A journey which began in March comes to a close now, and what better scribe to bring the wall crawler to this end than a pivotal writer for the franchise as Gerry Conway. In terms of Marvel continuity, it is the last Spider-Man story set before the temporary end of the “mainstream” Marvel Universe in “Secret Wars #1” (but there is no need to fret because it will be better by fall). In terms of upcoming solicitations, it is the last Spider-Man story before yet another relaunch and yet another drastic shift in his mode of operation. Despite cries to the contrary, Marvel Comics has many things in common with DC Comics, chief among them misplacing blame on the struggles of a franchise upon a particular heroine. Much as DC Comics have blamed years worth of creative bankruptcy with Superman upon Lois Lane, many in Marvel’s senior editorial and executive brass have placed similar blame on Mary Jane Watson. To this end, readers have been privy to an escalating series of drastic stories with the wall-crawler over the past eight years. These have included a deal with the devil, an extended mind-swaps with a super villain, and a war against knock off vampires across various realities alongside dozens of marketable counterparts. In the fall, Spider-Man may begin his most drastic status quo yet as an international billionaire superhero who is more like James Bond than a plucky guy from Queens. In a climate such as this, a more down to earth story focused more on Spider-Man’s roots has rarely been more essential, and that is what Conway, artist Carlo Barberi, inker Juan Vlasco, and colorist Israel Silva have dutifully provided.
“Spiral” reaches its’ fifth and final chapter as Spider-Man finds himself in the midst of a gang war erupting throughout Manhattan thanks in no small part to his desire to see the best in an ally despite all evidence to the contrary. Having once donned a mask and vowed to use his powers and talents responsibly when he failed to save someone he loved, Spider-Man had nothing but understanding for detective Yuri Watanabe seeking some retribution for losing her partner to the hands of one of the city’s super villain mobsters, Tombstone. Unfortunately for the optimistic web-slinger, Yuri refused to listen to reason or fully understand how badly she’d been played by a rival mobster, Mr. Negative. Eagerly accepting tips on him to lead raids against other super villain bosses such as Hammerhead, Goblin King, and even Ringmaster, Yuri (as the Wraith) had placed her source into the perfect position to run the underworld himself without competition. Yet not even this revelation has brought Yuri to the light; instead she has doubled down on the path of darkness to try to kill Mr. Negative once and for all. Murder is naturally a line Spider-Man believes should never be crossed (at least when he is written properly), which finally forces him to take a stand against her once and for all.
Unlike many writers, who can sidetrack the star of a franchise to shift favor to another, Gerry Conway showcases his talent and experience here. He devotes a lot of time to the dark tragedy of Yuri, showing her side of things and her reasoning behind her actions. It is hardly surprising, considering he co-created Marvel Comics’ premiere vigilante, the Punisher, in 1974. Yet he never diminishes Spider-Man in order to do so, or bends the narrative to prove Yuri right at every instance, as often seemed to occur with “Superior Spider-Man”. Her fall from grace and her embrace of lethal methods is explored, but not glorified. And after being quite understanding and lenient for several issues, Spider-Man was more than justified for issuing some just deserts for causing such a violent mess of things. The climax is quick yet satisfying, with some terrific artwork throughout. One hopes to see more of Barberi and Silva on Spider-Man in the future.
There is a brief interlude with the Black Cat, which is well drawn but only seems to highlight how much damage has been done to Felicia Hardy as a character in the parent title. It likely could have been excluded from the issue without much of the overall story being effected, which is usually the definition of non essential material. Fortunately, it is only three pages long, and Conway does the best with a status quo he inherited, much as he did for this entire yarn. Mister Negative continues to be one of Dan Slott’s best additions to the franchise as a solid mafia boss to add into the mix without relying on outdated stereotypes or the old guard such as Kingpin or Silvermane.
Over the past few years, it can be forgivable for some fans to forget that there were times when Spider-Man stories didn’t span the globe or alternate dimensions. There were times when they were smaller scale, more personal stories about a hero with great responsibility doing his best in a complicated world full of grays. “Spiral” provided readers a respite from many very different Spider-Man stories told this year and for that it has been nothing less than essential. It may not be a perfect story or one which reinvents the wheel, but is the right story at the right time for fans young and old of the iconic web-slinger, showcasing how amazing he can be.