Amazing Spider-Man #350 saw an end to artist Erik Larsen's run on the title. Mark Bagley has stepped in (with two issues under his belt already Amazing Spider-Man #351 and Amazing Spider-Man #352) to fill the enormous shoes left by Larsen and his predecessor Todd McFarlane. Writer David Michelinie has also taken a brief hiatus from the book to make way for Al Milgrom, and his six part biweekly saga.
Recently, Spider-Man has been having run ins with Venom, Styx and Stone, Cardiac, Sandman, Doctor Doom, and the Tri-Sentinel. The upcoming 'Round Robin' arc will introduce a new villain and provide plenty of team-ups to help Spidey along the way.
"Round Robin" kicks off with the combat training of the Secret Empire's newest recruit, Jeff Wilde (Midnight). The Secret Empire has been lagging behind the likes of Hydra and A.I.M. in the 'gigantic terrorist operation' department and is working to amend that fact by building an army of enhanced cyborgs. They've even planted a pain inducer into Midnight's new tech to keep him compliant. Although an anonymous autocratic organization, it's obvious that Number Seven has influence over the Secret Empire. Looking to expand the cyborg army, the Empire has retained the genius services of Eliot Franklin (aka Thunderball).
Flash to Peter and MJ enjoying an afternoon at May's house. May shows an odd interest in televised wrestling and Peter makes an excuse to swing away as Spider-Man. Mary Jane has no problem with this (even giving him a loving good- bye peck on the cheek) which completely goes against the romantic tension that has been built up in previous issues.
Spider-Man swings by Midtown High and is reminded of a fight between he, Darkhawk, and the Hobgoblin. In a two page synopsis, we learn of teenager Chris Powell's transformation into Darkhawk and Spidey's feelings toward the rookie. Chris is blocks away in a precinct house where his father used to work when Midnight crashes through the walls to free Eliot Franklin. During the commotion, Chris ducks into a corner and decides he should help as Darkhawk.
Midnight is escaping, with Franklin in tow, when Darkhawk interrupts, smashing the trio through a wall and out into the street. The Secret Empire has agents ready to engage whom are ordered to wait. The higher-ups want to see how Midnight will handle a superhero.
There is a quick two pages introducing the Punisher, his knowledge of the Secret Empire, and his ruthlessness compared to Spider-Man and other heroes.
Back to the action. Darkhawk is showing every single one of his super abilities and holding Midnight at bay when Spider-Man arrives on the scene. Spidey barely knows Darkhawk and doesn't know what side to take here, that is, until the Secret Empire's forces burst on the scene to aid Midnight. Going with 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' philosophy, Spidey swings in to take on Midnight and the Secret Empire.
Spider-Man and Darkhawk team-up to save the innocents around them and stop the Empire. Spidey takes on Midnight while Darkhawk stops the reinforcements. However, Darkhawk miscalculates and sends a downed opponent toward a street full of innocent people. Spidey saves the day, but opens himself to a beating from Midnight. Darkhawk returns the favor, and together, he and Spidey have Midnight pinned and the Secret Empire at bay.
While Darkhawk holds Midnight with his 'darkforce shield', Spidey unmasks him to discover that it is Jeff Wilde. Jeff Wilde was a former sidekick of Moon Knight's who was nearly burned alive in a battle with the Secret Empire. The Empire saved his life after the fight and rebuilt him in their own fashion. Convinced that Moon Knight had abandoned him and the Empire saved him, Jeff Wilde now works for the organization.
Apparently, this hits home for Darkhawk who unintentionally lets Midnight go as Eliot Franklin distracts Spidey. Midnight and Franklin are off again (Spidey does manage to tag Midnight with a tracer) and to distract the heroes from following they send an unmanned flyer toward a nearby crowd of people.
A good lead-in issue to a six-part saga. Midnight, the main antagonist, is given a full history and explanation as to why he is working with the Secret Empire. Unfortunately, the Empire itself (having the potential to cause as much mayhem as A.I.M. or Hydra) isn't given much explanation. There is too much potential in this 'evil empire' for a one-page synopsis of their goals.
The guest-stars are good. Milgrom quickly goes through the origin of Darkhawk and shows he fits in a Spider-Man story, as does the Punisher, who's two page intro explains why he'd be after the Secret Empire.
All of the pieces for a bi-weekly saga are there. A new villain (Jeff Wilde), with enough angst and grudges to carry him past Amazing Spider-Man and into other books. A decent plot, where the Secret Empire is working to keep up with rival organizations and establish its' own army of superheroes and a terrific supporting cast in Darkhawk and the Punisher.
Unfortunately, this issue is a great example of what happens when guest- writers take over for a few issues during a character's main storyline. The book has got everything except the flow brought by Michelinie.
For months MJ has had this growing argument with Peter on his willingness to play Spider-Man against odds that will eventually kill him. That story? Gone. Not to mention the dialogue enjoyed between Spider-Man and Nova in ASM #351-352. Have you ever heard a teenager (superhero or not) cry out that they've performed 'an amazing feet of derring do!'?
Great art, good story basis ruined in the inconsistencies and over-the-top dialogue.
The 'Round Robin' arc would eventually guest-star Darkhawk, Punisher, Nova, Night Thrasher, and Moon Knight against the Secret Empire. During this time these characters were appearing in one another's books constantly, as though Marvel was trying to build an upstart street team to rival the Avengers.
ASM #353 was published in November 1991. At the same time, Punisher was appearing in Darkhawk #9 and Spider-Man was appearing (in the black suit of all things) in Moon Knight #32. Two months prior, Darkhawk had appeared in New Warriors #14. In fact, the only book of these characters to go without guest-stars during the period was Punisher. Punisher was involved in his own bi-weekly saga entitled the "Final Days of the Punisher".