[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As the “Blood Brothers” story line was coming to a close, Marvel had another major downsizing, and Spider-Man editors Bob Budiansky and Eric Fein were laid off from the company. As long-time readers of this column know, Budiansky had been the Editor in Chief of the Spider-Man Group, but became Spider-Man Group Editor when Bob Harras was promoted to Editor in Chief of Marvel.
There was no lack of irony associated with the firing of Bob Budiansky. My understanding is that under Marvel’s “Five Editors in Chief” system, which was in place from the end of 1994 to the end of 1995, each of the EICs had to increase the sales figures of their lines of books by a certain percentage over the course of that year. (Those groups consisted of the Spider-Man Group, the X-Men Group, the Edge Group, the Marvel Heroes Group, and the Licensed Titles/Marvel Alterniverse Group.) The way I’ve always heard it, the only group to meet its sales figure requirements over that year was the Spider-Man Group, under the leadership of Bob Budiansky. But the “Five Chiefs” scenario was ultimately phased out and Harras was appointed the one and only EIC. Shortly thereafter, the order came down from on high that more heads had to roll. To the people deciding who would stay and who would go, the fact that Budiansky had managed to maintain the sales on Spider-Man, and even improve them, during a time when sales were going down across the entire comics industry, was not enough to save him from being downsized.
The year that Bob Budiansky supervised the Spider-Man line had its fair share of creative turmoil, frustration, indecision, and abrupt changes in the writing team. Looking back on it all these years later, I would say that the bad moments probably outnumbered the good. But I attribute that more to the situation we were in than anything else. Bob Budiansky didn’t initiate the clone saga – he inherited it. And I know he came into the situation feeling very uncomfortable about what was planned for the future. He wanted to resolve everything in the best way possible, but the whole thing just spiraled out of control and he didn’t know quite how to deal with it. And he was fired just as we were finally settling on a solid new direction and a definite way out of the clone saga. Like I said, there was no lack of irony here, and a certain degree of unfairness, as well. But unfortunately, fairness and business don’t always go hand in hand.
Once Budiansky was gone, Bob Harras promptly dissolved the Spider-Man Group and placed all four of the core titles with one editor. That editor was Ralph Macchio, to whom it fell to end the clone saga once and for all. Harras also placed longtime Spider-Man assistant editor Mark Bernardo with Ralph, to maintain some continuity amongst the Spider-Man editorial staff. Tom Brevoort and I were still editing UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN and some other Spider-Man projects, including the SPIDER-MAN: LEGACY OF EVIL painted one-shot by Kurt Busiek and Mark Texiera, and a long-planned sequel to the SPIDER-MAN: THE LOST YEARS limited series. Ralph told Brevoort and me that he greatly valued our input, and he asked us to remain in the loop and continue to be part of the creative process. We gladly obliged.
Now, I’ll turn things over to Andrew…
Short one this time around, as we handle the last two books from the month of June 1996: SPIDER-MAN and SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN.
First up is SPIDER-MAN # 69, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr and Al Williamson. Spider-Man is on a hunt for the Hobgoblin, turning over every rock and two-bit crook he can to find his whereabouts. One slimeball, a doctor who works for the underworld, gives up the goods on the Hobgoblin, but asks how Spider-Man knew he was connected. Spider-Man replies, “You might say I have a brother who’s got connections.”
Cut to Peter Parker trying on blond wigs at a department store with his wife and asking how Ben thinks it could possibly fool anyone.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This was Howard Mackie’s way of expressing his disdain for the idea that Ben Reilly would dye his hair blond to avoid being confused for Peter. The “blond Ben Reilly” idea had been pushed by Bob Budiansky, and was worked into the books as of SENSATIONAL #0. I’m pretty sure Howard worked this bit in AFTER Budiansky was gone.
Peter talks to her about how he turned up a lead at the Daily Bugle about an underworld doctor, which he gave to Ben. Neither Peter nor MJ notices a shadowy figure following them. They end up at the Daily Bugle, where Peter gives MJ a trip down memory lane, including the faces and places that make up the paper. After they pick up Peter’s final check, Jameson tells them that there’s an opening on staff for a photographer and leaves it at that.
Spider-Man pays a visit to the construction site that will be the newly revamped Daily Grind, and takes a moment to speak with the owner, Shirley. He apologizes to her for her misfortune and tells her Ben Reilly is innocent and that he’s going to clear his name. Spider-Man then catches Peter and MJ as they’re leaving the Bugle and asks Peter for some important help.
Elsewhere, the Hobgoblin is having a dispute with Gaunt. Gaunt says that he is cutting the Hobgoblin off from the plan. He admits that he, too, will be cut off from his mysterious employer, but that it all comes with the territory. Gaunt also clues the Hobgoblin in to the fact that Spider-Man will soon come for him, and that under no circumstances is Hobgoblin allowed to kill him. He can hurt Spider-Man all he wants, but no more than that.
