Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Part 32

Part 32 "Revelations," the interconnecting story that will conclude the Clone Saga once and for all begins here. And the Spider-Man character will never be the same again.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I don't know if I agree with that last statement. The whole intent of "Revelations" was to go back to the Spider-Man that everyone knew and loved. In other words, the same old thing, almost exactly the way it was before the Clone Saga began. But if we're talking about the BEN REILLY Spider-Man, then yeah, HE'D never be the same again after this. ]


"Revelations" Part 1 takes place in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #240, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Luke Ross and John Stanisci. The issue begins with Seward Trainer running some final tests on Gaunt before they begin the final rejuvenation process. Gaunt's employer reveals himself to Trainer, asking how long the process will take, since time is of the essence. Seward can't believe that this is the man who's been pulling the strings. Now, more than ever, he realizes that he has to get to Ben and Peter and warn them both.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This story line was originally going to be called "Book of Revelations," and the inciting incident was going to be Seward Trainer finding out the identity of the mysterious mastermind and stealing one of his journals-the one that outlines the entire master plan of the clone saga, from the beginning to the present-to get this book into the hands of either Ben Reilly or Peter Parker. Seward would die in the attempt, but the journal would make its way to our heroes and, once they learned the truth, the stage would be set for the climactic showdown.

During the chapters of "Book of Revelations" that would take place in the core Spider-Man titles, the readers would just get the most pertinent information from the journal: who was behind the Clone Saga, why, and a brief explanation of how. The full contents of the journal would be laid out for all to see in THE OSBORN JOURNAL, which I was writing. I was excited by this plan. It tied my book directly into the story line, and made the OSBORN JOURNAL one-shot a more essential piece of the event. However, as the story evolved and the journal became less and less important, the title was changed to "Revelations." In the end, the journal didn't even figure into the story line, and THE OSBORN JOURNAL more or less became a stand-alone project for those continuity-minded readers who were very curious about how everything tied together. ]


Our first symbolic tease occurs on the credits page, which is the first shot of Peter and Mary Jane. Hanging on a tree is a little ghost in the same pose as Mary Jane. Another tease appears as Peter and Mary Jane talk about the life they're going to have for their daughter. This talk occurs as Peter and MJ walk past a "dead end" sign.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Todd Dezago did a great job on these little visual gags and bits of foreshadowing. He put a lot of thought into them, and they worked very well. I remember how much fun it was to read the Spider-Man message boards on AOL and see whether the readers picked up on the gags and could guess where the story was headed. ]

Seward races to find Ben at his apartment, but is cornered by Gaunt, who's wearing a new and improved robotic armor. Gaunt's there for one reason: to kill Seward Trainer now that he's outlived his usefulness. Trainer makes it out of the apartment okay, but Gaunt is following close behind. Seward heads for the subway, hoping to find a way to get to Ben or Peter before it's too late. Seward makes it as far as just outside the Bugle building before Gaunt catches him. Seward ends up running down a blind alley, straight into the mystery man behind it all. With Gaunt on one end blocking Seward's escape, the mystery man wraps his hand around Seward's neck. Asking if he has any last words, the man breaks Seward's neck and tells Gaunt to dispose of the body. He then orders Gaunt to kill Ben Reilly and to do it in front of Peter. He doesn't want Peter with his wife tonight. Tonight, he wants Peter to pay for having a life.

At the Daily Grind, Shirley hires a new waitress, Alison Mongrain. For some reason, two of her best girls didn't show up or even call the other day, so Shirley needs someone to back her up. One of the first images of Alison has her standing next to a picture of a witch.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Andrew is one sharp reader-I completely missed that bit, and didn't notice it until he mentioned it in this column and I went back to the issue to check it out! ]


