Over the past few weeks Miles Warren/The Jackal has set loose a swarm of genetically enhanced bedbugs on New York! Everyone has spider-powers (apart from Mary-Jane Watson)!
The Jackal is working for a mysterious spider-telepath and is flanked by the monsters he has created: Spider-King/Captain America and Tarantula/Kaine!
New York City is now under quarantine, by order of Mayor J. Jonah Jameson!
Meanwhile, Horizon Labs and the FF’s Reed Richards search for a cure, JJJ learns that he is infected and Madame Web, Venom/Flash Thompson, The Avengers, Spider-Girl, Shang-Chi, Cloak and Dagger, Herc all become involved in different ways. (see the various tie-in titles for details). Anti-Venom/Eddie Brock finds his powers are suited to heal those inflected with the infection!
Peter Parker and Carlie Cooper investigate the infestation and all clues lead to The Jackal. After visiting an old Jackal hideout they arrange a meeting with Spider-Man. Peter is obviously absent from this meeting and Carlie gets suspicious about who Peter might actually be… When Carlie and Spidey face down a six-armed Shocker, those infected suddenly begin to horrifically transform into spiders!
The master planner behind The Jackal’s scheme is revealed… as The Queen!
Horizon Labs react to the new phase of the infection and Mayor J. Jonah Jameson demands results!
Across the city, all those infected continue to transform into spiders! Randy Robertson, Hawkeye accompany Carlie Cooper and Shocker in transforming! Watching, Spider-Man can do nothing…!
The Queen emerges from her hair with Jackal and Tarantula and calls the spiders of New York City to bow down to her! She recalls how she has risen from a World War II Experiment to gaining full control of her spider and super-solider powers and taking on Spider-Man and Captain America (in Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #15-20). She then hid for years until Steve Rogers recently investigated some power drains and stumbled across The Queen and Jackal’s experiments. He succumbed to The Queen’s power and now he is The Spider-King! Spider-King returns but he is actually Venom/Flash Thompson in disguise!
At Our Lady Of Saints Church, dozens of spider-people call out to Anti-Venom to cure them! The X-Men set up a Spider-sense jammer and struggle to protect it from the attacking spider-people!
Over in Horizon Labs, JJJ has had enough of Reed Richard’s apparent procrastination! He demands to leave and, exhibiting his own spider-strength, pushes his way out to his motorcade!
Above the Financial District, Spider-Man, desperate for help, battles against the spider-people! He spots a flailing Madame Web/Julia Carpenter who tells him to help JJJ’s motorcade below! He leaps down to help but JJJ is not being saved by Spider-Man again! He exits the car ad begins webbing and fighting the spider-people alongside Spider-Man!
The Queen senses that JJJ has become on of her colony and wonders how she can mentally control him. Spider-King/Venom/Flash worries that she may use him to lower the quarantine! The Queen is informed that Anti-Venom is offering a cure so Spider-King/Venom/Flash offers to go and kill him, actually planning to deliver him to the authorities to help!
Richards works on Alicia Masters’ blood (delivered by Spider-Woman and The Thing in Spider-Island: Spider-Woman #1) and hears that a cure is on its way – Anti-Venom!
JJJ and Spidey arrive at the Emergency Command Centre where JJJ reveals his secret weapon – Alistair Smythe/The Spider Slayer, the man who killed his wife! Smythe teases JJJ over the fact that he is now infected just as The Queen imprints herself in JJJ’s mind as his dead wife. The Queen tells JJJ to kill Smythe and JJJ spouts spider-fangs! Things begin to unravel – Spider-Man doesn’t know what to do!
Meanwhile, Heroes For Hire fight at The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge and Venom and Anti-Venom battle!
Cornered and outnumbered by spider-people, Mary-Jane Watson finally gains spider-powers! She smacks some spiders out of the way and starts to wall crawl!
Anti-Venom is delivered to Horizon where Richards informs him that he needs every antibody in his suit; Anti-Venom must be no more…!
Spidey holds JJJ off and Smythe quickly reveals that the solution to the infestation is spider-slayers! He doesn’t get to elaborate on this as JJJ breaks loose and sentences him to death! He chomps his fangs down onto his throat!
Since its beginnings Spider-Island has been a mix of melodrama, good ol’-fashioned Spider-mayhem and a great cast-encompassing rollercoaster never really taking itself too seriously. This issue we go from the absurd yet joyous elements of Manhattan swinging around to the serious as Dan Slott amps up the characters to produce a true threat. This is essentially a great crescendo before the climax.
It is a clever decision to allow the action to move quickly away from the spider-people of New York and on to continuing plight of our massive cast of characters. This shift allows scenes to race along, each one ramping up the threat level and the lengths the characters are going to cope. Slott’s attempt to keep things light, with Spidey and JJJ fighting together, correctly falls flat and allows for the race towards a cure to be the drive and not the human/emotive side of the infestation. This, I’m sure, will come, but for now there’s a dense, packed story to tell and Slott is doing with energy and full-on pages. JJJ, Spidey, Madame Web, Venom, Anti-Venom, Reed Richards, Horizon, all the heroes – all working towards this cure and, like a tease, Slott keeps throwing obstacles in their way. To say that I don’t know where this is going is an understatement and this is what us Spider-Man fans want – no visible solution, a worthy threat and the deck stacked against him.
A continuing success is this weaving of plots. The masterful Slott, having planned this meticulously, now uses elements of Spider-Island: Avengers, Spider-Island: Spider-Woman, Venom, Heroes For Hire, Herc and Spider-Island: Deadly Foes to contextualise the city-wide story and make the tie-ins all the more meaningful. And it doesn’t stop there. The crucial elements of Anti-Venom, MJ and Venom are now mixed with the JJJ vs. Alistair Smythe plot which, in turn, brings up the death of Marla Jameson and the incredible emotions Slott captured with that. This surprise return of Smythe is genius – just when you couldn’t cram any more characters in, Slott brings along this one to stun everyone and smartly push JJJ over the edge.
Having been the most successful elements of last issue, The Queen and Carlie’s roles fall flat here. Fair enough, Carlie is now a spider so she hasn’t got much chance of making an impact but Slott’s use of The Queen, and his lowly offering of five pages dedicated to her, is dreadful. The mastermind of this plot isn’t given enough space to provide a full, believable motivation for her return and the flashback panels, no matter how gorgeous, seem underdeveloped and of the lazy era of bringing back any character however. MJ comes out on top – that shot of her wall-crawling is awesome and, if the concluding covers are anything to go by, she’s got a massive part to play in this yet.
Accompanying this serious tone is a darker level of art. This arrives from both Humberto Ramos’ outstanding use of shadow and a dramatic depiction of people changing into spider-people and Victor Olazaba’s heavier inks. At no point is any detail (and there continues to be masses of that) lost but the weight of the lines and shadow, often matching the emotion of the panels, adds a great deal of atmosphere. Ramos continues to cram and deliver on every account. The flashback sequence is exquisite (employing the same technique from The Queen’s debut in Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 2)) as is the MJ scene.
I do have one big concern though - Spider-Man. I love the supporting cast, I love the subplots, I love the action, tension and drama and I love the telling of the story. But where is Spider-Man in all of this. Now is the time for him to take centre stage. With only nine pages containing the heralded web-swinger, this is a little sparse on the central character.
A great crescendo of an issue that screams detail, plotting and tension!