Amazing Spider-Man #353-358
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man #353,Amazing Spider-Man #354, Amazing Spider-Man #355, Amazing Spider-Man #356, Amazing Spider-Man #357, Amazing Spider-Man #358
But for now, we have a six part standalone story, with Spider-Man teaming up with Nova, Night Thrasher, Moon Knight, the Punisher, and Darkhawk to fight the Secret Empire. This plays off of a previous guest team-up in Moon Knight's book that ended with Moon Knight's sidekick Midnight getting captured by the Secret Empire and turned into a cyborg (that's why this story is called Sidekick's Revenge; i'm sure that adding "Robin" to that title had nothing to do with DC launching a Robin limited series in 1991).
The story starts with Midnight being sent by the Secret Empire to break Thunderball out of jail. Thunderball has lost his powers, but he's still a scientific genius, and the Empire wants him to help improve their cyborg program. Spider-Man happens to be swinging around the police stations where Thunderball is being held for transfer (Peter Parker went to visit Aunt May but found that she was getting ready to watch a professional wrestling show, so he left Mary Jane with her and went out on his own). And the police station also happens to be near Darkhawk's home. So both Spider-Man and Darkhawk try to stop Midnight from freeing Thunderball.
Mark Bagley's art has an almost miraculous ability to raise the stories of mediocre writers (see also Fabian Nicieza) but Al Milgrom is quippy to the point of overkill in the first installment of this issue. In these panels alone, you can see the 'who, what, where' thing plus Thundball's 'I'm falling and i can't get up' plus the truly awful 'stroke of midnight' line.
Midnight gets the stroke joke but no one can withstand 'a quip meant' and 'as fault protection'.
Even the Punisher gets into some wordplay, with 'slumbag' and a riff on double-negatives. And his informant counters with Secret Umpire.
Milgrom dials back from the jokes for the rest of the series. Maybe someone sat him down and told him not to try so hard.
Spider-Man has to save some civilians from a Secret Empire flying platform that Darkhawk knocked out of control, and Darkhawk loses concentration on his darkforce beam when Midnight talks about how Moon Knight betrayed him (because it reminds Darkhawk of his dad). So Midnight and Thunderball are able to get away. But Spidey does tag Midnight with a spider-tracer. And the Empire isn't thrilled that they had to send in troops to back Midnight up.
While this is mostly a high adrenaline action story, one of the nicest moments is a scene after Spider-Man returns from letting Midnight get away, and Milgrom writes Mary Jane as knowing her husband so well that she doesn't pry while he's thinking.
Just a quiet moment showing Peter and MJ as a couple that know each other really well.
In addition to reviewing their weapons capabilities, Thunderball gives the Secret Empire the idea to try to corrupt and recruit fledgling super-heroes into their ranks. He suggests that super-villains ("Lord, that's a corny label") are too ornery and independent to join their organization, but young super-heroes might be easy to indoctrinate. "At first I thought maybe the New Mutants -- I guess they're called X-Force now -- might be recruitable, but it's hard to get mutants to trust you". So he suggests the New Warriors, specifically Nova who seems "real unfocused -- restless". Thunderball is surprisingly up to date on developments in the Marvel universe, and from the way he's being used here i can see why he thought he ought to take over the leadership of the Wrecking Crew from the Wrecker. It's too bad we never saw him talking like this to the Wrecker, maybe contrasted with the Wrecker's feelings that all they needed was brute force, because it would have helped the in-fighting and break-up of the Crew feel a lot more developed.
Spider-Man later goes to Avengers mansion to see if they can help him contact Moon Knight to tell him that his sidekick, Midnight, is still alive. Cap tells Spider-Man that he could have contacted Moon Knight through his Avengers ID card (Spidey is still an Avengers reservist). I thought the cards with the communication devices built in were a new development that happened when the Avengers got their new UN charter, and Moon Knight was already off the team by then.
In any event, Spider-Man contacts Moon Knight and tells him that he'll keep in touch if his spider-tracer comes in range.
Later (two weeks later, in fact), Midnight finds Nova and makes the pitch to join the Secret Empire.
Nova seems to be going along with it, but secretly opens up his communications channel so that Night Thrasher can follow him. But Spider-Man ruins that plan when he sees Midnight and assumes that he's attacking Nova. Nova tries to get rid of Spider-Man by asking Night Thrasher to attack him...
...but Nova gives up his ruse right after that anyway. Moon Knight, contacted by Spider-Man, shows up as well...
...but Midnight manages to knock out Nova and kidnap him, leaving Moon Knight, Night Thrasher, and Spider-Man behind.
Spider-Man's tracer is still active, so they trace Midnight back to the Secret Empire headquarters, which Punisher has found independently.
As usual, Spider-Man works with the Punisher despite the latter character's lethal ways. "One day" there will be a reckoning, though.
Midnight comes out to join the fight, but as with when he was freeing Thunderball, the Secret Empire aren't pleased with his performance, so they contract with the Seekers to join him.
The Seekers have only been hired to delay the heroes until the Secret Empire can relocate to a new headquarters. But they do manage to hit Punisher with a power leeching device that nearly kills him.
Night Thrasher cuts it off, but Punisher is weakened and out of the action for a while.
Midnight discovers the spider-tracer and destroys it before the Empire can analyze it, further annoying them. But while they are disappointed in him, he is contemplating taking over their organization. The only thing stopping him is the fact that they've got a control device connected to him that can remotely cause him pain. However, his nurse, Lynn Church, mysteriously orders some technicians to remove that device while Thunderball is installing improvements in him, and, seeing something on her face, they agree.
Church also turns off the signal jamming device at the Secret Empire's new headquarters, allowing Night Thrasher to track Nova through the communication channel in his helmet. When the heroes get there and attack...
