All of the preliminaries are over true believers! Spider-Man (in his red and blues) vs. the Reign, Sinner Six, and Venom. The cover says it all. Casey's story arc promises to come to a head as she leads the youth against Venom's symbiote monsters. Meanwhile, one of the Sinner Six gains a conscience while Jolly Jonah remains obstinate as ever. Excelsior!
Spider-Man stealthily crawls up the Reign building. The Sinner Six are primed for Spidey's appearance. Nervousness and overconfidence plague them. On the ground Sandman hears Kasey ring the church bell that is harming the Venom's symbiote creations. Sandman is ordered to stop Kasey's insurrection by any means necessary. He reluctantly demands that Kasey stop for her own safety. Kasey defiantly stands up to Sandman's orders. Without warning, she reveals that she is a metahuman and Sandman's daughter. Kasey turns to stone. Obviously impassioned by Kasey's revelation, Sandman turns on his Reign contingent. Unfortunately, Sandman is too late to save his daughter from death. The strain in activating her powers has caused Kasey to lose her limbs. As Sandman cradles the dying Kasey, a swarm of symbiote creatures converge on him.
Meanwhile, Venom orders Electro to electrify the outer walls of the Reign building. Spider-Man is shocked but quickly recovers in time to burst through the building and the unknowing Electro. While Electro lies crumpled on the floor, Hydro-Man tries to combine his powers with Electro. However, the quick thinking of Spider-Man allows him to trip Electro. The already bloodied villain falls into the befuddled Hydro-Man, killing them both instantaneously. Next, the Scorpion confronts Spider-Man. Scorpion boasts of the powers of his new suit. Spider-Man (in a scene reminiscent of the classic Indiana Jones exchange) simply knocks Scorpion out the window, falling to his death.
The scene shifts as Spider-Man receives a horrifying vision of a hateful Mary Jane. Spider-Man shrewdly realizes that it is just the illusions of Mysterio and lashes out against the pseudo Mary Jane. Mysterio's famous fishbowl helmet is punctured and he lies defeated. Kraven is the last member of the Sinner Six and calls out Spider-Man. Back on the ground Sandman ferociously beats back the symbiote creatures. He has a brief but touching exchange with Kasey. Kasey merges with Sandman's body. He never knew Kasey's name.
Kraven inhales a special drug and proceeds to battle Spider-Man. The scene shifts to Kraven's perspective and we see that Kraven visualizes Spider-Man as a giant rhinoceros. In a quick montage of panels, Spider-Man confronts his fears and defeats Kraven with 16 (!) cartridges of webbing.
Spider-Man finally confronts Venom. Venom reveals that his entire takeover of New York City was due to Spider-Man. He still blames Spider-Man for rejecting the symbiote and leaving it to die. Venom claims that Spider-Man neglected his responsibility. With that, Venom grabs Jonah and Mayor Waters cowardly runs away. Venom's symbiote creatures lunge out at Spidey. Spider-Man argues that he came to defeat Venom because of Mary Jane's legacy. Venom rudely retorts a disagreement. Spider-Man can feel her wife's presence down his neck. Spider-Man receives a vision of Mary Jane. She gives him a pep talk about love and responsibility. They will meet again but Spider-Man still has a job to do. Meanwhile, Sandman confronts Mayor Waters who has left the Spider-Man/Venom battle scene. He wants something from Waters.
As the battle rages on, Spider-Man breaks out of the building and takes the fight to the top of the tower. The children look on and root for Spider-Man. As the symbiote monsters converge on him, Spider-Man prepares to fight to the death. A brutal fight ensues and Spider-Man is left bloodied and exhausted. Before the symbiote monsters can finish him off, Sandman arrives to help Spider-Man. Sandman gives Spidey the detonator that will kill him and destroy the WEBB system (thereby defeating the symbiote creatures). Spider-Man presses the button and the tower explodes.
