Months have passed since the end of last issue when Phil collapsed while covering Jonah's kidnapping by the Hitman.
Phil is on the phone with his publisher Bennet Schwed. Phill called to thank him for the flowers and fruit basket that he sent after his collapse. He explains that he has become slightly anemic since he began chemotherapy. When they begin discussing the new book, Phil tries to back out stating that the time is wrong, offering to pay back the advance he was given. Schwed doesn't want him to give up on the book and encourage him to think this over carefully before abandoning the project.
Phil sits in his chair and does exactly that. It's not just the cancer that has him depressed. The showdown at the Statue of Liberty between Spider-Man, Punisher, Hitman, and Jonah has opened his eyes to the new status quo. Many of the heroes he has long admired are not living up to his standards and he wonders if they are worth defending. Yellowjacket of the Avengers has been court-martialed. The Fantastic Four have disbanded after Mr. Fantastic was controlled by the Molecule Man and went on a rampage. The Hulk appeared in New York and hospitalized Daredevil when he tried to convince him to leave. Spider-Man and Punisher continue to make headlines with their battles against the mob. Captain America and Iron Man received some bad press as well. Cap appeared as a member of the Neo-Nazi party "National Force" but was later proven he had been brainwashed by Dr. Faustus. Iron Man killed a U.N. ambassador during a photo-op when Justin Hammer discovered a way to control his armor.
At this point, Doris enters his study and finds Phil smoking again. After she reprimands him, the phone rings. Doris tells Phil that his friend Ben Urich is in the hospital. When he arrives Ben explains that he was covering a story on Randolph Cherryh, the mayoral candidate funded by the Kingpin. He photographed a fight between Elektra and Daredevil. A coughing fit from his smoking habit alerted Elektra to his presence. Ben quickly found one of her sais embedded in him. As a result, Ben admits that he's dropping the story.
Days later when he's released from the hospital, Ben meets Phil at the Masthead. Urich is surprised at Phil's behavior. He has resumed smoking despite his chemo treatments and has all but sunk into despair.
At this point the television program "Good Evening, New York" begins a live broadcast from Ryker's island. Host Tom Snyde has secured the rights for a one-on-one interview the assassin Bullseye. This quickly takes a turn for the worse when Bullseye takes him as a hostage and uses him as a human shield to escape Ryker's. While Urich leaves to cover the story, Phil remains transfixed at the screen, watching the events unfold. The evening ends when Bullseye kills Elektra with her own sai.
The next day, Phil is still at the Masthead and greets Ben as he returns. He learns that Bullseye went after Elektra after she took his job as the Kingpin's assassin. When Daredevil learns that Bullseye killed Elektra, he puts Bullseye the intensive care. Ben is ashamed to admit he feels no sympathy for her.
Time passes and a large structure appears in the middle of Central Park. Many of the world's heroes arrive to investigate and mysteriously disappear. A week later they reappear no worse for the wear with a few changes. She-Hulk has joined the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man is sporting a new black costume. None of the heroes will comment on their absence.
Their silence becomes irrelevant when the person who abducted them – The Beyonder – appears in New York. Although he was eventually defeated, the Rocky Mountains were shattered. Millions of cubic miles of rock was disintegrated, bringing the hidden magma to the surface. This placed all those nearby in imminent danger.
While watching the news report, Phil is visited by Tracy Burke. As the new editor of NOW magazine, she asks Phil to photograph this. Reluctant at first, he agrees and witnesses what will be called the "Rocky Mountain Miracle". The Silver Surfer channels his power through the Molecule Man who them seals the giant crack in the Earth's crust and restores the mountain range. Phil faith in the marvels and his own life is restored as they accomplish the impossible.
During his next appointment Dr. Geoffries compliments Phil on his improvements. Geoffries hopes are crushed when the lab results come back. His cancer is not in remission as he had thought.
There is an obvious link between Phil's perception of the heroes and his battle with cancer. When he loses faith in his heroes, he doesn't care whether he lives or dies. Just when he has given up, his heroes inspire him once again.
While reading this I was wondering how his attitude would be resolved. It's a given that the protagonist will experience a period of doubt and ultimately pull themselves out of it. We know this fact well. We've seen it in countless Spider-Man stories over the years.
If you were looking for a metaphor for a miracle cure, the sealing of a giant fissure in the Earth's crust would fit the bill. Even though by the end of the issue, we are fairly certain that the Rocky Mountains will fare better than Phil, we would not accept him giving into his disease. One line of dialog from the issue applies to this situation: ".. if we don't know [what will happen], there's no reason not to hope for the best."
4 webs. I continue to be impressed with this series. The only minor gripe that I have is that this issue was the "hero doubts himself" chapter. Even though readers know this situation will be resolved and the fight will continue, it can't be left out. Without it you are left with someone that never questions the situation, which doesn't make sense. There is an obvious need for self-examination during trying times.
I really can't fault them for doing it. Since we know it has to be done, this is a very believable way of incorporating this part of the journey into the story.