*** (three of five stars)
Miguel is attending the last weekend of Woodstock 2099 with Gabe when they hear a great roar. The source is a guy named Bobby growing so much that he bursts from his clothes; his friends scatter, saying that he got his hands on "some bad stuff." Gabe assumes they they're rapture addicts and Miguel pops into a port-o-john to change into his costume. Spidey heads to the raging man, who seems to view everyone as "night creatures" that he must destroy. After vowing to kill everyone, Spidey feels he has no choice but to stop him, first trying to entangle him in his web, but, when that doesn't work, punching him. The punch makes the kid cry, resulting in him shrinking to the size of a mouse. He flees Spidey in fear of getting hurt, but gets stomped by a scared woman, reverting to his regular size but dead, "like he was hit by a maglev bus." The Public Eye arrives to arrest Spidey and he leaps over their dune buggies and flees; he luckily finds himself in a crowd of Spiderites, who help cover his escape by telling the Public Eye that they're each Spider-Man. Miguel changes into his civvies in the port-o-john and he departs with Gabe, who tells him that the kid might've not been on rapture. Gabe's heard whispers on the Net about some new designer drug that makes your body "pliable" so you can become whatever you're feeling; so, Bobby became a mouse because he was scared. Miguel now recalls reading about "chameleon:" Alchemax developed it, but it was too unstable, even for it. Gabe says that it's sold in small capsules that activate when you snap them between your fingers. Gabe surmises that someone stole the formula and is selling it on the street. Miguel concurs; once home, he heads to his lab in Alchemax, where he learns that the engineer who designed chameleon had his employment terminated and now lives Downtown. A woman named Jade arrives and asks Miguel to go to lunch, but he asks for a raincheck.
At St. Pat's in Downtown, two men are threatening Father Jennifer with a knife to give them something -- food, credits, etc. -- when Spidey arrives; then in turn flee. Father Jennifer asks if Spidey's her own personal guardian angel and, after a conversation about the quote "the Lord works in mysterious ways," asks why he's there. Spidey asks if she knows the aforementioned engineer and, when she asks why he's looking for him, he tells that he wants to stop chameleon's release before anyone else gets hurt. Father Jennifer says that she's never heard of the engineer, but she's heard of chameleon; she sends him to the distributor, a guy named Major Jones. The two men who were holding up Father Jennifer get a packet of chameleon from a window in a door, just in time for Spidey to arrive and take the packet from their hands with a Web-Line. The guys flee (again) and, when the person behind the door opens fire on Spidey, he disables the guns and uses his talons and Spider-Strength to rip off the reinforced-concrete door. Inside, he finds Major Jones, a man dressed like the Mad Hatter, and four associates. When Spidey refuses his offer of drugs and threatens to stop his operations, Jones tells him that his employer would find it uncool. Telling them that Spidey wants to take away their "mind candy," Jones' four associates then snap their fingers, transforming into monsters. Realizing that the angrier they get, the more they lose control, Spidey tells one of them that her pals don't think that she's good enough to stop him. When she pauses, he tells her that they're all jealous of her and laughing behind her back; she launches into a rage, attacking one of the other associates. In the chaos, Spidey plans to go after Jones, but he attacks first, leaping on Spidey's back. Spidey flips him onto a table of chameleon, which activates, casing him to disintegrate into a pool of goo. Realizing that the associates are all dead, Miguel departs, with his eyes to finding Jones' employer.
