Did you know that Spider-Man has over 600 comics? Pretty sweet, right? The most recent story arc is called "The Gauntlet". Basically, a bunch of the Grade-B baddies (guys who aren't top-notch in the super-villain category) have been getting a few upgrades or making impacts in the life of everybody's favorite web-head. As things get weirder and weirder, questions pop up. What strings is the Chameleon pulling in the background? Why has he teamed up with Kraven the Hunter's daughter and widow? Things may get stranger in the friendly neighborhood, but Spidey isn't a slouch. He can put these punks down any day of the week...and hopefully answer some weaved riddles in the process.
Power To The People (Issues 612-614): For a while now, the man known as Electro (Max Dillon) has had difficulties with his power. Some times, he's charged to the max. Others, he's as dead on juice as an empty lemonade stand. But he knows someone who can help: The Mad Thinker. Oh, sure, the Thinker will help...for a price. So, Electro starts bashing the owner of the DB! (Formerly the Daily Bugle) Dexter Bennet (J Jonah Jameson sold it to him. JJJ is now mayor of New York. Did I also mention that one of Jonah's relations married Peter Parker's dear Aunt May? It's a small world after all). Then, Max blackmails Bennet. Unless Bennet pays him some dough, he'll die. So Bennet pays. Then, things go wrong. Somehow, Max becomes Electro 2.0. He can draw power from every appliance in the city. And guess what? He wants Bennet dead. What can Spidey do? He has to save the day...or else it's light out.
Keemia's Castle (Issues 615-616): A few murders leave Spidey baffled. A store employee, a lawyer, and a concert promoter. And a little girl, Keemia, a child of one of the deceased, has disappeared. According to her grandmother, a snowman kidnapped her. Does any of this make sense? So Spidey turns sleuth. After a bit of hunting, he finds the truth. An old foe, the Sandman kidnapped her. Why? And did he murder the people? Spidey seems to think so, but Sandy denies it! So Spidey has to find the truth, rescue Keemia, and defeat Sandman. Then there's the little matter of getting off a little island to attend to. Is webbing water-proof? I wouldn't count on it.
Rage of the Rhino (Issue 617): The New Year is coming around, and do you know what that means? A whole new enemy to beat up on! The old Rhino, Aleksei Sytstevich, has settled down, ditched crime, gotten married, and has a job. However,a new Rhino (no idea who) wants to fight him, Rhino to Rhino. He wishes to "ascend". But the old Horn Head doesn't want to fight, but guess who does? "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever-", aw, you get the idea. Anywho, it's Spider verses Rhino. Just like the good ole' times, right? Wrong. This Rhino is leaner, meaner, and has a giant scythe, like some modern day Grim Reaper. And what if Aleksei wants to stop this new and improved foe, to make sure his wife is never threatened? Would he dare re-don the armor of the Rhino? Will he win, but then lose what he loves the most in the end? Or can Spidey smooth the rage of the savage beast?
Mysterioso (Issues 618-620): Over the years, the Maggia crime family has lost member after member. They even lost their Don, Silvermane. Silvername's head enforcer, Hammerhead, has switched sides to the tong of the rising menace, Mr. Negative, a gangster from Chinatown. But could these all be fakes? Could these all be set ups by some master of tricks? Quentin Beck has returned as Mysterio, and is working for the Maggia. He is helping them move their laundered money to somewhere safe, so that Mr. Negative doesn't steal from them. Spidey is drawn into the conflict,a battle between Maggia gangsters, and Mr. Negative's undying, sword swinging Inner Demons, and it looks like the web-slinger kills someone! Soon, as more deaths occur, Spidey figures it out. He knows that Mysterio is behind this. Can he stop his old enemy from unleashing his final plot? Can he stop Mr. Negative from killing any more? The stage is set, the audience is ready, and the final act is under way.
