The six-part "Blood Brothers" story line is covered here. Since it spans over two months of stories, we've broken it down into 2 parts. LoR Part 22 will cover "Blood Brothers" parts 1-3, as well as SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #12, which wraps up the 'skeleton mystery" (for now) and LoR Part 23 will cover "Blood Brothers" Parts 4-6, as well as an important installment of WHAT IF. Let's get to it.
SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #4, written and illustrated by Dan Jurgens and Klaus Janson, starts the "Blood Brothers" story line, with Peter showing Jameson the photo of Spider-Man with the skeleton. Jameson is very pleased, but tries to cheat Peter out of what he's supposed to be paid. After a bluff by Peter, Jameson caves, but also says how he's hired a forensic scientist to reconstruct the skeleton to get to the bottom of the mystery.
At the Daily Grind, Shirley tells Ben that his social security number came up as being incorrect, so Ben promises to fix it later. Jessica then comes in to confront Ben for avoiding her. Outside the café, Ben asks Jessica again to tell him about her father. She presents a very skewed version of the facts, again talks of how her father was mistaken for a burglar, and tried to wrestle a gun away from the "old man" when the gun went off and killed the old man. After serving time in prison, her father was released, but Spider-Man hunted him down, caught him in a warehouse, and strangled him. She says the coroner called it a heart attack, but she believes that they were just covering for Spider-Man.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The actual account of the final confrontation between Spider-Man and the burglar who killed Uncle Ben was chronicled in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #200, written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by Keith Pollard. It was also in this milestone issue that Aunt May finally overcame her great fear of Spider-Man.
By the way, I found the end of AMAZING (Volume 2) #35, which I just read, quite interesting. In 1998, when the Spider-Man creative teams were ordered by Marvel's then-editor in chief, Bob Harras, to bring Aunt May back, they were specifically told that she could not know that Peter was Spider-Man. Essentially, they were told to undo everything that had been established in AMAZING (Volume 1) #400, and make it clear that Aunt May had NEVER known about Peter's double life. This was not negotiable. Harras hated the idea of Aunt May having ever known, and wanted to make sure this was wiped from continuity in the most definitive way possible. Hence the "startling revelation" that it was actually an "actress" playing the part of Aunt May, set up by Norman Osborn, who really appeared in that story and died. Looking at the new AMAZING #35, all I can say is: what a difference a few years and a new editor in chief can make, huh? ]
Their conversation is cut short when Ben sees a SWAT van speeding down the road. He makes up an excuse and runs off to change into Spider-Man. Jessica follows the van, too, hoping to score some good shots. Spider-Man is able to take care of the situation, and then ducks back into an alley to change back to Ben Reilly. In his haste, ignores a low level Spider-sense buzz. The buzz was warning him that Jessica was trying to get some Spider-Man pictures and instead snapped some of him without his mask. Ben puts the mask back on and races to try and explain things to Jessica, who tells him that she never wants to talk to him or see him ever again.
Ben tells Peter about the disturbing news as they get rid of the skeleton properly, burying it in a graveyard, away from Jameson's inquisitive scientists. Peter again suggests that Seward may not have performed accurate tests, and when Ben tells Peter that Seward can be trusted, he's accused of being blind to the truth due to his allegiance to Seward.
The story continues in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #411, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mark Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt and Al Milgrom. The Bugle is putting up a $100,000 reward for the return of the missing skeleton. The police are angry, feeling that such a reward will bring every crackpot and mercenary into the city, but Jameson just wants publicity, and to see Spider-Man suffer.
Ben's woes continue as he tries to keep his mind off Jessica, and discovers that the heat in his apartment's been shut off since his rent check bounced. When he goes to the bank to check on his account, he finds that there's an anomaly with his social security number. Since Seward is the one who created the number, Ben needs his help to get things straightened out. In the meantime, he hopes to ask Shirley for an advance. When he gets to the Daily Grind, Ben finds out that two men, claiming to be cops, warned Shirley that Ben had a history of violent and erratic behavior against employers.