In the aftermath, Jonah talks to a kid about the second chance Spider-Man has given the city. He goes on TV and announces that masked youths have returned to the street. Crime has once again returned. He praises the developments. We then see a masked silhouette of Peter. A criminal is webbed up in the background. Peter announces that "I'll see you one day, MJ. Until then...I have responsibilities." The final panel is a shot of Mary Jane Watson Parker's gravestone with the white flowers from Spider-Man: Reign #1.
After the brilliance contained in issue #3, I was hoping for a slam bang finish to the mini-series. What I got was a mixed bag. All along I had expressed the concern that the four issue format would probably rush the story. Andrews did his best but he is forced to neatly wrap up all the dangling plot threads here AND provide a solid ending filled with action. I'll start with what I didn't like.
First off is the development that Kasey is a metahuman. Ugh! I didn't like this for only one reason. Kasey represents youthful hope in this story. She is oppressed and represents the everyman principle which has defined Spider-Man for so long. Giving her powers makes her unique and ruins that special bond with Spider-Man's mythos. Instead, we get some half-assed characterization with Sandman (which appears out of nowhere mind you) and she dies an unsatisfactory death.
Mayor Waters's characterization is a bit off as well. Earlier on, especially in issue #1, he is depicted as a cold and calculating villain. But in issue #4 he is an out and out coward. I was hoping for some sort of payoff that never panned out. Again, if Andrews had one more issue he might have been able to give Mayor Waters a proper send-off.
Finally, we come to the ending. The battle scenes are all fine and well done but everything wraps up way too conveniently. For such a powerful villain, Venom dies in a really ham-fisted way. I think some more creativity on Andrews's part would have been nice. When you think about it, all it would've taken would've been one errant press of the detonator around the WEBB system and the story is over! Venom really did not think this through to well. Must've been Eddie Brock taking over there.
Nevertheless, the WEBB system was an ingenious plot device to portray Venom as a sinister and calculating villain once again (something that has been lost in 616 continuity). Andrews's love for the character was clearly inspired from the Michelinie/McFarlane era. I also loved the well-thought out reasoning behind Venom's plan. The fact that the symbiote felt abandoned was a nice nod to the earliest Venom tales. It is odd though that Venom was able to defeat the entire superhero community. Where are the Avengers? The Hulk? The Fantastic Four? Some more context was needed as to how Venom's plan came to fruition. Again, more issues would've helped in this regard. Nonetheless, Venom is back with a vengeance in the hands of Andrews.
Spider-Man's victory over the Sinner Six was also well-though out. Naysayers will point out that Spider-Man doesn't kill. However, let us look at the facts. New York City is a fascist dictatorship and the people are strangled under the yoke of the WEBB system. Spider-Man needs a drastic solution for a dire situation. Plus, these guys had it coming frankly. And I dare even the most stubborn continuity buff not to laugh at Spider-Man's takedown of Electro and Hydro- Man.
Finally, Mary Jane's character arc was just wonderful. You can tell Andrews never wanted to neglect the impact of her death upon Peter. She stands as a symbol for the death of the city. Once Spider-Man revives her spirit then the city awakens. Her final scene was touching and provided plenty of pathos.
Andrews plays a lot with the panels in this issue, more so than any of the others in this mini-series. I think this decision really makes the issue stand on its own and provides plenty of variety for the reader to follow. Once again, the art is vibrantly colored and subtly simplified. The best sequence which shows off all of these aspects is the Kraven/Spider-Man sequence. Marvel wisely decided not to place too many ads in the issue. The reader is able to get more into the flow of the story. This is something I wish was done in other books but I digress.
The final issue felt a little bit rushed and too neatly wrapped up to be on par with the other issues in this mini-series. Nonetheless, issue #4 was satisfying on many counts. And as a whole, Spider-Man: Reign was an outstanding vision of Spider-Man's future and a faithful pastiche of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Here's hoping for a sequel.