After the last several issues of Spidey, with big battles involving Norman Osborn and Doctor Octopus, this is a quieter, day in the life issue. Of course, this being a slice of Peter Parker's life there are moments of action - here a jewel snatch, there a blaze - but it's the out-of-costume moments that make this issue a keeper. Peter's day starts off badly, as he wakes up with someone he perhaps shouldn't (no, not Lady Blackhawk and Huntress*), and continues in the same vein, with frustrations and irritations everywhere. But where some writers overdo the angst, Mark Waid keeps things nice and light. His Peter has perspective, half expecting things to go awry so able to deal with them when they do.
Along the way Peter has encounters with rhyming flatmates Glory Grant and Betty Brant, out of town relatives the Reillys and cranky landlady Michele Gonzales that go places we've never been before. I'm a huge fan of Waid's Betty; he wrote her superbly in the dating issue, #583 (which, unfairly, will be remembered for the rubbish Obama story and cash-in cover) and he writes her superbly here - funny, sharp, sarcy . . . honestly, I'd love a fourth week Spidey book starring Betty. The Brilliant Betty Brant. Maybe the Bitchy Betty Brant. The Brown-Haired Betty Brant? And if Betty needed a supporting character, the doorman from Harry Osborn's apartment block would do nicely, with his disdain for 'the young man with the furrowed hair'.
The main thing on Peter's mind is keeping an appointment with the newly returned Mary Jane Watson made when he was too drunk for it to properly be filed away in his prodigious brain. Does he keep the appointment? Buy this terrific issue and find out. As well as the aforementioned tale of suspense there's some of the best interaction with New Yorkers I've seen in a long while. How's this for classic Spidey? Click to enlarge. The artist here is Mario Alberti, a real find. His people are on model and expressive, his New York realistic yet characterful and his Spidey spot-on. And Andres Mossa colours in a way that's realistic without being dull. I really hope Waid, Alberi and Mossa are together for as long as this story runs because they're a great team.
So, 'No Place Like Home' is a very enjoyable start to the Red-Headed Stranger story. But there's more. Marvel adds a bonus short, by the all-star team of Brian Bendis and Joe Quesada, and it raises an important question. What the heck is up with Spidey's mask? I get that Joey Q is trying for a true-to-life look but little slitty eyes, indented brow, sucked-in nostrils and mouth . . . this isn't Spider-Man, it's a serial killer! And drawing the cobwebs angling in rather than out doesn't help. All very odd.
The actual story has Jessica Jones telling Spidey how much he meant to her at school, and bringing her to A Fateful Decision. It's nicely written but will rot your teeth. I loved the use of actual Steve Ditko art to help Jessica's retrofitting into Midtown High, though a clever transition between past and present Jess seems to have resulted in her looking rather unlike herself for the entire story. But thank you Marvel, a bonus is a bonus.
Which leaves the cover. It's by J Scott Campbell, so featured character Mary Jane is a huge-boobed waif who keeps her vital organs strictly off-panel. It's a shame, as the MJ inside the book is a potent reminder of why I Peter's ex so much. This ain't her, but I suppose the kids will like it.
* Vaguely topical reference, best ignored.