Amazing Spider-Man #529-531: Never Trust a Metallic Man
Amazing Spider-Man #259 opens with Peter and Mary Jane asleep, in what I refuse to believe are their natural sleeping positions. Mary Jane appears to be punching herself in the face, and Peter looks like his torso has been folded in half along the vertical axis. He's awakened by the electronic voice of Tony Stark, which he naturally mistakes for Mary Jane. Either Mary Jane is secretly Doctor Girlfriend, or Stark has an incredibly sultry, feminine voice.
He turns around and realizes that the voice is coming from an intercom built into a statue of an eagle. Why the intercom is built into a statue of an eagle, instead of being built into something that looks like an intercom, I'm not entirely sure. At this point in the continuity, Peter has been an Avenger for a very brief period, and he will continue to be an Avenger for also a very brief period.
Tony requests Peter's presence in his lab. Peter shows up and the two exchange the kind of banter that I suspect is the reason Peter is no longer an Avenger, because the writers couldn't possibly bear to write jokes this bad in every issue. Stark then reveals that he's been building the Spidey suit we saw on the cover, citing that the old one was "just cloth" (I swear I had a complaint about this assertion but it's slipped my mind) and lists an impressive number of upgrades:
- Short-distance gliding. I'm not sure this was strictly necessary, but, well, it's cool.
- Heat-resistant kevlar microfiber. So he's now slightly more fireproof and slightly more bulletproof than he was before.
- Fire, police, and emergency scanner, and audio and visual amplification. These are essentially tech upgrades to his Spider-Sense, though Stark doesn't realize that yet.
- Air filter. As many times as Peter needed to improvise an air filter in the first hundred issues of Amazing Spider-Man alone, and as many other times as he's had to do without when it would've been extremely helpful, I'm still kind of shocked he didn't already have one built into his old suit.
- Short-range GPS microwave communication system. I'm pretty sure that this doesn't even actually mean anything at all. Stark is just spouting random tech-y words and calling them upgrades. And the worst part is that this doesn't actually surprise me.
After that, they take a moment to address a plot hole from a previous issue, involving Mary Jane breaking an arm and then appearing with two remarkably unbroken arms a little later. The explanation: Mad science first aid.
Oh god they can see me.
Cut to one hour later, a high-speed police chase is in progress. The suspect driving the car says they can take an exit up ahead, to which the other says "not a chance". I don't know why, but that sounds really out-of-place when it's being said by a vaguely Eminem-esque guy with a shaved head and a tattoo of a snake on his temple fleeing from police in a remarkably shitty-looking car with flame decals and a vanity license plate on the front that reads "BAD-1". Maybe it's just me. Anyway, Eminem leans out the window and fires at the police. Miraculously, he apparently manages to hit the left front tire of the car directly behind him (despite the fact that he was leaning out the right front window and seemed to actually be aiming away from the cars and not even pointing the gun down), which causes it to swerve into the car next to it, taking out both cars and blocking the third even though THAT car was definitely in the lane to the right of the one that got hit and as such should have been completely unobstructed by the wreck. Man, this guy must be a Reality Warper
They're approaching a tunnel I guess, even though the shots that have shown the road in front of them didn't indicate that they were anywhere near a tunnel and wow
I'm finding so many more things wrong with this sequence than I thought I would, so they decide to murder their hostage and hijack someone else's car once they get there. The driver, apparently neither the brains nor
the muscle of their operation, spots Spider-Man and nearly starts to panic before Eminem tells him that there aren't enough buildings for Spidey to swing from in order to catch up to them. I'm not entirely sure how he recognized Spider-Man despite the brand-new suit and the fact that New York is overflowing with guys in spandex, but who cares.
Peter uses his new gliding abilities to catch up to the car, and proceeds to rip open the roof. At this point it's pretty much over, because seriously, these guys don't even have any powers, but Eminem manages to stave off their inevitable doom by firing wildly into the hole. Apparently infrared vision lets you see through metal, as Spidey now uses that to keep an eye on the thugs through the roof. In case it wasn't completely obvious by now, this whole scenario is actually an excuse to show off all the suit's capabilities at once, except for the short-range GPS microwave communication system which as I mentioned is not a thing.
He uses the police scanner to learn where the police have set up a barricade, and then webs the steering wheel out of the perps' control to make sure they go there. Eminem manages to get one shot off at the cops before his gun gets taken away by Spidey. Surprisingly, spacetime does not bend to make the bullet hit the cops this time. The car stops and the driver immediately surrenders. Spider-Man is helping the hostage out of the trunk when Eminem starts screaming that it's "all your fault", grabs his partner's gun, and shoots.
