Even with having Mary Jane in a Spider-Man costume kicking butt and taking names, “Power Play” still stumbles in the end.
Let’s set the scene: Mary Jane, dressed in the Iron Spider costume, arrives to save Spider-Man and Iron Man from the clutches of the Regent. And as Spidey and MJ team-up against this self-important, hypocritical would-be savior of humanity, all three of them collectively experience a moment of déjà vu. They even literally say, almost simultaneously, “Did you get a weird feeling…like this has happened before, but something’s different…?” Of course, this is Dan Slott and co-writer, Christos Gage, making a wink and a nod towards Slott’s Secret Wars mini, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, but they might well be asking this same question to the reader. Because with Amazing Spider-Man #15, and the conclusion of Power Play, there’s a lot about this comic which seems all too familiar, at least far as Slott’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man goes.
There’s the obvious and open acknowledgement that this issue is a streamlined retelling of Renew Your Vows, minus Peter and MJ raising a daughter in a dystopian police state. It has Regent, still looking like a cross between Darkseid and the Michelin Man, somehow abducting and imprisoning every single super being to absorb their powers for himself so he can “save the world.” Also just like Renew Your Vows, “Power Play” utilizes one of Slott’s go-to tropes in having Spider-Man and friends going up against an extremely powerful, nigh-unstoppable villain, only for said villain to become nerfed all-of-the-sudden during the climax. It’s yet another Spider-Man story in which Peter learns a valuable life lesson he probably should’ve already learned a thousand times over the last fifty-plus years. Also, it’s another Marvel Team-Up style story in which Spider-Man, despite his powers, intellect, quick-wit, and high-tech gadgetry somehow cannot defeat the bad guy on his own unless he has help from others. Oh, and it’s another issue in which someone else steals the spotlight from Spider-Man, thus making him feel like a supporting character in his own comic. But hey! At least it’s fan-favorite Mary Jane doing all the scene-stealing, and making the case for being another Spider-Woman, right?
To the issue’s credit, Mary Jane donning a Spider-Man costume isn’t just done out of mere fan-service. Slott and Gage do take time providing context for what would otherwise be a ridiculous premise, including past references of her donning Iron Man armor in “The Other: Evolve or Die” and having spider-powers during “Spider-Island” as proof of her “experience” in super heroics. Also, when she does arrive on the scene, it leads to some very effective back-and-forth banter between her and Spider-Man, reminding readers of just how well these two characters can work together when one puts in the time and effort. Yet I can’t help but wonder just how much more satisfying “Iron Spider-MJ” would be if Slott didn’t feel the need for Spider-Man to be saved by someone else in almost every…single…story. In fact, Mary Jane isn’t the only long-time supporting character who gets Spider-Man out of trouble, either. In a moment reminiscent of those out-of-nowhere cliffhanger resolutions from old-time serials, Harry Osborn/Lyman (having held his breath the whole time while inside Regent’s liquid-filled containment cell) uses his waterproof “WebWare” mobile device to free himself via a “ultrasonic Ap,” then wakes Spider-Man up from unconsciousness with a cell phone call. Granted, at least Harry isn’t putting on a Green Goblin costume to come to Spidey’s aid, but it’s still Slott repeating similar plot point he’s used over and over and over again to make the story “work.”
Nevertheless, Mary Jane’s brief team-up with Spider-Man, and then Iron Man, against Regent is very well done. Even after Spidey breaks-off to save the other captives, Slott and Gage excel in creating graceful, seamless narrative transitions between what’s happening inside and outside Regent’s prison facility. Their dialogue, while over-expository and too self-referential, does at least sound somewhat unique and distinctive for each individual character. It’s also a sequence that’s visually well put together, too. Thanks to the penciling talents of Giuseppe Camuncoli, the action on panel is smooth, crisp, and easy to follow, with some dynamic line work and perspective angles. There’s a sense of grace and fluidity in the way he poses and positions his figures, showing genuine expressiveness even though most of the participants are covered from head-to-toe.