Out For Blood (Issue 621): Mr Negative has been screwing things up for Spider-Man lately. He's made a toxin that attacks Spider-Man's DNA. He's also warped Aunt May's mind, making the once kind woman a vicious viper. But Spidey's biggest problem is the toxin. He has to find his sample of blood and dispose of it before Mr. Negative can use it against him anymore. So, along with his old friend Black Cat, Spidey sneaks into Mr. Negative's home. All he has to is slip past traps undetected and find his blood. If he is found out, he has to fight Inner Demons, and maybe battle Mr. Negative himself. Who says being a super hero pays? But will it be worth it? Can Spidey seriously get rid of this toxic threat to his life? And if he does, there's still the threat of Mr. Negative himself to deal with. Can Spidey win out in the end? Or will he fall?
It Is The Life (Issue 622): Huh. Looks as if Black Cat lives up to her criminal reputation. Remember that vial of blood from last issue? It seems as though she's sold it to a group of wannabe-vampires (aka, would-be-Edwards). Spidey goes in search of his blood, only to find out from a mysterious woman that's it been taken by Morbius, the Living Vampire. Background: Michael Morbius was a doctor who contracted a super-rare disease. It caused him to become a vampire-like dude who has a taste for Spidey's radioactive blood. Back to the present. Spidey breaks into Morbius' home, whose a little surprised at seeing him there. Well, this lady followed. Turns out she's Morbius' ex-fiancee and seems to be a vampire herself. And she wants Morbius' help in killing Spider-Man (honestly, what is it with villains and wanting to kill? Can't we all be friends?). Spidey's in a pickle. The only way to stop a vampire is to kill him...or her. But Spidey doesn't want to kill anyone. But if he doesn't, he may just end up on Morby's menu.
Scavenger (Issues 623-624): That old cranky guy Adrian Toomes isn't the only one to call himself the Vulture. Spidey's faced a new villain using that name twice before, and this one has fangs, real wings, and can spit acid (which is a stretch, cause I've never seen birds spew acid). Having been sprung from jail by the notorious Electro, this Vulture goes after the men who made him: The mob. Duped by the gangsters into believing he was made by Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, The Vulture attacks City Hall. Fortunately, that wonderous Web-Slinger's here to save the day. Unfortunately, a man is killed during the brawl. To make matters worse, Vultchy gets away and Jameson's pegged for having ties with this predatory perp. Once again, it's Spidey to the rescue. Or, at least, Peter Parker. The only issue is that he has to doctor a photo in the attempt to clear his boss's good name. Will he succeed? And if he does, will his dishonesty be found out?
Endangered Species (Issue 625): So as to not be a spoiler and have you go running off to momma, I will not reveal how the whole photo thing ends. I'd have to rip up my whole "Writers Don't Squeal" card and everything. Anyway, welcome back new Rhino. During some sort of naturalization ceremony, the new Rhino attacks. Why? Cause Sytstevich is there. This guy just doesn't give up, does he? He still wants to "ascend." of course, I bet you know who's there to stop him. I'll give you a hint: It ain't Mighty Mouse. Actually, after a bit of watching a battle, it 's the ex-Rhino who puts an end to the conflict by saying he'll meet the new pacaderm-named antagonist somewhere. The new Rhino leaves, satisfied. of course, Systevich doesn't mean it. He enters himself and his wife into the Witness Protection Program so they can get out of there. However, trouble may strike when you least expect it. And if a hole is torn from a man's chest, will it also pull out the animal that he's been trying to suppress all this time?
The Sting (Issue 626): This is one of those "seen it before" issues. Spidey follows suspicious guy to construction site. Site turns out to be meeting grounds for group of gangsters doing some illegal stuff. Seen it all before. And guess why these bruisers have shown up? To win the gard and title of the Scorpion from the self-proclaimed kingpin of crime, the Hood. And guess who else has come along? The female Scorpion (here's the thing. The old Scorpion was a guy named Mac Gargan. Later, he became Venom, who used to be Eddie Brock. However, Eddie's now this "anti-Venom" character, and this lady's a good Scorpion working for S.H.I.E.L.D supposedly. Confusing,I understand). And she wants the old Scorpion suit. What does she do? She stings Spidey and zaps his powers. Without his agility and other abilities that make him amazing (hence the title of the comic, "The AMAZING Spider-Man...these titles aren't random, folks), Spidey will have to get out alive.
