** (two of five stars)
At 1:45 am at the "Synthia East Bio-Development Lab," an enormous spider yells at a fleeing lab technician while another technician hits the security alarm. The spider catches her doing so and webs the two technicians against the wall. Security guards arrive, with one complaining that someone called security but "compu-locked" the door. They're shocked to discover the spider and proceed to open fire. One shot hits the spider and it leaps out the window, thinking that it's too badly injured to fight and expressing concern that they'll discover its secret. One of the guards looks out the shattered window to confirm that the spider has escaped while one of the rescued technicians tells another guard that they had returned from a late dinner to discover the spider in the lab. Elsewhere, the spider crawls through a sewer, where it transforms into a man. Apparently unable to control his transformations, the man, whose face is obscured by shadows, curses his early reversion, since he needed his "spider powers" to heal his arm. He then loses consciousness over the lost blood.
Elsewhere, a "Roving Eye" attempts to capture Spidey, ordering him to halt. Spidey responds by grabbing the floating orb with a Web-Line and slinging it into a wall. He then proceeds to his destination, expositing that Roving Eyes were co-designed by his father and complaining that his father is still screwing up his life. Changing into his civvies, he laments that Lyla let him oversleep, making him late for work and almost late for his lunch date with Dana. (He decided to swing across town because it was the only way for him to get to Synthia on time.) Dana asks why he's so late and Miguel tells her that security was extra tight. Dana explains that someone broke into Synthia the previous evening and Miguel then asks where the "mad scientist" is. On cue, "Antoine" arrives, telling Dana that Miguel had intended for him to hear that crack. Miguel teases Antoine about the mess in the lab and Antoine tells Miguel that he's to blame for it. Dana is shocked at the accusation, reminding Antoine that a witness saw a monster. Antoine feigns fainting over the idea of a monster and Dana sticks out her tongue at him. Antoine responds that he thinks of that face every night before he goes to bed. (He was essentially saying that Dana sticking out her tongue made her face less attractive than usual. Yes, it was super creepy.) Miguel observes how odd it is that Antoine is making jokes since he's usually pretty tightly wound and, given that the "bio project" was his life, would expect him to be more upset over someone trashing the place. He then notices some "luminescent gunk" on the floor and takes a sample of it before Antoine and Dana find him to take him to lunch.
At lunch, Miguel asks Antoine why the attack was his fault and Antoine says that it's not his fault personally, but his "masters'" at Alchemax. Miguel asks why Antoine has been nothing but "sour grapes" since Synthia asked Alchemax to join the project and Antoine responds that he believes that Alchemax wants to use his "fusion process" for military applications. (Antoine wants to use it to feed the world.) Miguel says that he came to him as a friend to warn him that he's reviewed his calculations and should postpone the project. Antoine screams at Miguel, telling him that he knew that he should've conducted his work in a secret lab. Dana (somewhat randomly) responds, "Like that hiding place we had as kids, remember?", and informs Miguel that they had a clubhouse by an old filtration-plant where they shared their first kiss. Antoine says that he even carved their initials on the wall. Miguel marvels to himself at Antoine hitting on Dana, but Antoine then continues his exposition, (unnecessarily) informing Miguel that his bio-fusion process with meld animals together, creating breeds able to survive in any environment. Dana grabs Antoine's arm to calm him, but he recoils (presumably because she touched where he had been shot) and then leaves in a hurry. He stumbles onto a mag-lev track, realizing that he's transforming, and transforms right before he's hit by a car, trashing the car.
At Alchemax, Dana, as the Synthia liaison to Alchemax, observes Tyler Stone rushing two techs into testing Antoine's bio-fusion process, so that Alchemax can take advantage of Synthia's operations being suspended to beat it to a patent. Dana realizes that Alchemax wasn't behind the attack from Tyler's "tone." Meanwhile, in his lab, Miguel examines the gunk that he found in Antoine's lab. He recognizes it as a spider's DNA entwined with a human's and uses civilian records to ID the human. In the other lab, Alchemax proceeds with its test, splicing together a caterpillar and a bull. The cater-bull escapes its hold as an Antoine (as the spider) watches through a skylight; he's there since he knew that Alchemax built a copy of his bio-fusion reactor and he hoped to use it to cure himself. He briefly considers not stopping the cater-bull, but realizes that he doesn't want to put innocent lives at risk. Then, as he engages the animal, he spots Dana and calls out her name, resulting in Dana recognizing his voice. The cater-bull hurls Antoine into lab technician while the security guards open fire on the cater-bull, killing it. However, they believe that Antoine killed the technician (whose neck snapped) and Antoine begs Dana to tell them that he wasn't responsible. Dana is scared and Miguel enters the scene from his lab to see Antoine disappear with her.