What is problematic about this final showdown against the Regent and his mostly generic underlings is with how it’s resolved. Having previously established in the last issue that Regent risks overtaxing himself if he uses too many of his absorbed powers at one time, Slott and Gage opt to brush this aside in favor how he similarly lost his powers in Renew Your Vows. We also don’t actually see the Regent’s defeat either; I guess the presumption is that even though they lost to Regent beforehand, all the freed superheroes shown surrounding Regent in one of Camuncoli’s huge splash pages just dog-piled on top of him.
But where Amazing Spider-Man #15 really starts falling apart is during the issue’s final pages. Slott and Gage decide to have Peter’s encounter with Regent act as a wake-up call in making him realize how his global activities Spider-Man have, in his words, “put [his] personal life…on the back burner.” This is further underscored even when Peter decides to have a get together at the Coffee Bean to make up for lost time, leading to this issue’s dramatic final splash page. All this would be fine, except for one tiny problem: Slott never established any of this. Certainly not during “Power Play,” and definitely not during the course of this current volume. Oh yes, Slott has placed greater emphasis on Peter as Spider-Man more than he has Peter’s life out of costume, and he has neglected Spider-Man’s classic group of supporting characters like Aunt May, Jonah, Robbie, Harry or Betty until this story. But within the the context of Slott’s own run, there’s been no indication that Peter, because he’s Spider-Man, has neglected his friends and family. Even Slott showed Peter having a personal life (albeit not very well) when he introduced Lian (or is it Lien?) Tang as his new girlfriend. If anything, what the last couple of issues have stressed is that Peter spends more time (and money) being Spider-Man than he does running his own company, and that he’s become oblivious to the potential threats happening under his very nose. So instead of reading as a form an organic character development, Peter’s epiphany comes off as a tacked-on attempt at giving the final pages greater weight.
Then there’s the matter of Peter and Mary Jane’s “reconciliation.” One of “Power Play’s” many narrative problems is it hinges on the notion Peter was jealous of MJ being with Tony Stark (even though she’s not actually dating Tony), that he still considered her “his girl” despite no longer being in a relationship with her, and that he was having a hard time letting her go. Except Slott already showed Peter accepting that MJ moved on with her life numerous times already, first in Superior Spider-Man #2, then in Superior Spider-Man #31, and finally in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #3. To have Peter letting go of MJ again just screams of Slott and Marvel desperately trying hammer home the message to the more “stubborn” fans that they have no plans on getting Peter and MJ back together, and that anyone still complaining about “One More Day” should just suck it up and deal with it. As if this intent wasn’t clear enough, the comic also spends an entire page making it look as though Peter and MJ are planning on meeting each other to “catch up,” only to then reveal that–surprise!–they’re actually going to separate parties. Ha! Ha! Joke’s on you, Peter and MJ lovers! Enjoy some more ship-teasing between Peter and Bobbi Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird, while Tony gives MJ a million dollar raise. (Although given the announcement that Tony Stark’s being replaced by a 15-year old girl, who knows if MJ will still even have a job with Stark Industries after Civil War II?)
But what’s even worse is that Peter and MJ are supposedly friends again and let bygones be bygones without ever once having had a meaningful conversation during this entire story. No scene of Peter asking MJ about why she accepted a job working for a superhero with a public identity despite her claim she was leaving Peter because she wanted a “normal life.” No opinions from MJ about Peter becoming a billionaire, or any sort of internal monologue for that matter. No follow-up whatsoever about why she isn’t dating Pedro the placeholder firefighter any more. And of course, no explanation about why she blamed Peter for what Doctor Octopus did in Superior Spider-Man, or why Peter agrees with her that it’s somehow all his fault. Nope! Peter and MJ are just hunky-dory, amicable exes again for no good reason whatsoever.
Still, Amazing Spider-Man #15 isn’t a total loss. The issue reads at a brisk, even pace, especially the beginning two-thirds, and compared to “Power Play” previous parts, it’s more artistically consistent; for once, Mary Jane doesn’t look like a lifeless mannequin, probably because she’s given a lot more to do. As a conclusion, it’s also somewhat more satisfactory when compared with those of Slott’s more recent story arcs. But as story which hyped up the reunion between Peter and Mary Jane, teased a follow-up to a well-received miniseries, and promised that the vivacious, happy-go-lucky redhead gets another opportunity at playing superhero, you still find yourself being let down after reading it. Well…maybe not with MJ playing superhero, that is. At least “Power Play” delivered on that account, even while the rest of the story didn’t quite live up to it’s potential.
