The Plot: Peter Parker and Joy Mercado are sent to cover labor unrest in rural Virginia for NOW Magazine. After getting harassed by locals, they meet Charla, whose son Seth has been kidnapped by mysterious men. Peter and Joy learn that Seth is an idiot savant, whose math skills enable him to work calculations faster than a computer. He’s being used by Magma and the Roxxon corporation, who have teamed up to explore new energy sources. Spider-Man frees Seth, but his battle with Magma causes the installation to collapse. After an explosion, only scraps of Spider-Man’s costume remain.
The Subplots: Joy suspects Peter is Spider-Man after Spidey emerges to fight Magma.
Web of Continuity: This Magma isn’t the New Mutants member; he’s a villain from Marvel Team-Up. He created his suit to fight environmentalists who stood in the way of his development of cheap energy.
*See _________ For Details: Peter is under the impression Flash Thompson is secretly the Hobgoblin, which is a reference to one of the many red herrings during that storyline in Amazing. Aunt May’s Social Security checks are being delayed and Peter doesn’t know why. There’s no footnote connected to this, but I assume it’s referring to a storyline in one of the titles. Spidey thinks about a civilian’s death during his battle with the Sin-Eater in Peter Parker#108, and Joy Mercado remembers seeing Peter in a fight in Peter Parker Annual #3.
I Love the ‘80s: Peter isn’t able to find any clean clothes, so he’s stuck wearing a Strawberry Shortcake t-shirt. Seth is referred to as “retarded” by Peter, which is a term that probably wouldn’t be used in these more politically correct days.
Review: So, sixteen issues into the book’s run, the original premise of “Peter Parker travels the globe while on assignment for NOW Magazine” finally begins. We’re even helpfully notified that this is the FIRST ISSUE (of a new direction) on #16’s cover. Marc Silvestri and Kyle Baker arrive as the new artistic team, although Vince Colletta is brought in very quickly for a fill-in. Like his previous issue, I don’t really see anything that portrays the rotten reputation he’s garnered over the years, but he’s certainly a comedown after seeing Kyle Baker inks. Silvestri and Baker are a solid team, bringing a combination of fluidity, energy, and grit to the title. There is a sense now that Web is going to be more than fill-ins, although this bold new direction doesn’t last long.
In terms of motivation or gimmicks, Magma isn’t that great of a villain, so it’s not surprising to me that he’s been lost to obscurity. I get the feeling Michelinie knows he’s a bit of a dud, which is why the story has so many other elements, such as the labor unrest, Joy’s suspicions, and the story of Seth thrown in. Magma doesn’t even appear until the final page of the first chapter. He does present a decent challenge during the fight scenes, and Silvestri makes his armor seem less ridiculous than the average artist probably could. The combination of the art and the various distractions from the main story prevent this from becoming a Spider-Man vs. Generic Villain storyline. However, I do think the “traveling photographer” premise is pretty weak, and it’s the type of idea you dream up when you’ve already decided Spider-Man stars in enough books. Even if this is a spin-off, I think there is an expectation that Peter Parker’s supporting cast will play a role in the stories, which requires most of the storylines to take place in New York. Traveling for NOW might be a part of Peter’s job, but it’s not really his life. If you’ve made the series so “different” it doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man book anymore, what was the point?