Spidey pursues Antoine, realizing that he's gone over the edge. In the aforementioned filtration plant (revealed to be Antoine's sewer lair), Antoine tells Dana that he was sure that his recombinant process was ready, so he crossed two spiders to prove Miguel wrong when he questioned his calculations. However, the "radiation seals" were faulty, causing their DNA to splice with his. He returned the next night to cure himself, whereupon he encountered the lab technicians returning from their late dinner. He's now distraught over the loss of the equipment that can help him, asking Dana for help. She says that she wishes Miguel were there and Antoine loses it, wondering why he should waste time on her as his body is being reborn. Declaring himself the Man-Spider, he goes to attack Dana, but is stopped by Spidey. In the melee, Man-Spider bites Miguel, injecting him with venom that makes him weak. Spidey tries to fight Man-Spider, but Antoine gets an advantage; Dana notices Spidey's disorientation as Man-Spider hurls him into a wall and threatens to "rob [his] very life from [him]!" Dana hurls a rock at Man-Spider (who's standing near the place where he had carved their initials), resulting in Antoine lamenting her betrayal. Then, a recovered Spidey uses a Web-Line to hurl Man-Spider into the water, with the current carrying him from the area. Later, Miguel downloads a database of Antoine's theories to see it put to good use in the hands of the "right" people and then deletes it from Alchemax's files.
Gabe destroys a "virtual vampire" in the Net. (No, really, that's it. Ten pages, but that's it.)
A guy calling himself Cathode Ray attempts to sell a vid of Spider-Man getting beaten by a bunch of street punks to a customer. (Ray apparently pirates Public-Eye camera feeds and sells the videos.) The customer wants something "hot" and Ray promises all sorts of videos: murders, sky-crashes, "wicked" suicides, etc. However, the customer wants a video of a woman changing. Disappointed, Ray recommends instead some "snuff" stuff, namely a video of a serial killer called "Jumpcut" who murders people and then teleports from the scene before he gets caught. The customer says that he heard that Ray had images of Jumpcut, but insists on the peeping-Tom video and departs. Ray goes to wipe the video of Spidey, since it's not selling, but then realizes that he has a blurry image of Spidey's unmasked face; with a little computer-enhancement, he realizes that he can get a clear image. He then comments aloud that the Public Eye could put away Spidey if it had access to that video. At that moment, Jumpcut arrives. He tells Ray that he's heard that he has video of him and demands the disc of Spider-Man, mistakenly thinking that it has Jumpcut's face on it. Ray tries to tell him otherwise, but Jumpcut fires at him. Jumpcut said he overheard him talking about the Public Eye and Ray stalls, telling him that he has other videos as well. Jumpcut warns him not to play any tricks on him just as Ray uses a cable to trip him and escape.
Three days later, Spidey sees a holographic projection of the video of him taking off his mask playing in a loop on a nearby building. (The loop restarts just before he fully unmasks himself.) Miguel recognizes it from the fight with the street punks, expositing that he took off the mask because he was tired and had to check himself for injuries. Spidey follows the projection angle to the source, discovering a "holobox" on a building rooftop. He grabs it with a Web-Line, only for Ray to appear and grab it, telling Spidey that it's a precision instrument. Ray tries to bargain with Spidey, but Miguel grabs him by the ankle and dangles him from the rooftop. Scared, Ray tells him that he's been on the run for three days and used the image to get Spidey's attention, since only Spidey could save him from Jumpcut. On cue, Jumpcut arrives, demanding the disc; Spidey realizes that he has to protect Ray (since, after all, he has the disc). However, before he can land a punch, Jumpcut collapses the roof under Spidey and fires at Ray. Spidey throws off Jumpcut's aim by grabbing him with a Web-Line and then webs up his lasers, but Jumpcut responds by repeatedly teleporting to land numerous punches on him. Jumpcut approaches Ray, but Ray uses the holobox to project multiple images of himself to confuse Jumpcut. It gives Spidey time to knock Jumpcut unconscious. However, at that moment, the Public Eye arrives and opens fire. Spidey grabs Ray and flees as the flyboys pursue him. Hiding from their view, Spidey asks Ray why Jumpcut wants the disk; Ray tells him that Jumpcut thinks that he's on it, not Spidey. Ray's afraid to tell Jumpcut the truth since then Jumpcut has no reason not to kill him. Spidey tells him that's not his problem, but Ray says it is, because he owes him for saving his life with the holobox diversion. Spidey reminds Ray that his life was in danger in the first place thanks to him. Jumpcut then arrives, grabbing the disc and telling Spidey that he killed the flyboys. Spidey tries to stop him, but he teleports. Spidey tells Ray that anyone that Jumpcut kills is on Spidey's head since he let him escape and laments that his secret is going to be exposed. Ray tells him that Jumpcut's not after his identity and says that he knows where Jumpcut is.
