Holy effing crap, this issue is crazy. The first few pages are intense as Slott slowly but surely builds up the tension. It's like pulling back a slingshot as far as it can go.
First, Slott takes his time revealing how scary society is under Regent's rule. Initially, everything seems fine: MJ is a soap-opera actress and Peter is a "Daily Bugle" photographer. It's all just like the old days! Plus, they now have a daughter, and they all can wax poetic about pancakes on the walk to school.
However, Slott eventually lowers the boom. Peter isn't taking photos of superheroes fighting super-villains for JJJ, Jr. to publish; he sells them to JJJ, Jr. so that they don't get published. (Regent controls the media, and he seems to want to hide the fact that superheroes still exist.) MJ isn't a soap-opera actress because she likes the fame; it's so that they can afford to buy equipment for Peter to make new inhibitor bracelets for Annie. (She breaks hers every time she unconsciously uses her powers when she has a nightmare about Venom.) Plus, Annie isn't the only one suffering from PTSD after the encounter with Venom: Peter dreams of Venom taunting him for killing him. But, the coup de grâce comes when Peter tells Annie that she has great powers and the "great responsibility" that comes with them is not to use them. This corruption of his motto shows just how different this society is, even if it looks normal.
But, even this facade falls apart quickly. Regent's patrols discover a superhuman at a local elementary school, and Peter fears that they've discovered Annie since he hasn't had time to fix her bracelet. He uses his powers to get to her as fast as he can, revealing himself to the world for the first time since he was believed dead. Upon arrival, Regent's squad of super-villains (the Beetle, Boomerang, and Rhino) are indeed confronting a super-powered child. Actually, they're confronting four of them: the Power children. Peter buys time for them to escape, and later, at home, MJ dissuades Peter from running, since Regent is likely to find them anywhere. She then reveals that she's saved his black costume for a "rainy day." Meanwhile, Regent dispatches his elite squad, the Sinister Six, to find Spider-Man.
Seriously, this issue has everything. Slott is in total control of the pacing of the story, with each event flowing logically from the previously one. The tone is perfect, with Slott somehow managing to convey the stress and tension in conversations that otherwise seem light and familiar. He also packs in surprises, like Power Pack's debut and the revelation that Regent's elite squad is the Sinister Six. (I may have gasped). But, more than anything, it's the relationship between MJ and Peter that sings. Slott and Kubert gives us a great moment where Spidey is engaging Regent's henchman as MJ appears on site to grab Annie. As she does, she remarks, "Great. Feels like the good old days." It's true, too. It's a reminder how great she is, and I found myself longing for Slott to get a chance to write about MJ and Peter's relationship. That sentiment is all the more profound since, possibly for the first time since I've read him, Slott actually manages to find a mature voice for Peter. He doesn't lose his goofy charm, but he's no longer the immature optimist that he's become in "Amazing Spider-Man."
In other words, I pretty much think that "Secret Wars" was worth it for this issue alone.
***** (five of five stars)