Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Todd Nauck (penciler), Andrew Hennessey (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)
The Plot: After stopping by the Daily Bugle, Peter is unexpectedly given a gift by Billy Walters. That night, Spider-Man scours the city, thinking of the perfect Christmas present for Billy. His thoughts are interrupted by the Hydro-Man, who has caused a commotion in the streets. Spider-Man tries to stop him, but Hydro-Man escapes after he pushes Spider-Man through a department store window. Eventually, Peter realizes the perfect gift for Billy -- a private meeting with Spider-Man.
The Subplots: Peter has purchased “The Joy of Signing” for Aunt Anna, who has become fast friends with the Parkers’ deaf neighbor Hope. He sells Uncle Ben’s collection of vintage comic books to buy MJ’s present, a weeklong trip to an exotic location. Meanwhile, Glory leaves word for Peter that a mysterious blonde woman was looking for him.
Web of Continuity: A Daily Bugle headline declares that the paper has upped the bounty on Spider-Man to one million dollars, even though that’s always been the bounty since this storyline began. Also, the recap foldout gets ahead of itself, claiming that Spider-Man is on the run for events that won’t happen until next month’s “Spider-Hunt” crossover.
Creative Differences: The previews for this issue originally said the story would feature Peter and MJ in the Caribbean on a cruise, along with SHIELD and the Looter. Instead, we have a Christmas story.
I Love the ‘90s: Peter checks his messages on the “freelancers’ modem,” which appears to be a PC that everyone in the office shares.
Review: Wow, it’s already time for another Christmas issue. Time flies within the compressed chronology of the Marvel Universe, doesn’t it? Since Dezago can’t claim that this is the “first” Christmas after losing Aunt May, he has to find another hook for the story. He instead focuses on what Peter is getting his friends and family for Christmas, which is a promising start for a story, but the execution feels a little unfocused. MJ and Aunt Anna’s gifts are “easy” for Peter to figure out, his gift to Jonah is left unrevealed, and the rest of the supporting cast doesn’t rate a mention, except for Billy Walters. Peter has no idea what to get Billy (and has a wonderfully awkward moment with Billy, as he realizes Billy’s bought him a present but he hasn’t even thought of buying Billy anything), until he realizes that “arranging” private one-on-one time with Spider-Man would be the perfect gift. I don’t recall Billy being established as that much of a Spider-Man fan, and moving him in this direction doesn’t do a lot to dissuade my belief that he’s Jimmy Olsen transplanted into the Marvel Universe. I think Billy’s scenes work best when Peter’s unintentionally hurting his feelings, but I guess we’re supposed to be happy that Billy’s finally catching a break now. It is nice to see some attention paid to the supporting cast, an element this era of the books couldn’t quite figure out, even if Todd Nauck’s not really suited for these scenes. He’s still extremely cartoony at this point, so much so that Peter looks around four feet tall on some pages. Nauck’s “chunky” style isn’t so bad when drawing Spider-Man, by the end of the issue he’s found a decent handle on the costume, but his human figures are so goofy looking it’s distracting.
As far as Christmas stories go, this is decent enough, but the inclusion of Hydro-Man is an awkward fit. He only appears in four pages of the story, offers nothing to the plot, and doesn’t provide much of a fight scene either. What’s the point? And if you’re doing a Hydro-Man story set during Christmas, aren’t you kind of obligated to have him turn into snow at some point?