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Amazing Reviews: “The Return of the Black Cat” (Amazing Spider-Man 606-611)
One element that’s been incredibly consistent within the Brand New Day world is Spidey’s supporting cast. Not only have we seen the return of some fan favorite characters—such as J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, the Fantastic Four, and Harry Osborn—we’ve been given new cast members as well—such as Dexter Bennet, Carlie Cooper, Vin and Michelle Gonzales, Norah Winters, Martin Li, and Jay Jameson. However, one area that’s been a little lacking has been Spidey’s superhero buddies. Sure, we’ve seen the Fantastic Four, and there was that one time he teamed up with Wolverine to do battle with Mayan warriors, but the Super-Friends have been pretty quiet (wrong company, I know, but it’s an allusion). That changes here as Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, returns to the scene, with help from Joe Kelly and Mike McKone.
Like I said last post, the romantic side of Spidey’s life has not had much focus. He knows plenty of women—Michelle, Norah, MJ—but none of them have been dating material (or, perhaps more precisely, Peter isn't dating material for them). So Black Cat comes at a time where he’s struggling with that idea and trying to figure that part of his life out.
A Black Cat Crosses Spidey's Path
There are three major issues with the Black Cat showing up: one, she’s a criminal. Spidey runs into her while she’s breaking into the stylish penthouse of Dexter Bennet, Peter’s former boss and the one guy who’s a bigger jerk than J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle. Naturally, she’s not breaking in to steal anyth…oh, wait, she totally is. Okay, correction, not to steal anything for herself, I mean. That makes it okay. The second problem is that she and Spidey haven’t been together for a long time, which means he’s really torn about this. Kelly crafts this tension masterfully, with Spidey struggling with the idea of getting back together with a woman who (1 had a falling out with him last time they were dating and (2 breaks the law on a regular basis. Kelly’s dialogue is superb here, mixing Spidey’s humor with this tense idea. Finally, there’s Black Cat’s “bad luck powers,” where she can randomly cause bad things to happen to people she’s close to. Like Spidey’s webbing not sticking to buildings, or his suit tearing. This makes a relationship like that fairly difficult to maintain (and supersuits fairly difficult to maintain too).
Amidst the petty pilfering, Spidey and the Cat discover a dead guy in Bennet’s penthouse and are quickly confronted by his murderer: the dread Diablo, master of alchemy and typical enemy of the Fantastic Four. Huh, what’s he doing there? Why’d he kill this guy? And what’s the connection to everyone’s new favorite skinflint Bennet? We’ll find out. Spidey and the Cat barely escape with their lives, but the mission has brought about a new flame for each other.
Their relationship has been a complicated one over the years, a struggle akin to that between Batman and Catwoman. How can Spidey—or Batman, for that matter—love a woman who so often breaks the law for selfish gains and yet can be a selfless hero when the need arises? Time and time again, Spidey falls into the trap, for lack of a better word, of reconnecting with the Cat. Back when Spidey was married to MJ within the comic continuity, this was not so much an issue. Now that this has all been changed, the status between the two has changed as well and will be explored throughout the next number of issues. While no relationship ever blossoms permanently between the two heroes, this is an opportunity, like I said in the last post, to see a part of Spidey Brand New Day has not much explored.
Together, the two take on Diablo, foiling a scheme of his where a building he crafted out of “shoddy” materials was set to collapse, materials purchased by the dead guy in Bennet’s penthouse and the one man who knew about Diablo’s scheme. This was purposeful, of course, a way for Diablo to collect on the insurance after the collapse. A battle happens between them, which shows both Diablo using his alchemy abilities and Cat’s “bad luck powers” to counteract his abilities. It’s a neat little battle, and while I’ve never been Mike McKone’s biggest fan, he does a good detailing this powers at work. The plot, admittedly, seems a little random. I know why Black Cat pops up—she’s an important ASM supporting character who’s had an impact on the hero’s life and so deserves to be reintroduced in the Brand New Day setting—but Diablo’s inclusion seems a little odd, considering he often goes toe-to-toe with the FF. An epilogue in the last issue of this two-parter brings Diablo into contact with Ana Kravinoff, who asks him to assist her mother. Like the Chameleon before him, Diablo is dragged into the Kravinoff’s plot. Suspenseful music commences.
As I've mentioned, while Mike McKone's artwork is fine--even pretty good and fun to look at sometimes--he can never seem to get Spidey's head the proper size. Look at it now. His head looks like he's some kind of toy, with a head just a but bigger than it needs to be. Fortunately, Kelly's script helps distract from the artwork of this issue, and this sadly won't be the last time I say that.
"That's a Wrap...tor!"
Marc Guggenheim is the writer of the next couple issues, with Marco Checchetto providing the art. Checchetto is not a guy we will be seeing often. His art isn’t bad—there are actually quite a few panels of his I enjoy—but he’s not one of those artists who make you go “Wow, I want this guy as a series regular.” My one complaint is that he makes everyone’s eyes look the same, but other than that, it’s fine. He’ll return later down the line for a story where his art actually really pops, so there’s maturity in the guy’s style. That, and the colorist must be different. Checchetto seems to work better with muted colors.