Ben comes to visit Peter, who's trying to make room in their home. Peter doesn't want to just throw things out since they're Ben's memories, too. Peter and Ben sit in the attic, amidst all the toys, junk and memories of their past and reflect on their lives: joint and individual. The two of them look through the boxes (Ben is sitting beneath an upside down horseshoe) before deciding what to keep and what to throw out, and they find boxes and boxes of books. Ben wonders where they found the time to read everything. "I don't know how to tell you this, Ben," Peter says, "but we were…well…we were a nerd." After picking up Peter Pan, and remembering how Aunt May used to read it to them, Peter reveals to Ben that Aunt May knew they were Spider-Man. Peter says that he would have told him sooner, but after discovering he was the clone, he wanted to hold on to that, that one special thing that made him feel like a real person. Peter says this as he holds the book Pinocchio. As Ben is handed The Prince and the Pauper, he says that he understands.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This was a great scene. The stuff about Peter Pan ties in with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400, that beautiful story by J.M. DeMatteis, in which Peter quotes a famous line from the classic children's story to Aunt May as she passes away: "Second star to the right, and straight on till morning." ]

At the Daily Bugle, a couple of former Osborn Industries and Mulitvex employees get a job at the paper. The hiring manager explains that several of his people quit without explanation the other day and he needs them to start immediately. Meanwhile, at Osborn Industries, Liz Allan Osborn calls Foggy Nelson to invite him to the Daily Bugle. Apparently, Ben Urich invited her and she wants Foggy to tag along. She says this while sitting in front of a shadowy painting of the company's founder.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Editor in Chief Bob Harras pushed for Foggy Nelson to be involved in this story, since Foggy and Liz had started seeing each other over in DAREDEVIL and Harras wanted there to be more of a "shared universe" feel amongst the Marvel books, especially since the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and most of their related characters had been shunted off into the "Heroes Reborn" universe controlled by Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Ultimately, however, Foggy's presence in this story line didn't really amount to anything-it didn't even lead to an appearance by Daredevil. He was essentially used as one more bit of cannon fodder for the big climax, which was kind of a disappointment. ]

Back at the Parker homestead, Mary Jane calls Peter, who's playing Battleship with Ben, and asks if the boys want to join her and Aunt Anna for dinner at the Daily Grind. Peter confirms that they'll be there in a half hour, but a mystery man, eavesdropping, thinks, "Don't count on it."


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Bob Harras played a major role in the plotting of this story line. Indeed, as I recall, he pretty much outlined the whole thing, chapter by chapter, and told the writers what he wanted in each issue. There were certain elements he absolutely insisted on, such as having the entire supporting cast lured, one way or another, to the Daily Bugle, where their lives would be jeopardized by the master villain once he finally revealed himself.

Assistant Editor Mark Bernardo pointed out during a plotting session that the "Revelations" story line would run through the month of October, with the last chapter coming out around the time of Halloween. Mark said that since the villain was going to be the Green Goblin, and his trademark weapons were his pumpkin bombs, wouldn't it be perfect to tie the story line into Halloween? In fact, why not have the whole story take place on that day? Harras liked the idea a lot, and decided to go with it. ]


"Revelations" Part 2, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Mike Wieringo and Richard Case, takes place in SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #11 and opens with J. Jonah Jameson getting word of an emergency board meeting to take place at 11:30 that night. Jameson is furious, although Robbie explains that they have every right to want to call an emergency meeting with the recent rash of layoffs. As Jameson heads towards the elevators, he finds the newest Bugle employees working on them.

Peter and Ben leave and head towards the Daily Grind for their dinner with MJ and Aunt Anna and get to talking about the heroes and how they're almost all gone now. Peter says that New York needs all the help it can get, even if maybe they come in the form of two Spider-Men. Ben smiles, knowing he was going to say it, and was actually thinking of the same thing. But Peter has responsibilities and there's the problem of Peter's powers going on and off. Peter tries to say that they've almost fully returned but Ben tells him that MJ told him all about Peter falling off the ceiling. Peter tries to prove it to Ben one more time by doing some stunts up a tree and Ben asks him to stop before his picture shows up in the Weekly World News.

Over at the police station, Arthur Stacy, back in the United States, pays a visit to Detective Trevane, who worked with his brother, the late Captain George Stacy. Arthur asks if Trevane can bring him up to speed on Spider-Man. Over at Flash Thompson's place, Flash gets a Fed Ex, apparently from Peter, inviting him to a party that evening at the Daily Bugle. It turns out that several other people in Peter's life are invited to go to the Bugle that evening for a variety of different reasons.

