August is another month of self-contained stories, with the only common theme being Peter's failing health in all 4 core books, plus SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED.
SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #7 sees Todd Dezago writing and Luke Ross and Al Williamson penciling as the "guest creative team" after Dan Jurgens's departure from the title after 6 issues (and one "#0" issue). Ross's Spider-Man illustrations especially bring back memories of early Todd McFarlane, particularly on the first page.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Luke Ross was a fairly good Spider-Man artist, and an excellent storyteller. I got to work with him when I wrote some issues of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN in 1998, and I was very pleased with the way he illustrated my stories. His work on SENSATIONAL #7 was solid, but he got much better as time went on. ]
Storywise, Ben has come to the hospital to check on Peter. Though the two are letting other people think of them as cousins, they've been referring to each other as "brothers" more and more. There's a long, touching scene in Peter's room where old friends and co-workers come to visit him, giving Ben a chance to meet some people that he hasn't seen since before he went into exile. He notes how lucky Peter and MJ are to be surrounded by such love.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The idea of old friends and co-workers coming to visit Peter in the hospital came directly from Editor in Chief Bob Harras. In fact, once the "Peter is Dying of a Mysterious Illness" story line was approved and incorporated into the books, Harras pretty much insisted that all the old supporting cast members show up to pay their respects to Peter. Harras felt, rightfully so, that the Spider-Man supporting cast had been woefully neglected over the last few years, and Peter's illness would be the perfect excuse to work these characters back in. My response to that was, "Great! And hey, if they're showing up again, how about we actually keep them around and DO stuff with them again?" I'd always felt that Spider-Man had one of the best supporting casts in all of comicdom, and what had happened to those characters over the years was a damn shame. Most of them had been killed off or they simply disappeared with no explanation. From my very first day as part of the Spider-Man Group, I was lobbying for the supporting cast to return on a regular basis. I made this a point at our first Spider-Man Group Editorial Meeting. Danny Fingeroth was still the Group Editor at that time, and he replied, "We've got regular supporting characters. There's Betty Brant, there's Flash Thompson, there's Robbie Robertson and J. Jonah Jameson…" I said to Danny, "But when was the last time you used any of those characters? We haven't seen any of them in months, and nothing significant has been done with them in years!" And in truth, anyone picking up a Spider-Man comic for the first time during that particular period would have had no idea that those characters even existed. But Danny just sort of shrugged off what I was saying, and nothing really changed. ]
Later, Spider-Man swings off to check out reports of a jumper atop a high rise. The jumper has positioned himself so high up that no one can get to him, and as the winds whip at him, time is running out. Spider-Man pops on over to have a heart to heart with him. George, the jumper, tells Spider-Man that his life is worthless and he doesn't want to deal with it anymore. Before he can say anything else, one of the nearby helicopters is caught in a wind shear and slams into the side of the building. Spider-Man gets George to a safer area and goes to rescue the helicopter passengers.
After bringing a few to rest where George is, Spider-Man asks if anyone knows CPR because one of the passengers isn't breathing. George admits that he knows the procedure and ends up performing it and saving the person's life. Spider-Man takes care of the remaining passenger, as well as webbing the copter so it doesn't crush anyone before the police and fire department can evacuate the area. After all of the passengers have been rescued and tended to properly by paramedics, Spider-Man asks George if he wants to go back up top to finish what he started. George declines the offer, now realizing that his life may not be as worthless as he once thought. Elsewhere, a jewelry store is robbed by someone fitting the description of the Shocker.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This "suicide jumper" story is similar to my very first professional Spider-Man story, which was published in the 1995 SPIDER-MAN HOLIDAY SPECIAL (and which I discussed a few columns back). Even the conclusion is similar, with the would-be jumper saving someone else and realizing that life is worth living after all. Not for one second do I believe that Todd stole from my story, which was published first. In fact, I doubt Todd was even aware of my story. The stuff in the HOLIDAY SPECIAL wasn't really considered "essential" material to the canon, and I think it was all pretty much below everyone's radar, other than the people who actually worked on it. I guess there are only so many ways you can deal with the topic of suicide in a Spider-Man story! ]
Throughout the issue, there are scenes running parallel with Peter going into cardiac arrest. The doctors are able to get his heart beating again, but things are looking very bad for Peter Parker. The issue ends with a specialist being called in to look at the case and hopefully provide some more insight. The specialist's name: Dr. Curt Connors.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #414, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt, introduces Delilah to the Spider-Man universe. Delilah is a ruthless assassin who is first shown wiping out an entire room of mobsters and then reporting to her mysterious boss, who gives her a new assignment: Garon, Shirley's ex-husband.
