Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #650

 Posted: Dec 2010


Spidey's hit the big time! As an Avenger, he’s finally getting respect from civilians and superheroes alike. As Peter Parker, he’s got a steady girlfriend and a fancy new job at Horizon Labs. At Horizon, he gets paid fat cash while being given wide latitude to come and go as he pleases: no more tension between working and web-spinning. Good for him!

Phil Urich has also hit the big time: he murdered Roderick Kingsley and has taken over Kingsley’s villainous alter ego of the Hobgoblin. He’s also taken over the Hobgoblin’s contract, which is to steal some high-tech swag from Horizon Labs! When the Hobgoblin showed up to carry out the theft, Spider-Man swung into action, but unfortunately for Spidey, the Hobgoblin has paralyzed him with his sonic-based Goblin Laugh. Now Spidey is defenseless, and the Hobgoblin looms over him, flaming sword raised for a killing blow...

Story 'Big Time: Part 3'

  Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #650
Summary: First appearance of black-and-green costume
Arc: Part 3 of 'Big Time' (1-2-3-4)
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Writer: Dan Slott
Pencils: Humberto Ramos
Inker: Carlos Cuevas, Victor Olazaba
Lettering: Joe Caramagna
Colorist: Edgar Delgardo

Spidey gets by with a little help from his friends. Bella Fishbach, a fellow Big-Seven scientist at Horizon (whom we readers met for the first time last issue), recognizes that Hobgoblin is using focused sonics to incapacitate our hero. Accordingly, she uses her iPhone to patch into the public-address system and drowns out the Goblin Laugh with a high-volume dose of dance music. For the record, it’s Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Funny stuff, but future readers are going to wince at the dated humour. One day this scene will be as embarrassing as those found in Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #24, when Spider-Man fought the disco menace of the Hypno-Hustler. Max Modell, catching on, pulls the fire alarm, and the pounding klaxon drowns out the Hobgoblin entirely.

Lest we forget whose book this is, Spidey uses his regained freedom to dodge the sword-blow and kick the Hobgoblin smartly in the face. Hobgoblin, bored of fighting, heads deeper into the lab, Spidey in hot pursuit. That’s properly heroic, but maybe not too smart, because Spidey is in no shape to fight, and the Hobgoblin easily fends him off, knocking Spidey down again.

So Spider-Man is too weak to go on offense, but still capable of playing defense. Accordingly the Hobgoblin decides against fighting: he simply lops off a hunk of reverbium, the amazing vibranium-lite from Amazing Spider-Man #648, and flies away.

A bad outcome, but about to become worse, because Max, Bella and the others have caught on that Peter Parker is nowhere to be found. Peter will have to act fast - if he is capable of it - to preserve his secret identity. Retreating to his own lab, he finds he has “just enough time to wash off all the blood [and] stash [his] suit in the black box,” but not enough time to flee the scene. Here comes Max and the rest into Peter’s private lab, using Max’s emergency override... to find Peter, in his skivvies, drawing equations on a whiteboard. Why didn’t he hear the alarms? Because he was listening to his own music on headphones. No, not Lady Gaga - Bono and the Edge, doing a number from “Turn Off the Dark”, I think. More timely references that will be dated in a year. Sigh. Max is tolerant of Peter’s foibles, but everyone else is horrified at Peter’s apparent penchant for going largely clothes-free in the privacy of his own lab.

When I write “horrified”, I mean it: Modell, Uatu, Bella, and the cops are aghast when they see him. I wonder why? Perhaps the art in this scene is undercutting the story. As Humberto Ramos depicts him, Peter unclothed has the physique of a Greek god, with beautifully defined abs, pecs, and glutes. Maybe it’s a gay-panic thing? I guess not, because the female police captain, Yuri Watanabe, is as distressed as the rest. Only Bella, upon second glance, seems intrigued by Peter’s beauty rather than physically sickened by it.

So much for Spider-Man. What about the Hobgoblin? He’s gone to the Fisk Building, reverbium in hand. Montana can tell immediately that this ain’t Kingsley, and prepares to sic the Kingpin’s ninjas on him. (Ninjas?) Fisk puts a hold on the violence until he understands what’s going on: once he grasps that this new Hobgoblin has killed Kingsley but brought the reverbium nonetheless, he’s satisfied: “I never did like him... you’ve passed his audition.”

