Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Part 6

The two part "Aftershocks" begins in Spider-Man #57, written by Howard Mackie and guest illustrated by John Romita Jr and Joe Rubinstein. This issue has several different stories going on simultaneously, and the effect is a fast-paced page-turner. Aunt May has recently passed away and Peter Parker has been arrested for murder. Upon discovering this, Ben decides against going back into exile and goes to comfort Mary Jane instead. It was a good idea in theory, I suppose. Mary Jane Parker is none to pleased to see Mr. Reilly and greets him with a slap in the face, accusing him of causing more problems than helping. He leaves, but promises to help anyway. Peter is held without bail and Jacob Raven pays him a visit, informing him that he won't get away with killing Raven's former partner.

At the Bugle, Joe Robertson asks Jonah Jameson what they're going to do regarding the Parker story and if the Bugle will help the Parkers at all. Jonah is his usual gruff self and quickly dismisses Joe. We later discover that Jonah is privately footing all of Peter's legal bills. As the third Parker wanders the streets in search of answers, the jailed Peter seeks the same with his wife. He doesn't understand how he could be arrested for a crime he knows he didn't commit. Elsewhere, Jacob Raven is beginning to have doubts himself, while Kaine continues to have visions of Mary Jane's death.

Peter #3 is attacked by a street thug and rediscovers his powers, as he also comes to remember an old saying: "with power comes responsibility." As the Scarlet Spider follows Mary Jane to watch over her from above, he sees that she is confronted by Judas Traveller. Judas wants to understand Spider-Man through the woman who loves him, and although he is anxious to meet Ben again, it's an inconvenient time to do so. With a snap of his fingers, Traveller gets the street to explode, preoccupying the Scarlet Spider, who wonders how Traveller has seemingly gotten even more powerful. He also thinks back to how the villains have gotten a lot more powerful since the days of Mysterio and the Shocker. Traveller causes buildings to collapse, and even more explosions as the Scarlet Spider fights to keep Mary Jane from being abducted. In the end, a battered Scarlet Spider grabs Traveller's wrist before he can leave. Judas knows that Ben will not give up, and releases Mary Jane. He leaves, telling Ben, "Soon, very, Peter and I will sit down together and get to know all about one another." The Scarlet Spider apologizes to Mary Jane for intruding, but before he can leave she says that she's willing to try and talk to him.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : And so Judas Traveller returns once again. As Ben Reilly points out in this story, Traveller seems even more powerful than before, and how the current crop of super-baddies are a far cry from guys like Mysterio and the Shocker. In my opinion, this wasn't necessarily a good thing. I always preferred a more street-level, realistic Spider-Man, as depicted in the stories by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. I had been feeling for quite a while - before I even started working at Marvel - that Spider-Man was being pushed in a direction that took him away from his simple roots, and I was hoping that would change in the new regime. For example, I knew how popular characters like Venom and Carnage were , but I didn't really like them from the start, because I felt that they were too "far out" for Spider-Man. With rare exceptions , Spider-Man shouldn't really be dealing with alien life forms or supernatural weirdness or epic "save the entire world" scenarios. I felt that Spider-Man stories, above all else, have to be aboutpeople, and that was getting lost amidst all the stuff that was going on with the character.
The biggest problem with Judas Traveller was that he was just too much of an enigma. What were the scope and nature of his powers? No one seemed to have an answer. What was his primary motivation? The answer from the Spider-Man writers was always, "Well, he's trying to understand the true nature of evil." Uhhhm, okay, but that's a bit... vague, you know? What does Traveller hope to gain from understanding evil? What's his ultimate goal? That always remained shrouded in mystery - even to us!

With the best Spider-Man villains, you understand who they are and what they want. For example, they're master criminals seeking to become the absolute crimelord of New York . Or they're high-tech thieves out for wealth and glory . Or they're power-mad lunatics . Or they're simply career criminals with super-powers . You get the idea. Even Venom has an understandable motivation, as contrived as it is. But with Traveller... there just wasn't anything that you could really put your finger on, and it was difficult to get interested in him, at least from my point of view.

