Credits: Kurt Busiek (writer), Sal Buscema and Dick Giordano (art), Tom Smith (colors), Comicraft’s Team Dave (letters)
The Plot: A Drone created by the Enclave robs a scientific firm, killing a security guard in the process. The media blames Spider-Man, based on the testimony of the surviving guard. The mayor orders the Thunderbolts to bring in Spider-Man, much to the delight of Mach-1, who previously faced Spider-Man as the Beetle. Eventually, the Thunderbolts realize that Spider-Man is innocent and track the Drone to the Enclave’s headquarters. Spider-Man follows, using the spider-tracer he placed on Mach-1. During their fight with the Enclave, Spider-Man saves Mach-1’s life, and gives him the information he needs to stop the Enclave’s brainwashing scheme. Later, Mach-1 gives Spider-Man a video recorded by Techno that implicates the Enclave. He tells his teammates that this was in their own best interests, but later admits to himself that playing a hero is having an impact on him.
The Subplots: J. Jonah Jameson is thrilled to have yet another opportunity to blast Spider-Man. Later, Peter goes to the Daily Bugle to research the Thunderbolts, arousing Robbie Robertson’s curiosity. I’ll also point out that Anna Watson is mentioned-but-not-seen yet again this issue.
Web of Continuity: This story takes place early in the Thunderbolts’ career, when they are still villains-in-disguise. And, like many stories, this issue has to take place prior to May 1997's Spectacular Spider-Man #246, due to Jonah's appearance.
*See _________ For Details: The Enclave lost their original headquarters in Fantastic Four #67. Some of their technology previously appeared in the Spider-Man: Dead Man’s Hand one-shot. Mach-1 debuted as the Beetle in Strange Tales #123. He points out that the Human Torch was his first opponent, but Spider-Man has been his main adversary over the years. Finally, Spidey reminds the Thunderbolts that he said nice things about them in Thunderbolts #1.
I Love the ‘90s: Dallas, the T-Bolts’ liaison with the mayor, says that she will “modem over the data” on Spider-Man’s alleged crime.
Production Note: The tiny print is still incorrectly listing the year as 1996. Also, this is the final issue of the series. A new volume of Marvel Team-Up soon takes its place, but Spider-Man is no longer featured in every issue.
Review: I believe this is the last time Sal Buscema provided pencils for a Spider-Man story, so there is some historical significance to the issue. And it looks great, by the way. Buscema has figured out how to make the post-McFarlane style work very well by this point, creating a stylized version of the character that’s still rooted in actual anatomy. Buscema’s also asked to draw a lot of characters this issue, yet he never seems to be shirking on the work. (Having Dick Giordano do the finishes doesn’t hurt, either.) The story is probably more of a Thunderbolts story than a Spider-Man story, but Busiek is still careful to work in some of the Spidey hallmarks, such as Peter going to the Daily Bugle for research and JJJ gleefully blaming Spider-Man for the latest crime that he's been framed for. Playing up Spidey’s past with Mach-1 also helps to make Spider-Man feel less like a generic hero, which is often a problem with team-up stories. The Thunderbolts have a much more interesting role to play, as they debate just leaving Spider-Man out to dry, or actually finding the real culprit (if only to protect their image in the future.) Mach-1’s character arc could easily come across as cheese, but Busiek executes the ending quite well.