The Greatest Responsibility" is another important storyline in the clone saga, which answers whether there will be two Spider-Men swinging around New York City. The person behind the tentacled arms from the "Exiled" story line is also revealed, as is this mystery figure's relationship with Seward Trainer.
Part one takes place in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #406, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Angel Medina, Larry Mahlstedt and Randy Emberlin. The issue opens with Ben Reilly in cyberspace, assisting Seward Trainer in trying to retrieve missing information located in the failsafe of the system. The system starts to overload and Seward tells Ben to get out before he's trapped in cyberspace forever.
That same evening, Spider-Man is out wondering if the Jackal has any more tricks up his sleeve. He's found out he is a clone, and that the Jackal had programmed him with a command to kill the one he loves most. Even though he overcame those difficulties, Peter still worries that there may be more surprises in store and doesn't know if the risks to Mary Jane and their unborn child are worth it. MJ catches up to him and tells Peter that there will be no more brooding or hiding behind a mask. They're a family and they're going to live happily ever after.
Elsewhere, the mysterious tentacled being is finally revealed to be a new, female Doctor Octopus. She's been trying to break into Seward's files to get more information about research he conducted that would allow for simulations of organic matter within a virtual reality. Ben and Seward discover an Octopus crest in the files, which leads Ben to believe it's a plan that could have been set in motion before Doc Ock was killed. Although Peter may have more experience in the area, Ben knows Peter has too much to risk by getting involved and decides to handle it on his own. Before he can go out, Mary Jane and Peter arrive at Seward's labs. They feel he's the only one they can trust and for their own comfort, they want to make sure that there are no more "time bombs" lurking inside Peter.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : And so the new, female Doctor Octopus is introduced. The female Doc Ock was absolutely, seriously intended to permanently replace Otto Octavius in the Spider-Man rogues gallery. There was a bit of a movement afoot among some of the Spider-Man writers to phase out, kill off or update many of Spider-Man's classic villains. As a result, Doctor Octopus was now a woman, the Vulture was now preying on other people and absorbing their life energies to maintain his newfound youth, and Kraven was replaced by his son, the Grim Hunter (who had already ended up getting killed by Kaine). Whether or not this movement was successful is a matter of opinion. But I think the fact that most of the affected villains ended up going back to their original versions seems to make the case that nothing that was done in the "revamps" was as good or as memorable as what was being changed. At any rate, as far as I know, during the time of the "Greatest Responsibility" story line, there was no talk about reviving the original Doctor Octopus. ]
After Seward detects no trace of any other anomalies, Peter and Mary Jane go celebrate with a nice romantic dinner and non-alcoholic champagne. They also tease each other about the sex of the baby. Peter refers to their unborn child as a "he" and his "son," while MJ talks about their "daughter" and "little girl." They share a dance without music and the child moves for the first time.
Meanwhile, Doctor Octopus is testing her virtual reality bomb, causing people to think dinosaurs are loose in New York City. The prototype is successful, although containing some bugs, and she prepares to construct the real bomb.
Seward is in his office, trying to break the encryptions, and is startled to find Doc Ock inside. She's surprised to find the Scarlet Spider there, coming to Seward's rescue. Unfortunately, she proves tougher to beat than Scarlet expected. When Seward asks why she's doing this, Ock tells him that she was taught to revere scientific research above human life itself. When Scarlet asks if Seward knows Ock, she reveals that she's his daughter.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The fact that the new Doc Ock was Seward Trainer's daughter was an interesting twist, albeit a bit contrived. But then again, considering how many super heroes and super-villains over the years were revealed to be employees of the Daily Bugle, maybe it's not as big a stretch as I'm making it out to be!
Anyway, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #406 was J.M. DeMatteis's last issue as writer. I think he grew increasingly weary of the weekly cross-title continuity, and never getting the chance to tell his own stories - stories in which he alone could do the beginning, the middle and the end. This couldn't have been an easy decision for J.M. to make, because I know how much he liked Ben Reilly and how excited he was about the clone saga from the very start. But I think he just reached the breaking point, and I can't say I really blame him. I know Marc was really looking forward to the moment when Ben would finally don the Spider-Man suit, and getting the chance to write about the "new" web-slinger, but that pivotal moment just kept getting pushed further and further back, amidst more and more gimmicky crossovers and an overall series direction that was spiraling out of control. So, unfortunately, he left. And from that moment on, I made it a personal crusade of mine to do whatever I could to get him back on Spider-Man, in whatever capacity possible. ]
Part 2 takes place in SPIDER-MAN #63, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer. Peter is restless. Ever since he felt his child move inside of Mary Jane, he can't think straight. He tells MJ that he's going to go burn off some energy by swinging around the city and thinks how good his life has become. He may be a clone, but he's a clone who's going to be a father soon. As his thoughts turn to Ben and the hopes that he's doing okay, the story shifts back to Seward's lab.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Gil Kane, of course, was one of the classic Spider-Man artists, and Spider-Man Group Editor in Chief Bob Budiansky was a big fan of his. As such, Bob was pretty excited about having Gil on as a guest artist. Tom Palmer, one of my all-time favorite inkers (and one of the nicest guys in the industry), had inked many of Gil's covers for Marvel back in the early 70s, so this issue served as something of a reunion for these two greats. ]
The Scarlet Spider can't believe the latest revelation that the new Doc Ock is Seward's daughter, Carolyn. She's even more enraged now because of the father/son bond between Seward and Ben; a bond she claims she never had. Ben's objective is to keep Seward safe, but Dr. Trainer doesn't want to run from his daughter again. Ben decides that he knows best and escapes with his friend while Doc Ock follows closely behind. Seward notices that Ben is making more wisecracks, which he isn't accustomed to, and Ben tells him he's just trying to pick up from where he left off five years ago.