Peter and Ben continue their walk to the Daily Grind with Peter still pleading his case to join Ben in wearing the webs. Ben finally gives in and says it's a good idea but tells Peter that he's going to be keeping a close eye on his "little brother." They run into a bunch of kids playing super hero and warn them to be careful, but the new and improved Gaunt crashes into the building, making the warning come a little too late. Ben puts on the costume and battles Gaunt while Peter tries to save the kids, who turn out to be attack robots that turn on Peter.

Mary Jane and Anna are waiting for Peter and Ben at the Daily Grind, but MJ needs something to eat so she orders a bowl of chicken gumbo. The waitress who takes her order is Alison, who goes into the back and drops the contents of a mysterious vial into Mary Jane's food. Moments later, paramedics are on the scene as Mary Jane has apparently gone into labor shortly after eating the gumbo. She asks what's happening to her and if the baby's okay, but the medics aren't listening. They're focused on the baby as their readings are all over the place. "Something's really wrong. We gotta get her to the hospital right away."


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This of course was the most uncomfortable part-planning the undoing of Mary Jane's pregnancy. But it had been put off for so long, and had been discussed over and over and over again, that it got to the point where we just had to bite the bullet and confront the situation head-on. ]


Meanwhile, Spider-Man is able to discover Gaunt's true identity. Gaunt is really Mendel Stomm, the so-called "Robot Master" and former partner of Norman Osborn, who's been "dead" for quite some time. Spider-Man and Peter Parker go back to back as Stromm and the child-like robots move in for the attack. Just then, Peter gets a 911 page from Mary Jane.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Mendel Stromm first appeared in 1966, in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Volume 1, #37, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. He apparently died of a heart attack at the end of the story, and had not appeared since then. However, a robot version of Stromm showed up in 1982, in PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #68, written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Luke McDonnell, and inked by Jim Mooney.

It was Mark Bernardo who suggested that Gaunt should turn out to be Stromm. Amusingly enough, none of the Spider-Man writers even remembered who Stromm was! I can't say I blame them-Mark ran the idea by me first, and even I had to go back to the "Marvel Masterworks" volume that reprinted ASM #37 to read up on the character.

Once it was explained to the writers who Stromm was, and how he had a strong connection to Norman Osborn, they all agreed that it seemed like a reasonable enough idea. However, there was a great deal of concern about having Gaunt turn out to be an obscure character that hadn't even been mentioned in the books in about 14 years, and hadn't been seen in about 30! None of the writers could come up with a better solution, though, and I think they just sort of gave in and agreed to go along with it, rather than really get behind it and completely embrace the idea. In fact, the manner in which Stromm is dealt in the next chapter would seem to indicate that at least one of the writers wanted to send Stromm back into comic book limbo as quickly and as efficiently as possible. ]


"Revelations" Part 3 takes place in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #418, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Steve Skroce and Bud Larosa. The issue opens at the hospital, where Mary Jane is greeted by Dr. Folsome, who will be handling the delivery. He explains that they've been unable to locate her regular doctor, who's apparently out of town. Anna is still frantically trying to page Peter and wonders what could be more important than returning a 911 call about Mary Jane and the baby.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Steve Skroce was brought on to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at the behest of Bob Harras. Skroce had previously been the regular penciler on X-MAN, but expressed to Harras his great interest in Spider-Man and in becoming a penciler on one of the core Spider-Man titles. By that point, Harras was already looking to take longtime AMAZING SPIDER-MAN penciler Mark Bagley off of Spider-Man and have him work on other projects, such as the new THUNDERBOLTS series. Harras believed that Skroce's "X-Men connection" gave him a certain degree of "heat" in the industry, which would presumably help Spider-Man's sales. Harras strongly encouraged Spider-Man editor Ralph Macchio to replace Bagley with Skroce.

Skroce was certainly a talented artist, but in my opinion, considering how much affection he claimed to have had for Spider-Man and how interested he said he was in becoming a regular Spider-Man penciler, he showed very little commitment or dedication to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN once he got the gig. He lasted less than a year (seven-and-a-half issues in all, not consecutive), and in that space of time, he took two "sabbaticals" from the book. After penciling just three issues (#'s 418-420), another artist had to be brought in to pencil half of #421. After that, Skroce took a three-month leave of absence to work on storyboards for the first "Matrix" movie, so Joe Bennett filled in as the penciler of issues 422 through 424. Skroce returned for issues 425 through 428, but then he took another "sabbatical"… one from which he never returned.