Richard Welk, a bio-tech guy from SquidCo. clutching a briefcase to his chest, walks through a deserted parking lot and finds Machina Jones, "cyborg-for-hire." Welk confirms to Jones that he wasn't followed, but then he's shot. Jones returns fire, taking out the assassin. However, she's surprised by how easy it was to take down the assassin and goes to investigate the body, discovering that it was an older woman. She realizes that it was a "meat puppet," an indentured servant of "Puppet Masters, Inc.," a company that pays off your debts for two years of service, installing wetware that can override your conscious will to turn you into anything from prostitute to assassin. Jones calls an associate to transport her to Pagoda General, a black-market hospital staffed by a gang of criminal bio-techs. (They were apparently a chop-shop in the 20th century, but the gang's interest changed with the times.) Jones brings the still-alive woman there to have her re-wired so she doesn't complete her programming when she awakes and tries to take out Jones again. Jones then meets with her employer, Mr. Smith, though still wondering who hired the woman, since SquidCo. has its own "crack team of corporate hitmen." After receiving payment, she gives Smith the briefcase; he opens it to reveal Mr. Fizzi, a "spokesclone" created as a result of a process that can turn "every registered trademark into an actual living breathing entity." Smith informs Jones that these spokesclones would live in shopping malls to push their products directly on consumers. Mr. Fizzi asks where "Daddy Welk" is and then panics when he sees Smith, calling him a bad man. He tells Jones that he's really "Abelard" and asks for help. Abelard realizes that Welk had upped Mr. Fizzi's cognitive abilities and pulls a gun on him. Abelard exposits that Welk invented the spokesclone process, but Abelard told him that SquidCo. was going to cut the trademark project and dispose of Mr. Fizzi. Abelard knew that Welk was attached to Mr. Fizzi, since he used his own genetic material to create it, and offered to arrange for it to be smuggled to safety. He then hired the meat puppet to kill both Welk and Jones during the exchange, since he could return Mr. Fizzi and move up the corporate ladder. However, with Mr. Fizzi knowing too much, his plan to return him to SquidCo. was complicated; his only choice now is to try to brain damage him. Abelard tries to take out Jones, who attacks him, but he uses a neural taser to disable her. Jones fights against her systems rebooting and manages to use an overdrive sequence to get two minutes of "bezerker" rage. She delivers a kick to Abelard that sends him through a window to his death. Jones then grabs Mr. Fizzi and tells him that he's worth a bucket full of credits. But, he begs her not to return him, and, recalling her grandmother's expression, "Live free or die," leaves the building with him on her shoulder and taking Abelard's sweet car.
Honestly, this issue was a lot better than the last few editions. (I think that I've only ever given one other issue of this series three stars.) All in all, though, I feel like this series suffered from the same inconsistencies as "Spider-Man Unlimited" and "X-Men Unlimited" from the same time period did. They should've been an opportunity to showcase new talents and different takes on established characters, but they just wound up covering similar territory -- usually with less finesse and skill -- as the main series. To that end, I can't say that it was really worth it as part of my "Spider-Man 2099" project, since I didn't really gain a new understanding of him or see a character or a story that wound up making it into the main series (yet). In terms of the 2099 Universe writ large, its greatest contribution was Hulk 2099; even though those stories weren't the most elegantly written, they did give us some insight into the West Coast at least. With this series ending, it's also a reminder that I'm getting closer to the end of this project. Sad trombone.
Making the 2099 equivalent of the Chameleon be a designer drug that helps users morph into something that reflects their feelings was really a clever 2099 take on a modern character. But, if I'm right, Wein actually took it even one step further, delivering a Chameleon 2099, assuming that Major Jones ODing on "cham" means that his body is now able to morph into anything. With only 11 issues remaining in "Spider-Man 2099," I wonder if we're going to see him or Jade again. For example, we've never seen Mutagen appear in the main series, despite appearing in two of Spidey's six appearances in this series. I guess we'll see.
The Machina Jones story was fine. My main complaint is that Collins used way too much exposition, particularly when it came to the meat puppets, given that they didn't really wind up having that much to do with the story. I mean, I get why she had to have the villain reveal his plans through exposition (though, it's still pretty lazy writing to do so). But, she spent so much time on meat puppets that I thought that the point of this story was going to be Jones trying to shut down Puppet Master, Inc. However, we never really hear about them again after she drops off her would-be assassin at Pagoda General. Ultimately, I put this story in "The Meh" category because of that excessive exposition and the fact that, at this point in the 2099 universe and "2099 Unlimited," these sorts of stories about unchecked corporate greed and double-crossing are pretty old hat. But, given how awful some of these "2099 Unlimited" stories have been, the fact that it made sense at least wins it a "meh."
I wasn't totally clear on whether the Major Jones' associates killed each other or eventually died from the chameleon. It's important in the sense that Miguel would have a little more culpability in the outcome in the first case, since he did set raving lunatics after each other.
I generally don't even talk about the third story, but, man, this one had to be one of the least coherent stories that I've ever read in a comic. 'Nuff said.