Spider-Man's story intersects while he's swinging around the city, trying to cut loose. Suddenly, his spider-sense goes crazy and he instinctively knows it has something to do with Ben. He arrives on a rooftop just as Doc Ock is starting to get the advantage over Ben. Spider-Man manages to get Ben clear, but at the expense of his own safety. He's knocked off the roof and then caught in the arms of Ock, who threatens to snap Spider-Man's neck unless Scarlet delivers her father. All Spider-Man can think of is MJ and their child and all he has to lose.
The Scarlet Spider uses his impact webbing to break through a force field that Ock has set up. Ock taunts Scarlet by calling him as cute as he is bright, but questions his speed and lets Spider-Man fall from the sky to prove it. Scarlet leaps off the building and gains enough momentum to catch his "brother." Doc Ock gets away and Ben tells Seward that he'll bring he back without harming her. When Scarlet asks Spider-Man if he's okay, all Spider-Man can think of is that he could have been killed, leaving the baby without a father. He tells Scarlet that he's off to see Mary Jane because he has a decision to make.
The end of one era and the beginning of a new one takes place in the concluding chapter of "The Greatest Responsibility" in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #229, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz. The Scarlet Spider and Spider-Man are searching the city for any signs of Doctor Octopus, while Scarlet is starting to gain more confidence as a hero. Unfortunately, his bad puns and jokes are still in place as he shouts to some bad guys, "Roses are red, spiders are two, one comes in scarlet, the other in blue," causing Spider-Man to cringe. Spider-Man gets angry with one of the crooks, after discovering he's a father. Besides taking him into justice, Spidey lectures him about his responsibilities as a father. Scarlet wonders if Peter is talking about himself or the crook.
Scarlet and Spidey get to Peter's house where they discover MJ's been hospitalized after fainting at the hospital. Seward arrives to help assist in diagnosing Mary Jane, but the news he tells Peter isn't what he'd hoped. Mary Jane and the baby are in serious danger, but Seward had anticipated such a thing and has prepared an antidote. He makes a call to a messenger who has the antidote, but the call is intercepted by Doc Ock. It's also revealed that Doc Ock has an associate of some sort, whose identity is scrambled by a computer screen. The mysterious entity tells Ock that she now has a bargaining chip to use.
Ock calls Dr. Trainer and tells him that she'll exchange the antidote for him. Seward feels he has no choice, so agrees to the demands, though the Spider-Men will be close behind. Unfortunately, Doc Ock has planned for any occasion, and after her men remove the spider-tracers from Seward, they're able to get away without the Spiders being able to follow. They're able to follow the signal to a pier, but there's no sign of Seward or Ock's men. The Spiders decide to swim for it and try and find an underground entrance. When they finally find the location of Ock and Seward, the Spiders face off against a few dozen of Ock's men.
Ben continues to make jokes while busting heads and Peter wonders how Ben could take things so lightly during a stressful time like this. Peter then thinks that perhaps the problem isn't with Ben, but with himself. He used to call himself the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but that was a long time ago. It was before his nervous breakdown and the virus and the death of Aunt May and his true status as a clone being revealed. Spider-Man isn't pulling his punches as much as before and Scarlet warns him to hold back. At their level of power, they can't slip up and lose control, no matter what. Scarlet decides to search for Seward while Spider-Man tracks the antidote.
As the Spiders search for the antidote, Mary Jane wonders when it will all end and she and Peter can be a family. She can't see how they can provide a stable life for their child if he's always putting himself in danger. Every time he averts one tragedy, another seems to come along.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This is all building up to Peter's fateful decision to give up being Spider-Man. As I recall, that was actually supposed to be accomplished in the previous month's "Time Bomb" story line, but it never came off. "The Greatest Responsibility" provided the real impetus, which, in retrospect, made "Time Bomb" a pretty pointless event - little more than filler material, something to mark time, in which nothing really happened to progress the clone story line. ]
When Spider-Man catches up to Doc Ock, they converse more than usual during their battle. Spidey questions why she hates her father so much and she talks about him throughout their battle. Seward was always more involved with work than his family. Carolyn and her mother barely rated second to Seward. She asks Spider-Man if he can imagine what it's like to grow up in a home where daddy always has something more important to do. Spidey replies that this is about her, not him, and she goes on to rant about how she wants to conquer virtual reality with the help of her father's work.
