The first thing that Spider-Island does right is found on the first two pages of the issue, which catch the reader up on where we are in the story so far. I’ve seen Marvel try this introductory page before, but it’s usually a huge block of dense text that you can’t help but skim at best, and totally ignore at worst. However, this introduction is done as a series of panels that fills you in on the major beats of the story with impressive efficiency, and I actually found myself enjoying the catch-up page for once.
The plot of the issue begins with Peter Parker and his girlfriend Carlie Cooper being ambushed by the Scorcher, Chance, and White Rabbit. Carlie has gained spider-powers as a result of the viral epidemic that’s bestowing the proportionate abilities of a spider to everyone who catches the spider-flu. Peter is pretending to also be a victim of the spider-flu, and he’s able to openly use his spider-powers without wearing his Spider-Man disguise. Together, they were investigating an old abandoned laboratory of Miles Warren AKA The Jackal who is best known for his role in the Clone Saga. At the lab, the two of them are ambushed by super-villains that have been infected with the spider-flu and attack them not only with their regular abilities, but also with spider-powers.
At first, Carlie is thrilled to be fighting super-villains because the fact that they were guarding the lab means that they were on to something, but we see from Peter’s thought captions that he’s worried about his girlfriend who isn’t used to dealing with regular super-villains much less super-villains with bonus spider-powers thrown into the mix. He’s forced to bust out the kung fu that he learned from Shang Chi, and Humberto Ramos gives us an awesome full-page spread of Peter taking out all three super-villains in a series of rapid images. Slott writes this scene with a lot of interesting layers. You have the classic Spider-Man trope of protecting his girlfriend from rampaging super-villains, but it’s turned on its head and Carlie is actually participating in the battle with a set of spiderpowers of her own. Also, the idea of Peter concealing his secret identity from his loved ones comes into play as he has to both survive the attack and not appear to be too good with his spider-powers, lest his girlfriend Carlie deduce that he’s been Spider-Man the whole time they’ve known each other.
Slott transitions from this scene to The Jackal observing Peter on an array of security cameras. Slott’s portrayal of The Jackal is masterful. He depicts this character as a deranged mad man who watches Peter fend off his super-villain lackeys like he’s watching his favorite soap opera. Slott’s dialogue is funny, and it also hits a metafictional note as The Jackal observes the story and comments on it like he himself is in the audience with the reader. He even has The Jackal drop a hilarious Clone Saga reference when he comments about Carlie, “I’d recast. She’s no Gwen Stacy. Seriously, you couldn’t pay me to clone her.” Here, Slott is taking a super-villain that was typically played off as one dimensional in the Clone Saga, and he’s revitalizing him with humor and an entertainingly menacing attitude that makes him cool again, or cool for the first time depending on who you ask.
This issue is packed with awesome stuff. We see that the whole city has been infected with spider-flu and Ramos illustrates great panels of the sky full of web slinging civilians. Luke Cage and the Red Hulk fight off hordes of spider-powered New Yorkers who are trying to leave Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel and infect the outside world. Reed Richards works tirelessly at Horizon Labs to develop a vaccine to prevent further spider-flu infection, and he’s also working on a cure (although I’m not sure I’d want to be cured of spider-powers). Slott gives us a few awesome moments at Horizon Labs with J. Jonah Jameson practically losing his mind, first at the idea of an entire world populated by Spider-Men, and then at the realization that he already has contracted the spider-flu and he’ll inevitably develop spider-powers. Slott has a lot of things going on in this issue, and it’s one of the most exciting and thrilling Spider-Man comics I’ve ever read.
Slott hits on the secret identity trope again when Carlie meets Spider-Man only to find that her boyfriend Peter has suddenly disappeared. Carlie is obviously becoming suspicious, and it’s an interesting twist on the secret identity idea to have Spider-Man dealing with a girlfriend that can climb walls and meet him on rooftops. It makes it a little tougher for him to conceal his identity when he can’t just swing away. Carlie can now swing away with him, and she follows him to the scene of yet another supervillain attack.
This scene features a six armed and spider-powered version of The Shocker, and it’s an awesome fight scene. The Shocker has now tripled his deadliness with three times as many arm mounted shock weapons, and it’s a cool way for Slott to up the stakes. It’s also a cool reference to The Six Arms Saga, a storyline where Peter ingests a formula designed to cure him of his spider-powers but finds that it actually accelerates his mutation and makes him more spider-like with four extra arms. Ramos really shines in this scene as he draws the six-armed Shocker firing blasts all over the place with his tripled powers. This was an incredibly cool scene to top off an already action packed issue, and it had me excited to see where Slott takes Spider-Island in the next issue.
I was skeptical going into Slott’s Spider-Man crossover event. It seemed too similar to Fear Itself in the sense that one event gave out Mjolnir knock-offs and the other spread spider-powers like the common cold. However, the third part of Spider-Island has completely sold me on this event, and I think Slott and Ramos are really hitting it out of the park with this one. This issue in particular is one of the best Spider-Man comics that I’ve read in years, and I highly recommend it.