Ben is visiting Peter in the hospital again and suggests to MJ that they reveal to the doctors that Peter is a clone. Perhaps it will give them other alternatives to help him. They ultimately decide against it, thinking that Peter would become more of a scientific curiosity than a patient in need of help. When Robbie Robertson shows up, Ben makes a quick getaway, but not before overhearing Robbie reveal that J. Jonah Jameson's been missing.
Spider-Man swings on over to start his shift at the Daily Grind, and overhears that a merchant was robbed by a man who used rings against him, possibly the Ringer. Spider-Man wonders if the current reunion of bad guys means the Grizzly's going to be coming back soon. When he gets to work, Ben sees that Shirley's acting irritable, a trait that isn't like her at all. She explains that Garon is making her miserable since he wants to spend more time with their son, Devon. Shirley says that Garon is bad news and Ben inquires as to when their next get-together is.
Spider-Man makes an appearance in Central Park, where Devon is meeting his father and questioning his reappearance in his life. When Delilah makes an attempt on Garon's life, Spider-Man intervenes. He checks on Devon and then goes underground after Garon, who's gone after Delilah. Spider-Man and Garon don't care much for each other, but find something in common when Delilah reveals herself, and takes Devon as her captive. Garon tries to negotiate with her, drawing Spider-Man's ire, and manages to get Delilah to reveal that Hammerhead ordered the hit on him.
Delilah then drops Devon out of one of the drainage pipes as she makes her escape. Spider-Man leaps up into the air to catch the boy and bring him to safety. Once they're sure that Devon is okay, Spider-Man grabs Garon and asks what his connection is to Hammerhead and Delilah. Garon reveals that he's a special agent in an organized crime task force. Before Spider-Man can apologize, Garon accuses him of being prejudiced and goes off to file his report.
At the Daily Bugle, Robbie breaks into Jameson's office to find out that it's been ransacked and locked from the inside. And over in a secret location, Delilah meets with her real boss. She explains how she gave Garon Lewis Hammerhead's name to foil the flattop's chances of seizing control of the underworld. Then, Delilah's boss reveals himself to be the Rose.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The Rose was originally introduced during Tom DeFalco's first run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, back in the 1980s. Tom kept his true identity a secret, but after DeFalco left the title, writer Jim Owsley revealed that the Rose was really Richard Fisk, the son of the Kingpin. From conversations I've had with Tom over the years, I got the impression that he never intended for Richard Fisk to be the Rose, just as Roger Stern never intended for Ned Leeds to have been the Hobgoblin. In fact, Tom D. once said to me, "As far as I was concerned, who the Rose really was behind the mask was irrelevant. His true identity wasn't really a mystery, because it was never really played as one!" With Tom writing AMAZING again, it seemed like a good opportunity for him to bring back the Rose, revamp him a bit, and do some new stuff with the character.]
SPIDER-MAN #71, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr and Al Williamson, sees Fortunato "disposing" of two captains who failed to eliminate Hammerhead. He tells the others to go find Hammerhead and finish the job properly and then find out who took incriminating photos and get rid of them, as well.
Back at the hospital, Peter is not doing well. His heart rate and blood pressure are all over the place and even though the doctors seems to be stabilizing him when things get bad, Dr. Connors tells Mary Jane that he doesn't know if Peter will make it through the night. Spider-Man is on his way to the hospital when he discovers that another robbery took place, this time with the perpetrator getting glue all over the place, which is the M.O. of the Trapster.
Ben arrives at the hospital where Peter is telling MJ to get something to eat and take a much-needed break. Once they're alone, Peter admits to Ben that he doesn't think he's going to make it and has Ben promise to take care of Mary Jane and the baby after he dies.
In another area, Hammerhead subdues a doctor, telling him that he needs discreet and immediate medical attention. After he's stitched up, Hammerhead gets ready to leave but spots Ben Urich in the hallway (on his way to visit Peter). He grabs Urich just as Ben is ready to talk to him, as well. Hammerhead starts threatening Urich if he doesn't reveal what he saw at the earlier meeting, but Spider-Man bursts through to interrupt. Spidey starts questioning Hammerhead about Delilah, but his accusations go denied. Hammerhead also reveals an exo-skeleton that he wears which was designed for him by the Tinkerer. The two get into it inside the hospital, each of them taking turns pummeling the other. Hammerhead warns Spider-Man that the city is being carved up by various crime bosses, and that he's going to be the one standing over everyone in the end. Hammerhead creates a diversion and then gets away.
Spider-Man starts to go after him but then hears "Code Blue to Room 314," which is Peter's room. When he gets to the room, he notices doctors leaving. Spider-Man rushes in, apologizing to MJ and finds Peter saying that he can feel his heart slowing down. He tells Ben that it's all his now and tells Mary Jane that he loves her, and then, closing his eyes, passes away.