Scarlet has his hands full himself, dealing with traps sprung by the computerized enemy. During their battle, Scarlet learns that there may be more to the enemy than he realizes; something flesh and blood rather than just artificial intelligence. The computer system crashes before he can find out any more details, though.
Spider-Man manages to beat Doc Ock, but at the expense of the building's foundation, which begins to crumble around him. Trapped under tons of debris, Spider-Man's thoughts turn to his family. Of Aunt May, who taught him there's no greater responsibility than raising a family. Of Mary Jane, who he still regrets hitting on that fateful day he learned he was a clone. He thinks about how he doesn't know what sex his child is and how he can't die until he knows that, at least. Spider-Man continues to struggle and hold on with all his strength until the Scarlet Spider comes in to help relieve some of the pressure.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This was all a wink and a nod to the classic AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, in which Spider-Man was trapped under tons of debris and had to free himself to get a special antidote to Aunt May in time to save her life. With the Scarlet Spider coming to Spider-Man's aid and helping him out from under the rubble, writer Tom DeFalco was essentially having the torch - and the burden - pass from Peter Parker to Ben Reilly. It was a nice, clever touch. ]
Ben, Peter and Seward arrive at the hospital with the antidote and help to cure Mary Jane of the illness she was stricken by. After Peter talks to his wife, he asks Ben to walk with him. They talk about responsibility and Peter tells Ben that even a man with great responsibility can be humbled when he sees even greater responsibilities on the horizon. Peter tells Ben that he's hanging up the webs. In order to be responsible to Mary Jane and the baby, he's going to quit being Spider-Man and gives Ben a bag with the suit in it.
Ben tells Peter that he'll accept the responsibility, but he hasn't earned the costume. He tells Peter that he'll make the next one a little more contemporary, to which Peter cracks, "This from the guy who designed the Scarlet Spider outfit?" Ben wishes Peter luck and then Peter walks away, thinking, "It's over. Mary Jane and I finally have an opportunity to head into the sunset and live happily ever after." His thoughts then turn to Ben Reilly. "The time has come for you to build a real life for yourself. I'm real curious to see what you do first. And I'll bet I'm not alone."
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Okay, last week I mentioned the fact that we were still haunted by the success of the X-Men's "Age of Apocalypse" story line, and that the sales and marketing boys at Marvel were sticking their noses into the mix once again. Here's what I meant by that...
The end of "The Greatest Responsibility" could have, should have and would have been the end of the Scarlet Spider, the end of the clone saga, and the beginning of the new era of Spider-Man. After all, what else was there left to accomplish at that point, in terms of the story? Peter had just given up the role of Spider-Man and turned it over to Ben. So, time to get rolling with the new Spider-Man, right? Wrong. As you may recall, part of the "Age of Apocalypse" event involved "canceling" all the X-books and restarting them with altered titles and new #1's. Each new X-title would run for four months, and then revert back to its original title and numbering. Well, we were under pressure to now do the same thing with the Spider-Man books.
The idea was to have each Spider-Man book retitled so that the Scarlet Spider's name would replace Spider-Man's - AMAZING SCARLET SPIDER, SPECTACULAR SCARLET SPIDER, SCARLET SPIDER, and WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER. We'd get four new number #1's out of it, and it would be a way to capitalize on the Scarlet Spider's popularity one last time before he became Spider-Man. What that meant was holding off Ben's debut as Spider-Man even longer. As I recall, the sales and marketing guys wanted us to do the Scarlet Spider books for four months, four issues of each title, just like the X-Men books did it. Bob Budiansky rejected that idea, and pushed for just one month, one issue of each book. We (the editors and writers) weren't thrilled by any of this, but we agreed that one month was certainly better than four. As I recall, Budiansky's plan was agreed upon, but then the sales and marketing boys decided that just one month wasn't enough after all, and pushed for more. A compromise had to be reached.
Ultimately, the plan became this: TWO months of each Scarlet Spider title, with the exception of WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER, which would run for FOUR issues - even though Ben Reilly would no longer be the Scarlet Spider, and would not even be in the book, after #2. I'm asking the same thing you probably are - Huh?! After all this time, I couldn't remember for the life of me why we would ever agree to this scheme, so I called my good pal Mark Bernardo, who was my fellow Spider-Man Group assistant editor back then. Mark was working directly for Budiansky, and was more at the "heart of the storm" than I was. As far as Mark can remember, WEB was extended because the sales and marketing guys felt that two more issues of a Scarlet Spider book would bring in a significant amount of revenue for those two months. They believed that the Scarlet Spider "brand", so to speak, was strong enough to support this idea - even though there wouldn't even BE a Scarlet Spider by the time these last two issues came out! Ben was going to be Spider-Man by then, with a big, heavily-promoted launch being touted as "The Return of Spider-Man," and an all-new monthly Spider-Man title to replace WEB. Why the hell, then, would WEB OF SCARLET SPIDER still be in existence, competing against Ben's debut as Spider-Man? From an editorial standpoint, it made absolutely no sense. But the sales and marketing guys rattled off their sales projections and their statistics and whatever else they had in their arsenal, and in the end, they got what they wanted - two more months of the Scarlet Spider. Well, not THE Scarlet Spider... ]