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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Scorpion – The Sting (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Like Scavenging before it, The Sting saps a little of the momentum of The Gauntlet. In fact, The Sting might just be the weakest single chapter of the entire epic – a one-shot story that has little interesting or insightful to offer. While Van Lente’s fourteen page It is the Life represents the shortest single story in The Gauntlet, The Sting feels like the most hollow – the story that could be removed most easily from the sequence of events without any sense of loss or absence.

Indeed, even branding it as “the Scorpion” feels a bit cynical. While the Scorpion is a classic and iconic Spider-Man adversary, the character included here has no real connection to the wall-crawling adventurer. This new Scorpion has no history with Peter Parker, and was really a supporting character in the Avengers spin-off The Initiative. Along with the guest appearance from New Avengers baddie the Hood, The Sting seems like the wider Marvel Universe is encroaching upon The Gauntlet.

While it’s occasionally nice to get a sense that Spider-Man coexists in the same world as the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, The Gauntlet really isn’t the place for this. In fact, all the outside characters serve to undermine the otherwise effective claustrophobia of The Gauntlet – chipping away at the sense that Spider-Man is alone and isolated, being hunted and pursued by an ominous adversary.

Something to chew over...

Something to chew over…

The shared universe is always a bit of a tricky problem when trying to put a particular character through an emotional roller coaster. There are so many superheroes in New York that you have to imagine Spider-Man can take a breather and ask Iron Fist or Luke Cage to do his rounds for him; or that he might call in the Avengers if things ever get out of hand. If you are going to make a superhero run a gauntlet, you have to create a plausible sense that they are facing it alone.

There are a number of ways you can do this. In some cases, you treat it as a character decision. In the mid-nineties Batman crossovers, the Caped Crusader was perpetually declining outside assistance as a matter of pride and arrogance. One of the core themes of Brian Michael Bendis’ Daredevil run was the idea that all Matt Murdock had to do was ask for help, but the character could not bring himself to do it.



Often, it’s enough to just leave it unspoken and trust the audience to accept it. After all, “Iron Man shows up and saves the day” is a pretty crappy ending to a Spider-Man comic, unless you do it very carefully. In order to accept an exciting well-told story, most readers are willing to accept that there are difference between how the real world works and how superhero narratives tend to operate. All you need to do is just create a sense of isolation and claustrophobia, and avoid drawing attention to the question of why Thor is never around when Peter Parker needs him.

The problem with The Sting is that it draws attention to the conspicuous absence of other superheroes from the story. At least in Something Can Stop the Juggernaut, Stern self-awarely has Spider-Man attempt to check in with other heroes more suited to the matter at hand. Instead, The Sting sees Spider-Man going head-to-head against two Avengers-related problems. The Hood is one of Brian Michael Bendis’ recurring foes for the superhero team, while the Scorpion originates as part of the Avengers line.

This looks like a job for...

This looks like a job for…

Neither has any especially fascinating history with Spider-Man, and certainly not enough to ground a one-shot adventure that relies on the extraordinary coincidence of Peter following his roommate’s visitor as that visitor goes straight from their apartment to a meeting auctioning off Mac Gargan’s classic Scorpion outfit. Superhero comics rely on contrived coincidence as part of the territory, but The Sting just feels like too much, despite a last-minute cameo from the Kravinoffs to assure readers that this is all still related to The Gauntlet.

It seems more like Fred Van Lente is trying to include one of his creations in The Gauntlet, much as it seemed that Mark Waid was trying to shoehorn in his reimagined Vulture during Scavenging. Carmilla Black doesn’t have the necessary history with Peter Parker to ground The Sting. Since The Sting is a one-issue story, she pretty much shows up, they tussle, and then they go their separate ways. There’s no room for an extended exploration of he character here, or for Peter to get a chance to know her.

Bah, they're just jealous they didn't get their own invites to The Gauntlet...

Bah, they’re just jealous they didn’t get their own invites to The Gauntlet…

The strongest stories in The Gauntlet manage to define and distinguish their guest characters. None of the characters in The Sting get a chance to stand out. Everything feels rather rushed and cramped into the space of a single issue. There’s a sense that perhaps The Sting is trying to do too much all at once, and that it might have worked without a couple of its competing plot elements, but there’s just too much going on to engage with with any of it.

Still, to be fair, Van Lente does work hard to maintain consistency with the larger themes of The Gauntlet. As with a lot of The Gauntlet, there are questions about people’s innate natures. Here, Peter’s roommate Michele is heavily invested in the idea that her client is a good person who just got a bad deal in life. “Now that he’s been released, he’s got a chance to prove to the world what kind of guy he really is,” she assures Peter. “He’s got to know people believe in him — he doesn’t need the crowd he met inside.”


Closing in to seal you Tomb(stone)...

Closing in to seal you Tomb(stone)…

It’s a nice story, like Aleksei’s attempt to start a family in Rage of the Rhino or Curt Connors’ attempts to prove he can be a good father in Shed. Of course, Michele inevitably discovers that  sometimes people aren’t all that we might hope they would be. It turns out her client is a thug, and a killer. “This is me — this is my world — and always will be!” he tells her. Of course, given we’ve never seen the character before, and he’s competing for space with everything else in the issue, the revelation doesn’t pack any real weight.

At the same time, we are reassured that Spider-Man is a fundamentally decent and unimpeachable hero – a character who will do the right thing even when he has a reason not to. Here, he rescues the Scorpion, even after she stings him and leaves him at the mercy of the Hood’s hired goons. Even the Scorpion herself is shocked that Peter returns for her. “You came back for me… even after I…” Hey, he’s just that good a guy.



The Sting is also the first point at which The Gauntlet explicitly acknowledges the idea of “mystical totems.” The idea that Spider-Man serves as the avatar of some mystical spider god was one of the radical changes introduced by J. Michael Straczynski early in his run, one that provided quite controversial and divisive. The idea was that Spider-Man and his animal-themed adversaries were linked by some grand metaphysical force.

Accepting Mac Gargan’s costume from the new Scorpion, the Kravinoffs are thrilled of the symmetry of “the garb of a sacred totem claimed by one clad in the raiment of that same totem.” While the idea of the totem is still something contentious among Spider-Man fans, it does fit very well with the idea of Kraven the Hunter. After all, it turns Kraven into a mythic figure walking amongst these embodiments of animal spirits.

All good in the Hood?

All good in the Hood?

The decision to include this touch in The Gauntlet is inspired, demonstrating the way that the comic plays with the expanded history of Spider-Man as a character. Indeed, it was J. Michael Straczynski’s run on The Amazing Spider-Man that led to One More Day and the character’s continuity reset – by firmly re-articulating an idea that was introduced just before the reset, it seems like the writers are drawing attention to just how essential Spider-Man’s history and continuity can be.

Along with The Gauntlet‘s heavy focus on family and the condemnation of “resets” found in Endangered Species or Grim Hunt, it does seem like The Gauntlet was partially written as a criticism of the editorial decisions made leading to One More Day. This is, after all, a story about how families are the most important things and about how trying to undo character development to reset a character back to a state you preferred is a brutal and horrible act.

Unfortunately, underscoring that idea is just about the most interesting thing about The Sting.

You might be interested in our other reviews of The Gauntlet and Grim Hunt:

One Response

  1. Well, given that Mac Gargan was Venom at the time of this, what did you expect them to do? Forcing him out of the symbiote and into his old costume for this one story would have been forced as hell. I think that van Lente did a decent job with Carmilla in this story myself.

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