In the last issue, we saw Aunt May talking her problems out with a therapist. May's concerns vary, from the chaos Spider-Man brings to a situation to how she feels she pushes Peter away for fear of losing him (as she has lost everyone else she loves). After the therapist reassures her that she's not a bad person for mothering Gwen in lieu of Peter, May decides to spend some long overdue time with her nephew.
But the coming issue deals with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Sharon Carter, who was in charge of containing Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus. But apparently, Ock wasn't the only person who needed to be contained.
In a story set two months ago, Sharon Carter, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., issues a statement regarding the events of the previous night, the same night Spider-Man beat Doctor Octopus on live television. Carter apparently deals with people who illegally alter their genetic makeup (say, by injecting themselves with the Green Goblin Oz or by getting bit by a genetically altered spider).
Agent Carter is supposed to do this in a covert fashion, but between Ock calling a press conference that night and Spider-Man beating him up on live television, she fails spectacularly, except insofar as they take Ock into custody. Although, Ock did let out news of a genetic laboratory in New Jersey belonging to his former boss and recently deceased enemy, Justin Hammer.
Agents Carter, Woo, and three armed S.H.I.E.L.D guards investigate the facility. There, they find three scientists, who are harboring "an illegal, unnatural, genetic mutation" who seems to be composed of a sand-like substance. Carter opens the door before they can bring up the man's file, and he shoots the "sand" directly at Carter and the agents, escaping.
His file reveals that the man is Flint Marko (despite the nameplate that labels him Flint Marco), a violent criminal and murderer sent away until he was chosen as one of the subjects for Hammer's genetic experiments. Said experiments transformed Marco into a dangerous mutation capable of manipulating his body into organic sand.
The agents run outside the facility to find Spider-Man engaged in battle with the Sandman Marko. Bullets prove useless against him, until Spidey borrows a fire hose to disable Marko. But the Sandman recomposes himself and starts to flood Spider-Man with sand until some sort of ray shot from the researchers disables him long enough to go into custody. Naturally, they are under arrest as well. And, despite rescuing Carter, Spidey still can't get a ride home to far-off Queens.
Carter ends her statement with an angry, teary-eyed call to action against these violent, dangerous, illegal genetic mutations. "Don't lock them away for poking," she insists, "Destroy them and end this."
This is a solid story, albeit an infomercial for the "Ultimate Six" limited series that features Spider-Man and The Ultimates teaming up to take on these mutations. Sharon's darkly-humored narration and condemning monologue to destroy the creatures she's supposed to contain is effective and chilling. It seems so obvious that turning criminals into super-powered monsters is a bad idea, and yet we find the government and private sector continue to manufacture them.
It's a shame that these themes won't be followed up next month, and that we won't be seeing Mark Bagley's stunning take on Ultimate Sandman in these pages anytime soon. The fight scene between Sandman and Spider-Man is stunning and cinematic in quality, with a single page featuring Spider-Man standing between a firefighter and a police officer.
But I think the fact that I have to go and buy another book to see how these events unfold hurts the story, which could have just as easily been told within the "Ultimate Six" mini. This one-shot harkens back to the days where you would have to buy 4 different comic book titles to get one story ("Maximum Carnage", anyone?). And the story isn't so much about Spider-Man (whose appearance borders on cameo) as it is about S.H.I.E.L.D. dealing with the monsters they had a hand in creating (think "Captain America"). Still, it deals with themes of "playing God" that recur through this book, most prominently in the characters of Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn and Eddie "Venom" Brock, Jr.
It's a decent one-shot for a commercial for another book, so that's three webs right there. An extra web and a half goes to Bagley's amazing Sandman art. If genetic experiments gone wrong and the government's efforts to contain them strike your fancy, go buy "Ultimate Six", the limited series continuation of the story. If not, then hang tight, true believer, since a new Spider-Man arc kicks off next issue. Wow, now I sound like a commercial.