Back on his Game!
Credits: Todd Dezago w/Andy Zefowicz (writers), Roberto Flores & Tom Lyle (pencilers), Juan Vlasco & Robert Jones (inkers), Matt Hicks (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)
The Plot: Spider-Man investigates the disappearance of local drug dealers. He runs into the Black Cat, who is searching for a missing drug mule, Dougie. While they spy on a dealer who allegedly knows what happened to Dougie, a suspicious trash truck pulls into the alley. Spider-Man recognizes it, but is caught in its trap before he can rescue Black Cat and the dealer. Soon, they realize they’re captives of Arcade.
The Subplots: Peter feels uncomfortable around Hope, now that he suspects she knows his secret ID. Peter and MJ meet with Desiree at the Daily Grind. She tells Peter that she felt a psychic connection to Ben Reilly as he died, and she wants him to know that Ben’s last thoughts were of Peter. While at the Daily Grind, Billy refuses to sit with Peter and MJ.
Web of Continuity: Black Cat has a detective agency at this point in continuity. She’s been hired by Dougie’s parents to locate him, after he disappeared from home to pursue life in New York.
I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man tells Black Cat she talks “just like Sipowicz.” Later, Arcade declares that he feels luckier than Bill Clinton on “Let’s Dismiss the Paula Jones Case Day.” (By the way, when I searched for co-writer Andy Zefowicz's name, Google suggested I search for Andy Sipowicz instead.)
Review: The title of the issue is a reference to how Spider-Man feels after reclaiming his original superhero identity, a sentiment that would’ve had more meaning if “Identity Crisis” didn’t end so incoherently, and if there weren’t a half-dozen other Spidey comics coming out simultaneously. So Spider-Man’s thrilled to be back in his real costume, a thought that’s conveniently missing from most of his other appearances from this period, just like Spidey doesn’t seem concerned about Hope knowing his dual identity or Desiree’s secret in the other titles. And it’s not as if he’s given much thought to Flash Thompson’s alcoholism, Paul Stacy’s snotty attitude, or the mystery surrounding MJ’s criminology professor in Sensational, either. I think it’s safe to say that the Laissez-faire attitude towards cross-title continuity in this era has been a mistake. Peter Parker’s life feels segmented into even more than four areas a month, when you consider how often the subplots appear and disappear in their home titles, along with the addition of the specials, annuals, and quarterly Unlimited title. I can’t necessarily argue that any of the regular writers don’t get Peter Parker as a character, but numerous story threads running in various directions make the entire line feel unfocused, which means the reader doesn’t get the sense that he or she’s truly following the life of Peter Parker. The subplots highlighted this issue actually aren't so bad (with the exception of the Desiree plot, which had an intriguing beginning but somehow turned into more Ben Reilly nostalgia), but the fact that Peter couldn’t care less about any of these events for 3/4th of the month automatically diminishes them.
Ignoring the larger question of how subplots should be addressed in a franchise title, the issue’s main story follows the Sensational tradition of reviving underused characters and placing them in fairly straightforward superhero adventures. Black Cat seems to have a dedicated fanbase, so I’m kind of surprised she hasn’t appeared more often during this era. David Michelinie had already carved out a role for Felicia as the recurring jealous ex, one who just so happens to be able to participate in Spider-Man’s adventures, years earlier in Amazing. That’s a simple and effective set-up for the character, one that’s also utilized in this arc. Black Cat’s debut in the story highlights its biggest failing, however. She jumps into frame on one page, looking like something straight out of dubbed anime, and on the next page she’s virtually identical to Mark Bagley’s interpretation from 1993’s “Revenge of the Spider-Slayers.” No sane human being thinks Roberto Flores and Tom Lyle are compatible artists, yet here they are, not even segregated to separate scenes in the comic. Since Roberto Flores is clearly the more “cartoony” artist, he would seem to be a logical choice to fill in for ‘Ringo, but if he wasn’t able to complete the issue, would it have been so hard to find someone like Pop Mhan to step in? Conversely, if Tom Lyle wasn’t available for twenty-two pages, couldn’t he split them with Steven Butler? At the very least, have the two artists divide the action and the subplot pages. The issue would still look like a mess, but less of a schizophrenic one.