With Mark Bagley having been a regular part of Spider-Man's adventures for so long, and having been part of the Clone Saga since the beginning, I felt (and still feel) that it was a damn shame he didn't get to at least see the story line through to the end. It would have been nice for him to get the chance to illustrate the ASM chapter of "Revelations," and to have been the artist who got to finally reveal the identity of the master villain on the last page of the issue.

Mark, off course, later went on to pencil the highly successful and critically acclaimed ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN series, for which he is still the regular artist, and I'm happy for him. He was always a pleasure to work with, and I regret that I didn't get to work with him more often.

As for Steve Skroce, he did some covers for me when I became the editor of X-MAN, and I know he did a story arc for WOLVERINE a while back, but I don't know where he is these days, or what he's up to. ]


Elsewhere, Spider-Man and Peter have their hands full with Stromm and the robots. Spider-Man tells Peter to go and be with his wife, but Peter can't leave. He knows Ben wouldn't survive without his help. Peter joins Ben in the fight, taking on the young-looking robots and in the course of the battle, finds a telephone. He makes a quick call to Anna's cell phone to find out what's going on. He tells Anna that he's been stuck between stations in a subway car and asks how Mary Jane is. Anna tells him that MJ is already in the delivery room but that there seem to be complications. She tells him to get to the hospital as soon as possible and Peter tells her that nothing will keep him from his wife's side.

Back at the Daily Bugle, Robbie Robertson gets a call from Bugle photographer Angela Yin, who was at the hospital when Mary Jane was brought in. She tells Robbie that she thinks something has gone wrong with the pregnancy. At the hospital, Mary Jane is in active labor, with Dr. Folsome telling her to push. She asks if everything's okay and the doctor responds that things are going exactly as planned. From another room, a mystery man observes the events and thinks, "Indeed, Mrs. Parker…exactly as planned."

At the police station, Detective Trevane introduces Arthur Stacy to the other detectives. Arthur tells them that the man who was responsible for his brother's death was never brought to justice and he wants that to be rectified. The man he wants is Spider-Man.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Originally, Arthur Stacy's daughter, Jill, was going to be introduced in this story line, and she was going to be established as a New York City police officer. John Romita Jr. penciled the pages that introduced her, but there was some rethinking of her character at the last minute and the pages never saw print. Jill would not be introduced until the Clone Saga was over and done with, and the concept of her being a cop was totally abandoned. ]

At the Daily Bugle, Jameson wants answers. He tells Robbie that they both received emergency board meeting notices that take place at the same time as some party that he's just heard about. Throughout the building, workers are decorating the offices with pumpkins that just happen to have detonators in them.

Spider-Man's pretty busy with Stromm, and is asking him questions during their fight. He wants to know where he's been all this time and why he's so intent on killing him. More importantly, he wants to know who Stromm's boss is. Peter joins Spider-Man in the fight, and Stromm releases a gas, which doesn't seem to have an affect on either of them. Peter gets hit with a punch as Stromm reveals the truth about Seward Trainer to Spider-Man and how he was another pawn in the overall plan-a pawn that outlived his usefulness.

Spider-Man tells Stromm that the killing ends now and lays into him with a series of moves that end in Spider-Man ripping his armor apart, leaving Stromm defeated before him. Peter looks on to see that things have been taken care of and then heads off for the hospital. Spider-Man tells Peter to give his new daughter a kiss from her future godfather and then goes back to dealing with Stromm. He asks again for the identity of Stromm's employer. Stromm says that he can't divulge the name, or the person would kill them both. Just then, an energy blast hits Spider-Man and a voice calls out, "Why ask an underling when you can go directly to the source?" Spider-Man wonders how the person was able to sneak up on him and rushes towards the man. As he gets closer, Spider-Man recognizes him. "It can't be you! Not you! I saw you die." The man hits Spider-Man with another energy blast, knocking him unconscious, while saying "Appearances are often deceiving." The man goes over to Stromm and reminds him what the penalty for failure is, aiming a finger at his head and firing another energy blast.


