The premise of this issue is that the Zodiac is finally making its move, but Peter ditches S.H.I.E.L.D. to save Aunt May when a group of "War Goblins" attacks the village that she's helping. (The Uncle Ben Foundation is installing Internet and solar-power panels there.) Unfortunately, it's not a welcome detour.
On the plus side, I have to say that a major draw of this series, for me, continues to be the technology. Each issue, the reader gets to wonder what rabbit Peter is going to pull from his hat this time. I like that we've returned to a holographic suit and particularly that we're using it to create a "Steve Jobs turtleneck combo" so that we can talk to Aunt May while we're dressed as Spider-Man. Hilarious. Moreover, Mockingbird's wings are c-o-o-l. How has no one thought to give her wings yet? I don't know, but I'm glad that someone has now done so and that said someone was Peter.
All that said, though, this issue wasn't a win for me. Peter's behavior is odd throughout it, and Slott bumbles his attempt to make whatever point that he was trying to make about Western charities and companies operating in Africa.
To start, I'll say that I get Peter leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. to help Aunt May. Slott is on pretty firm ground in having him do that. But, his behavior when he arrives on the scene is remarkably nonchalant, even for Spidey, given what he confronts.
First, we have him taking the time to tell Aunt May that Peter considers her a mother rather than an aunt. They're literally surrounded by Parker security officials escorting away the War Goblins that Peter just defeated, and Peter decides to have that chat now? "Gee, May, I know that you hated me so much a few months ago that you refused to allow your 'nephew' to work with me and that we're standing in the smoking remains of a village that our combined actions helped to destroy. But, I want you to know right now that 'Peter' loves you. By the way, the fact that I was here almost immediately after the War Goblins interrupted your call with 'Peter' and that I know that 'Peter' considers you his mother in no way, shape, or form should be seen as proof that I'm really 'Peter.' Cool?"
Then, we've got him offering to pay mercenaries to switch sides. Really? Parker Industries is just writing checks to mercenaries? Is he going to pay the Sinister Six not to be bad guys anymore? Are we going to offer money to Mr. Negative not to be a mob boss anymore? I hope PI has an entire squad of lawyers ready to handle the cases under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Moreover, it doesn't help matters that Slott doesn't navigate the politics of Western charities and companies operating in non-Western countries as well as David did in "Spider-Man 2099." The idea that a local warlord would attack a Western charity's attempt to provide free power to a village is fine (if a little clichéd). But, Slott really hits us over the head with this "message" as Spidey interacts with two small children and explains that "some people don't like it when others have power." I totally rolled my eyes (and not just because of the pun).
We also get Spidey offering the girl a college scholarship when she suggests that he overloads the solar panels' magnets to create an emp blast to wipe out the War Goblins' equipment and gliders. I really have my doubts that any six-year-old could understand magnets' connections to emp blasts well enough to make that suggestion to Peter. But, even if the girl here did, Peter throwing out a college scholarship to her felt remarkably pat, along the same lines as him offering to pay the mercenaries. It would be OK if the morale of this story is that Peter learns that his newfound wealth can't solve all problems. But, he doesn't learn that lesson. In fact, he seems to be doubling down on the idea that it can.
Unfortunately, even when Slott tries to introduce some reality into the story, it doesn't work well. The regional official that initially told May that he approves all charity that General Mwenye will allow later refuses Spidey's offer to rebuild the panels because it'll make them a target again. Um, didn't he see that coming in the first place? If the warlord holds so much sway, why didn't he vet the project with him beforehand? Moreover, he goes to the bandaged man from last issue for protection after he rhetorically asks Spidey if he can guard their village forever. But, can't he? After all, he had Parker Industries security teams on the ground to help with the installation. Couldn't he leave them there? He can buy mercenaries, but he can't hire security? (That said, it's clever that the bandaged man is sending in the War Goblins to create the demand for protection and weapons. Smart. It's probably Donald Trump.)
In other words, meh. This issue is an unwelcome detour from the larger story that Slott is telling about the Zodiac. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are able to take down Aquarius, Aries, and Capricorn, but Scorpio is nowhere to be found. In fact, they just find sets and props in four locations, leading Nick to wonder what Scorpio's plan is. Moreover, the mysterious stranger that offered to bring back Oksana to the Rhino does the same with Martha and Billy Connors in this issue. Slott even ups the ante, since the Lizard is able to tell that it's "really" them through smell, showing that it's not just some elaborate trick by Mysterio.
Hopefully we'll return to these more interesting stories next issue. But, given Peter's behavior here, Slott is also now burdened with the need to teach him the lesson that his wealth isn't going to be able to solve all his problems. Otherwise, this series -- and Peter -- is going to get insufferable fast.
** (two of five stars)