After a three issue break brought to you by the Deadpool cross-over event, Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness return to deliver Spider-Man/Deadpool #17, the penultimate issue of the Patient Zero/Itsy Bitsy mega-arc. Plot threads begin to tie together in a way that is satisfactory on a technical level: our heroes come to a head physically and philosophically, and the next issue promises a big showdown. The story is winding down and while it maintains the same level of quality we’ve been seeing since the second half of this arc, there are a few issues that need to be addressed.
But first, the good. We open with a spread, cut three ways to give us a quick run-down of the major players. We see Peter Parker arguing with Anna Maria, Itsy Bitsy voicing her own manifesto, and Deadpool acting as recap, putting a bow on the exposition and revelations of Spider-Man/Deadpool #14. When this book was in its freshman issues, I found myself questioning in these reviews whether or not this was a truly co-lead title, or if Spider-Man/Deadpool was really just Deadpool Team-Up ft. Spider-Man. As the title matured I think Kelly and McGuiness have certainly leaned a little bit more toward the latter than the former (after all, we got a Deadpool crossover, but Spider-Man/Deadpool was practically the only Spider-title that wasn’t caught up in The Clone Conspiracy), but its scenes like the one presented with Anna Maria and Peter give me pause to say this is more a title for Deadpool fans than Spider-Man.
Acting as Peter Parker’s conscience, Kelly employs a dynamic between Peter and Anna Maria that hasn’t been explored much in the main Amazing Spider-Man book but feels wholly natural to Anna Maria. Peter contemplates embracing the tactics of the other “him” in order to quell the danger presented by Itsy Bitsy, and Anna Maria counter-points by saying that Peter isn’t Doc Ock, without using so many words. This bit of reservation on Kelly’s part, holding back on naming Octavius, paints him as this larger than life figure that sells the moment between Peter and Anna Maria, which then sells the later reveal so much more.
That brings me to the main point of the issue: Peter’s complete heel-turn as well as the glorious return of the second Superior Spider-Man costume. McGuinness draws the costume with all the menace it deserves and its reveal was one of the better surprises to come out of this comic. If only I could focus more on how awesome the reveal and ensuing battle is and ignore the real head-scratcher: how did Spider-Man get to this point? Sure, he was murdered – but that’s happened before. And sure, someone was killing in his name (as he often repeated) – but that’s happened before too. For a book that is so well structured, it is unfortunate that the only leap we have to take is the biggest the book could offer; we have to buy that Spider-Man’s spirit was broken. And while the cogs and levers for that particular event are certainly on the floor, we never really saw the whole thing come together.
We know that Spider-Man was manipulated by Patient Zero/Weasel, who in turn was acting at the behest of Mephisto, and we know from his black-suit show down way back in Spider-Man/Deadpool #8 that the whole being murdered twice thing didn’t go over too well with Spidey, but Itsy Bitsy twisting the knife and pushing him off the emotional precipice is something I think Kelly has ultimately failed to pull off with the same success that he did with the other plot threads of this title. Part of that has to do with the release schedule, but I think part of this also falls on Kelly and McGuinness and it’s time to admit that. Too much of Itsy Bitsy’s carnage and mayhem was left off panel. We saw her trounce a pile of C-Listers that would make the Superior Foes look like the (original) Masters of Evil, we saw Itsy Bitsy thrash Spider-Man and Deadpool, and then we heard that she was committing some atrocities, but I never really saw the hook for Spider-Man’s personal investment in her actions aside from the genetic component. Which, if this was a one-and-done or even a three-part arc it wouldn’t be so bad. But this is the culmination of over a year’s worth of story and perhaps the most important part.
All of this is to say that Kelly and McGuinness have one more issue to really sell this ending. Please let it be known that I do not think this was a bad issue – just the opposite – but there are flaws that needed to be addressed that detract from elevating this book to a 9.5 or even a 10 for me. It’s like eating a gormet pie where the filling and the meringue on top are executed flawlessly, but the bottom got scorched. You can still enjoy the whole thing, but there’s a taste in your mouth that you know is detracting from what should be an exquisite experience. Let’s see if Kelly and McGuinness can scrape the burnt parts off with the final issue of the arc.