After an abortive attempt to murder Spider-Man months ago, Ana Kravinov – daughter of the original Kraven the Hunter – has adopted a different tact. Together with her mother, Sashia, she has been moving secretly against our web-headed hero. The pair have captured both Madame Web and Mattie Franklin (the third Spider-Woman). They've also recruited Chameleon to their cause. Why are they doing this? Perhaps this issue will make things clearer.
Electro is sitting in a seedy bar somewhere in New York. His powers are acting up. One moment he's pumping out enough electrical energy to power a small nation, the next he can barely raise a spark. Worse: he can't control his electrical discharges. He can't get work, he can't even enjoy a quite beer on a hot summer's day.
Opposite Electro is a young lady who has no idea of his supervillain past. She seems pleasant enough. She's actually flirting with him. Electro is glad of the attention. It's been a while. She reaches out toward him. An involuntary flash of electricity throws her to ground. Electro doesn't move as the regulars in the bar try to save her; he doesn't respond when they deduce that he might be responsible. He is working to hold in the power, to fight off the burning.
Electro causes a distraction by jabbing a metal fork into an electrical outlet (don't try this at home, kids!). He causes a massive power blackout and then enters the city's electrical infrastructure. In seconds Electro is outside on the street; he sports a strange, star-shaped tattoo on his face that is reminiscent of his old costume.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man is swinging across the city and notices the blackout. Remembering the trouble caused by the recent blackout at the Empire State Building he wonders if anything more sinister is going on. After rescuing a falling puppy, and dealing with its ungrateful owner, Spidey heads over to the DB! building to see if Betty has any news on these power cuts.
The old Bugle building is surrounded by picketers when Spidey arrives. He changes into Peter Parker and heads in, to discover than the newsroom is largely empty. Betty is here, hanging on the phone, waiting to find out if she has a job. Apparently, the economic recession has hit the DB! hard. Dexter Bennett has used his contacts to engineer a government newspaper bailout. If it works, then Betty's job is safe. Of course the idea of the government pouring money into a private newspaper while so many are losing their jobs, has hacked off a lot of people. Hence the crowd. Many of the other newspapers aren't too pleased either.
While Peter is waiting, the news comes through: Bennett has pulled it off. The DB! has a future thanks to the generosity of the American tax payers. Looking out of the window, Peter doesn't think that they look too generous.
Across town Electro is using his powers to charge a vast machine constructed by the Mad Thinker (with the help of his assistant, Annie). Dillon is telling the Thinker how his powers are deteriorating with age, and he begs the Thinker to help him. The Thinker is unmoved by Dillon's plight. He needs upwards of a million dollars to fix what is wrong with Electro's powers. Until Dillon gets that, then he isn't interested.
Electro is angry. He doesn't have any money. All the savings he had disappeared when the stock market went belly-up. Where's he going to find a million dollars? The Thinker doesn't really care. Electro's financial woes, coupled with the way Annie rebuffs his clumsy advances, paint him as a more tragic than villainous figure.
Electro starts walking the streets. It's not fair. Why is he branded a crook, when the real crooks are those fat-cats who ruined the economy for their own gain? People like Dexter Bennett – someone getting government money to save his stupid newspaper.
The outrage felt against Dexter Bennett is not restricted to Electro. By Monday multiple news channels are reporting the bail-out in the worst possible terms. New York major J. Jonah Jameson is revelling in the news. He's been waiting for the fall and humiliation of Dexter Bennett for months. Suddenly the broadcast is interrupted by breaking news.
Electro is standing on a rooftop somewhere in New York. Over the last few days he's been uploading vitriolic videos to the Internet, lambasting Dexter Bennett and the state of America. He's had hundreds of thousands of hits, and now he's doing the same thing on national television. It's a call to arms for the average joes on the street to come together and show their mutual displeasure at Dexter Bennett.
By Tuesday news-vendors are refusing to carry copies of the DB!. By Wednesday, effigies of Dexter Bennett are being burnt in the street outside his building. On Thursday, Peter Parker wakes up on the coach in his apartment. He's been out of town with the Avengers for three days, and hasn't a clue what is going on.