Oh god right in the massive titanium stud.
Naturally, as the cops tackle him and wrest this
gun from his hands, Eminem starts gloating about having just killed Spider-Man, only to realize to his surprise that Spidey is in fact still standing. A cop suggests that Spider-Man is actually a zombie, which unsurprisingly frightens Eminem, and Spidey slings away.
That night, he's recounting the tale to Tony and Mary Jane, and suddenly he shifts gears to ask why Tony made him the new suit. Peter is properly suspicious of Tony's motives, because nobody in their right mind would believe a word Tony Stark says. Tony successfully dodges the actual question by telling them he wanted to speak to them in private, then tells them that he needs Peter's help with something and he can't say what unless Peter agrees to keep it a secret from absolutely everyone. Here Peter's justified suspicion seems to malfunction, and after a moment's hesitation he agrees. Tony hands him an envelope, and tells him they're going to Washington.
The next issue begins with Peter and Tony preparing to board the plane. There are a few random points of exposition here which don't really invite comment for any reason other than being random exposition. First, Peter observes that Tony is tired, which the narration informs us is because the previous night was the night of the last Illuminati meeting. Second, Tony says that he's made some adjustments to the suit but doesn't say what. Real informative. With those things established they take off.
Once in flight, Tony hands Peter a file on the Superhuman Registration Act, and explains what it means: That the government is planning to make anyone with superhuman powers register their identities blah blah blah.
Peter is immediately alarmed by this idea, since obviously the moment registration begins everyone's real identities will be out on Wikileaks and it'll be open season on heroes. Stark tells him that the senators say they can keep the information confidential. And they can keep the information confidential because, um... they say they can? Anyway he says the whole point of going to Washington is to try to talk the Senate out of this course of action.
This is followed by an entire page of editor's notes arguing with each other. It's kind of a surreal effect.
Now we get to the adjustments Tony mentioned earlier. There are two. The first allows him to wear the suit under his clothes, which is kind of what he already did anyway, but he also no longer needs to take it off in the shower. It also lets him change its appearance to other suits he's worn, which is possibly even more useless. The second is a set of four mechanical arms shaped kind of like spider legs - which, I'll note, were actually featured on the cover of the previous
issue so it feels a little like cheating to only just now be giving them to him. And, just so it's perfectly clear, yes, that does mean that Tony Stark has just given Peter Parker a Doctor Octopus suit. As soon as Peter tries them out, the arms latch onto the ceiling and pull him to it.
Cut to Peter and Tony heading to the Senate. Peter brings up the ceiling thing, reusing a joke from the previous issue because I guess he thought it was too good to waste. Also there's a sniper in powered armor watching them.
The senator who starts this hearing, the aptly-named Senator Dickerson, immediately starts treating it like an interrogation. Or a trial, of sorts.
Let's call it a crucible.
I'd say this guy is juvenile and unprofessional, but he's a politician, so that would be redundant. He refers to Stark as Iron Man, to which Stark replies that he is the former
Iron Man. The senator responds by asking if he would say the same thing under oath, when lying would constitute perjury, apparently forgetting that it doesn't work that way. Stark, however, is well aware that he cannot be interrogated on what he would say under oath when he is not, in fact, under oath, and dismisses the question. The fact that the corporate partyboy has a better understanding of the way the system works than the guys running the show is troubling, but not at all surprising.
After that, the stand is turned over to Senator Whitmore, who I think bears some resemblance to pretty much every widely-despised politician of the Bush administration.
Don't take my word for it, though - look at this guy. Everything about him is lumpy, crooked, or both. Who made those glasses? Was he prescribed those misshapen lenses? Was it an accident? Did they give him those out of spite?
Also note that he appears to talk using exclusively the right side of his mouth.
He mentions that over the last sixty years, super-battles have cost governmental agencies almost $200 billion in property damage because secret identities really screw with the accounts receivable records, and asserts that superhumans should be forced to register for the sake of accountability. Which brings me to my first major criticism of the SHRA.
Okay, suppose you're a superhero. How much damage are you looking to cause? Given that you are a hero
, I think it's safe to say the answer to that is none whatsoever. The main reason property damage occurs is that supervillains aren't exactly careful not to break anything, and when you're fighting one, you really can't afford to be either. There are times when it might be your fault, but the majority of the time, the damage occurs as an inevitable result while you're busy saving lives.