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #237, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema and John Stanisci, opens with Ben Reilly, Mary Jane and several doctors standing over the body of Peter Parker. Their sorrow and pain is undeniable and Ben walks MJ out of the room, holding her close to his heart as they cry together.
Alone in his room, Peter begins to spasm uncontrollably. His muscles are spasming and he awakens to find himself crashing into walls and flinging his body across the room. Ben and MJ rush back to the room to find Peter on the floor, smiling, in the middle of a disaster area that was his room, asking if anyone has a dustpan.
There's cleaning up to do at the Daily Bugle, too, as Robbie Robertson tells Glory Grant that the mess in Jameson's office seemed more like a search and destroy than a break in. Since it's been more than 48 hours, they also file a police report for a missing person. On the streets, Dr. Connors walks, looking at all the people and noticing newspaper headlines and television reports regarding Graydon Creed, an anti-mutant propaganda machine who is intent on running for office. Connors is fed up with the way people treat each other and wonders what kind of world he'll be leaving for his son. Reports of an Onslaught menace are also popping up in the city.
In another part of town, Spider-Man leaves Mary Jane to be with Peter and finds out that the police are seeking Stiltman for another crime spree in the area. As Spider-Man wonders why all these former villains are popping up at one time, he runs into the Lizard. Spider-Man battles the Lizard, who seems to be heading for the hospital. The problem is, the Lizard's alter ego, Curt Connors, is already now at the hospital saying goodbye to Peter.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : And here begins the story line that (thankfully) undoes the "revamping" of the Lizard, which happened during the SCARLET SPIDER backup series that appeared in all of the 1995 Spider-Man Annuals. As you may recall, Tom Brevoort and I worked on that Scarlet Spider series and we were less than pleased with the results. So it should not come as any surprise that we fully supported the notion of wiping that story from the continuity and restoring the original Lizard to Spider Man's rogues gallery.
I thought it was clever to reveal that the new, mutated Lizard turned out to not be the original Curt Connors version. I don't remember for sure who came up with the idea, but it was probably either Todd Dezago or assistant editor Mark Bernardo, who played an important role in developing this new story line. ]
Sensing that Spider-Man may be overmatched, Peter dons some scrubs and joins his "brother" against the Lizard. Spider-Man wonders what Peter is doing, but Pete says that his powers have returned. As the fight goes on, it looks like whatever powers Peter has are coming back in a shaky manner. His spider-sense isn't "on" yet and his other powers seem to be going in and out. Spider-Man saves Peter from near death, but it allows for the Lizard to get away.
SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #13, written by James Felder and illustrated by Joe Bennett, Randy Emberlin, and Al Milgrom, resolves the mystery of J. Jonah Jameson's disappearance. The first page reveals that Jameson has been abducted by Mac Gargan, the Scorpion, who sports an updated costume with an even deadlier stinger. Jameson tries to bargain for his life, but the Scorpion reveals that his employer is paying good money to keep Jameson out of the way, not to kill him.
In the meantime, Robbie has hired Luke Cage to find their missing publisher. When it's revealed that the Scorpion has their boss, Cage doesn't back down and promises that he'll crush Gargan like the bug he is.
Spider-Man and Cage team up to stop Gargan, but the Scorpion is more powerful than either of the two imagine. Cage enlists the help of his old friend, Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist, and the trio is able to get Jameson to safety and stop the Scorpion.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : It was around the time that these stories were produced that Bob Harras told us who should be revealed as the master villain responsible for the entire clone saga. The reaction was not enthusiastic. I don't think ANYONE - from the writers to the editors to the assistant editors - agreed with Harras's idea, although his rationale certainly made sense to a certain extent. Harras felt that there was only one person who could have had the money, the resources, the connections, the knowledge, and the motivation to orchestrate the clone saga and disrupt Peter Parker's life to such a profound extent. Harras felt that the mastermind had to be Norman Osborn.
I was one of the most vocal opponents to this idea. "But Norman's dead!" I argued. "I mean, there was a body! We saw his funeral! There was no doubt left in anyone's mind that he died. Beyond that, he died in one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time. It was a key event in Spider-Man's entire history! We would be totally betraying the trust of the fans if we went in and undid that story!" I remember someone muttering, "Who are we gonna bring back next? Gwen? Or how about Uncle Ben?" But Harras felt that no other option would work, and he made it absolutely clear that he would not be bound to a story that had been published almost 25 years earlier. Harras felt that for the here and now, Norman was the only solution, continuity and history be damned.
The "who" part had been resolved. Now the "how" part had to be figured out. Little did I know at the time that that task would ultimately fall to little ol' me. ]