Something Can Stop The Juggernaut?/ Vengeance Is Mine/ With Greater Power...(Issues 627-629): A while back, comic book scribe Roger Stern did an epic two-part story where Spidey tackled one of the world's most dangerous mutants (and it ain't Wolverine, bub): The unstoppable Juggernaut. In "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut." Spider-Man proved that, yeah, the Juggernaut can be stopped. This time, someone else has proven that as well. When Juggy falls from the sky and is picked up by the cops, Spidey goes to investigate. He finds the Juggernaut, but so does...the new Captain Universe. Captain Universe can be anybody. The Uni-Power bestows upon a certain individual certain powers and uses that person for a certain purpose (and I am certain about all this). Once that purpose is fulfilled, it goes in search of someone else. Spidey was even Captain Universe for a time. Now, that power is being wielded by someone with a vendetta against the Juggernaut. And anybody who's able to toss Juggy around is no 98-pound weakling. That means Spidey's in trouble. But...why was this man chosen? Was his purpose to stop the Juggernaut? Or was it something else? If so, why would he attack Juggernaut? And can his true purpose be accomplished? Roger Stern answers these questions in his sequel that once again proves...something can stop the Juggernaut.
Shed (Issues 630-633): Hoo, boy, a four-parter. Don't get those everyday. Here's the scoop. Dr. Curt Connors is the Lizard. Or was. For a while now, he's kept the more animalistic side of himself where it belongs. Inside. Yet, he may be about to let it out. After an incident with the boss of the company he works for, the Lizard is unleashed. Connors is shed. The Lizard is dominant. The boss is...eh, he's seen better days. And this is where it gets creepy. TheLizard take full control, but his brain is not as reptillian. He can think, and he thinks that we're all "lizards in momkey suits." Well, he can do something about that. The Lizard is able to make humans focus on their "lizard brain." We're basically no more better that reptiles then, driven by primal needs and instinct. Feed to live. Kill to live. Things like that. To make matters worse, this new Lizard considers Curt's son Billy the "offspring" of a "rival male." Spidey is going to try and save him AND bring Curt Connors. But if he can't...well, score two for the bad guys.
That's the Gauntlet. As an added bonus for you, I'll even show you what it has all led up to...
The Grim Hunt (Issues 634-637): This is it. All the pain, suffering, death, and horror Spider-Man has gone through these past few months has all been the rising action for this climax. The Kravinoff family is hunting Spiders. They've already kidnapped Madame Web, a psychic, and Spider-Web. The answer why lies within the Kravinoff's dark dreams. Dreams that include Peter Parker. Spider-Man's drawn into this tangled web when a clone of his, Kaine, arrives at his doorstep, bloody. Kaine expalins that "they're hunting spiders." With friends kidnapped and one even killed to bring a dead son of Kraven back from the afterlife as lion-like monster, Spidey goes after the Kravenoff family. But he's captured...and seemingly sacrificed to bring back one of his oldest enemies: Kraven the Hunter himself. However, could there be more to this? Could a hero return and take the Kraven family down? Does the Hunter himself like this life even? The dramatic and dark conclusion to the Gauntlet is gripping and powerful.
That's The Gauntlet. These are the some of the very best Spider-Man issues I have ever read, if not the best comics. It's a story I am glad to have collected over the past two years, a story I hope to read over and over. Action-packed at its best. Emotional when you least expect it. Chilling when necessary. The Gauntlet serves all of this and so much more. It enters the halls of epic comics and will forever be at a place of promience in my very own library of comics.