Spider-Man's "Gauntlet" Throws Down Everything but Subtlety

Over the past few weeks, images of Spider-Man lying in a grave surrounded by various pieces and accessories from a list of his classic villains such as Sandman and Mysterio have been shown in the buildup to what began in this week's issue of Amazing Spider-Man, issue number 612 for those of you keeping score at home! Yes folks, the event known as "The Gauntlet" kicks off here, brought to you by Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta, and big things are promised as Spidey gets put through the wringer by a host of villains. Down on his luck Max Dillon, Electro, kicks things off with this issue, one that pulls on many modern parallels in regards to the economy, fears of Socialism and the cause of the working man. All of this is set against the backdrop of problems at The Daily Bugle (pardon me, The DB), and Electro's bad case of the blues! The story starts with an intriguing set of artwork, featuring a small preview of what lies in store for Spider-Man, narrated by someone with a not too friendly intent, which leads us right in to where we find Electro, down on his luck and hating the world once again. The character is not the same as we have seen him, and Waid's early treatment of the villain is at once one that induces pity and frustration with Dillon's self-loathing and blame. Through the first part of the book, we cut between scenes of Electro and his lot with word that current DB owner Dexter Bennett is negotiating a newspaper bailout from the government. It's here that the tale begins to take on a bit of a heavy-handed narrative. Through a serious combination of Electro's own form of anger/delusion and mob appeal, the electricity-based villain becomes a sort of folk hero, rallying those around him against the government, bailouts and corporate greed, with DB and Spider-Man, in a precautionary measure, squarely now filling the role of the villain. Spidey finds a very different Electro this time around in regards to powers, and that does help make this newest arc work on the level of a straight narrative. Azaceta's work is also wonderfully colored by Dave Stewart, adding a nice dark element to the dark tone that it appears is being established by the new arc. The heavy-handedness sets in with the "common man vs. the government" tone. There's a feel that the Teabaggers are in town, based on the reaction of the everyday citizens of New York to the bailouts, Electro and Spider-Man, all of which represent a very one-dimensional aspect compared to modern day troubles and figures. There are lots of buzzwords from the current discourse on the real America's economic troubles, and these elements prove to be a distraction more than a support for what has been promised to be a powerful new ASM arc. The main concern with this is the sustainability of the theme. Will this economic element carry through with characters such as The Rhino? Waid is certainly a gifted storyteller, and his partnership with Azaceta has the potential to take this story quite far. Electro is an interesting villain to start with, given that he's been one of Spider-Man's frequent punching bags over the years, and his love of money and power are certainly wonderfully displayed here, with frightening results in the first few pages. The dark lines and deep colors add to the story, but the strained connections to modern, more capitalist perils, are what keep this first issue of "The Gauntlet" from being truly amazing.