***** (five of five stars)
Favorite Quote: "I hate that samovar." "I bought the table on Bleeker Street --" "Shut up." Oksana and Alexei, admitting some truths
Peter, feeling low on the unemployment line, calls MJ, hoping to see her. She suggests that that maybe isn't such a good idea. Later, Pete accompanies Norah to a naturalization ceremony to take some photos on the sly; at the cermony, the old Rhino's wife, Oksana, is receiving her citizenship. The new Rhino crashes the event in an attempt to draw out the old Rhino (Aleksei). He issues a challenge to Aleksei, and then departs; Aleksei promises to Spider-Man that he will keep his promise to be a coward, and he and Oksana join the Witness Protection Program. However, the new Rhino attacks the caravan carrying Aleksei and Oksana; when she dies in the attack, Aleksei decides to return to the costume. Despite Spider-Man's attempt to stop them, the old Rhino and new Rhino battle. The old Rhino wins, and, again, despite Spider-Man trying to stop him, kills the new Rhino. He then tells Spider-Man that he will never forgive him, blaming Oksana's death on his attempt (inspired by Spidey) to be someone he wasn't. Peter returns to the unemployment line, but leaves it without filing his claim, totally broken.
This issue, honest to God, is perfect. From the use of an interesting narrative device (Norah "narrating" the story through her article for "Front Line") to the sheer emotional impact, it's one of the best comic books I've ever read ever. We all knew, the minute we met Oksana, in the "Rage of the Rhino" issue, that she was doomed. But, I spent this entire issue just hoping against hope that it wasn't true, hoping that Kelly would throw us a curve ball by letting her survive, by letting her and the old Rhino successfully enter the Witness Protection Program. When it doesn't happen, despite knowing it wasn't going to happen, it's devastating.
The Really, Really Good
1) Norah's narration is pitch perfect. I could cite any number of passages, but I particularly liked when, describing it "raining" people, she commented, "All of a sudden I don't want to play reporter any more." It not only captures something about Norah, revealing the conflicted young woman behind her brash everyday facade, but it also builds on the sense of dread that you've already started having by that point. I am awed my Kelly's ability to give us some really great character development for Norah and set the emotional stage for the nightmare of events around the corner.
2) The art is awesome. Seriously, I want Fiumara to work on every Kelly story ever. From the full-page scene of the old Rhino storming at the new Rhino to the delicate few panels where Aleksei and Oksana register for the Witness Protection Program, Fiuamara captures the tone of Kelly's story perfectly.
1) OK, I still have no idea why this storyline was pitched as part of some overarching scheme on the part of the Kravinoffs (see below). But, we are really dealing with a broken Peter here. Between the unemployment as a result of his doctoring the photo of JJJ, Jr. to his heartbreak over the loss of Aleksei to crime, Peter is in a bad, bad place, which, I guess, was the point of "The Gauntlet" in the first place.
2) We actually get slipped a "Brand New Day" clue in this issue, which I only caught on the second reading. MJ refers to "the Cat" to Peter, showing that he apparently knows that she knows he's Spider-Man. Interesting. I feel like we're now back to the possibility that they both know about the deal with Mephisto. The only other possibility is that it was part of the mindwipe (about which we know nothing...still). Either way, it's interesting, even if it's getting a little old...
Speaking of "The Gauntlet," seriously, WTF, Marvel? (I'm not holding the concept against Kelly, since it's not his fault, or, at least, not just his fault.) I've complained enough about this subject over the last few posts that I don't want to just repeat myself here. But, for a storyline sold as being a series of trying events that Peter had to endure at the hands of the Kravinoff family, I'd say this storyline was a moderate success on the first part and a big fail on the second part. You'd have to seriously stretch the limits of credulity for me to believe that the Kravinoffs were behind even 50 percent of what happened during this storyline. In fact, the only events for which they are directly responsible are the freeing of the Vulture and the return of the old Rhino (though, to be honest, it's unclear if that was their intention). Everything else -- Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, even what the Vulture himself did once freed -- pretty much had nothing to do with them. So, why sell it as this event? I think we'll actually get some clarity once we see what "The Gauntlet" put into motion (which is clearly the reformation of the Sinister Six, not just because of the characters involved but the "Sinister" hint on the recap page). But, I feel disappointed at the end of this storyline, which ends with a whimper not a roar, a disappointment I don't think I would've felt if it had just been a regular 14-issue run.