For weeks now, there has been talk from writer Dan Slott that Amazing Spider-Man #698 is going to be something a huge deal, and #700 is going to be so shocking and controversial that he may have to go into hiding. Well, we're on Amazing Spider-Man #695 this week, and all signs are currently pointing to Peter Parker's secret identity being revealed all over again.
Of course, it could be a red herring for a cool swerve – or an uncool swerve, but Slott's always proven he can bring the goods.
It all centers around Horizon Labs and the new-school Daily Bugle, Peter's current and former place of employment. There's Tiberius Stone, a skullduggerous employee of Horizon secretly working with the new Hobgoblin, who is secretly Phil Urich, who has been trying to impress Bugle reporter Norah Winters with footage of his Hobby stunts – unaware that the original Hobgoblin Roderick Kingsley is alive, well, and out to take back his identity. Meanwhile, somebody at Horizon lets slip to the Bugle's Sally Floyd the story that Peter supplies Spider-Man with technology, and they're about to publicize that to the world. The problem with that is obvious (something Batman Incorporated should have noticed) – being publicly connected to Spider-Man immediately puts him in life-threatening danger, and that whole magic spell that reversed the public knowledge of Spidey's true identity only works so long as people have no reason to suspect there's any connection.
But it's true, it's on the record, and it's news. So the Bugle is running it anyway. Even Robbie Robertson doesn't budge, which is one of only two notes in the story that doesn't quite hold water with me. He makes the point that Peter's been associated with Spider-Man for years, being the photographer that always lands the pictures of him and even publishing a book of them, but there's a clear difference between a shutterbug and the guy supplying his tech.
However, the debate doesn't last much longer, because Tiberius Stone (who I'm going to say is an ancestor of Spider-Man 2099's Tyler Stone, just because) has now figured out how to retrofit the contraptions used during Spider Island to completely mess with Peter's spider-sense, sending it out of control, registering everything and everyone at every time as a threat – just in time for Hobgoblin to make good on exactly what Peter was afraid of with this story.
As usual, Slott's got a lot of irons in the fire, and he balances them all skillfully enough so that Peter's life seems hectic and crazy, but without overburdening us and making everything seem muddled and confusing. His co-writer for this issue, the talented Christos Gage of Avengers Academy, is certainly helping with that. I may be alone on this, but I've really liked Slott's inclusion of Julia Carpenter, single mother, as the new Madame Web. It's been interesting watching someone trying to figure out how to deal with a frustrating new set of cryptic precognitive powers when they've been better suited to crusty old ladies who have nothing better to do with their time. Here, though, Julia's become convinced that the death she keeps feeling is coming will be her own, and she's taking steps to prepare herself. It's touching and compelling as she waits for whatever weird hand fate is going to deal her. This includes seeing a lot of Marvel's upcoming NOW offerings when she gets a blast of future-knowledge, sporting images of what appears to be X-23 going feral in what will likely be Avengers Arena, the original X-Men arriving in modern times with All-New X-Men, Ant-Man's new look from FF, some shots of Minimum Carnage and, more crucial to this story, what appears to be a completely deteriorated Dr. Octopus and what looks to be Peter Parker's head on the watery mess that is Hydro-Man's body. Or maybe it's just Hydro-Man.
But here's where the other note that doesn't quite work for me comes in. She puts her daughter, who I'm guessing is around 8 or 9 years old right now, on a bus by herself, from New York to Colorado to be with her grandparents. A little girl alone on a cross-country bus?! Listen, if you're expecting to die and never see her again, max out the credit cards and get her a plane ticket, for pete's sake.
The art from Giuseppe Camuncoli is much more realistic than the kinetic, angular work of Humberto Ramos, but it's still solid stuff, bringing the energy when needed. The players in the game here – two different Hobgoblins, the Bugle, the Labs, Stone, Kingpin, Madame Web – are all leading up to something interesting, and Slott, and Gage, for that matter, are the kinds of writers we can believe when they say they've got things cooking that will knock our socks off.
I'm excited to see what happens. And I'm resisting engaging in idle speculation that Marvel NOW will force Slott off of Amazing Spider-Man and may be putting Gage onto it. Mainly because I don't know how to respond to that thought. Slott told us on the Book Report podcast that Spidey was his dream gig, but Gage had Avengers Academy yanked out from under him and turned into Hunger Games, and he deserves a good plae to go. So I'm leaving the rumor mill alone this time. In that passive aggressive way where I've not left it alone because I've been talking about it for a whole paragraph.
Ahem. Yay, Spider-Man good!