Cat & Mouse
Credits: Todd Dezago (writer), Javier Saltares (art), Gregory Wright (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Spider-Man and Black Cat awake in Murderworld. Arcade promises them that if they can make their way through Murderworld, he’ll release Dougie from captivity. Spider-Man and Black Cat outwit his traps, and eventually dupe Arcade with the robotic replica he’s created of the Black Cat. Arcade tells them where to find Dougie, before Spider-Man leaves him webbed up for the police. They discover Dougie inside a room filled with deceased drug dealers.
The Subplots: Billy Walters gives Jonah Jameson a paper trail that connects Norman Osborn with his corporate spy, Allison Mongrain. When Jonah tries to thank Billy, Billy informs him that he isn’t going to like what he says next. Later, Peter talks to Hope and realizes that she was actually afraid for him when she saw Spider-Man leave his bedroom. Relieved that she never suspected his secret identity, Peter explains to her that Spider-Man is a hero.
Web of Continuity: The drug dealer that Arcade’s trash truck caught along with Spider-Man and Black Cat is never mentioned this issue.
How Did This Get Published?: Hope’s handwriting is clearly a computer-generated font. It’s also so off-center that it’s falling off of her notepad.
Review: How is it that a trip to Murderworld results in such an utterly bland issue? You would think that the previous chapter, which mainly consisted of Spider-Man and Black Cat trashing drug dealers in back alleys, would’ve been the dull setup, but instead it’s the finale that reads like wallpaper. For some reason, the story avoids almost all of Murderworld’s unique attributes, leaving Spider-Man and Black Cat to fight their way out of an indistinct landscape that Javier Saltares can’t seem to stay awake drawing. (Saltares, by the way, has an annoying tendency to draw Cro-Magnon faces this issue. The difference between the Saltares art inked by Scott Hanna in PPSM #93 and what’s printed here is staggering.) I judge all Murderworld stories by the standard set by the Claremont/Byrne two-parter in Uncanny X-Men #123-124, and to say that this one isn’t in that league would be an understatement. Murderworld is supposed to be a carnival of death, not a series of empty rooms and random speedlines filling in the background. This is a massive waste of a fantastic setting.
The tone of the story is also a problem, with Dezago making the peculiar decision to throw in a dark ending after an issue’s worth of low-stakes superhero adventuring. Yes, Dougie is saved, but did we have to discover that he’s been trapped in a room filled with dead drug dealers this entire time and that he’s probably scarred for life? Also, what drug dealer hires Arcade to take out his rivals? This might not initially seem ridiculous in the Marvel Universe, but the issue reminds us that Arcade’s price is a million dollars a head. Arcade’s killed a few dozen dealers at this point, all for jobs that Bird and Wee-Bey could’ve easily pulled for a fraction of the cost. That’s just bad business.