Across town, Peter and MJ are debating when they should go back home to Portland. Peter wants to get to the bottom of the mystery of the skeleton, but MJ doesn't care about who is who. She tells Peter that he's the man she loves and he can't go around playing Spider-Man. His responsibility is to her and their unborn child.
At the Multivex Corporation, the mystery man who's been hounding Seward is shown in more detail. He has to wear an environmental suit to keep his body operating and Seward's job is to repair his body and restore the man to his physical prime.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The mysterious figure was intended to be the sole mastermind behind the entire clone saga, a powerful and influential figure who was controlling Seward Trainer and manipulating the lives of Peter Parker and Ben Reilly from the shadows. Forced to wear an environmental suit to maintain his life functions, he would eventually be restored to health by Seward, and at that point, we would reveal his identity. At least, that was the plan when the "Blood Brothers" story line was produced. ]
Peter and MJ do some shopping in the city and then Peter agrees to move the return to Portland up immediately. They share a kiss, but they're suddenly abducted into a blind alley. The attackers reveal themselves to be a cybernetically enhanced merc squad called Cell-12 that has been assigned to "take out" Peter and MJ. Peter tries to reason with them to let MJ go, but they know she'd just try and get help and decide that she's to be kept, though safe, theirs for now. The team proceeds to attack Peter, who's no match for them without his powers. While a badly beaten Peter asks, "Why?" one of the squad tells him that he's been poking his nose in places it doesn't belong. They continue to assault Peter while MJ can do nothing but watch her husband fall.
At that same time, Ben returns to his apartment to find it completely stripped bare, with the words "We Know Who You Are" scrawled on the floor. Realizing that whoever did this to his apartment might want to lash out against his workplace, Ben rushes towards the Daily Grind, only to find it burning to the ground.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : With his chapter of "Blood Brothers," Tom DeFalco once again turned in a very solid, dramatic, engaging issue that raised lots of questions and deepened the mysteries, ensuring that readers would come back for more. ]
SPIDER-MAN #68, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr, Al Williamson and Al Milgrom, continues the "Blood Brothers" story line. Spider-Man stands amidst the ruins of what was the Daily Grind as the two cops from the other day survey the damage with Shirley and her son. They again try to implicate Ben Reilly, mentioning that he has a history of lashing out against his employers this way.
Elsewhere, Peter and MJ are having a crisis. Peter lacks the faith in himself to carry on. His recent beating at the hands of Cell-12 made him feel like the "puny" Parker of old and he feels helpless. MJ promises that nothing will happen to any of them and that she will be with him no matter what he decides to do.
On the other side of town, Jessica is returning to her apartment, still debating on whether to use the photo of Ben or not, when Spider-Man appears in her apartment. He's furious. Ben believes that Jessica is behind all of his misery of late and warns Jessica to back off and to stay out of his life. He swings off, still as mad as he was before, and tries to cope with the fact that there's no one he can turn to or trust anymore. He feels that he has only one hope left and that's to find Seward, which should be easy since he put a spider-tracer on his equipment.
Spider-Man arrives at the location and finds a note reading "you were warned." Cell-12 members scurry in the shadows and then suddenly strike out, trying to take Spider-Man by surprise. He's able to deal with Cell-12 pretty easily, and then comes face to face with the leader of the squad, the Hobgoblin. The goblin looks very different this time around, with many cybernetic enhancements to the costume. This Spider-Man has never faced any Hobgoblin before, though, and mistakenly refers to him as "Green Goblin," a comment that the Hobgoblin doesn't appreciate. As they battle, the Hobgoblin reveals that he's been orchestrating everything that's been happening to the Parkers and Reilly, as per his boss's instructions. He gains the advantage over Spider-Man and almost kills him before Seward Trainer orders him to stop.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The cyber-enhanced Hobgoblin was an attempt to revitalize the character, to make him cooler and more than just a second-rate Green Goblin. It's necessary to point out that this Hobgoblin was NOT the original one created by Roger Stern back in 1982. This was the second Hobgoblin, Jason Philip Macendale, who had previously been the Jack O'Lantern, and had never been particularly effective as the Hobgoblin after he took over the role around 1987.