Montana doesn’t like this turn of events, or the new Hobgoblin, for that matter. And the feeling appears to be mutual.

Back at Horizon, Peter - now dressed - is observing Max terminate the reverbium project. Sajani has come in on her day off to argue the merits of this decision, but Max is firm: “whether you meant to or not, you’ve created a terrible weapon, and that is something we will never take part in at Horizon.” Peter is pleased to hear this, because it means Max shares his Peter’s scruples on the subject of weapons. Not that Modell’s a saint, though, as he muses aloud that he’d love to steal the reverbium back. Stealing, eh? Peter knows just the woman for the job.

Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy is happy to take Peter’s call, even though she’s in the middle of providing fan-service - er, I mean, bathing in milk, with some appropriately-placed cats to keep things rated PG-13. Well, we saw Peter practically naked a few pages earlier, but no, the two scenes aren’t equivalent. Judging by the panel composition, we’re definitely catering to the male gaze here. While that gaze is leering at Felicia, the plot creeps forward: while the Black Cat does the legwork to find out where the reverbium is and who backed Hobgoblin’s play, Spider-Man is going to cook up a new uniform of his own. “What’s good for the Hobgoblin-goose is good for the Spider-gander,” he somehow manages to say with a straight face.

Ahem. Over at the Daily Bugle (nee Front Line), Phil Urich is chatting with his Uncle Ben. Ben is surprised that Phil is dressed so nicely, forgetting that Phil wore a natty purple suit to the Bugle offices as recently as last issue. Phil is happy to share the details of his new gig, even if he’s guarded about the details. “It’s a top position, but there’s still lots of room for advancement if I play my cards right.” Not that he’s given up on the Bugle, though. He’s got a new web-ready camcorder, and he just happens to have gotten some hot footage of the Hobgoblin in action. He’s sharing it with Norah so she can break the story and be a big shot. He clearly is expecting some sugar for this, but no dice: Norah is so happy at what Phil’s done for her, she immediately begins canoodling with her boyfriend, Randy Robertson. Phil is annoyed, and we can tell, because - for the first and only time this issue - we’re privy to his thoughts. Yes, thought balloons are back and Amazing Spider-Man has got them! “What the hell?!” he fumes. “This’s messed up! Next one, you’re not getting for free, girl. And you wait. It’s gonna be huge. Next time... the Hobgoblin is really upping his game!”

There’s a few points I want to make about this scene, but let’s hold them for the general remarks below. For now, let’s just point out that Slott continues to extend the dark parallels between Phil Urich and Peter Parker. It’s now reached the point where Phil Urich captures images of himself while he’s in the guise of his costumed alter ego, then turns those images over to the Daily Bugle. I wonder how much further Slott intends to take this?

Back at Horizon, Peter is putting the finishing touches on his new costume when Carlie and MJ turn up unexpectedly. “My girlfriend and the ex. Together. Awk-ward,” Peter captions to himself. Just like last issue, Carlie is on hand because she’s doing forensics work at a superhuman crime scene. MJ, though, she just thought she’d check in on Peter, as she saw footage of the battle at the and knew that Spider-Man took a beating. She carefully talks around this for Carlie’s benefit, though, grasping that Carlie isn’t privy to Peter’s secrets.

The conversation that follows is interesting for a few reasons. Peter dishes about the work he’s doing on light-and-sound-bending technology, “adapting concepts I developed when I worked for Tony Stark”. “Nothing suspicious or anything,” deadpans MJ. “ He helped Stark build some armor for Spidey. Once. That’s the perfectly logical reason we lived in Avengers Tower.”

Ha! Props to Dan Slott for addressing that matter, which I had figured had been sent down the memory hole.

Peter and Carlie talk Big Science for a while, with the details blanked out by editorial text that informs us that MJ doesn’t understand this stuff. She retaliates by talking about Big Fashion, which neither Peter nor Carlie can appreciate. Peter is called away from all this by a phone call from Felicia, who’s found a snitch. Said snitch metaphorically spills his guts about the Hobgoblin working for Kingpin on the reverbium job. Hearing this, the Black Cat dashes off to rendezvous with Spider-Man, leaving the snitch behind. Enter the Hobgoblin, who retained this snitch to tell the Cat exactly what he wanted her to know. And, having passed the intel along, it’s time for him to literally spill his guts, courtesy of a razor-bat. “Sorry, pal, but only you and me know I sold out Kingpin" - SLUTCHH - "Whoopsie! Now it’s just me!”

