This time out, we cover a self-contained story in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #232 and then move right into the next inter-title crossover, "Web of Carnage." Let's get this show on the road, shall we?
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Before we get into the core books, I wanted to take a little personal walk down memory lane. The 1995 SPIDER-MAN HOLIDAY SPECIAL came out in December 1995, more or less around the time of "Web of Carnage," and it featured my very first professional Spider-Man comic book story. Entitled "A Matter of Faith," the story was about Ben Reilly's first Christmas Eve back in New York, after five long years on the road.
Here's the story in a nutshell: Now assured that he had been the original Peter Parker all along, and having taken back the role of Spider-Man, Ben Reilly has regained so much of what he thought was lost to him forever. But he nonetheless laments the fact that he's still all alone in the world. And when you're all alone, Christmas is the most depressing time of the year. As Spider-Man, Ben ends up rescuing a young lady named Jenny who's dealing with the holiday blues far worse than he is - she attempted suicide by jumping off the same bridge where Gwen Stacy was killed. Spider-Man takes Jenny on a web-slinging ride over Manhattan as she explains the terrible circumstances that led her to the bridge, but the conversation is cut short when Spider-Man ends up battling the Scorcher, who had previously been seen in UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN #1. Jenny, standing nearby, ends up saving the life of an innocent bystander who is nearly crushed by wreckage resulting from the fight. She realizes that had she succeeded in killing herself, the man she just saved might very well be dead. Knowing that she's made a difference, reassured that her life is worth something, Jenny's spirit is renewed and she commits herself to the world of the living. Spider-Man's spirits are also lifted, and as he swings off into the night, he wishes Jenny - and the readers - a Merry Christmas.
I was really excited to be writing this story, and the icing on the cake was that one of my favorite artists at that time, Kevin Maguire, was the penciler, with Jimmy Palmiotti on inks. For a neophyte like me to have such talented, well-established pros working with me... well, I felt very, very lucky. But there's a story behind the story.
You see, in my original version, I established that Jenny had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease. I was never going to come out and say it in the story, but in my mind, she had contracted AIDS. And she took the news very badly. She felt that she had just gotten a death sentence, that she had nothing left to live for, and that was why she decided to commit suicide. The rest of the story played out pretty much the way it saw print, but there would have been much more poignancy at the end, with Jenny realizing that she could still make a difference and vowing to devote however much time she had left to making her life count for something. That version of the story was the one that was bought by the Holiday Special's editor, Sarra Mossoff, but it was then submitted to the Spider-Man Group's Editor in Chief, Bob Budiansky, for final approval. And Bob demanded changes. Bob's main problem with the story was that it was a downer - at the end of the story, Jenny still had the disease, so she was still eventually going to die. Bob insisted that I remove the disease aspect from the story, and give Jenny another reason for wanting to do herself in, something that could be more fully resolved at the end.
When Sarra told me about this, I was shocked and upset. I felt that Bob completely missed the point of the story, which was that we should all try to make our lives count for something, because NONE of us knows how much time we have. I felt that leaving Jenny with a somewhat gloomy fate, but nevertheless confronting her future with courage and determination, made the story inspirational, not a downer. I made all these arguments to Sarra, who listened patiently, but she finally said that Budiansky was firm on these revisions and if I wanted to do the story, I would have to make them.
Well, I wasn't going to walk away from my first opportunity to write Spider-Man. Who knew if such an opportunity would ever come my way again? So I made the changes. Instead of a terminal disease, Jenny was dealing with a long string of personal problems and all-around bad luck, leading her to want to end it all. To this day, I still think the story was neutered. When it saw print, one Marvel editor who had read my original version said to me that Budiansky had "butchered" the story. Looking at it again for this column, I have to say that it's not altogether bad as a first attempt to write Spider-Man, and I still think it's so cool that Kevin Maguire penciled one of my stories. But I can't help but think about what it could have been.
Now, back to Andrew... ]
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, #232 written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Jimmy Palmiotti, brings back Peter and Mary Jane Parker from Portland and also brings Dr. Seward Trainer out of cyberspace. It seems that the skeleton story has made J. Jonah Jameson crazy and he made a call out to Peter to see if he could come and get some incriminating shots of Spider-Man and the skeleton.
