Stuck in the Middle with You!
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)
The Plot: Dusk helps Trapster defeat a group of assassins known as the Waiters. He tries to grow closer to Trapster, but is unable to get him to confess to Joey Z’s murder. Eventually, Trapster declares that he has something to show Dusk. He takes Dusk to one of Norman Osborn’s secret labs and threatens Osborn’s life. When Dusk tries to talk him out of it, Trapster turns on him. Dusk ends up with confessions from both Trapster and Osborn on tape, but his secret recorder is broken during his fight with Trapster. When Trapster regains consciousness, Dusk convinces him to confess to Joey Z’s murder. Trapster agrees, but keeps Osborn’s role a secret as a bargaining chip against him.
The Subplots: Norman Osborn defends Peter when Professor Howard criticizes his work. Aunt Anna is homesick for Florida. Paul Stacy grows increasingly hostile. Jill wonders if Paul’s taking his medication.
Web of Continuity: I believe Anna’s idle thoughts on Florida foreshadow her leaving the titles again. (Although, I seem to recall her sticking around in the early reboot issues, so maybe the creators didn’t go through with it.) Bizarrely, this issue implies that Aunt Anna is the one paying the mortgage on Aunt May’s old home. Why wasn’t it left to Peter?
How Did This Get Published?: It’s hard to choose which snippet of Mackie Robot Speak to highlight this issue. Here’s a clunker from Jill: “I’m fine, but…have you found out anything more about this Joey Z. and his connection to Spider-Man? I feel as though we are so close to uncovering a clue to his involvement in Cousin Gwen’s death.” And I feel as though no actual human being talks like this…
Review: So…that’s the end of “Identity Crisis?” Two of the other chapters showed Peter definitively giving up an alternate identity and embracing Spider-Man again, but we don’t even get that much in the final issue. The resolution we do get is a rather feeble payoff, since the Trapster isn’t any better off at the end than he was before he teamed up with Dusk, and he hasn’t had a convincing arc that sells the idea of him confessing anything. Are we to believe that he’s really any safer from Osborn in prison? What kind of a resolution is this? And there’s little else in the issue to redeem the lame ending. The issue opens with Dusk and Trapster vs. the Waiters, joke assassins that dress like actual waiters, but with idiotic face paint and haircuts. After that, Mackie touches base with the Stacys, the fruitless Professor Howard subplot reappears, Peter and MJ have a brief moment, and there’s a small attempt to flesh out the Trapster as a character. There is a one-page conversation between Dusk/Spider-Man and Trapster that leads me to believe that maybe Mackie was on to something and could’ve developed the Trapster into a more believable character, but that promise was short-lived. I will say that MJ is more likable, by the standards of this title, during her scenes this issue. She’s still nagging Peter, this time about money, but she doesn’t come across as abrasive and out-of-character as she has in previous Mackie stories. And the revelation that Paul Stacy apparently has some kind of mental problems does at least explain his erratic behavior since his introduction. It’s odd that it’s taken over a year to get this revelation, though.
Overall, I have to say that “Identity Crisis” goes down as one of the lesser events in Spidey history. It’s not offensively dumb, and it’s gimmicky in an entertaining way, but the execution is sloppy all around. Apparently, no one was paying close attention to the final product, since story points repeat endlessly throughout the event, and the continuity between chapters is often shoddy. Three of the four new personas are considered potential employees by Norman Osborn! How did that idea get repeated once, let alone twice? And is there a reading order to these issues that makes any sense? Some chapters end in cliffhangers, others don’t. Major characters, like the Trapster, inexplicably disappear and reappear in-between chapters. Major plot points are introduced and forgotten by the next chapter. (Shouldn’t Peter be concerned now that the Black Tarantula is targeting his wife?) Granted, there are some fun moments in the storyline, and at times the event did manage to break up some of the era’s monotony, but almost every chapter reads like a rough draft. I think readers have a reasonable expectation of consistency when buying into a linewide event like this, and that’s something the spider-office did not deliver.