Gage doesn't even pretend to care about the larger "Secret Wars" continuity in this inaugural issue. Whereas some authors half-heartedly include references like, "May Doom save us," Gage instead focuses entirely on telling his "What If...?" story, where Spider-Man and his allies fail to defeat the Spider-Queen during "Spider-Island." The good news is that the story is sufficiently strong that I didn't really care all that much about the lack of mention of the larger "Secret Wars" story.
Gage makes Flash the hero of this story, and it totally fits. Flash survives the final encounter with the Queen only because he was forced to flee after her sonic scream robbed him of the symbiote. With Spidey's death and the Queen's victory, essentially everyone in New York, including superheroes, remains spider-creatures. Flash runs a limited resistance with Spider-Woman and the Vision, though Flash admits that the death of Spider-Man basically robbed them of the only person capable of the sort of last-minute save that they need. Gage is telling a story about how essential certain characters like Spider-Man are in preventing the tragedies that could have happened in most events. He's reminding us that a darker reality where the heroes aren't able to save the day every time is possible. After all, Venom tries a Hail Mary pass in this issue and manages to (maybe) get Cap, Captain Marvel, and the Hulk on his side, but it accomplishes little else. Everyone believes that a cure is off the table, so it seems that the best-case scenario is that they defeat the Queen and allow the spider-creatures that used to be the residents of New York to regain their faculties (if not their humanity). It's not exactly a happy ending.
Speaking of "not happy endings," the Spider-Girl back-up story is equally grim. May Parker is still reeling from the death of her father during "Spider-Verse," but she's distracted when the Dream Team (a group that seems pretty similar to the Avengers, despite them appearing elsewhere in this story) attack her for no reason. I say "no reason" not just because we're not told what the reason is, but because it's also possible that they, too, don't have the reason. After all, May's ally Stinger suddenly attacks her, declaring her to be an impostor. I'm not really sure where DeFalco is going with this one, but I guess we'll see. I know that a lot of people love the "Spider-Girl" continuity, so it's probably just nice for them to see her in action again.
Overall, it's two solid stories that may not set my world on fire like "Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows," but do the job that they mean to do.
*** (three of five stars)