Review: “Red-Headed Stranger” (Amazing Spider-Man 602-605)
Alright, people, we’ve got 99 issues to go! Let’s do this!
Fred van Lente handles the majority of writing duties in this volume, penning stories that are definitely a step up from his cheesy “Spot” story from a couple volumes ago. Along with Barry Kitson, he has two very important tasks ahead of him: one, he reintroduces old Spidey foe the Chameleon into the Brand New Day world. Two, following her sudden appearance at Aunt May’s wedding, Mary Jane Watson makes her official return to Spidey’s world.
This isn’t a spoiler by any means, but I want to start by saying that, over the next several volumes, we will be seeing the return of multiple classic Spidey foes. While the Web-Heads have done a great job at introducing some intriguing new villains, like Mr. Negative, Freak, and Menace, a lot of old foes haven’t seen the sun yet in this new world. That’s about to change soon, and we get started by van Lente giving a new twist on an old adversary.
Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma Chameleon
The volume jumps straight into the Chameleon’s dirty dealings as he murders a man whose voice he’s attempting to impersonate. This is really creepy for two reasons: one, we’ve never seen this side of Chameleon, the process he goes through to imitate the unique inflections and dialect of a human’s voice. Secondly, Chameleon has never been much of a murderer, but now we have him dumping a guy into a vat of acid. That’s pretty freaky and cold-hearted for the guy. It’s a sinister take on the villain, and van Lente writes it well.
Jump to Peter Parker, currently seeking a job with the Mayor of New York, aka his cousin-in-law, aka J. Jonah Jameson. It may not be the ideal position, but at least he’s got a spot on the mayor’s photo unit, specifically tasked to a photoshoot at Shadow Command, a new New York-centered base of operations for counterterrorist measures. That sentence should make it clear why the Chameleon, dressed as a street performer dressed as the Statue of Liberty (whoa, costume-Inception!), proceeds to kidnap Peter Parker, take over his face and mannerisms, and dump him in the very same vat of acid he just killed another guy in.
Dang, van Lente, this is way darker than your Marvel Adventure days.
With Great Camouflage Comes Great Irresponsibility
What follows is a really intriguing idea that van Lente gets to play with. The Chameleon is Peter Parker, and though he’s been tasked with infiltrating Shadow Command to plant a bomb and thus wipe out a counterterrorism command post right before an actual terrorist attack, he has to first navigate all the other areas of Peter’s life. He hobnobs with friends and family, making assumptions about Peter’s life as he goes on. He starts a relationship with Peter’s roommate Michelle; he acts like a jerk to Mary Jane and assaults a creepy fan of hers; he insults Flash’s war injury; he flirts with Peter’s Reilly cousins. In essence, he acts in all the ways that Peter most likely would act if it weren't for his sense of responsibility. The one decent thing of note the Chameleon does do is invite Harry to stay with the Reillys, having cut himself off from Norman during the American Son story line. Chameleon does this because he sees how pathetic Peter is—especially concerning all the women in his life and how none of his relationships ever worked out—and wants to do something to “help,” as he says it’s his policy to give his victims some minor legacy. So he helps Harry, letting that be his one good deed for people to remember Peter by.
It’s a cool idea, and van Lente plays with it well. It makes your skin crawl reading it, because you know everyone thinks it’s Peter when it really isn’t. Heck, it’s the Chameleon who has the first real conversation with Mary Jane, not Peter! It’s really funny, and a good use of dramatic irony. Oh, and this whole situation only lasts an issue. That’s important. While this is a cool idea, the name of the book isn’t “The Amazing Chameleon.” But it isn’t like anyone would replace Peter with one of his arch-enemies and completely leave Peter out of the book for two years or anything like that, right?
Aw, dang it.
Well, fear not for the moment. Peter’s survived his acid bath, webbing himself a cocoon before the acid can eat through his skin. It’s a bit of a silly method of survival, but it doesn’t feel completely deux ex machina. Sure, it’s a bit far-fetched that he would wake up in time to web himself a cocoon before having his skin melt off him, but this is superhero fiction, after all. Gotta suspend our disbelief somewhere.
Breaking free from the Chameleon’s trap, Spidey swings into action to keep the villain from delivering a bomb to Shadow Command. Unfortunately for him, the hits keep coming. Jonah’s special anti-Spidey squad (which we saw debut during the 24/7 story line) has recently been outfitted with old Spider-Slayer tech, which includes a “spider-tracking” device the old model had waaaay back in the 1960s issue it debuted in. So not only does Spidey have to locate the Chameleon before he detonates a bomb, he’s gotta do it while being pursued by Mandroid Spider-Slayers that can follow his every move. Phew, what a day. Fortunately, our hero manages to track down the Chameleon and convince the Mandroids to help him handle the bomb, despite Jonah’s persistence to focus on the Web-Slinger instead. The bomb explodes harmlessly, but the Mandroids’ initial interference causes the Chameleon to escape.
Thus, we have a slight status quo change. Harry is now living at the Reilly household (which baffles Peter until he realizes what happened); Michelle suddenly sees Peter and her as a couple (which Peter hates Chameleon for); and Peter finally gets to see Mary Jane face-to-face. They chat a moment, but it’s a brief moment, with a promise that they’ll have a longer discussion soon. And in an epilogue teaser, we see Chameleon approach Sasha Kravinoff, the ex-wife of the deceased Kraven the Hunter and mother of Ana, a girl we encountered for the first time a few posts back. Something’s brewing, something sinister, and Sasha needs the Chameleon. It’s important, it’s about family. But what this sinister plot is exactly will have to wait a few more posts.
Villainy in the Bloodview quiz statistics
The Bachelor (starring Peter Parker)
The final issue in this volume covers a trio of stories, written by van Lente (who tackles the first two) and Brian Reed (who tackles the third). Van Lente’s first story covers what Mary Jane’s been up to since the beginning of Brand New Day. She’s been acting in one-dimensional roles in films (typically as “the girl”), dating Bobby Carr (who she eventually dumps after figuring out he’s been using Mutant Growth Hormone steroids to bulk up for a role as Captain America), and saving people from the White Rabbit (an Alice in Wonderland-based baddie). You get that she’s conflicted, still torn over her time dating Peter and putting up with the superhero side of his life. She’s tired of letting guys like Peter and Bobby live without consequences and expecting her to do the same. So, as story two shows, she returns to New York and starts hosting a modeling TV show. Other than a cameo appearance by Damon Ryder, who attacked Peter in the recent Annual, that’s all this tale does, setting up what’s going to happen in the next volume.
The last story is penned by Brian Reed and shows Spidey saving a girl he thinks he might have a chance to get to know better. Up until now, dating has been one of the last things on his mind, so it’s nice for Reed to introduce that component. Spidey is single now, as we all know, so why not give him a chance? It doesn’t work out, unfortunately, but Reed lets us see a side of Spidey and Peter that’s been largely neglected in the Brand New Day world until now, a side that was so integral to who he was in the early days of his history. But don’t worry, True Believer, he may find love yet.
And on that sickeningly mushy note, Red-Headed Stranger is finished. MJ is back, for good, she’s here to stay. Sasha Kravinoff is working in the shadows, and so is Damon Ryder. The next few volumes will hold some major changes in the life of the Spider-Man.
The Gauntlet is drawing near. Get excited. This stuff is going to be…amazing.
Amazing Spider-Man: Red-Headed Stranger
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© 2017 Nathan Kiehn