Ever since his appearances in some of the earliest “Brand New Day” issues of Spider-Man, Mr. Negative has been both fairly prominent and rather enjoyably enigmatic — so it’s with a double hit of disappointment that we see this miniseries shuffle him onto the sidelines of continuity to reveal his origin.
The turf warfare angle between Negative and The Hood was never especially engaging, largely because we, as readers, have very little investment in exactly how much control each villain exercises over the city — and when the stakes don’t matter, the plot becomes an increasingly impenetrable morass. “Dark Reign: Mr Negative” is proof of that, and the plot of the final issue seems to spend most of its page count trying to resolve the series’ story in a way that can at least be understood by its readers; when it’s only had two prior issues to tie itself in knots, that’s an impressive amount of tangling.
Worse than the convoluted plot, however, is the cast, which is populated with a veritable menagerie of second- and third-tier characters, none of whom manage to provide an emotional anchor for the book and instead act largely as sounding boards for exposition. Even Spider-Man’s appearances seem to be purely dutiful inclusions, apparently predicated on the editorial notion that you can’t really do a Mr. Negative solo series, but with Van Lente unable to find much for him to do in the story. The role could’ve been filled by virtually any character.
As for the series’ central mystery — the origin of Mr. Negative — well, it’s fair to say that his premise far outweighs his origin in the interest stakes. The only notable element of his origin is that it ties into the origin of a pair of fan-favorite heroes from the 1980s, and that’s not really enough of a payoff to justify an entire series based on the character.
Technically speaking, it’s not a complete bomb, but between Van Lente’s mechanical execution of the plot and Gugliotta’s promising but not-entirely-ripened pencilling, there’s very little reason to recommend the book. It’s not going to upset you, but to be honest, if you come away from it feeling anything, that’s probably a plus. For me, it’s just. . . there.