Guggenheim uses this space to bring back Damon Ryder and finally unwrap the mystery box that is Ryder's story. As we find out through flashbacks, Ryder was a professor who hired a lab assistant named Ben Reilly. “Ben Reilly,” as in “the Spider-Man clone who kicked off the major Clone Saga in the 90s.” Years before he would ultimately meet his doom, Reilly and Ryder worked together on a project combining dinosaur DNA with human DNA, which seems like a legitimately good idea, if you removed the fact that this is a comic and tampering with cross-species science is a legitimately bad idea (look no further than Curt Connors, aka, “The Lizard” for proof). Ryder thinks this has all kinds of applications—including military ones, which means I totally get where Vincent D'Onofrio’s plan in Jurassic World comes from now—and gets so excited that he injects himself with the serum, becoming Velociraptor. In the present, Spidey is trying to track down Ryder while Ryder tries to track down Peter Parker, still believing “Peter” is just a disguise for “Ben Reilly,” who he still thinks killed his family. Oy. It's never simple with clones.
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Speaking of clones, all of a sudden—boom!—Kaine shows up and starts fighting Spidey. For those unaware, Kaine was the very first clone of Peter Parker, an imperfect copy of the boy. This means Kaine is consistently degenerating and consistently looking for a cure. He thinks Ryder will help him stem the disease in exchange for helping destroy Peter. To that end, the villains team-up (ooh, goodie!) and attack the Parker household, which is now the Reilly family household, which is also where Harry Osborn lives. Spidey gets involved, and that brings both the past and present together.
In a lot of fun sequences, Guggenheim parallels the two stories. In the past, Ben is trying to help Ryder after he injects himself; in the present, Spidey is trying to keep his family and friend. from getting killed. Kaine shows up in both stories, in the past to kill Ben and in the present to kill Peter. Fires rage inside both houses, one the fault of Kaine in the past, the other maliciously set by Ryder to replicate the events of that fateful evening. Yet, while Ryder’s family dies in the past, Spidey rescues his family and sends the villains packing. Ryder reveals to Kaine that he never intended to actually help him with his disease, and Kaine kills him in retaliation.
It’s a nutty tale, and there are parts I like about it and parts I don’t. The whole “past vs. present” concept is a lot of fun, and Checchetto crafts a lot of enjoyable parallels between the two eras. As a villain, Ryder seems like a one-off type of bad guy, never archenemy material, but just another baddie thrown in there to give Spidey a threat. So the two-parts are a bit of a filler story, but at least Guggenheim finishes up a plot and a mystery he set up a couple of issues ago, so it doesn’t hit you right out of the blue exactly. A much larger story is being set up, so these guys have to fill the pages while they build to that. Is it a necessary story? No. But is it fun? Yeah.
Deadpooling Our Resources
This leads us to our final tale, another filler one, but a story that’s a bit more important. Kelly returns to write as he brings in his fan-favorite creation Deadpool. The Merc With a Mouth is hired to keep the Web-Slinger distracted, and the issue is chock-full of Kelly’s (and Deadpool’s) humor, including fourth-wall breaks, references to DC Comics (and a rebuttal sidebar by Geoff Johns, writer of Blackest Night, the story Kelly references), Deadpool’s general disrespect of everything and everyone, and the mother of all “Yo Mamma” jokes. Kelly is fantastic at weaving dialogue together, having Deadpool’s inherent irreverence come off as natural and hilarious in a way that lesser writers would most likely fail at. Spidey’s jokes here are no less amusing, but beyond all the humor and fun of the issue, there’s a serious layer.
Behind the scenes, the Kravinoffs are at work. Several issues ago, they kidnapped Madame Web, and using her precognitive powers, they’re able to hire Deadpool to keep Spidey away from important events Madame Web foresees. A potential fight with Anti-Venom is missed, Anya Corazon (the spider-related hero known as Arana) goes on her merry way, and Mattie Franklin is kidnapped by Ana because Spidey isn’t there to help her. It shows just how powerful an asset Madame Web is to the family and marks the beginning of their revenge on Spidey. Both Madame Web and Mattie have roles to play, as shall be seen. It’s a nice way to bring the Kravinoffs and their schemes into the story without taking it over, having them work in the shadows.
The art for this issue, sadly, does not live up to the writing. Eric Canete unfortunately crafts one of the worst images of Spidey I’ve ever seen.
All the proportions are off, from his head to his legs. It just really doesn’t make sense, and it’s hard to tell what he’s doing exactly. Plus, Canete had the ignominy of drawing Lady Stilt-Man, perhaps the least intimidating supervillain Spidey has ever had to face. It’s a funny joke by Kelly, but better art would’ve improved its quality.
A lot happens in this volume. Some of it—like the reintroduction of the Black Cat—help add a new layer to the series and remind us of the ties that have always been there. Others—like the Damon Ryder story—wrap up a Brand New Day strand, one of the final subplots we have had to explore before The Gauntlet arrives. While Guggenheim will, regrettably, not be making any further ASM appearances, Kelly will be popping up as part of the team responsible for bringing Spidey down his darkest path yet.
Amazing Spider-Man: Return of the Black Cat
© 2017 Nathan Kiehn