Peter and Michelle soon fall into one of their typical arguments. Michelle reveals that the night that they got drunk and slept together, Peter wasn't really drunk at all. He only thought it was drunk. Michelle kept filling his glass with ginger ale, and Peter just reacted as though he was getting wasted. This revelation aside, Peter notices that Electro is on Michelle's computer organising a protest march outside the New York stock exchange. It's hardly surprising what happens next.
Spider-Man arrives in time to see the feverish crowd marching through the streets. Our hero spots Electro hiding nearby and springs into action. Spider-Man is surprised at the power and ferocity of Electro's blasts – even burning through the rubber gloves that Spidey was wearing. As soon as they see the fight starting, the crowd immediately sides with Electro. When a blast from Dillon stuns Spidey and sends him falling to the ground it looks as though the crowd will tear him apart.
In this issue the Gauntlet begins! Only it doesn't. Not really. Anyone who fell for the mighty Marvel marketing machine and thought this might be the beginning of a massive multi-part story a la Maximum Carnage is going to be sorely disappointed.
Amazing Spider-Man has been hyping the significance of the return of Spidey's old foes for a few months now. But it's only been hyping them in the DB! summary page at the beginning of every issue. It's not actually been mentioned in the stories at all. As far Spider-Man is concerned, there's nothing particularly significant with the return of Electro at this time. In fact, as far as the story's concerned there's nothing significant about it either.
Doctor Octopus, the Chameleon and Electro have all turned up over the past few issues. Over the next few issues we'll get the Sandman, the Rhino and Mysterio. But all these appearances are nothing more than coincidental. Yes, Ana Kravinov and her nutcase of a mother have got some plan in mind, they're recruiting these villains for some inscrutable purpose; but they aren't at all involved in pitting them against Spidey in the first instance.
So this isn't a Gauntlet. It's Spidey fighting a different villain every month. Which is pretty much as it always has been. There's something tangential going on in the background, that will build on these stories, but it's disingenuous to suggest that these issues are all part of a year-long super story.
Fortunately, my observations on The Gauntlet do not detract at all from this issue, which is really rather good. Mark Waid's comment on the global economic crisis may not date particularly well, and readers picking up this story in an anthology in 2020 may miss the nuances, but in terms of the here and now it works very well. There's something satisfyingly perverse about a super villain who has lost all his money in a market crash, becoming a popular hero against big business and the faceless banks.
Less successful are the scenes between Peter and Michelle Gonzales. The liaison between Peter and Michelle in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #601 raised a small amount of controversy at the time. Would Peter allow himself to get drunk? Would he indulge in casual sex with his room-mate? The scene in this issue torpedoes all of that, and I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing.
For a start, it's just silly. Peter's never been drunk before, therefore he didn't realise he wasn't drunk? What nonsense. It also flies in the face of the story in #601 where Peter's memory was definitely impaired by the alcohol. And even if we accept this new version of events, isn't the result that Peter slept with Michelle when he was sober? Is that really what the writers were going for?
So what is this? Another example of Michelle Gonzales playing with Peter and winding him up? Or is it a hasty retcon from the Spider-Office after someone got nervous at the reaction to #601. But #601 was only published three months prior to this issue. Was there even time to change things? It all seems rather unnecessary to me.
And then there is the art. I'm not familiar with Azaceta's work, and when I first saw it I was rather dismayed. Speaking as someone who prefers art in the style of Barry Kitson or Mike McKone, this really wasn't cup of tea. But I have to say, the more I read of the issue, the more the art grew on me. The facial expressions, and the way Azaceta manages to capture body language in static comic panels is impressive. So my hat is off to Paul Azaceta: he managed to win me over in twenty-two pages.
An interesting revival of Electro, although a little too closely tied to the current zeitgeist to be a classic. The scenes with Michelle do more harm than good. On balance, three webs, but it could have been more than that.