*** (three of five stars)
Favorite Quote: "How come it's always my fault? Maybe it's the media. Or Sarah Palin. Or corn syrup. And, hey, whoever thought a talk show at 10:00 could work?" -- Spidey
Electro's powers are deteriorating, and he accidentally electrocutes a woman who spills a drink on him at a bar. His inability to stop drawing in energy from around him is causing black- and brown-outs throughout the city. Electro seeks help from the Mad Thinker, who tells him the surgery he needs will cost more than a million dollars. Electro's life savings were recently eliminated in the stock-market crash and he's enraged by the government bail-out of the newspaper industry, organized by "The DB!"'s owner, Dexter Bennett. Taking to the web (heh), he encourages New Yorkers to fight against the Bennetts of the world. Spidey fights Electro at a rally and discovers Electro's new unstable powers. Electro corners Bennett at his home and tells him he'll call off the mobs if he pays him the money he needs for the surgery. Peter, meanwhile, devises a device to track power surges so he can find Electro. He does so, just as the Mad Thinker is performing the operation. The interruption results in Electro essentially becoming a living lightning bolt. The newly-powerful Electro double-crosses Bennett, calling on all New Yorkers to turn on all their appliances so he can pull the plug on Bennett. Spidey tracks down Electro to "The DB!" where JJJ, Jr. enters the building as Bennett tries to flee. Spidey captures Electro with a special webbing he created for the purpose, but their fight damages the building's infrastructure and it collapses, paralyzing Bennett, who's caught in the collapse. While Electro is being brought to jail, he discovers his "guard" is the Chameleon, who leads him to Sash Kravinoff.
Wow, this issue gets dark and dramatic quickly. You think it's going to end in a normal way, with Spidey using his smarts to trap Electro, same old, same old. That happens, but we also wind up seeing Dexter Bennett paralyzed and "The DB!" destroyed. It's unclear what impact these changes will have. Peter exposits that this day cleaves history in two -- pre-collapse and post-collapse -- so the Web Heads seems to be underlining the point that some sort of change will come. Will JJJ, Jr. leave the mayorship and re-start "The Bugle?" Only time will tell. I was torn whether to give this arc two or three stars. Ultimately, I went with three stars, because I think the events of this issue will continue to have an impact on the upcoming storylines, a welcome change from some of the previous arcs, which made some changes that eventually get mostly ignored.
1) I don't entirely believe that any newspaper worth its salt would ever agree to a government bail-out, given the possibility (or even perception) of government interference in its editorial process. However, Waid really provides an arc that captures a moment in time, finding a way to have Electro reflect the anger and fear that a lot of Americans were feeling in late 2009, when this arc was written. (The publication date on the legal paragraph is January 2010.) Electro himself is an inspired choice as the vehicle for this anger, given that he's always been portrayed as having worse luck than your average super-villain.
2) The Black Cat back-up story in issue #612 was mostly odd (and mostly because of the weird anime art style), but I'm putting it in the good category because the possibility that Peter discovered the Black Cat's alter ego working at the Mayor's office is just too good.
3) I enjoyed Azaceta's pencils. They're a little rough, but, with the frequency with which he depicted Peter shirtless, I can forgive him the details. Moreover, the single-panel shot set against a black background of JJJ, Jr. watching "The DB!" collapse was haunting. It's evocative of 9/11 -- the blowing ash in the background as rescue workers try to help -- and it really does its job of conveying the impact of the loss of "The DB!"
4) The point of "The Gauntlet," based on Wacker's comments on the letters page, appears to be for Spidey to face souped-up versions of older super-villains, including ones who've generally been treated as jokes. We really see that here with Electro (as we also saw a few issues ago with Hammerhead). Electro is almost beyond Spidey's power level here, and I'm glad that Spidey had to use his smarts to defeat him. Science nerds unite!
We're not really shown how exactly the Kravens are manipulating the super-villains involved in "The Gauntlet." In fact, Kraven's wife only approached Electro AFTER the events of this issue. So, it seems that, rather than it being an organized attack now, it might prove to be one later, after Spidey deals individually with Rhino, Sandman, Mysterio, Lizard, Kraven (or, at least, his skeleton), and Electro.
Electro's motives are a little unclear here. At first, it seemed that his "rage against the machine" schtick was just an elaborate plan to put public pressure on Bennett so he could blackmail him. But, then, after getting the money, he decides to continue the schtick and goes after Bennett. Now, Electro's never been the most stable of super-villains, so it's entirely possible (in fact, probable) that he wasn't even thinking about his motivations clearly. But, it resulted in some narrative confusion, since you were never really sure, as the reader, why Electro was doing what he was doing.
1) I don't entirely understand why Waid felt it necessary to ret-con the fact that Peter got drunk at Aunt May's wedding. The story -- that he got drunk and slept with Michele -- made sense the way it was. Now, I'm left wondering why exactly he slept with her...and still wishing that we could see the last of her. Her brief moment of being an interesting character has long since been eclipsed by her morphing into a psychotic nag and I'll be glad when we don't have to suffer through her constant hazing of Peter. I honestly don't know why she's still being foisted upon us and I can't wait for it to end.
2) Pet Peeve #2: The intro page to issue #613 is bizarre. Instead of recapping issue #612, it more or less recaps issue #613 itself. It refers to the Mad Thinker "amping" up Electro's powers; however, in issue #612, we just think that Electro wants his powers stabilized, not learning that, in order for that to happen, the Mad Thinker has to amp up his powers until issue #613. Moreover, it refers to Electro using said amped-up powers against Spider-Man, but Electro's changed powers in issue #612 seemed more a result of their deterioration than the Mad Thinker's intervention. I actually had to flip through issue #612 to make sure I wasn't crazy. Sloppy work, Wacker.