Now say you're a supervillain. A law passes that says all superhumans have to register their identities with the government. What do you do? Well, given that you're kind of into breaking the law anyway, I'm going to take a guess and say that you don't fucking register
. Why would you? You'd basically be signing a document that says "please take me to jail now" and there are effectively no consequences to not signing it, especially if you plan to just keep doing what you do.
So as far as accountability goes, this Act is bullshit. What Whitmore is saying is the government is going to start charging superheroes for the damage caused by the supervillains they stop.
Now that we're done with that aside, back to the debate. Stark retorts that $300 million a year is actually a pretty reasonable price, since the people we're talking about are the entire reason there is still a continent in the Western hemisphere. Whitmore, of course, says that that's not the point. Wait, what?
Oh, now he's talking about how everyone makes mistakes and most professionals are held accountable for those mistakes. Stark did mention that the Act would give superheroes jobs with SHIELD during the Illuminati meeting, so I guess that's a legitimate idea. Whitmore asks why superheroes shouldn't be accountable, to which Stark says he has no answer.
Wow. Way to go, Tony. You really fought for the whole supercommunity there, for almost twenty seconds. Peter then speaks up, and, uh... I'm sorry, hold on a second.
Am I the only one who sees this? It looks like everyone's staring straight ahead with one eye, while the other is looking up or down. It just doesn't look right.
Anyway. Peter points out that to stop a supervillain, you need a superhero
, because ordinary cops aren't going to cut it, and if superheroes' identities were revealed, their entire families would be targeted instantly. Whitmore's response bears transcribing here in its entirety, because I have several reactions to it:
"Police officers, judges, even elected officials and their families face similar threats every day, Mr. Parker. What keeps our democracy honest is that we don't operate behind masks."
Okay, first, yes. In a world where supervillains exist, every public figure and everyone involved in upholding the law is a potential target for an attack by someone they can't handle. Except I wouldn't really include police officers in that group because we're talking about the kind of people you need superheroes to bring down, and police shouldn't be targeted very often. And elected officials probably don't get a pass on this one because they're elected officials. The system is not designed in a way that is compatible with secret identities. Unless you were campaigning under a secret identity in the first place. Actually, why don't they do that? That would be awesome. I'd definitely vote for Senator Righteousness or President Justice. I might even vote for a supervillain for President, just because that would be awesome (and because after Bush and Obama, a supervillain would probably be a step up, and hey, it works for Latveria, anyway). In fact the more I think about it, the more I can't think of a single way in which any public figure or law enforcer having a secret identity would not make life significantly more awesome.
Second, if you're paying attention, this guy is equating himself to a superhero right now. He doesn't actually fight supervillains, or take the distinction between superheroes and supervillains into account when drafting bills. Hell, that probably makes him pretty popular in the supervillain camp. I'd say he's an arrogant, self-righteous asshole, but again, he's a politician, so that would be redundant.
Third... keeping our democracy honest? What country are you from
Peter responds that superheroes, by and large, are the results of lab accidents/magic/superdrugs/genetic factors, rather than job applications or the electoral process, and are just doing what's right whether or not it's legal. And here, to my surprise, Whitmore actually makes a very good point: It's not
legal. Without the Superhero Registration Act, most superheroes are vigilantes, and vigilantism is a crime. The Act enables superheroes to do the right thing and
do it legally. (And get paid. Getting paid is important.)
And this is one of the main reasons I hate Marvel Civil War. The Superhuman Registration Act is a complex issue. It has implications to the supercommunity and to all of society which are really never properly explored. After these three issues, everyone involved tends to repeat a small selection of arguments ad infinitum while beating each other's heads in, and those arguments are usually speculation
on what will happen in the future based on a limited number of perspectives. Oh, and in two cases, statements from people from alternate futures that either option will lead to an oppressive police state and the eventual destruction of humanity.
So at this point Peter decides he needs to shut up. The senator calls for a ten minute recess, and on the way out of the room Tony gives Peter some advice, which basically boils down to "shut up". About ten minutes later, Peter is on the phone with Mary Jane, and his spider-sense goes off. He completely dismisses it, because of course if your magical danger sense goes off while you're meeting with the Senate there's obviously nothing to worry about.
We cut ahead, to after they spend about as much time talking about the Act as I've spent typing about this issue so far. Tony explains to the Senate that the Act would turn people who have always been heroes into criminals, which is a good point except for the fact that it was pointed out earlier that vigilantes are already
criminals. He compares it to Prohibition and the draft and says, "[...]who knows where it will end?" Dickerson once again decides to go for the theatrical interrogation approach and says that that sounds like a threat. Stark calmly responds that he is loyal to his country and its leaders. I idly wonder whether he's referring to America or not. It's possible he's a Skrull choosing his words very carefully.
