"What if... if you knew a secret about somebody... a secret that could hurt that person if it were ever revealed? Ruin his life... and this person... he knows that you know, but he makes no move against you.... What if... in telling this terrible secret to certain parties, you could also save a life?"
Charlie is a New York cab driver. He is also about to die. Cancer in the brain. At first, he learns that it is inoperable, will cause severe headaches, and will blind him within four weeks. After seeking a second opinion, Charlie learns that their IS an operation, but it will cost him half a million dollars.
Leaving the office to get in his cab, Charlie suffers a migraine attack and flashes back to an incident in his past. It's unclear exactly what is happening, but there is a police car, a chase, a shootout, and a frame of Charlie trapped underneath his overturned cab.
Snapping out of his daydream, Charlie starts to drive home and comes across three people mugging a lady. Realizing there's nothing he can do by himself, Charlie speeds to a pay phone and dials the Daily Bugle. "This is Parker." "Third and Brannon. Mugging!" Soon after, Spider-Man arrives and dispatches the muggers.
Charlie, you see, has a secret. A secret that could easily earn him $500,000. But he is "honor-bound to keep it... kind of a gentlemen's agreement." What should he do? His estranged ex-wife is no help. Neither is his priest, who tells him that the decision is his to make. At one point, Charlie starts to call three local hoods, but hangs up before he says anything. He cannot decide yet. But he doesn't have much time left.
Although not explicitly stated, it's fairly clear that Charlie's secret is Spider-Man's secret identity. And as such, I have a problem with this story right out of the blocks. Who DOESN'T know Spider-Man's secret identity anymore? Heck, even this very series featured a villain who had known Peter Parker was Spider-Man since the beginning. Aunt May just found out (again). Chameleon, Doc Ock (temporarily), the list goes on. Why write another story where ANOTHER person finds out who Spider-Man is?
That being said, I did like this issue because it got me wondering what I'd do if my life depended on it. Charlie is a real, fleshed-out character with a life and a history, and all those forces are drawing on him as he tries to make a decision. But what is his connection to these three thugs? And what exactly happened in that flashback? Who is Charlie, really? I closed the book wanting to know more about what makes the man tick.
Lee Weeks and Josef Rubenstein do a great job with the art. The panels are slightly rough and gritty with a hard-edged realism to them. Exactly like their subject matter. These two artists were an excellent choice for the story.
Marvel's gone to the well more than one time too often on Spidey's secret identity. And that pulls down what will probably be a good story, otherwise. Two and a half webs.