One nice moment occurs as Peter and MJ get reacquainted with Ben, commenting on his new hair style, which MJ likes, and his new apartment, complete with an airshaft for ventilation purposes that goes straight to the roof. It's a great feature for anyone in need of a change of identity and easy escape route. Peter's sole comment on the airshaft: cool. After Ben shows Peter the skeleton, Jessica comes to the apartment. The two scramble to find a way to hide Peter, so Jessica doesn't discover their secret since they look the same. MJ, the most calm of the 3, suggests that Ben introduce Peter as his cousin from Portland.
Jessica buys the story of Peter and Ben being cousins, but things still manage to get hectic. Pieces of the skeleton are on the floor and Ben tries to discretely gather them while Peter distracts Jessica with talk of photography. Then Seward appears on Ben's television, using the abilities that he demonstrated months ago. Seward tells Ben that he's figured out a way to get back to his body, but Carolyn disconnected the wiring from the hospital machines that would let the cyber-Seward make the jump. In a cute bit, Peter and Jessica come into the room and ask Ben and Mary Jane what they're watching. When MJ says "the Weather Channel," Seward begins to rattle off the five day forecast.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I remember that Todd Dezago had a lot of fun with this Ben/Peter sequence, and he would continue to play their scenes together for all they were worth, in terms of both the comedic and dramatic possibilities, throughout the rest of the clone saga. ]
Ben is able to concoct a story about going with Peter to visit an uncle in the hospital and when Jessica leaves, Ben puts on the suit and races to the hospital to try and rescue Seward. Carolyn has already arrived with her goons in tow. She and Spider-Man battle inside the hospital and out until a fed up Spidey takes her down. Seward is able to be hooked up again, which allows for the cyber Seward to return to his body, and awaken from the coma. After checking on his friend, Ben goes to pay a visit to Jessica, who's finishing up in the darkroom of her apartment. When she tells Ben to come in, he is shocked to find dozens of Spider-Man pictures plastered all over the walls.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Considering that Jessica was a "Jurgens" character, and the whole story line was really Dan's brainchild and therefore his to play with, Todd did a really good job of taking the character and moving her forward in this issue. ]
SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #3, written and illustrated by Dan Jurgens and Klaus Janson, begins the 4-part "Web of Carnage" story line. Spider-Man is still being hunted by the police for swiping the skeleton. He's just come from Ravencroft, where he was investigating the possibility of Carnage having escaped. Spider-Man clears the perimeter and is rescued by Peter Parker, who's sporting a Corvette. Pete tells Ben that he followed Spider-Man's whereabouts via a police scanner, an old trick he picked up from hanging around Bugle reporters.
During the ride home, Ben tells Peter that he's concerned about his new girlfriend, Jessica. He shows Peter a picture of Jessica on her 7th birthday, with a blurred image of her father in the background. He says that there's something about her father and her hatred of Spider-Man that's connected. Jessica was upset at Ben's reaction to her wallpapered room of Spider-Man photos and asked that he trust her. She revealed that her father was sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. He was accused of murder, but says the truth was that an old man mistook her father for a burglar, pulled a gun on him and there was a struggle. The old man died and her father was found guilty.
When Ben tried to figure out how Spider-Man was connected, Jessica kept going on about how Spider-Man is a murderer. Of course, Ben tried to defend the wall-crawler, but she would have none of that. Ben asked if her father ever interacted with Spider-Man and she clammed up, saying that she doesn't like to talk about it. Ben then headed over to the Daily Grind to drop off his time card and noticed that the place was packed. When Shirley asked if Ben could pitch in and help for a bit, he apologized and said he had other plans. Ben mused about how much this was like the old days, when his life as Spider-Man collided with his real life.
Ben switched to Spider-Man to blow off some steam when he came across the victim of an attack by someone who sounded suspiciously like Carnage. This led Spider-Man to check out Ravencroft for answers, and it appeared that Carnage was locked away safely in his cell. Then the authorities showed up and Peter arrived shortly thereafter to help.
