Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Seven years ago, ESU professor Dr. Fields is murdered and his scientific notes go missing. Today, Peter Parker and underclassman Neil Aiken hope to work on a research project based on Dr. Fields’ work. The project is soon attacked by the mysterious Crown, who wants Dr. Fields’ research. As Spider-Man, Peter tries to protect the students from Crown. He’s joined by a new hero, SHOC, who has a past with Crown. With SHOC’s help, Crown and his henchmen are sent to another dimension.
The Subplots: Betty Brant is angry with Flash Thompson for an unrevealed reason. While registering for classes at ESU, Mary Jane meets Jill Stacy, the cousin of Gwen.
Web of Continuity: Howard Mackie goes out of his way to hint at numerous continuity points regarding Dr. Fields, SHOC, and Crown. Here goes…
- The implication is that Crown killed Dr. Fields (and possibly his wife) in the story’s opening flashback. They leave behind a young child, who would now be in his late teens.
- This boy is given the responsibility of safeguarding Dr. Fields’ notes. The notes being used for today’s experiment are “incomplete.”
- The SHOC who fights Crown is apparently the second SHOC, a departure from the grim, taciturn SHOC that Crown remembers.
- SHOC refuses to give Spider-Man any details on his identity or Crown’s plot, but points him in the direction of Hydra.
- Crown claims that absorbing energy generated by the experiment will make him a god. SHOC is somehow able to use the energy to send Crown and his henchmen to (presumably) another dimension.
I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man references both Sally Jesse Raphael and Rosie O’Donnell’s talk shows in his course of terrible joke making.
“Huh?” Moment: Spider-Man is miraculously able to discern that “SHOC” is an acronym just by hearing people say his name. He also knows the specific spelling of “SHOC.” The only way this could possibly work is if these characters are actually spelling out the letters S.H.O.C. when saying the character’s name.
Creative Differences: Jill Stacy was originally supposed to make her official debut a few issues earlier, according to “Life of Reilly.” She was intended to be a police officer, of all things, and there even exists some penciled pages of her in uniform that were never used.
Review: I don’t want anyone to think that I’m just picking on the same creators over and over again, but...I guess Howard Mackie keeps coming up, huh? After writing something as unreadable as X-Factor for so long, I couldn’t justify ever buying anything written by Mackie again, so I avoided these issues for years. The fact that Marvel not only kept him around the X-Office, but the Spider-Titles as well, just astonished me. Moreover, they paired him with John Romita, Jr.! Why put one of your worst writers and one of your best artists on the same book? It made no sense to me.
Now, having read the majority of this run, I can take some comfort knowing that it isn’t as bad as X-Factor. It’s still not any good, and a waste of John Romita, Jr., but it isn’t relentlessly, insultingly bad every issue. This issue seems to be standard for the run. Many ideas are vaguely hinted at, no resolution is given, Romita draws a few double-page spreads, and personal subplots languish in the background. Years after his run on Web of Spider-Man, Mackie seems to be getting even worse at story construction, character development, and above all, dialogue. (The words Mackie has characters say in this issue are often unbelievable. Read pages twelve through seventeen and count the number of horribly awkward sentences.)
Overlooking the bad jokes and poor syntax, this could charitably be viewed as a decent start for a new storyline. The details are so vague you can’t say that SHOC’s story is horrible just yet, so there's still potential for this to go somewhere. SHOC’s design, which isn’t too far away from ROM’s look, isn’t a homerun, but it isn’t hideous. And if Mackie is setting up the idea that new student Neil Aiken is SHOC’s secret identity, he’s seeded some clues that aren’t painfully obvious…just regular obvious.
You might even be fooled into believing that this Jill Stacy subplot has potential. Under most writers, it probably would, but for some reason the Stacys are adopted by this book and usually left as bit players in the other Spider-Man titles. Why Howard Mackie took on the Stacy family when he’s A) by far the worst when it comes to constructing personalities and writing natural dialogue, and B) not noticeably interested in any aspect of these characters, is a mystery. The Stacys languish around the books for over a year, apparently deemed “interesting” by Marvel simply due to their last name, and accomplish absolutely nothing. And even when dwindling sales force the titles into a relaunch, Jill and her dad get dragged along into more hopeless storylines. Jill even becomes (ugh) a romantic rival for MJ after Marvel decides to reintroduce “girl troubles” into the books. Unfortunately, the seeds for some truly awful comics are in this issue. That's the future, though. Right now, this is at least readable, even if the dialogue is occasionally painful.