The committee recesses and... now they're calling it a committee. I guess it was kind of obvious before that they weren't talking to the entire Senate, but this is the first time in this issue they've referred to it as anything else. Well, Tony and Peter walk out of the building and half of Peter's leg seems to be missing.
"If only I had had the good sense to stay away from that kid with the pliers!"
A reporter asks them the same question as in Fantastic Four #536, and Tony gives the same response, and Reed and Sue are watching just so we know it's the same broadcast, only they're on the steps instead of in a corridor.
Then the Titanium Man attacks. He's the sniper from earlier. I don't know who he is, but I assume he's an Iron Man foe. He says he's been sent to kill Stark, so of course Tony runs off while Peter blinds the bad guy with a discreet web shot, giving himself an opportunity to tear off his clothes unnoticed. They fight, and almost immediately soldiers arrive and start shooting at both of them. In the last few panels, the Titanium Man takes off, and Peter latches onto him with a quick web line.
The next issue opens, predictably enough, with Spider-Man dangling from the Titanium Man as they fly over the capital. He taunts the bad guy with a Rocky and Bullwinkle
reference before using a web line from his other hand to catch the Washington Monument, which stops the Titanium Man and then slingshots him to the ground in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Pursuing, Peter finds that the Titanium Man has already managed to get up and get out of sight by the time he gets there.
It's at this point that Peter becomes distracted by the Gettysburg Address.
This may seem like just an offbeat moment, but actually it's the first instance of what will become a very tiresome trend in this storyline, frequently trying to find ways to compare the whole thing to real historic wars and the tragic circumstances that surrounded them. It's not subtle and it's not nearly as poignant as they think it is. Also, Peter is distracted long enough for the Titanium Man to catch him off-guard.
Titanium throws Spidey as hard as he can, directly at the reflecting pool at the base of the Washington Monument and then flies off, only for Peter to turn it to his advantage by using his suit's gliding capabilities plus the momentum of his fall to get above the enemy. He forces them both down onto a nearby building, which turns out not to have been the most brilliant idea he could have had since the Titanium Man is able to handle the fall better. Titanium grabs Peter by the throat, and starts monologuing about how the Registration Act will lead to the extermination of all American superheroes and leave the country defenseless.
Peter records the whole thing, then attacks with his spider-legs. He manages to drive off the Titanium Man, surprisingly easily.
The next day, Stark uses the recording of the Titanium Man's monologue to present his point. He describes in a logical way how things might go very wrong, very fast, and points out a division in public opinion - which really should have been the first thing he said on the first day, since it means any politician who takes any stance on the Act at this point will lose the support of half the country. That thought should have been enough to make most of them back down right away.
Despite this, Dickerson still feels like being uncooperative, and questions the authenticity of the recording. Spider-Man pops in to confirm that yes, you douchebag, it's the real thing
, and present another argument, because that worked so well last time. He suggests that without registration, superheroes can do things that government and military forces can't do, for reasons of budget and public opinion, but someone has to. At this point I imagine that for perhaps the first time in his career, he wished his suit was capable of giving a sly wink.
At this point, Dickerson even admits
that Spider-Man has a point, but refuses to allow his statements on the record unless he unmasks. So, wait, he wants Tony Stark to testify as Iron Man, but Spider-Man can't testify as Spider-Man?
Outside, Tony and Peter discuss the events. Tony says that the only way to stop the Act is to keep the issue confused for a few years, until the politicians give up. Peter, noting that there shouldn't have been enough time for the Titanium Man to find out they were there and attack when he did, starts to ask if Tony had anything to do with the Titanium Man's attack, but decides to trust - oh come on. You said just two issues ago that you know how he thinks. You know that he isn't all that trustworthy. You know that the circumstances of the attack were suspicious. YOU KNOW ALL THIS. ACT ON IT.
But, no, he lets it go. Tony then compares himself to Abraham Lincoln. Peter seems to have one last surge of justifiable suspicion and asks if Tony would tell him if he had anything to do with it, to which Tony responds, "Of course I would."
Tony Stark is a goddamned liar.
Tony meets the Titanium Man as Iron Man with a briefcase full of cash, and they talk politics. Tony taunts the Titanium Man with a Rocky and Bullwinkle
reference and he flies away.
Cut to Stark Tower. Peter is apparently having trouble with insomnia, and Mary Jane suggests from the shower that he should turn on the news and zone out. It works, and as he dozes off, there is nothing troubling or ominous on the news whatsoever.