miniaturized model of New York City as Spider-Man muses to himself that those amazing properties of Technafoil are the reason why all the other supplies of it had recently been stolen. Thus, Spider-Man stakes out this expo under the assumption that another robbery may be imminent.
Indeed just as Spidey suspected a group of orange and green suited thugs appear out of nowhere, with weapons in hand ready to steal the Technafoil. In response to their heist, Spider-Man jumps free from the ventilation system and begins taking the thugs out one by one, using the buildings of the miniature model to hide himself. Spider-Man then confronts the final goon, who happens to be holding the Technafoil. With the push of a button the thief and all his fallen comrades disappear in a flash of light, leaving the web-slinger behind...and puzzled. Spidey then has to explain to the authorities that the criminals had made off with the Technafoil, despite his best efforts to stop them.
Meanwhile, Monica Rambeau spends her day off at the Maritime Museum in Manhattan. She finds comfort in this museum because it reminds her of her pre-Captain Marvel days in New Orleans. While gazing at the "Windstone," an object said to grant wondrous powers to ancient sea-faring ships, the same henchmen that robbed Nassau County Science Exposition arrive on the scene. Monica quickly shifts to her Captain Marvel persona and attempts to thwart the thieves' heist. The group was after the Windstone, and Monica uses all of her energy-manipulating powers to stop them.
While chasing the final thug who was headed down a back alley, Monica runs into some trouble. The criminal, again with the push of a button, is able to cause Captain Marvel to mysteriously lose her powers, albeit only temporarily. But it is long enough for the criminal to once again escape, teleporting himself and the other unconscious goons away from the Maritime Museum. Knowing that these criminals may return for the Windstone, Monica convinces the museum's curator to allow her to store the gem safely at Avengers Mansion.
The story then shifts to a private research institute, the Paulson Foundation, located in the suburbs north of the city. There, the foundation owner, Eric Paulson, scalds his orange and green suited henchmen for failing to attain the Windstone. Paulson's assistant, Dr. William Lorber, calms him down by reminding him that the latest bit of stolen Technafoil has enabled them to activate their P.R.I.D.E. Generator (more on that in a minute). Dr. Lorber goes on to remind Paulson about the story that Paulson had told him when he recruited Lorber to join the foundation. The eerie story involves a pioneer family alone in the woods, faced with the unfathomable task of having to kill a loved one because they had contracted an "incurable, contagious disease." Paulson begins to settle emotionally, but then portends a similar event that he will evoke on Earth in the not-too-distant-future.
Soon after, Peter heads to the Daily Bugle to sell his photos from battle at Nassau and to do some digging in the Bugle archives for criminals with the ability to teleport. Peter's search comes up empty, but the Bugle staffer who works in the archives mentions that they just published a story about something very similar happening to Captain Marvel in lower Manhattan. Peter then leaves, and decides that he'll go to Avengers Mansion to see if he can get some answers there.
Spider-Man's arrival at the Avengers Mansion could not have been timed better, because moments earlier Captain Marvel was attacked by the same goons from the museum. This time, however, they brought a little something extra to help them abscond with the Windstone...a giant monster! Spidey helps Captain Marvel fight the monster, unfortunately the thieves were able to escape with the gem. The quick-thinking Spider-Man, however, lands a spider-tracer on one of the goons just before they teleported out of the mansion. Spider-Man then uses his spider-sense to track the location to the their hideout (the Paulson Foundation).
The loyal thieves return with their prize, the Windstone, to the Paulson Foundation and Dr. Lorber uses the gem to power their P.R.I.D.E. Generator. Just as Paulson is about to activate the generator, he spots a spider-tracer on the calf of one of his henchmen. In a bit of perfectly timed story-telling, Spidey and Captain Marvel come blasting through the day at that precise moment.
However, before an all-out brawl can take place, Paulson tries to reason with Spider-Man and Captain Marvel. He tells them that he is a global economist and his studies suggest that all the "pain and misery" in the world is caused by overpopulation. And that if something is not done to correct this that nature would destroy mankind completely, through "war, disease, famine!" Thus, Paulson claims, he invented the "Population Reduction by Interdimensional Expulsion" (P.R.I.D.E.) Generator. He plans to use this device to open space-time gaps and send all the world capitols to another (habitable) dimension. This would lead to a drastic reduction in the world population.
Spider-Man and Captain Marvel realize they must stop this madman because the world, even with all of its problems, is certainly worth saving. Paulson activates the generator, but Spider-Man jumps atop and turns the Windstone energy beam back on to the generator, causing it to overload and eventually vanish. The world appeared to be saved for the moment, but there's one caveat...the activation of the P.R.I.D.E. Generator caused Captain Marvel to convert into her "energy" (translucent/intangible) form, and she's not able to convert back. Captain Marvel turns to Spider-Man and says, "If I don't figure out what's going on -- I may never be human again!"
The books that I've selected for my recent reviews made the cut for one reason, they have an intriguing cover. At first glance it appears as though Spider-Man and Captain Marvel are battling a band of high-flying bad guys above the city. But a closer look reveals that they are fighting with their feet on the ground and they appear to be the size of the buildings themselves. I found that curious, and I didn't remember why that was the case when I had originally read the book. So I reread it and decided to review it.
As with many comic book covers, the look was a bit misleading. Captain Marvel and Spider-Man never grow to the size of the Empire State Building and fight equally massive goons. Instead, there's a brief scene where Spidey alone battles these villains...on a small replica of New York City. Not a big deal, but that made sense as to why I didn't remember what the cover seemed to be depicting.
Nevertheless, I was glad to have reread this story because of the antagonist. Eric Paulson, the owner of the Paulson Foundation, made for an oddly unique villain for Spider-Man to battle. Unlike the typical gangsters and world/universe-dominators that the web-slinger usually tussles with, this guy was a global economist concerned about overpopulation. So concerned that is, that he decides to take action. He builds an interdimensional portal in order to expel humans from Earth. Not just any humans either, he places his focus specifically on world leaders, their corrupt governments and their inability to address the world's problems.
Paulson has an interesting line in regards to his plan for sending the world governments to a different, habitable dimension. He says, "Governments that have been too cowardly to solve the problem themselves will be free to wage their petty squabbles elsewhere--while the Earth will be able to rebuild itself with a reasonable population! It's so simple." I found that interesting, surely he's got some screws loose...but like the old saying goes, a good villain will make you think their "evil" plan is righteous. Also, one could not miss the obvious similarity to the plan posed by Thanos in the recent Infinity War and End Game Avengers movies.
While I found myself pondering Paulson's strategy for a brief second, I ultimately come to the same conclusion for both plans (Thanos & Paulson). If one has the ability and means to create a device capable of interdimensional travel (and expulsion!) then surely you'll have the ability to actually address the ills of overpopulation directly! I don't want to sound too critical of the plot, he was a comic-book villain after all...
And there were some lighter moments in this one too, that made this book pretty enjoyable. As Spider-Man battles the goons in the opening sequence, Michelinie pairs a series of puns with the action. For instance, two of the goons, panicking about Spider-Man's imminent attack, claim that they can stop the web-slinger if they just put their heads together. The next panel features Spider-Man clunking their two heads together like a scene straight from The Three Stooges. Brilliant!
If you have the chance, give the story a read, especially with Monica Rambeau's arrival into the MCU, the more stories you can read that involve her, the better off you'll be!
I'm giving it 3.5 webs, it was a fun story, and the goofy bits actually helped along the way. The villain's motivation was a bit of a departure from the typical Spidey villains to this point, so it is unique in that sense.