After months of build up the New York mayoral election has ended in a combination of farce and disaster. Menace was revealed to be Lily Hollister, daughter of the favourite mayoral candidate, Bill Hollister. In the wake of Lily incarceration (largely thanks to Harry Osborn) the election was declared null and void and both main candidates - Hollister and Randall Crowne - have stepped out of the race. On top of all this the identity of the spider-tracer killer was revealed as a bunch of corrupt New York city cops, including Peter's room-mate Vin Gonzales. Vin turned against his compatriots, but is still facing jail time. Meanwhile Spider-Man, who has just narrowly avoided prison himself, is back to his old web-swinging ways.
Let's turn the clock back several years to a time before the superhero Civil War, before the Back in Black arc and before One More Day. Spider- Man's secret identity is known by many other heroes in the Marvel Universe, not least of all the Fantastic Four. In fact, Peter and Mary-Jane (his then wife, for all those historians reading this review in 2020) were on very good terms with the FF, and Peter and Johnny Storm were best buddies.
It is during this period that a maskless Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four journeyed to the Macroverse (one of those wonderfully impossible places that only exist in the Marvel Universe). All is unfolding as one might expect: Reed is engaged in his scientific studies, Sue is overwhelmed by the wonder of it all, Ben is pretending not to be overwhelmed by the wonder of it all, and Johnny and Peter are engaged in light-hearted banter.
Suddenly they are interrupted by screams. A man and a woman dressed in standard fantasy-garb are surrounded by a bunch of bare-chested, purple- skinned, dinosaur-riding barbarians. Reed says that they shouldn't interfere, that this sort of thing might happen all the time in the macroverse. However, Peter has always been the champion of the underdog and he swings off to help. When Ben and Johnny follow, Reed and Sue find that they have no choice but to get involved.
Cut back to the present. A frustrated Spider-Man has captured the Looter and has him webbed to the wall. The Looter taunts that now Norman Osborn is in charge of mostly everything, there's no way he's going to even see the inside of a prison cell. Spidey makes do with giving the Looter an comprehensive wedgie, an then swings off. He is soon intercepted by the Fantastic Four.
The FF have received a distress signal from the Macroverse asking for both the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. The fact that the last time they were there the inhabitants were living in the Stone Age, makes this all rather intriguing. Even in more intriguing, in Johnny's opinion, is how all mention of Spider-Man seems to have been erased from the FF database. Johnny feels that he used to have a name and a number for Spidey, but now he doesn't. What gives?
Spider-Man neatly side-steps the issue and tells Reed that, while he'd love to come, he still has bills to pay. Reed quickly produces a cheque (made out to cash) to cover Spidey's civilian expenses. With no more obstacles in his path, Spidey agrees to a trip to the macroverse.
He quickly calls Aunt May to tell her he's going on a camping trip with one of his old professors. With Vin in gaol, Peter has to cover both halves of the rent, but Reed's money is more than adequate. Peter puts his answer-phone on, and swings off to the Baxter Building. "I'm sure this friendly neighbourhood can survive a day or two without me," he says. Peter should know not to tempt fate.
The acting mayor of New York turns up at the FEAST centre to urge Martin Li (aka Mr Negative) to run for office. Then, the second Peter leaves the apartment, he receives a call from Harry Osborn. He's been drinking heavily and needs help. But of course Peter isn't there. Harry telephones the Hollisters. Bill Hollister isn't in a state to even answer the phone, Carlie answers it instead. She tells Harry that she'll be right over.
Spidey arrives at the Baxter Building to be greeted by a disgruntled Human Torch. After Reed and Spidey exchange some scientific words of wisdom regarding Reed's latest technological marvel, the party depart for the macroverse. On arrival, they discover that many things have changed. Society in the Land of Kort has moved on from the stone age to the early nineteenth century (you know, that ambiguous time-zone that still persists in much of Europe in the Marvel Universe). However, Kort is devoid of people, and the place look as though it's been sitting at the centre of a war-zone for some considerable time. But if there are no people then who sent the message? And if technology is still pre-industrial, then how did they send the message?
After exploring further, the fivesome make an incredible discovery: five enormous statues of themselves in the middle of a great amphitheatre. It seems obvious that the people of Kort have taken to worshipping the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, and the 'signals' that Reed picked up were not signals at all, but prayers.
