Last time, we met the new Rhino in town. Created by Dr Trama, the new Rhino felt he could only fill the shoes of his predecessor by making sure he had vacated them. But where to find Aleksei Sytsevich? It's Ma Kraven to the rescue. She's been working all the angles recently, to bring many of Spidey's old foes together, and send ominous nightmares to the webspinner himself. Unfortunately for the new Rhino, Sytsevich is retired from the villain biz. Happily married, he has no intention of fighting. Frustrated, the new Rhino left and Spidey promised Aleksei that he would track the new Rhino down and bring him to justice.
Also, back in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #548 Mr Negative wiped out many of the bigwigs of the Karnelli and Manfredi Maggia families. He used some mystical nerve gas to do it. Spidey saved the wives and children, and was able to force Mr Negative to back down in return for giving him a vial of his own blood. That's not come back to bite Spidey. Yet.
Let's revisit the many brutal deaths that have befallen members of the Maggia crime family. Alberto Karnelli (shot at the opera); Eddie Costa (poisoned); Capo Milo Manfredi (car bomb); Tony "Two Steps" Gallo (hanged); Paulo Munzo (eaten by crocodiles); Joe Karnelli (encased in concrete); Vincenzo Karnelli (warehouse fire); the cyborg Silvermane (dropped into a car crusher). Oh, and a few were made into pies.
All of which pales before Mr Negative's coup of inviting all the male members of the Manfredi and Karnelli clans to a sit-down meal, and gassing the lot of them. The only survivor was Bruno Karnelli. A man promoted to the level of his own incompetence, and with about as much talent for mobstering as a damp flannel. Bruno's ill-conceived plans, and inability to listen to anyone else, has placed the Maggia at a catastrophic disadvantage in their on-going turf war with Mr Negative.
For example, take Bruno's great idea of laundering money through his casino. It doesn't take long for Mr Negative to get wind of it, and suddenly his Inner Demons are smashing up the place. They're led by Hammerhead, who was once a Maggia man before Mr Negative upgraded his powers. Even Bruno's advisor, Carmine, can't blame Hammerhead for switching sides. Under Bruno's watch, the Maggia are sinking fast.
Which is all very interesting but if you're wondering where Spider-Man is, the webslinger makes his entrance right about now. Grimacing at any assumption that he's on the Maggia's side, he launches into action against Hammerhead and the Inner Demons. Hammerhead scarpers, as do the Maggia (out of a different door). Carmine is fuming that everyone - even Spidey - considers the Maggia to be little more than a joke. Surely there's something that he can do about that. But what can he do? Who can find to deal with Bruno?
The following day, and the cops are at the scene in the casino. Carlie Cooper is collecting evidence, under the suspicious glare of her colleagues. I guess turning in a precinct of crooked cops, and 'losing' evidence in the Keemia's Castle arc has tarnished her reputation. One says: "I can't believe she's Ray Cooper's kid. Now he was a good cop." Remember that: it's important.
At this point, Peter turns up trying to find more clues on either Mr Negative's goons or the Maggia. Carlie's changed her hair. Peter notices. This is a big deal for Peter (or indeed any man who's shown less than rapt attention at a lady friend's new hair-do). Peter asks Carlie out for lunch, and immediately feels guilty about it. He knows that Carlie is interested in him, but he spends his nights leaping over roof-tops and playing tonsil-hockey with the Black Cat. He needs information about the crime scene, but is he taking advantage of Carlie to get it?
In any event, Peter doesn't need to push Carlie too hard. She's happy to tell him that the police found out that the Maggia was laundering stolen money through the casino. However, someone at the station must have tipped off Mr Negative's boys. New York city and its crazy crooked cops, eh? Does someone in the Marvel offices have an issue with the NYPD? Oh, and the money smells like fish. That's got to be a clue, right?
Suddenly Peter realises that he needs to be at the airport picking up his Aunt May and new Uncle Jay from their honeymoon. He immediately abandons Carlie and races off so he can be only very late. Carlie is crestfallen. Why is she such a doormat around Peter? Surely there's someone for her who isn't a complete jerk? As she wanders off down the street, we readers are treated to the view of someone following her. There could be a plot there.
Cut to Peter driving Jay and May through New York in a beat-up old car he's borrowed from Randy Robertson. Peter's driving hasn't improved since his Spider-Mobile days, and his passengers are absolutely terrified. May takes the opportunity to be dropped off at the local FEAST centre. She wants to catch up with Martin Li and see what good work she can be involved in.
Meanwhile in the secret room in the back of the FEAST centre, Mr Negative (the alter ego of Martin Li for those of you not keeping track of things) is berating Hammerhead and one of the Inner Demons for failing to deal with Spider-Man. He doesn't like failure. And he likes to explain his stance with the pointy end of a sword. Sure the Inner Demon he cuts down will re-embowel himself given time, but it'll be painful and teach him a jolly good lesson. Unfortunately, it is into the middle of this scene that Aunt May confidently blunders.
Mr Negative switches back to Martin Li in an attempt to smooth things over. He tries to tell her that it's all part of a play - which is pretty quick thinking. But May's not buying it. For one thing, Hammerhead is standing at the back of the room. Even May recognises him. Mr Negative has no choice but to act, and places a black hand on May's shoulder.
Meanwhile at the Karnelli Estate in Long Island, Bruno Karnelli is taking the news of the Maggia's continual defeats very well. All too well actually. He doesn't seem to care. Bruno is possessed of an innate, chirpy optimism that makes Carmine want to punch him in the face. Carmine has decided that something needs to be done. He opens the door and invites a mob of familiar faces into the room. Hey, aren't these the guys we established had died at the beginning of the issue?