Howard Mackie was aware of that fact, and had previously done a multi-part story line that attempted to rectify the situation. Perhaps aware that he had not achieved his goal with that earlier story, Howard tried once again to revamp the Hobgoblin by adding the cyber enhancements. Personally, I wasn't particularly enamored of this revamp (hell, I never cared for Macendale as the Hobgoblin anyway), but I felt it was very appropriate that John Romita Jr. was on board to update the costume, as he had designed the original version of the character. ]
Spider-Man is shocked to see Seward involved, but watches helplessly, battered and bloodied, as his friend walks away with the Hobgoblin, to get back to "the boss." Spider-Man gathers enough strength to get out of there, thinking about how wrong he's been about everything. He awakens Peter and MJ from a sound sleep by coming into their room and collapsing onto the floor.
Let's take a break from "Blood Brothers" to tackle SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #12, written by Evan Skolnick and illustrated by Paris Karounous, Steven Butler, Steve Geiger, Randy Emberlin, Derek Fisher, Scott Hanna, and Al Milgrom. This issue came out the same month as the "Blood Brothers" story line, yet concentrated solely on the question of what to do with the skeleton. Jameson wants to have scientists analyze the bones, which could spell disaster for Peter and Ben should the identity of the skeleton be revealed.
The issue opens with the Beetle in town to try and collect on Jameson's $100,000 reward. After Spider-Man deals with him, he has to face a swarm of other super-villains like Shocker, Boomerang, and the second Jack O'Lantern.
Jameson has his forensic team in place and Peter willingly agrees to be a test subject, since he figures backing out would cause suspicion. The scientists scan his head, and then break away the layers until only the skull remains. They then reconstruct the head from the skull, showing how they'll use photo imaging to learn the identity of the skeleton.
The Pro arrives on the scene and forces Peter to dig up the skeleton, while Spider-Man has to deal with the menace of all the new super-villains in town. After dealing with them, Spider-Man goes to the graveyard to get Peter out of his jam. Unfortunately, a welcoming committee of police and reporters are there. Peter tells Spider-Man that it's best to hand over the remains and reluctantly, Spider-Man agrees.
Later, everyone watches the scientists do their work with bated breath. The reconstruction process starts and the image of Peter Parker appears on the screen for all to see. Immediately, Peter jokes about it to alleviate any tension and someone else deduces that the computer must have transposed Peter's earlier photo from the test to this new one. The experiment is labeled a failure and Peter and Ben breathe a sigh of relief. At least there's one less problem they have to worry about.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Okay, it's "Clone Memo" time, and it's gonna be a long stretch this time around. We're now up to the solution that, for a while, looked like it would actually be used.
I vividly remember the day it was introduced. It was early July, in 1995. I was actually out of the office that day, sick and bedridden. I had called in later in the day to check with my boss, Tom Brevoort, and asked him if any progress had been made in solving the clone dilemma. Brevoort told me that he had suggested an idea that surprised and intrigued everyone on the editorial team (that would be Spider-Man Group Editor in Chief Bob Budiansky, Associate Editor Eric Fein, and Assistant Editor Mark Bernardo). I asked Brevoort what the idea was, and he summed it up in two words: "Time Loop.
In a nutshell, the idea was that neither Peter Parker nor Ben Reilly was the clone - both were the original. How, you ask, could this be possible? Glad you asked. Brace yourselves, because here we go.
