So far, “The Gauntlet” has amounted to little more than revamps and re-imaginings of Spider-Man’s classic rogue’s gallery being chucked at him in the hope that it’ll breathe new life into characters that, over the years, have become a little over-familiar. The general idea is a good one, but if anything is becoming apparent, it’s that tying them together as a single story isn’t quite working out so well.
However, this issue breaks the format, returning to the Maggia crime family and Mr. Negative, all of whom played a slightly more prominent role in Brand New Day’s earlier plotlines. The issue’s conceit is that the Maggia’s various bosses have all been killed over the preceding months, leaving only an idiot in charge; but the truth is that Mysterio has actually been faking the deaths to help them avoid capture.
Although the issue lacks much of Slott’s trademark humour, it more than makes up for it by keeping multiple subplots bubbling beneath the surface. In this issue alone, we get some advancement of Carly, and her role in Peter’s personal life, Peter’s current relationship with the Black Cat, Aunt May and Jameson Sr.’s return from their honeymoon and, finally, some indication that Mr. Negative’s F.E.A.S.T. operation might soon need to wind down. For a book whose ongoing status occasionally feels a little challenged by multiple self-contained issues in a row, it’s a nice to get back to the fundamentals.
The part of the story that entertains least, though, is the return of Mysterio. Again. Ever since Kevin Smith gave Mysterio his last, greatest outing in “Guardian Devil” a decade ago, writers have struggled to bring the character back into circulation, and once again, the return of Quentin Beck is apparently being treated as a continuation of the character as if the last time we saw him was in Daredevil, something which has been done before. If this is really part of the Gauntlet’s attempt to revisit and revamp old foes, this so far seems to be missing out the “revamp” part, simply bringing the character back in his old guise.
As is traditional for a Marco Martin comic, though, it’s the artwork that makes the issue fun to read. Martin’s pencils are nothing short of phenomenal, a rare example of an artist who can make mediocre material into something brilliant with his sheer ability. It’s a shame the story for one of Martin’s rare outings isn’t better, but even on a bad day, Slott outclasses most of his peers, so we can at least be thankful of that.