Peter and Spider-Man then head for Avengers headquarters to get answers to the skeleton mystery. Spider-Man tells Giant Man that Peter's there to photograph the moment where he's cleared of being "the imposter who murdered Spider-Man."
While Giant Man runs tests on the skeleton, Peter fools around with the picture of Jessica's 7th birthday on a photo enhancer. Giant Man runs his tests and then runs a second batch using Reed Richard's computers to double check.
Peter finishes with the photo and discovers that Jessica's father is the burglar that killed Uncle Ben! Their next shock comes from Giant Man, who says that the skeleton was in the smokestack for 5 years and is a clone of Spider-Man.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The "Web of Carnage" story, as I recall, was the brainchild of Bob Budiansky. It came up at the June 1995 Spider-Man writers conference, which I attended. (Incidentally, and I've mentioned this before, it was the one and only Spider-Man writers conference attended by Dan Jurgens.) Bob felt, and rightfully so, that Carnage was a big sales draw, and that it was time to bring the character back to face Ben Reilly. The specific idea that was discussed at length at the writers conference was for the Carnage symbiote to bond with Ben and try to possess him.
As for the skeleton aspect of the story, well, I got into this at length last time, so I won't rehash all of it here. I will say that I don't remember whose idea it was to definitively establish in SENSATIONAL #3 that the skeleton was that of a Spider-Man clone, and that it had been in the smokestack for the previous five years. Once we went down that road, though, we raised a whole bunch of questions for which we had no answers.
For one thing, we still hadn't figured out who or what Ben Reilly was going to be, if the skeleton was indeed going to be that of the genuine, original clone of Spider-Man from AMAZING #149. ]
"Web of Carnage" Part 2 takes place in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #410, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mark Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt and Randy Emberlin. The issue opens with Peter and Spider-Man coming back from Avengers HQ. They don't know what to think. If Ben is the original and the skeleton is the original clone, then what does that make Peter? Peter doesn't know what to think or who to trust anymore. He decides that he wants to pay a visit to Seward to straighten some things out. Before they go their separate ways, Spider-Man lets Peter take a picture of him with the skeleton, to make Jameson happy and for Peter to look good.
Rumors still swirl around Carnage or an imitator roaming around, but apparently Carnage is still incarcerated. Spider-Man decides to follow a Ravencroft employee named Dickerson, who he sees going into an underground club dedicated to super-villains. It turns out that Dickerson is selling authentic merchandise, like bandages and towels, from "guests" at Ravencroft. Spider-Man is just watching when suddenly Carnage bursts into the club.
Although this Carnage is a genuine alien symbiote, capable of the same powers as Carnage or Venom and just as deadly, Spider-Man deduces that the person is too tall and bulky to be Kasady, the original Carnage. Carnage manages to get away.
Back at the hospital, Peter and Mary Jane arrive to see Seward. A vehicle on the street stands guard and a mysterious occupant of the vehicle calls Seward's room, warning him of what to do. Seward, recognizing the voice on the other end of the line, tells the person that he understands. He then orders the front desk to not allow Peter or MJ to see him at that time. Peter is immediately suspicious, but accepts the setback for now.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This sequence, indicating that there was more to Seward Trainer than met the eye, kicked off what was intended to be the story line that would end the clone saga once and for all. In a way, it still did, but the story line was supposed to end a whole lot earlier than it ultimately did, and in a significantly different way. For one thing, the identity of the mysterious character who called Seward's room ended up being radically changed from the original plans. More on this later. ]
Meanwhile, at the Daily Bugle, Jessica is showing her Spider-Man photos to Robbie. Jameson overhears the discussion and joins in. They both admit she has talent but tell her that great shots don't necessarily equal a great story. Jameson suggests that photos showing Spider-Man coming off bad are more likely to sell, which inspires Jessica even further.
Spider-Man is tailing John Jameson of Ravencroft, having turned up nothing more than a petty thief in Dickerson. His hunch works out, as Jameson transforms into Carnage. Spider-Man takes him on, and tries to find out how the symbiote bonded to Jameson. He wants to help his friend, or rather Peter's friend. Jameson manages to explain to Spider-Man that the alien is only using him as a temporary host until it finds someone stronger. At that moment, the Carnage symbiote grafts itself onto Spider-Man. The Spider-Carnage begins to tear through the city, with Jessica in a perfect place to take photos.