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)
- “Hold the door!” Oh look! Mary Jane made a Game of Thrones reference…even though she thinks it’s the same as saying “hold the phone,” and thus used said reference in entirely the wrong context and sapped it of all its meaning. What’s next? Is she going to say “Dracarys” the next time she gets caught in a burning building? Or how about “Winter is coming” when she spots a department store Santa? Or tell Peter “You know nothing, Jon Snow” when he does something stupid? While we’re at it, can Tony Stark’s new slogan be, “That’s what I do: I drink and I know things?”
- Okay, I realize this is all for the sake of the plot, but what reason does Regent have to absorb Peter’s spider-powers when he already has Miles’s spider-powers? Does he somehow get double spider-powers?
- Gee, it’s a good thing Harry just installed an Ap specifically designed to generate an ultra-sonic high frequency pulse powerful enough to shatter tempered glass in WebWare (i.e. Parker Industries glorified iPhone). Because, of course, he anticipated that Regent would put him into one the special containment cells that uses for super beings. Except no one knew about those containment cells since they were kept top-secret from the public. And no, Betty never saw them either until she was kidnapped, which means she also didn’t write about them in her Daily Bugle article. So…how did Harry know about them?
- What this? Mary Jane’s Iron Spider costume has four mechanical legs instead of three? Wow! It only took Tony Stark ten years since the original Civil War to get the correct number of appendages.
- “Super heroes don’t swear.” Oh really, Spider-Man? Cause I seem to recall you using a couple of expletives during your time, including during those “Amazing Grace” point one issues. Talk about calling the kettle black.
- Considering Peter, Mary Jane, and even Regent in Renew Your Vows were not from the 616 and were instead alternate versions of those characters from a different universe, how are Peter, MJ, and Regent even having déjà vu?
- Aren’t Peter’s current web-shooters an entirely different design than those of the Iron Spider suit? Forget about the web-fluid’s “freshness date,” how do Peter’s current web-cartridges even fit into MJ’s web-shooters?
- “Mutants are born everyday.” Well not anymore, Tony. Have you forgotten the Terrigen Mist cloud released by Black Bolt in Infinity made mutants sterile and is systematically killing them off? Then again, considering how the X-Men comics still haven’t explained what happened to Cyclops after Secret Wars, or why everyone–including his former teammates–hate him, I can understand your confusion.
- And Miles’s unbeatable spider-sting strikes again! At least he didn’t go all super nova this time like he did in Spider-Man #5. Hold on…how come Regent didn’t go all super nova when up against Spidey and MJ when he still had Miles’s unbeatable spider-sting?
- “Say hello to my Amazing Friends.” Well, I do see Iceman, but not Firestar so not all the Amazing Friends are there. Come to think of it, isn’t Spidey was also making a Scarface reference, too?
- “…super heroes fighting each other never leads anywhere good.” You mean like “Power Play,” Spider-Man? Oh wait, you’re foreshadowing/promoting Civil War II. My mistake.
- “[Secret identities] went out with dial-up.” Yeah, well if they’re so yesterday, Mr. Stark, how come a genius like you still hasn’t relearned that Spider-Man is Peter Parker yet?
- “I don’t see you near enough.” That’s because you only saw Stanley that one time after he was born, May. And by the way, when was the last time you saw Harry’s first-born son, Normie? Just because Harry keeps forgetting about him doesn’t mean you should.
- Seriously? Betty Brant’s expose on the Regent is worthy of consideration of the Pulitzer Prize?! What’s it called, “How I Got Stuck in Regent’s Matrix Pod”?
- Looks like I have owe Mr. Slott an apology. I thought, with Aunt May holding the bloody handkerchief last issue, we we’re getting another “Aunt May is dying” subplot. But it turns out Slott pulled a fast one on us: it was really her husband, Jay Jameson, who was coughing up blood. And seeing how I’ve been waiting for his potential death ever since he and Aunt May got married way back in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #600 (and even before that), all I can say is, “It’s about bloody time!”