At Ray's, Jumpcut arrives infuriated since the disc he stole wasn't the right one. Hurling it from him, Jumpcut inadvertently throws it to Spidey, who's waiting there for him. Jumpcut attacks and starts to monologue, revealing that he believes that the real enemy is the Public Eye, constantly watching and judging. He posits that the only escape is death, which he delivers to his victims ("the scrutinized") like an angel. Spidey webs up Jumpcut's eyes so that he can't teleport (since he can't see where he's going), but Jumpcut does so anyway, rematerializing in a bank of monitors, killing himself. Ray complains that his place is ruined and Spidey berates him from not turning over his vids of Jumpcut to the authorities. Ray says that he just wanted to watch and Spidey tells him that he's as twisted as Jumpcut. Ray pledges that he's leaving the "biz" but asks for him cleaning up his place. Spidey refuses and tells him that they'll meet again if he discovers that Ray's watching him. Later, Ray shows a vid of that exchange to a customer, pledging that it's the cornerstone of an all-new video empire.
This issue reminded me of "2099 Unlimited" and, unfortunately, it's not a compliment. The first story isn't terrible, but Peterson missed a lot of opportunities to make it better. The second story is almost nonsensical in its simplicity. The third story is much better, but even a young Mark Waid can't pull this issue to three stars for me.
1) After complaining about the "Women in Refrigerators" nature of Dana's death in issue #37, it was nice to see Dana save Spidey from Man-Spider in the first story. In fact, I actually liked Dana a lot more here than I do in the regular title. She showed some spunk, rather than constantly whining as she normally does.
2) I thought Waid did some interesting stuff in the third story, really exploring the psychological impact of the 2099 society. First, I thought Jumpcut was interesting as an example of someone driven over the edge by a surveillance society stripping him of his right to privacy. But, Ray is even more interesting. He's the type of amoral character that you'd expect the 2099 world to produce and I'm surprised that we haven't seen more of him. Most of the characters to whom we've been introduced in the 2099 series have been superheroes or super-villains. Rather than accepting the chaos of the 2099 world, they generally want to impose more order, either because they want the world to be a better place by limiting the powers of the corporations (Spider-Man) or they want to use that order to run the world themselves (Doom). Ray doesn't have the power to change the world; he can only live in it. So, he doesn't have the luxury of taking a grand moral stand. In fact, the whole concept of morals doesn't really do him any good. He just goes about his day trying to make a living, not even realizing that he could be doing it another way. If this issue serves any purpose, it's to highlight the inherent amorality of the 2099 world as we've seen it.
3) Man, lab technicians are the Ensign Jones of the 2099 world.
1) Peterson really didn't even try to hide Man-Spider's identity or motivations. OK, sure, he briefly made it seem like Miguel could've been the Man-Spider. But, once Antoine's last name was revealed to be "Tarantella," it was pretty clear that it was going to be him. (In fact, I was shocked that Marvel didn't bill him as Tarantula 2099.) Moreover, I immediately noticed the graffiti in the sewer that Man-Spider used as his lair, since I couldn't imagine a more un-romantic place for people to carve their initials. When Antoine later mentioned that he had done so at his and Dana's childhood hiding-place, Peterson didn't really leave any doubt that he was the Man-Spider. Now, I recognize that I just got done praising Layman in my review of "Detective Comics" #24 for not belaboring the mystery of Wrath's identity. But, the interesting mystery of that arc was Wrath's motivations, not his identity. Layman made it interesting because the obvious answer -- that he was attacking GCPD officers to drum up business for the bullet-proof vests that his weapons-manufacturing company produced -- wasn't the actual one. Here, it's clear from the start that Antoine wants to cure himself. So, we fairly quickly know his identity and motivation, denying this story any sort of dramatic tension. We're then left only wondering whether he'll kill Dana, which seems unlikely to happen in a "Special" and already happened in issue #37. It doesn't really leave you with a gripping story.
2) Along those lines, the timing of the first story is weird. We get a note mentioning that it takes place before issue #34, since it involves the Public Eye (which Doom disbanded when he took over the United States in that issue). But, Dana and Miguel functionally haven't been dating since issue #26, where he screamed at her to leave him alone while he was still reeling from the revelation that Tyler Stone was his father. So, it's weird to see them together here, 11 issues later. Moreover, based on the "2099 Bitmapped" page, this issue was released the same moth as issue #37, where Dana dies. Needless to say, it's bad timing, since, again, it really ruins the last chance at some dramatic tension.
3) So, Dana sees Tyler Stone totally take advantage of Synthia's problems but still decides to date him? Seriously, does she have any standards? Also, she realizes "from his tone" that Tyler wasn't responsible for the attack? Really? He sounds pretty damn responsible to me...
4) In terms of missed opportunities, I thought it was particularly weird that Peterson doesn't have Miguel even remotely see the parallel between him and Antoine. After all, Antoine is just as desperate to find a cure as Miguel was in the first arc of "Spider-Man 2099." He also would likely want revenge on Alchemax, one of Miguels' primary motivations when he accepted that he had become Spider-Man. Plus, Antoine did save Dana from the cater-bull. In the end, their stories really only diverge when he attacks Dana later, but we get the sense that he's been driven over the edge by his transformation. Peterson could've really had Miguel contemplate that, in a "there but for the grace of God go I" way. Instead, we're left with Man-Spider as a villain simply because Peterson says that he is, despite matching the profile of Miguel in his early days of Spider-Man pretty closely.