The idea was that Peter Parker would somehow be sent back in time five years, where he would co-exist with the Peter Parker of that time, and somehow be led to believe that he was the clone. Peter would then spend the next five years living as Ben Reilly. When Peter/Ben reaches the point in 1996 (the year this story would have taken place) where he is sent back in time to become Ben, the "time loop" is closed, and there is only one Peter Parker left in the present - the one who's lived the past five years as Ben Reilly. The Ben Reilly of 1996 then regains all the memories of Peter's adventures from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #149 on, thus validating over 20 years of Spider-Man stories and (hopefully) pleasing longtime fans.
This scenario met the most important requirements laid down by Bob Budiansky, which were that Peter Parker must be restored as Spider-Man, but Ben Reilly must be validated as a character, as well. Ben couldn't be written off as just another clone that was lying around, or a robot, or something else that could be easily and casually dismissed.
After Brevoort told me the concept, I was silent on the phone for a good long moment. I was shocked. I was intrigued. I immediately saw the potential this idea had, and was very excited about helping to develop it further. I became its biggest cheerleader around the office, defending it from any and all criticism and skepticism.
As time passed, we began refining the idea. I pointed out to everyone that there was one key thing we had to get around: the Marvel Universe rule that whenever a character goes back in time, he or she is not going to end up in the same time line he or she left. A new time line, virtually identical to the original one, is created by the trip through time, and that's the one the character is visiting. The best example of this rule is MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #50, wherein the Thing went back in time to the earliest days of the Fantastic Four, as part of an experiment to cure himself. The Thing realized by the end of the story that even if his younger self was cured, it would have no bearing on his current self, because the younger Thing who received the cure was from an alternate time line created by the Thing's journey back in time. Gaaaah! Hope I haven't lost you here! This is the simplest explanation I could come up with!
Anyway, the end result of this rule was that no trip to the past could cause any changes to the Marvel Universe of the present. And under this rule, if Peter Parker was sent back five years, he wouldn't land in the time line that he left. We had to get around this rule, so the suggestion was made that Judas Traveller and Scrier could be brought back into the story line and be responsible for the time loop. The rationale was that these characters were presented as being so vastly powerful - Traveller had once said that he wasn't God, but he was pretty close - that we could just establish that they were able to sidestep this universal rule and make sure that Peter stayed in the same time line when he was sent back in time. That seemed to work, so we went with it. Then, a short time later, I had a new idea that I felt could be inserted into the story, so I asked for a lunch meeting with Brevoort and Budiansky to present it to them. We had the meeting, they thought that my idea could work, so I wrote up an 8-page memo that incorporated everything into one streamlined story treatment.
In short, my idea was that we would reveal that Traveller wasn't exaggerating his closeness to God - that he, in fact, was a fallen angel, "an agent of good who somehow lost his way, and, as punishment, was sentenced to spend his existence wandering the Earth and learning the nature of good and evil." In bringing Traveller back into the story line, we would establish that he now believes in the inherent goodness of mankind, thanks to the example set by Spider-Man, that most human of super heroes. Convinced of mankind's goodness, Traveller would declare that he planned to use his powers to eradicate all evil from the Earth - at which point the enigmatic Scrier would say, "I cannot allow that to happen." We had previously seen that Scrier was working behind Traveller's back, perhaps undermining Traveller, and now we would see why. Scrier reveals his true self to Traveller.
Other important events would be Mary Jane's miscarriage, and the fact that Ben Reilly is beginning to have flashes of "memories that couldn't possibly be his, namely because they belong to Peter Parker!" Eventually, Peter and Ben would discover that neither of them is the clone - both test positive as the genuine article!
The rest of the scenario involved Traveller and Scrier, now clearly in direct conflict with each other, having concocted a contest - one in which winner would take all. "The contest, like so many of Traveller's recent experiments, would revolve around Spider-Man... (it) would settle Traveller and Scrier's dispute about the inherent nature of mankind. Spider-Man will represent all of humanity, and his actions during the contest will determine the outcome... and the winner." If Spider-Man's actions proved Traveller's theory that mankind is inherently good, then Traveller would win the contest and be allowed to remove all evil from Earth. If Spider-Man failed, then Scrier would win and Traveller would have to end his studies and would owe Scrier a very special payment.
