Volume 2 Review is a regular feature that looks back to the late 1990s when Marvel rebooted its Spider-Man series for the very first time. Each installment will discuss a different arc and whether or not it achieves its goals of presenting something new and/or gripping about the Spider-Man character and mythos.
In this installment, we’re discussing Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #7-8 (story by Howard Mackie/John Byrne; inks by Scott Hanna)
Through my first two posts, I’ve been quite hard on the opening arcs of Howard Mackie/John Byrne Amazing Spider-Man volume 2 issues, which I’ve dismissed as being mostly bland and lacking excitement or direction. New villains or ideas were introduced only to be glossed over for the same old tired tropes and clichés, thus negating any possible “new-ness” to a rebooted ASM.
Fortunately, Mackie/Byrne do manage to hit upon something that’s far more interesting than what preceded it in their third full volume two arc, “The Perfect World.” Contrary to its title, it’s a far from perfect Spider-Man storyline and I doubt very few of you reading this post even have a distinct memory of it. And yet it resembles a diamond in the rough when compared to what Mackie and Byrne had been churning out to this point primarily because for the first time since ASM rebooted, the creators were actually brazen enough to tell a new kind of story, thereby giving “The Perfect World” a sense of freshness and edge.
Absent from “The Perfect World” are the groan-inducing subplots like Peter sneaking behind Mary Jane’s back to be Spider-Man, and the debuts of second, third and fourth iterations of one-dimensional characters like Spider-Woman and in its place is a storyline that’s heavily invested in ASM’s classic supporting cast — most notably Eugene “Flash” Thompson.
Keep in mind that this story was years before the “Brand New Day” era where the Spider-books were being published with such frequency that an entire issue could be dedicated to Flash’s or Mary Jane’s perspective. That’s not to say having an issue that takes the point of focus away from Peter/Spider-Man was completely unfounded in Spider-book history, but it was certainly enough of a rarity to make “The Perfect World” stand out on its own during the Mackie/Byrne run. And when you add in the fact that Peter’s perspective had just become so played out and frustrating under the stewardship of Mackie/Byrne (seriously, how many more times do we need a story about him wanting to quit, or the fact that he’s frustrated by MJ’s financial/professional success?), turning the book over to Flash just gives this entire book a badly-needed shot in the arm.
Another pleasant surprise about this story is the fact that Mackie and Byrne set up from the get-go that there’s something not entirely right about the context of their narrative. The story opens with Spider-Man coming to team-up with Flash, who’s wearing some kind of far out space suit. Additionally, Flash is seen fighting off the romantic advances of Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (back from the dead), while Peter has reverted back to his “Puny Parker” days and is in a wheelchair to boot.
Now obviously the entire Spider-Man universe’s status quo didn’t change overnight in the midst of what was already a reboot and a supposed “shake-up.” However, all of the freaky visual and plot twists create plenty of intrigue as it’s up to the reader to determine whether or not “The Perfect World” is a Flash-led dream sequence or something else.
To my surprise (and it’s fair to be surprised considering how conventional their entire creative run had been to this point), Mackie/Byrne choose the “something else” option. In the second chapter of the arc, we learn that Mysterio has kidnapped all of the regular people he deems are “close” to Spider-Man and submerged them in some kind of hypnotic/hallucinogenic tank. In doing this, Mysterio hopes somebody’s unconscious will betray them and reveal themselves as Spider-Man’s secret identity. However, because Flash is such an alpha-male and dominating personality, his thoughts take control out of everyone’s in the tank.
In terms of some of those “flaws” I mentioned earlier in the post, Mysterio’s scheme certainly has some holes in terms of logistics. Like how was he able to cull such a prodigious list of Spider-Man supporting cast members to kidnap and how come someone like Mary Jane didn’t accidently betray Peter’s secret identity while in the tank? How does Peter/Spider-Man get kidnapped by Mysterio?
These plot-holes are definitely a step above your standard comic book “nitpicks,” and yet because this story is so effectively executed in terms of creating drama, I find myself not caring. Plus, this is the first book of the Mackie/Byrne era where the supporting cast has expanded beyond MJ, Jonah and Aunt May — aka, Peter’s wife and the two oldest supporting characters (who exhibited no signs of change or growth whatsoever during this run).
On top of that, Mackie/Byrne even managed to strike while the iron was hot with Mysterio, who was experiencing a resurgence thanks in large part to his featured role in the Kevin Smith/Joe Quesada company-saving run on Daredevil in the late 1990s.
I’m not about to nominate “The Perfect World” for any “best of” stories any time soon (though I guess if I did a Flash Thompson-centric list it would have to be considered), but it does serve to demonstrate how effective Mackie and Byrne could be as Spider-Man storytellers once they moved past that comfort zone that they so willfully settled into.