...Midnight uses the opportunity to force the Secret Empire to make him their leader, or else he won't help them. With the pain device not working, and with one of their heads going "spplokk" on the wall, they agree.
So Midnight joins the fight. Spider-Man is able to damage his arm...
...but he delays the heroes enough that the Secret Empire are able to relocate again.
This time the heroes are able to track the Empire thanks to the Punisher, who snuck into the headquarters and disguised himself as their Number Three while all the fighting was going on.
It takes a while for Punisher to get an opportunity to contact the other heroes, though, so we see Spider-Man, Moon Knight, and Night Thrasher each go home and spend some time with their ladies (for Night Thrasher, that is Silhoutte, but she doesn't otherwise participate in this story). When Punisher activates Nova's comm channel again, Night Thrasher spreads the word. Peter was in bed with MJ at the time, and forgets to turn off his Avengers card after talking with Moon Knight, which is too bad since he's making embarrassing comments to MJ.
Punisher and Nova have to team up for a while before the other heroes get there.
But eventually the others show.
To even out the odds a bit, it turns out that Thunderball has been working on a suit to simulate his old powers.
But that doesn't really even the odds, especially since Darkhawk shows up again.
So it also turns out that Lynn Church is a cyborg like Midnight.
It turns out that what the technicians saw on her face was the seal of the (deceased) Secret Empire Agent Number One. She's actually been manipulating Midnight in order to take over the Empire herself.
So, big fight.
And the Seekers return. Now the odds are evened.
The Punisher may have killed hundreds of Secret Empire goons in this story, but he's not allowed to kill one of Danny Fingeroth's creations.
Loyalties on the Empire's side were already tenuous, but once Church turns out to not have a pretty face, all bets are off with Midnight.
So they wind up fighting each other. The other Seekers are defeated. Thunderball decides there's no longer any profit to be had in fighting, and he winds up turning himself in. This is after getting crushed under rubble during Midnight and Church's fight. He digs himself out by swinging whats left of their intertwined arms, which explains the atrociously hilarious pun of the title of the final issue.
Some great fight sequences by Bagley, especially in the final part. And a fun adventure all the way through, with a nice use of all the guests. Al Milgrom does well with the research too. It's good to see a conclusion to the Midnight story, especially since creative team changes on the Moon Knight book means that it wasn't likely to get addressed there. And he does a nice job connecting the various origins of the characters and noting when they've met before (the one thing that i felt was missing was Darkhawk saying something like 'oh yeah, i met some of your team in New Warriors #14' when Night Thrasher introduces himself and Nova as New Warriors). There are some goofy moments as well, and sometimes characters get overly angsty (Thrasher in particular is one track-minded about rescuing Nova, and he irrationally takes Midnight's word about how Moon Knight mistreated him, although that gets resolved nicely later). But overall it's a fun action story.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: "Two weeks" pass in the middle of issue #354, after Spider-Man promises to tell Moon Knight if he runs into Midnight again. Obviously needs to fit in breaks for all the guest characters, and probably should take place before New Warriors #18.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAunt May, Captain America, Chain, Darkhawk, Frenchie, Grasp, Joe 'Robbie' Robertson, Lynn Church, Marlene Alraune, Mary Jane Watson, Microchip, Midnight (Jeffrey Wilde), Moon Knight, Night Thrasher, Nova (Rich Rider), Punisher, Savage Steel (Jimmy Zafar), Secret Empire Agent Number Seven, Secret Empire Agent Number Six, Silhouette, Sonic, Spider-Man, Thunderball
This story was my crack as a youth; I remember anxiously reading all the parts.
I like the idea of Thunderball as a bad guy consultant; he has some interesting viewpoints. He's kind of stupid in recruiting Nova, though--Nova has been around a while and there was nothing in his track record to indicate he could be deluded so easily; I do think he's onto something about fringe heroes though.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | November 16, 2015 4:41 PM
*sees the "a quip meant" and "as fault protection" puns*
...did Milgrom think he was writing the 60s Batman show or something?
Posted by: Morgan Wick | November 16, 2015 5:33 PM
I like the way the dialogue in Spidey's thought balloon covers for artwork showing a loser like Nighttwasher being able to kick spider-man. He might be "kwel" but he shouldn't be able to lay a finger on the webhead.
Posted by: kveto | November 16, 2015 6:14 PM
This make's Moon Knight's "you're married?" comment in Kirkman's Marvel Team-Up towards Spider-Man interesting. I now like to imagine Moon Knight just pretended to be surprised as he wasn't prepared to admit exactly how much he heard of Peter and MJ.
Posted by: Max_Spider | November 16, 2015 7:33 PM
This was an awesome crossover. I mean the cover even says "The greatest bi-weekly saga of all" So, it must be true. ;)
Posted by: clyde | November 16, 2015 7:45 PM
With all the crossovers happening now, it's a wonder they didn't bring back Marvel Team Up and basically have that be the big crossover book. Back in the day they would have told this whole story there and pick one character to be the official title hero.
Posted by: Chris | November 16, 2015 8:38 PM
Loved this storyline and Revenge of the Sinister Six as a kid. Loved all the guest stars. The ability of all these heroes to meet is the real strength of a shared universe.
Never read Moon Knight's comic so I had no idea Midnight was that book's Jar Jar Binks. Just thought he was an archetypal super-hero sidekick out for revenge against the mentor who let him down, which is good drama for a super-hero story. Hell, even Alan Moore used it in Miracleman/Marvelman. Interesting that this type of plot wasn't really used again for 15 years or so with Winter Soldier and Red Hood.
Posted by: Red Comet | November 16, 2015 10:41 PM
This one is SO much better than the Sinister Six one.
Posted by: AF | March 6, 2016 3:39 PM
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