As if on cue the inhabitants of Kort arrive, excited and overwhelmed by the return of their gods. However, the Torch sees something else. The Spider-Man statue is unmasked. The statue has suspiciously more wear than the other four statues, so it is impossible to make out the features, but it's unmasked nonetheless. And then the Torch remembers. When the five of them were last in the macroverse they helped the people of Kort, they rescued a princess and brought her home, and all that time Spidey didn't have his mask on. So why can't the Torch or any other member of the Fantastic Four remember who he is?
Johnny attacks Spidey directly. How did he pull this off? What did he do to the FF to make them forget? And why did he do it? Weren't they friends? Johnny is angry and hurt in equal measure, and none of Reed's words seem likely to mollify the situation.
The Kort people are oblivious to this argument, all except their leader: Lord Patronus a close-helmed knight with two giant bat-wings stapled to his helmet. The Kort people want the five to "save them" from the Dregans, but Patronus worries that by bring all the Kort out into the open, the Dregans will strike against such a tempting target.
He is right. In short measure the Dregans attack. These are the same dinosaur riding maniacs with bring pink mohicans that we say earlier in the story, but this time they are armed with laser cannons and not swords. The crowd disperses in panic.
Before the Thing can run into the fray, Reed calls a time out and has Sue surround the FF and Spider-Man with one of her force fields. Reed quickly explains that his original calculations were incorrect, and the time differential between the macroverse and Earth is increasing exponentially.
But Reed doesn't have a chance to explain any further. The Torch has had enough. "I want to know what I used to know!" he declares. Spidey has also had his fill of Johnny's snide comments, and he pushes the Torch over. He says that he's not going down that road again. No one finds out who is he is. Incensed, Johnny sets Spidey's mask on fire, and the wallcrawler is forced to remove it in full view of the Johnny and the rest of the Fantastic Four.
Well, the writers promised revelations and now they're coming thick and fast: first Harry Osborn, then Menace, then the spider-tracer killer and now the second biggest mystery since the reboot in #546: how did Spider-Man make his identity a secret again? Of course, this issue's just the set up; we'll discover the actual revelations next time.
It was certainly a good idea to build this story around the Fantastic Four. As the fact that Peter Parker is Spider-Man was erased from the mind of everyone in the world, it stands to reason that those Spidey counted as friends would be the most incensed to discover what they had lost. It's no surprise that Slott decided the dwell on Johnny Storm's reaction of these events.
Slott wrote the Spider-Man/Human Torch limited series from a few years ago, and he was the one who finally revealed Spidey's identity to the Torch. That mini-series was excellent - Marvel think so too as they've recently reprinted it as a hardback. Yes, those elements of the story are certainly logical and even desirable... but, couldn't Slott have found a different vehicle in which to present them?
There may be a twist in the next issue that will make my complaints groundless, but there's nothing to this conflict between the Kort and the Dregans that we haven't seen ten thousand times before. The Marvel Universe seems littered with these pre-industrial societies fighting about one thing or another, only to have all their problems solved by the arrival of a bunch of displaced super-heroes. They're dull.
How and why Spider-Man concealed his secret identity is a big deal. Slott understands this. But if it's such a big deal then at least make it interesting! Why isn't this story being told in the real world, why is this a two-part story in an inconsequential backwater of the MU, when it should be front and centre. This is the core conceit of Brand New Day, it's second only to the erasure of the marriage. There should be more to it than this.
I suspect the reason why there isn't more to it than this, is that this arc is merely a taste of what is come. We're not going to get the full revelation about the secret identity plot here, it's going to come later. The stories since #546 have been held back by having to deal with the fall-out of One More Day. Please, let's ditch the millstone, reveal all the secrets and get on to something else. The thrice-monthly format is excellent, the creative teams are excellent: just give us the explanations we want, stop giving the naysayers an excuse to hate the book and tell the stories that we all know Amazing Spider-Man is capable of delivering.
The dialogue is good, the characterisation is good, the art is good, the fact the book is finally addressing the issue of Spider-Man's identity is good. The actual plot of the issue is not so good. I'll trust that Slott knows where he's going with this. Three webs.