Back to the Cat, who’s up on a rooftop providing more fan-service - I mean, waiting for Spidey to show up. Seriously, she’s crouched on her hands and knees, such that fans of both T and A get their itches scratched. Come on, Marvel, this is seriously crossing a line. I’ll leave analysis of the male gaze and its effects on female readers to others, and simply say that anything I’m embarrassed to read on the train, where my neighbours can read over my shoulder, should never see print. Amazing Spider-Man should be all-ages material, and this doesn’t fit the bill.

Moving on. Spider-Man isn’t late, he’s right on time, but he’s wearing his snazzy new black-and-green suit (see the cover). This makes him invisible and inaudible at will, as well as making him impervious to sonic attacks. The Hobgoblin won’t know what hit him! Especially because he doesn’t know that Team Spider is coming to get him.

Except, of course, we readers know that he does know. The plot thickens...

General Comments

Oh dear. The bloom may be coming off of the rose.

The first two issues of “Big Time” were high-quality stuff, five-web material all the way. But not this issue. Why not?

Well, to start with the most obvious, Humberto Ramos’ art isn’t up to snuff. It’s an interesting kind of fail: it’s uneven. Some pages are great, indistinguishable from the work we saw in the last two numbers. But others are clearly done more hastily: compare page five, where Spider-Man clumsily battles the Hobgoblin, with the pages before and after. Five is sketchier, muddier, and is less detailed, especially the backgrounds. I'm no artist and can’t account for these differences, but my suspicion is that Ramos did the issue out of order and ran out of time, so some pages - five, nine and ten, maybe thirteen - were done in haste to meet deadline. Whatever the reason, the contrast is obvious enough to drop the reader straight out of the story. One immediately notices the change in art, which reminds one that this is a comic book, and the momentum of the story is broken, just like that.

That’s bad enough, but while we’re on the subject of the art, what’s worse is that the good pages spill so much ink on cheesecake pin-ups of the Black Cat. There’s a place for that sort of thing, and it’s not in Marvel’s flagship all-ages title.

If only that were all. Problems with the artwork are much easier for me to overlook than problems with the story, and we have a big one here, namely, just what is Phil Urich thinking?

Phil killing Kingsley is one thing. Arguably, that was self-defense. But since then, Phil has murdered a handful of Modell’s security guards, and tried to kill Spider-Man. Perhaps that was merely hot blood at work? But no. Towards the end of this issue, he sets up his informer to pass along the information he needs Spider-Man to have, and then cold-bloodedly kills him. And of course he knew he was going to kill him all along.

What turned Phil Urich into a stone killer? Before, he was a loser, and before that, he was, briefly, a superhero, who risked his own life in defense of others. He’s fallen a long way. Why? How? You can’t leave us in the dark on this, Dan Slott. I think turning Phil Urich into a villain is a great narrative move, but if you’re going to trade on the emotional impact of corrupting a long-standing character, you need to actually show us how it’s done. It’s cheating to simply do it and not account for it. Especially when, for the purpose of your story, you’re entirely happy to let us into Phil’s head and see what he’s thinking, even if what he’s thinking is just a big bag of mixed emotions regarding Norah Winters. If you’re going to lift the veil in that way, you need to lift the veil all the way, so we can see that Phil Urich still is a complex personality, not a wind-up doll you’ve set in motion to satisfy the demands of your plot.

A wind-up doll that cracks wise like the Joker - which he never did before - and that cooks up complex schemes to impress the underworld, which he also never did before. Phil is behaving unusually here. Show us that you know it’s unusual, that it’s a departure for this character. That’s the price you pay for using an established personality rather than making up a new one.

I will say, having Phil attempt to seduce Norah by giving her things - computer help, news footage - is a nice bit of continuity with the old, loser Phil. Thinking that the secret to making girls like you is to give them presents, and that the way to deal with a girl who’s obviously not interested in you is to try even harder to get her attention, those are indeed the hallmarks of a boy whose experience with women is limited. Now if we could just connect those dots in Phil’s head to the rest, that would be helpful.

Overall Rating

It’s not bad, by any means, and there are some nice touches. The MJ-Carlie-Peter conversation is good fun and a nice adjustment to the continuity, for example. But art problems and story problems hold this issue back. Three webs only, I’m afraid.

 Posted: Dec 2010