Alberto Karnelli (bullet proof vest and blood packs); Eddie Costa (antidote); Capo Milo Manfredi (trapdoor under his car); Tony "Two Steps" Gallo (reinforced collar); Paulo Munzo (fed his ear to a crocodile); Joe Karnelli (robot double); Vincenzo Karnelli (mistaken identity). Oh and the guys that were eaten? Turns out they were regrown from cloned body parts.
Bruno is a mite surprised by this. Wouldn't you be? But he's not stepping aside for these guys. He still sits at the head of the table doesn't he? Well, not exactly. You see Silvermane himself has also returned from the dead. The Don Manfredi trumps Bruno's claim to lead the family. Bruno wants to know how all this is possible? Yeah, as a reader I'd like to know that too! Carmine is happy to explain that the Maggia has employed a specialist over the years to deal with the unforeseen accidents that befall family members. Who? Who else but Mysterio! I knew there had to be a reason he was on the cover.
Meanwhile Jay and Peter are at Jay's swish apartment. It seems that Jay Jameson is even wealthier than Peter imagined. Jay says that it's time to confess his secret identity. Jay is a famous and successful literary author. He writes under a pseudonym. Jay hands Peter a book. Wow. Peter studied this at school. Jay is certainly one of the greats. He's going to enjoy having him as a father-in-law. Then Aunt May arrives.
Without provocation, she lambasts Peter. He's a leech. He never finishes anything that he starts. What's he supposed to be this week: a photographer, a scientist, a teacher? A cabbie? She's wasted her life on Peter, and he's never amounted to anything more than a big disappointment. She's washed her hands of him! Jay is shocked. Peter is gutted, and flees the scene.
The thing about May's words that really stings, is that Peter can't disagree with them. Has he wasted his potential? Couldn't he be so much more than he is? Fortunately he is distracted by the wailing of the police sirens, which he begins to track down as Spider-Man. They'll lead him to a meat-packing warehouse where the newly resurrected Silvermane, is leading the fight against Mr Negative's forces. We'll come back to that (as well as Hammerhead's meeting with his old boss) next issue.
But, in a back room of the same meat plant is the intrepid Carlie Cooper. Not only did the money from the casino smell fishy, but Carlie managed to track that smell to just the right place! What a gal. Peter should keep this one. After reporting her position to the local police, Carlie realises that she is not alone. Turning, she is face to face with the man who was stalking her earlier. It's her father, Ray Cooper! But isn't he dead?
Evil Aunt May? Really? That's where we're going with this? Wow. I did not see that coming. I guess I should definitely give Dan Slott points for trying something that's never been done before. That can't be easy after nearly fifty years of webslinging. The most surprising thing about this turn of events, is that I don't have a problem with it.
As Peter deduced in the story, everything that May said to him is technically correct. In fact anyone who didn't know that Peter was also Spider-Man would very quickly come to the conclusion that he was a no-account loser. A likeable jerk, but a jerk nonetheless. That's the conclusion that Carlie's come to, and it's not surprising that May would think the same thing. I will be interested to see where this goes.
This story is the sequel to the very first arc of the Brand New Day era. We've waited two years and seventy issues to get back to this story. It hasn't felt that long though, and Mr Negative has been doing plenty of nefarious things in the meantime to keep us interested. That's the benefit of the thrice-weekly schedule.
Marcos Martin is on fine form in this story. The fight scene in the casino is particularly memorable. I'm not sure I'm a fan of Carlie's new haircut, but wouldn't mention that to her face if I met her. I really like what the creative teams are doing with Carlie Cooper. She's evolved into an interesting character in her own right. There's been many attempts to give Peter a new supporting cast over the years (Paul and Jill Stacey, the regulars at the Daily Grind and even Barker) but I think that the Brand New Day cast have legs on them.
It was nice to see that the accusations levelled against Carlie in the Keemia's Castle arc are actually a plot point. She's in danger of falling into an ill-deserved damsel-in-distress role. But I think she's stronger than that. I hope that Slott will prove me right.
Which brings us to the return of Mysterio. Mysterio was last seen in the pages of Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-man in the arc, I Hate a Mystery. That story featured all three Mysterios: Quentin Beck, Daniel Berkhart and Francis Klum. This story makes it clear that the Mysterio we are dealing with is Quentin Beck.
Now, Beck committed suicide in Daredevil (Vol. 2) #7 which was published in 1999. In the arc in Friendly Peter David asserted that Beck had really died, but as he committed suicide his soul had travelled to a terrible place. Powerful and unnamed beings subsequently returned Beck to life and gifted him with magical powers. We never found out where Peter David would have gone with that story, as Friendly was cancelled shortly afterwards. I am assuming that Dan Slott has an answer for this, that will become apparent in the issues to come. It would be a shame if Peter David's arc was lost in the confusion of the Gauntlet, it was rather good.
This issue plays with life and death. Mysterio has saved the life of umpteen Maggia family members with his trickery, and Carlie's father is also back from the dead. A coincidence? A trick? With Mysterio, it would be unwise to take anything at face value, and with another two parts of this arc to go I think we'll see more complications before we see answers.
There's a lot of plot in this issue, but Slott handles it with the ease of a consummate professional. Mysteries, twists and action that leaves me wanting more. You can't want for much more than that. Four webs.
The title of this story isn't listed in the issue. It's been taken from Marvel's solicitations.