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As recent installments into “The Gauntlet” storyline have weakened the Amazing Spider-Man title, the Rhino has come charging in. Knocking down a trend of mafia-heavy stories that don’t develop any one character, the plight of Aleksei Sytsevich, formerly the super-criminal known as the Rhino, takes center stage in this story as his modern mechanical-counterpart challenges Sytsevich to a suited battle. Having left behind that life in favor of his new one with his wife Oksana, Sytsevich did everything in his power previously to convince this new Rhino he needn’t compete for the title. Though he could delay the battle he could not prevent it.
New York City is going to be a lot safer now that Peter Parker no longer has a job to distract him being Spider-Man. Parker might not see it that way as he stands in line for unemployment benefits but he has proportionate pessimism of a spider, and being hairy, eight-eyed eight-legged freaks, spiders are pretty pessimistic. Cynical, too.
Having made the colossally bad decision to doctor and publish photos of the Vulture’s attack on J. Jonah Jameson, Jameson called Parker out on it at a press conference. So now he’s not only standing in the unemployment line waiting for a handout, everyone else standing there is making fun of him.
Actually, maybe he’s not being pessimistic. Things are actually pretty bad.
On the day of the U.S. Naturalization celebration immigrants get a new chance at life, now as American citizens. Peter Parker is there taking pictures for the quirky Norah Winters unaware that also in the crowd is the hulking Sytsevich, there in support of Oksana as she too becomes a citizen. However the mood is quickly spoiled as the mechanized Rhino returns. In order to stop the chaos, Sytsevich promises to fight the Rhino once he’s had a chance to get back his old costume. However he instead tries to take his wife and flee the city.
Crossing the bridge out of the city he discovers the Rhino is already waiting for him.
“The Gauntlet” was intended to take classic but stale characters and revitalize them. So far we’ve seen Sandman learn new, expansive uses for his powers as he sought to possess his daughter, Electro figuratively become the power of the people in their revolt against corporate handouts, Vulture seek to discover his true origins and Mysterio decide it’d be better to pretend to the cybernetic Silvermane all day than to be a guy in a green suit with a purple cape who wears a fish bowl. All of these things the reader can identify with.
What made Sytsevich’s story unique is he was the only one who was not being revitalized as a villain but as a man. He didn’t have a new power set or new schemes for the world. He simply wanted to cherish the fact that he was loved and live a good life from there on in. At the time the new Rhino had first shown up it seemed he was the revitalization “The Gauntlet” was providing. More advanced and mysterious, to assume he was a step-away from the stale image of the Rhino made sense. After all, Sytsevich had been revitalized but not as a villain, and after all, wasn’t that the point?
This issue it becomes clear it was the Rhino who was being revitalized in that issue… Aleksei Sytsevich. Holding his wife dead in his arms, Sytsevich is left on the bridge, a metaphor for the road taking him away from his old life of crime. With the love that humanized him gone, the Rhino is back and ready to make the new-comer wish he’d never come at all.
The artist of this issue, Max Fiumara, creates Sytsevich as a titanic creature even before he takes back his costume. Powerful and towering above all those around him, his illustrations help capture the dichotomy between what he appears to be and what he is on the inside. The imagery of both Rhinos helps put across how terrifying it must be to see these men in real life whereas as often the appearance of the Rhino is nothing more than a gray-muscle man. Even the picture of Sytsevich’s empty suit is intimidating.
Sometimes it’s fun to notice the little things in the background, things that seem critical but are not intended to be. For example, Parker spends the beginning and the ending of the issue in line to receive unemployment benefits. But you have to wonder why, two years into the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression, the government hasn’t decided to finally take down the torn-paper sign taped to the wall outside that says “UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS LINE UP HERE”. You’d think it was time for something less temporary. In fact, looking at the scribbled signs that are found all over the office, you might wonder why the government is spending so much money to make their buildings economically efficient but has never thought to go out and have a sign made rather than buying cardboard ones from the homeless.
Actually, maybe buying cardboard signs from the homeless is a good way to stimulate the economy.
Again, that observation isn’t intended to belittle the book or the artist. In fact, it effectively creates the mood that is likely intended to evoke images of the Great Depression. Still… it was just raining all week. Get a new sign!
This issue was a breath of fresh air for the series and creates excitement to see the Rhino return again. The man he was is dead, so what else does he have to live for? It’s hard to imagine he’ll take to robbing banks. Using a character that has a very tragic and sympathetic story, who also dresses as a Rhino, is hard to do when writing a good story. But that’s what makes comic books great, overcoming things that are otherwise dumbfounding and making them seem like the most natural thing in the world.
To find these issues, check out Rising Sun Creations in Mission Valley on Camino de la Reina or find your closest San Diego comic store now.
Buy your one-day passes to the San Diego Comic-Con before they sell out and remember the San Diego Quarterly Con is May 2nd.