Friday, July 24, 2015

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #22 - November 1998

Poisoned Souls
Credits:  Mark Bernardo (writer), Mike Deodato, Jr. (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)
The Plot:  Scorpion reemerges as a sanctioned vigilante, working as an employee of Roxxon Oil and an unnamed government agency.  Roxxon stages events that cast Scorpion as a hero and ingratiate him to the media.  Later, Peter and MJ attend a lecture held by Jonah Jameson’s wife Marla at ESU, only to find it a target of Scorpion and the Black Tarantula’s hired thugs.  Jonah and Marla are kidnapped. Later, NYPD detective Connor Trevane is able to help Spider-Man board a plane that follows them to South America.  Spider-Man soon discovers Roxxon is working in concert with the Black Tarantula to create a new breed of super-soldiers.  Marla’s scientific expertise is needed to complete the project, so Scorpion threatens to kill Jonah if she doesn’t cooperate.  Spider-Man emerges and defeats Scorpion in battle.  The Black Tarantula escapes, and Marla (who was wearing a wire the entire time) contacts the proper authorities.  Connor Trevane informs Raymond Royton of the Department of Justice that he should now have enough info to indict Roxxon Oil.
The Subplots:  Peter is uncertain if he can defeat Scorpion, especially now that Scorpion has received upgraded abilities.  MJ tells Peter she has faith in him, and congratulates him when he returns home.
Web of Continuity:
  • The government agency working with Roxxon is never identified.
  • At the Roxxon event that announces Scorpion’s debut as a Roxxon employee, Betty Brant meets Trish Tilby, who Spider-Man describes as “one of her idols.”
  • Marla Madison (not called Marla Jameson this time) is actually drawn on-model this issue, for the first time in almost two years.
*See _________ For Details:  A footnote reminds us that Spider-Man helped find Det. Connor Trevane’s son in Peter Parker, Spider-Man #44 (although the book was only known as Spider-Man back then.)  Roxxon’s former subsidiary the Brand Corporation (which dabbled in human experimentation) was shut down in Amazing Spider-Man #236.  Brand reopened without ties to Roxxon in Spider-Man: The Mutant Agenda #1.  Ben Reilly (with Power Man and Iron Fist) faced the souped-up Scorpion in Spider-Man Unlimited #13, which also featured Roxxon’s efforts to acquire Rand-Meachum.  Raymond Royton has been investigating Roxxon since Amazing Spider-Man #235.
I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man tells Detective Connor Trevane that he has to explain to him the meaning behind the bees in the X-Files movie.  I have no idea what this is supposed to mean…are police detectives better than the average person at deciphering vague plot points in movies?  Shouldn’t he be consulting a film critic?
Review:  It’s the final issue of Spider-Man Unlimited, even though an animated series and accompanying comic tie-in with the same name will debut in 1999.  (The less said about that fiasco the better.)  Years after that, in an effort to pump more Spider-product into the market, Spider-Man Unlimited is revived, this time as a standard format comic.  It dies after a few years and no one seems to notice.  In 1998, the original incarnation is being cancelled to make way for the relaunch of the Spider-Man line, which will allegedly feature fewer, more easily accessible titles.  The new Amazing Spider-Man #1, which is just two months away, will feature yet another story about a mysterious group granting the Scorpion upgraded powers.  Editor Ralph Macchio either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
There’s nothing particularly great about this issue, but I have to say that Mark Bernardo addresses my standard complaints about Roxxon stories.  Roxxon is, I can’t believe this, actually being investigated this time, by a long-forgotten minor character from the Roger Stern days.  The idea that Roxxon could just do WTF-ever it wanted and get away with anything because, "yeah, man, the corporations" was always ridiculous and I’m glad Bernardo remembered that Roger Stern was trying to address this ages ago.  That doesn’t mean their plan this issue is bulletproof, however.  There’s no clear reason given for why Roxxon feels the need to make the Scorpion a nationally famous superhero, which is a major plot point in the first half of the story before being dropped.  I guess the assumption is that they’ll make stacks of money merchandising his image, which is the standard “corporation meets superhero” plot, but it would be nice to have some clarification in the actual story.  More frustrating is the idea of an unnamed rogue government agency with an elaborate scheme to create super-soldiers operating right under the Department of Justice’s nose.  I realize that government conspiracy stories were all the rage in the ‘90s, but just throwing that idea out there with no effort to give the agency some kind of identity or motive, and letting them get away scot-free, feels half-baked.

All that said, the issue is fairly satisfying as a Spider-Man story, a problem that’s plagued Spider-Man Unlimited for much of its existence.  (Although to be fair, Bernardo’s handful of issues are usually good about presenting stories that feel unique to Spider-Man.)  This time, Peter has an emotional issue to resolve, the supporting cast not only appears but has an actual role in the story, and a classic Spider-Man foe returns and is played up as a credible threat.  In fact, the crux of Peter’s emotional angst this issue is his insecurity about facing Scorpion yet again.  You could argue this is overblown given the number of times Peter’s succeeded in the past, but I think the story is effective in selling the idea that Scorpion’s more powerful than ever now and not a guaranteed win for Spidey.  MJ’s there to give Peter a pep talk, as opposed to nagging him to death, which is a welcome sight these days.  Any Scorpion story wouldn’t be complete without Jonah, which gracefully leads to Marla’s role in the plot.  And that’s not all, because even more obscure characters start popping up!  I half-expected Deb Whitman to make a cameo before the story was over.  This feels specifically like a Spider-Man story, and not a random fill-in rescued out of the drawer and tossed on to the schedule.  I realize that sounds like a low bar to clear, but even the monthly titles seemed to have a problem accomplishing this much in 1998.

1 comment:

j said...

Kinda crazy that X-Men Unlimited survived six (?) more years. I guess it goes to show that the X-Men books were still Marvel's best sellers by far even compared to Spider-Man back then.

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