Shortly after Gaunt leaves, Spider-Man arrives and goes after the Hobgoblin. Their battle takes them across the rooftops of New York until Spider-Man creates a web net to catch them both. The Hobgoblin gloats about being the one who torched the Daily Grind and attacked Peter Parker, but laughs since he says no one will believe Spider-Man. This is when Spider-Man calls out Peter and Ben Urich, who were photographing and taping the exchange.
The next day’s headlines clear Ben Reilly, who joins Shirley back at the new and improved Daily Grind. He joins Peter and Mary Jane for a celebratory dinner. Peter accidentally breaks a glass in his hand and jokingly tells the others that there’s no conspiracy and that it was just an accident. Peter and MJ then ask Ben if he has any objection to them moving back to New York. Of course, Ben says it’s okay and welcomes them back home.
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN # 235, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema and John Stanisci, sees the return of Will o’ the Wisp. Spider-Man is breaking up a gang fight when he’s abducted and by someone who seems to know him. Although his first instinct is to strike back, Spider-Man realizes that the abductor could be a friend of Peter’s, which is one of the downsides of being out of action for so long. He’s not sure what sort of reputation Spider-Man has now and who his friends and enemies are. The stranger, who Peter later tells Ben is Will o’ the Wisp, has had an implant put into him by Jonas Harrow, and is being forced to commit crimes.
Ben uses Peter’s contacts at the Bugle to find out more information about Wisp and what he may be up to. Ben thinks how good it is that Peter and MJ have decided to move back to New York. He appreciates the help in his crime fighting duties, plus he can’t wait to be an uncle.
Spider-Man goes searching for Wisp and ends up finding him as he’s ready to begin another minor crime spree. While Spidey tries to convince Wisp to take control, Wisp explains that if he doesn’t succeed in following Harrow’s orders, his molecules will be scattered. When Spider-Man asks how he can help, Wisp tells him that Harrow controls the implant with a remote control device. If Spider-Man can gain control of the remote, he’ll be able to free Wisp. Spider-Man goes looking for a way to get this done, while at the Daily Bugle, Peter finishes severing ties with Portland and readying for a permanent move back to New York. After making some phone calls, Peter has a violent spasm that ends as soon as it begins.
GLENN’S COMMENTS: Peter’s mysterious spasms were part of a story line that I developed with Mark Bernardo, which we then presented to Ralph Macchio during a particularly productive lunch meeting. Ralph liked our ideas, and spoke to the writers about incorporating them into their plots. I’ll get into more details about this story line shortly.
Spider-Man finds Wisp again and offers another suggestion for gaining control of himself. Since Wisp has the ability to become intangible, he can make part of himself like that so Spider-Man can reach in and grab the implant. Wisp doesn’t think there’s enough time, so he does Harrow’s bidding instead, in an effort to keep himself alive a little longer.
After he does what is asked of him, Wisp returns to Spider-Man and they try his plan. Although the pain is unbearable, Wisp is able to control himself long enough for Spider-Man to make it work. After having the implant removed, Wisp passes out from the shock. Spider-Man’s doing just fine though, until he sees what Wisp was so upset about: Dragon Man!
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Since the end of the clone saga was going to be delayed for six months (as I mentioned in the previous column), the Spider-Man writers were pretty much free to tell whatever stories they wanted, at least for a little while. This gave Todd Dezago the chance to do some fun stuff he wanted to work in to SPECTACULAR, such as bringing back Will o’ the Wisp and using Dragon Man.
Since it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Ben was indeed going to be a goner by the time it was all over, Ralph saw this six-month period as an opportunity to make Ben as likable as possible, and to really establish the brotherly relationship between Ben and Peter. This would make the readers feel the loss of Ben all the more when it finally happened, and thus make his demise far more shocking and powerful. Ralph’s goal was to make even the fiercest Ben Reilly detractors get choked up when he heroically met his end. I certainly couldn’t disagree with Ralph on that. Especially since I had become one of Ben’s biggest supporters at Marvel, and was in no rush to see him go. Hey, until I was definitively told “He’s toast” by a Marvel executive of that time, I was even holding out hope that Ben could remain as the original Spider-Man.
Anyway, with six months to play with, there were a lot of conversations about what could be done to keep the books moving forward. At one point, there was some discussion about having Ben actually adopt the Peter Parker identity (with Peter and Mary Jane’s blessing) and start wearing the original Spider-Man costume. This would be presented as a major turning point, and would absolutely throw readers off the scent. After all, if Ben has become Peter, there’s no way we would kill him off, right? I can no longer recall how long this idea was actually under consideration, but I still think it would have been intriguing.