This kind of thing was going on in the X-Men books all the time back then - these new villains would show up with a lot of flash and hype, with a lot of mystery and veiled references surrounding them. And in the end, nothing would come of it. None of them ended up having any real staying power, because they were so half-baked, ill-defined, and poorly developed. As a budding writer at the time, I learned a very important lesson from watching this happen at Marvel: try to know who your characters are before you introduce them. Maybe not every last detail of their lives and histories, but at least know who they are, what they want, their connections to the other characters in the story, their powers and abilities, and their weaknesses. It's kind of like Method acting for writing.

Looking back, I think Traveller may have been an attempt to introduce an X-Men-like villain into the Spider-Man universe, with the thinking that what was working for the X-Men books at that time would also work for Spider-Man. I don't know for sure, but that's my theory.

At any rate, I eventually got to say the last word on Judas Traveller, and correct the situation as I saw fit. More on that when we get to it. ]

Kaine pays a visit to Jacob Raven, telling him that he's arrested the wrong man. When Raven explains that the evidence indicates otherwise, Kaine puts his hand to Raven's face and gives him a non-lethal mark similar to that found on his other victims. He then tells Raven to look in the mirror and think about the "evidence" some more. Meanwhile, at Ravencroft, the Jackal contemplates the latest developments and thinks that "I couldn't have planned it better. Or did I?"

The second part of this story takes place in Spectacular Spider-Man #223, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Busema and Bill Sienkiewicz. It begins with the Jackal being interviewed by Doctor Kafka and making threats about genetically reengineering the entire human race. Ben and Mary Jane are having a quiet moment at the Parker home, but Mary Jane still can't face him without his mask, so he remains in costume the entire time. At the hospital, Detective Trevane talks with Jacob Raven, who removes his bandages and proclaims that he arrested the wrong man. On the streets on NYC, the third Parker sees a newspaper article with Peter Parker's photo along with the article about his arrest, which prompts him to act.

In prison, Peter Parker wonders if Ben Reilly is responsible for the murder for which he's been arrested. He debates breaking out of prison and taking down Reilly, but that would lead to the revelation of all their identities and hell for Mary Jane and their future child. He decides to stay put for now. Back at his home, Mary Jane and Ben are discussing why he is determined to help Peter. Ben tells Mary Jane that he has a degeneration factor, like all clones, and that it's only a matter of time before it catches up to him. He wants to help Peter so that at least one of them can have a happy life. With the revelation comes trust from Mary Jane, and she removes his mask.

Another old storyline comes in as the Jackal looks through Ravencroft's private files, specifically those of Malcom MacBride, a.k.a. the second Carrion. MacBride was a former associate of Professor Miles Warren who became Carrion. The Carrion virus was recently absorbed into Shriek, an enemy of Spider-Man's. The Jackal goes after Shriek because he wants the virus. Describing it as a weapon that makes real organic matter suffer the same effect as clone degeneration, the Jackal says that since he created it years ago, it belongs to him. Afterwards, the Jackal walks out of the institution with no one any wiser.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I believe the Carrion aspect of the story was added because Mark Bernardo and I kept pointing out to everybody that we'd have to address the matter of Carrion, since he was linked to the original clone stories and was later explained away by Gerry Conway following "The Evolutionary War." We'd have to make sense of it all, or they're still be dangling plot threads that didn't jibe with what we were doing. In the end, none of the regular Spider-Man writers got around to clearing it up, so Tom Brevoort and I ended up having to produce a special one-shot to settle the matter of Carrion once and for all. ]

The 3rd Parker passes the infamous warehouse where Spider-Man captured the burglar who killed Uncle Ben and comes to understand who he is. He rushes to the cemetery, to the graves of May and Ben and remembers the life he had. Falling to his knees, hands raised high, he screams, "I am Peter Parker."

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : I wasn't thrilled with the Jackal's threats of genetically reengineering the entire human race. I felt it was a bit too "global" for a Spider-Man story. If you go back and read the original clone stories , you see that, when all is said and done, Miles Warren was a pathetic, lovesick, screwball scientist obsessed with the memory of Gwen Stacy, and he was desperate to bring her back to life any way possible. He was also a split personality, and his "Jackal" personality led to him becoming a major crime figure. From a character standpoint, nowhere in any of this does a desire to reengineer the human race really come into play. For that matter, I never really understood why he spent all those intervening years in a pod, genetically reengineering himself into a mutated version of his Jackal persona, but I guess that's more productive than sitting around in your underwear watching Godzilla movies. ]

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Nick Butch said...
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