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Tom DeFalco intended for this to be the last we'd ever see of Mendel Stromm. I had another opinion on that. My feeling was that we had bent over backwards and jumped through a number of continuity-related hoops just to bring Stromm back and establish that he had been Gaunt. Having brought him out of obscurity and comic book limbo after 30 years, why should we be so quick to kill him off again? I felt that maybe we could still get some mileage out of him in future stories, that with his connection to Osborn and his mastery of advanced robotics, maybe he could be an interesting addition to Spider-Man's rogues gallery. I expressed my opinions to Ralph before ASM #418 was completed, and he seemed to agree with me, but he also didn't want to interfere with Tom DeFalco, which I completely understood. But as Ralph and I agreed when the issue came out and Stromm was apparently killed, "It's comics! Anyone can come back!" Especially since we didn't actually see Stromm get killed in the issue, nor did we ever see his dead body. Everything was implied, but nothing was confirmed.

Months later, I got to bring Stromm back, and even established a backstory for him, when I wrote SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #17, which served as sort of a coda to the Clone Saga. Andrew and I are planning to cover this story in one of the last installments of this series of columns. ]


Finally, at the hospital, Mary Jane gives birth and wonders why the baby isn't crying. The doctor and attendants go silent as Mary Jane begins to cry and think, "Dear god no."

Later, Alison Mongrain, the waitress from the Daily Grind (who's wearing surgeon's scrubs) pushes a large container out of the delivery room and outside to a pier. The mysterious employer asks if she has the delivery to which she replies "Yes." "I trust you'll make sure it's never seen again," the mystery man says. "I hope you enjoy Europe." As Alison thanks her employer for his generosity, the man tells her that she doesn't need to be so formal in the future. She should feel free to use his real name. "It's Norman…Norman Osborn."


[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I vividly remember all the little bits and story elements that Bob Harras absolutely insisted had to be in the "Revelations" story line. Among them was the sequence where the Parker baby is apparently delivered to Alison Mongrain, and Norman Osborn tells her to make sure it's never seen again.

Some of us on the editorial staff (myself included) absolutely disagreed with this sequence being included, because it raised a question that shouldn't have been raised. We strongly felt that the baby story line should have a clean, clear, definitive ending, and that there should be no lingering doubts or mysteries about the baby's status. If the baby's dead, then let's say the baby's dead and move on. I remember discussing this matter with Harras, and his response was that his way of ending the baby story line "gives hope to the readers who have been waiting for the birth of the baby, it lets them believe that the baby is still out there somewhere, alive, and maybe Peter will find her someday. It'll keep them coming back."

The problem with that was that there was NEVER going to be a resolution. In fact, Harras said that he didn't want the baby referred to again once the Clone Saga was over. He even wanted it established in the first post-Clone Saga issue, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #241, that six months had elapsed since the end of "Revelations, " so we could just skip over Peter and Mary Jane's mourning period and show that they were pretty much back to normal and Spider-Man was his old, wisecracking self again. Harras wanted the Spider-Man books to move on and away from the Clone Saga as quickly as possible… but he also wanted to play with readers' expectations.

When some of us editorial staffers privately discussed the situation, we agreed that Harras's approach was very unfair to the readers. Deliberately dangling a plot thread in front of the readers and then just as deliberately abandoning it, with absolutely no intentions to ever resolve it, just didn't seem like the right thing to do, but at that point, we knew better than to even try to talk our editor in chief out of something he obviously felt so strongly about.

Then again, if we hadn't done it Harras's way, there probably never would have been a SPIDER-GIRL comic book series. As I'm sure many of you already know, writer Tom DeFalco eventually picked up on the Harras-dictated plot thread and ran with it, creating an entire "alternate reality" in which the baby was eventually recovered, alive and well, and grew up to become a web-slinger in her own right. SPIDER-GIRL has certainly earned the critical acclaim it's gotten-it's a fun, enjoyable comic, and it's managed to stick around for several years, escaping cancellation more than once, so I guess something good CAN come out of something bad! ]

1 comment:

R.C. Killian said...

Mendel Stromm was actually *mentioned* four years earlier-- ASM#370. A few times, and established as dead for years in the final pages of the main story.

So, there's that at least.