Peter and Ben refuse to participate, but they're not given any choice in the matter. In a great show of power, as Ben Reilly and Mary Jane watch, Scrier blasts Peter Parker into oblivion! Peter is apparently disintegrated, gone forever! A horrified and anguished Ben, with vengeance in his heart, closes in to tear Scrier apart. But then Scrier asks what Ben would give to have Peter back. Would he offer his soul and risk eternal damnation, just to restore Peter to life? "Having come to love Peter as a friend and a 'brother,' and unable to bear the sorrow of Mary Jane, one of his closest and dearest friends, Ben says that he would be willing to give anything to bring Peter back... even his own soul."
And here came the kicker: "Scrier laughs, and finally reveals himself to Ben (and the readers) in his true form: MEPHISTO! He says, 'Okay, Peter's alive. In fact, he never died! Because you're Peter! You always have been Peter!"
Here's more: "Mephisto reveals that he never really disintegrated Peter, he just sent him back five years in time, de-aged him, stripped him of his last five years of memories, and placed him in the smokestack, where he would be found by the Jackal... Following his own agenda, the Jackal would then make Peter believe that he was the clone! This Peter would go off to become Ben Reilly, while the Peter Parker who was already living in that time period would continue in New York as Spider-Man."
My story treatment went on (and on and on and on), to discuss the ramifications of these revelations, how everything fit in with established continuity, the backstory of Traveller and Scrier's relationship, and so forth. Traveller would have lost the contest, because in saving Peter, Ben was in essence saving himself, thus supporting Mephisto's argument that mankind is at its core a very selfish beast. The "very special price" that Traveller had to pay Mephisto was his own soul.
I wrote in conclusion: "We know that involving Mephisto and all the metaphysical stuff is a bit far removed from the usual Spider-Man type of story, but the mysticism and metaphysics have been an undeniably prominent part of the series since Traveller and Scrier first appeared. The plan is to pull out all the stops, use these elements to tell and finish off the story once and for all, and then return to the types of Spider-Man stories we're all more familiar (and comfortable) with... After Scrier is revealed to be Mephisto, and Traveller fulfills his role in the saga, and we finish off this story line, we never have to see either of them again in the pages of Spider-Man comic."
Looking back on all this, I think it would have made for an intriguing, compelling, thought-provoking story... but not anything that should ever be done in a Spider-Man comic. In fact, what's so blatant to me now is how Spider-Man is completely overshadowed by the events of this story - he's little more than a plot device, a pawn. And that's not what the readers want to see. Hell, it's not what I would want to see, either! But somehow, I just got so wrapped up in this concept and the story possibilities and the fact that it solved so many of our problems that I lost sight of what makes for a good Spider-Man story. Obviously, I wasn't the only one, since Brevoort came up with the initial idea and Budiansky was onboard for it. But having presented myself in so many installments of this column as one of the very few "voices of reason" during the clone saga, I have to take the blame for being a key part of the "Time Loop" scenario.
Bob Budiansky distributed my story treatment to the Spider-Man writers and Marvel's on-staff continuity cop, Peter Sanderson, who responded with a 7-page memo of his own detailing what worked about the scenario and how things that didn't work could be made to work. This too was sent to the writers. Then Budiansky wrote up a 13-page master overview of his own that was distributed to everyone working on the Spider-Man books. This overview mapped out the whole "Time Loop" saga and proposed that the story line would be brought to a close in the Spider-Man books published in April of 1996.
Next time, I'll discuss why this scenario, which came so close to becoming a reality, was ultimately abandoned, and what came along to replace it. ]