He's big. He's gray. He's almost unstoppable. He's the Rhino, and he'd give ANYTHING to be somebody else. This is his story.
It just doesn't pay to be the Rhino. The story opens with him rescuing Stella Pavlov - the daughter of a known gangster - from her father's competitors. But is she grateful? No, although she has a special smile for Spider-Man, who arrives on the scene just as Rhino is shoving her into the getaway limo. Furious, Rhino attacks Spidey only to find himself webbed halfway through a brick wall, butt-side out.
The press makes fun of him. In prison, losers like the Rocket Racer and the Gibbon make fun of him. Even one of the guards makes fun of him. It's too much for one very big man to take. "A pity those scientists who gave me my super-tough skin didn't do something to toughen up my heart. Wrap IT in rock and metal so nothing can get through it." Mad at the world and sick of the prison of his rock-hard skin, Rhino bursts free of his bonds, escapes, and gores the mocking guard in his chair for good measure.
Rhino wants his "skin" off. So he goes to the men who put it on - as described in Amazing Vol.1 #43. If you're curious, the guys are named Igor and Georgi - as described in flashback in Incredible Hulk #104. But while they can boost a chimpanzee's intelligence to the point where it can direct a string quartet - albeit briefly - there is no way to remove the Rhino's skin without killing him.
Despondent, Rhino stews at home, then goes out and spends "almost two hundred bucks buying drinks for girls who I know don't give a damn about me." He's interrupted by one of Stella's father's employees, who offers him a job protecting Stella. He gets the job if he can defeat the men currently guarding her. The Rhino accepts the challenge and bests the men easily, only to find Stella coming back from a coffee shop; she'd snuck out. Rhino tells her he's been hired as her bodyguard, and she laces into him:
"Do you want to know why they chose you to watch over me? You're so dumb and predictable, [my father] knows you wouldn't even THINK of double-crossing him. And if you DID think it, you'd be too stupid to DO anything about it."
That's the final blow for Rhino, who later finds himself about to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. But before he can end it all, he gets one last idea. Rhino returns to the scientists that made him with one demand: "Do to me what you did to that chimp." Despite warning Rhino repeatedly, the scientists relent. And begin to drill through his skull....
Ouch. For anyone who's ever felt too big, too clumsy, too stupid, or just too strange to fit in with the "normal people," this story cuts pretty close to the bone.
The Rhino's walked this path before. Back in the "Deadly Foes of Spider-Man" limited series, he takes part in robberies solely to earn money to have his Rhino skin burned off. He does so, but changes his mind after a month of retirement. By ASM #344, Rhino's back in business. This suit is apparently permanent.
The fact that this plotline has already been done weakens the story, but not considerably. Peter Milligan has crafted one half of a downright moving story; hopefully part two won't drop the ball. It was nice to see how Rhino copes with such everyday things as sleeping - reinforced concrete bed, pulleys in case he gets stuck, having to sleep in the cellar - because it helps reinforce the guy's dilemma. No matter how hard he tries, he can't be anything more than the guy in the "suit." Worse, that's all anybody else ever sees. So instead of letting that define his life, Rhino's willing to risk it all for something more. Very believable, and good character definition.
One gripe: Rhino was introduced WAY back in ASM #41. In all those years, we've never learned his name. If ever there was a story that justified naming the Rhino, this is it. We, as readers, are seeing the misery in his life that everyone else doesn't. We should get to learn his name, too.
I want to see how Peter Milligan wraps things up before getting TOO excited over this story, but he's off to a good start. Three-and-a-half webs.