SPIDER-MAN #67, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr, Al Williamson and Al Milgrom, continues "Web of Carnage." The grotesque Spider-Carnage spots Jessica and moves in for the kill, but Ben Reilly has enough control to keep the alien from achieving its goal. Spider-Carnage swings off, and waits for Peter at Ben's apartment.
The symbiote is trying to overtake Ben's conscience. It tells him how if he were to kill Peter that there would be no question as to who is real and who's the clone. When Ben says he knows he's the real one, the alien asks how he can be sure and suggests killing Peter and ending it all now. Ben manages to stay in control enough to not do anything, but the internal struggle makes Peter suspicious even more. Peter wants Ben to go with him to see Seward and try to get some answers. A possessed Ben lashes out at Peter, forcing him to leave.
Peter checks out the hospital on his own, only to find that Seward has been discharged and there is no information of his billing address. Peter's only lead is that Seward's medical bills were paid for by something called the Multivex Corporation. At the same time, Spider-Carnage has been following Peter, hunting him. Peter and Spider-Carnage have their confrontation and again Ben regains control long enough for Peter to live through the experience.
The story line is concluded in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #233, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema, Art Thibert and John Stanisci. The Spider-Carnage continues its insanity as the Ben side seeks to continue to fight crime and help innocents while the alien part disperses extreme justice to criminals, almost killing them before the Ben side takes back control. Ben is able to gain enough control to head for Ravencroft, where he hopes the people there will figure out a way to control the alien.
Peter, though, is busy tracking down Seward's whereabouts and heads for the Multivex Corporation. He's not given a warm reception and is escorted outside. After Peter's taken care of, a mysterious person inside the building tells Seward that they wish to see Seward continue his experiments in private.
Spider-Carnage finally reaches Ravencroft, where the security team tries to bring in the symbiote. In the end, the symbiote just wants to be returned to its proper host, Kasady. The alien frees itself from Spider-Man and goes back to its host via the plumbing in the sink, explaining how it was able to get out in the first place.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : And now it's Spider-Clone Memo time. This week, I present a memo submitted by one of the core Spider-Man writers of that time, but he was so disenchanted by his own ideas that he submitted the memo under a pseudonym! Even after all these years, I'm not sure he would want his real name revealed, especially in a public forum such as this, so I will protect his identity.
The basic gist of the idea is that a major story line would end with both Ben and Peter getting caught in a terrible explosion. In the following issue, we pick up some days later, and reveal that only one of them survived. The problem is, the survivor has partial amnesia and can't remember if he's Peter Parker or Peter Parker's clone! Since there doesn't seem to be any way to fully restore his memories and allow him to be sure about his true identity, our hero decides to just continue on as Peter Parker. As it said in the memo, "The important thing to keep in mind is to have the amnesia over and done with in one story line... And now we proceed and never look back." Comparisons were made to the phenomenal success that Marvel was enjoying with Wolverine and Cable, both of whose true origins remained mostly unknown. (This was six years ago, remember, long before there was any thought of doing a WOLVERINE: ORIGIN limited series or fully fleshing out Cable's back story). The memo argued that a similar approach could now be applied to Spider-Man.
And there was more. For one thing, the still-pregnant Mary Jane would be missing. For a time, it would seem as if she's dead. But enough clues of her survival would be dropped along the way that Spider-Man would begin to question whether she and the baby truly died. This would eventually lead to a whole new story line, "The Search For Mary Jane," and when he finally does find her, she's no longer pregnant, but has no idea what happened to the baby. That, then, could kick off a "Baby Quest" story line that would keep the momentum going, maintain the sense of mystery, and keep readers guessing. And what would the answers turn out to be? Nothing! The mysteries would never be solved! As it said in the memo, "(The readers) may claim to want all the answers... they may demand the answers... we may even want to give the answers to the readers, but... once you do, you are bound to piss someone off... (The readers) don't really want to know! Take away the mystery and it's over."
I did say the ideas got wilder as we went along, didn't I?