For the month of June, the Spider-Man books offer two self-contained stories and a 2-part story featuring Judas Traveller. The first book is Web of Spider-Man #125, written by Terry Kavanagh and illustrated by Steven Butler and Randy Emberlin. The cover also features a special 3-D live-action holodisk to celebrate the big "125" mark.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The holodisks were yet another in a long line of gimmick covers that were all the rage back then. We had just done a gimmick cover for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400 that did not turn out very well, and these holodisks were not much of an improvement. They looked GREAT in the prototype stage, but when we got the final versions, it was clear that you needed to view them under a light that was about as powerful as the sun to really get the full effect of the 3-D live action. Strike two! ]
The Scarlet Spider (aka Peter Parker) is inside the Daily Bugle, searching through the computer for articles about Professor Miles Warren, to see if he can come up with anything that would clear Peter Parker's name for the murder charges. He turns up nothing, until he finds an address listed after Warren's "death." He follows the lead to the suburbs of New Jersey, where he goes to the last known address of Miles Warren. After digging around the house, he is confronted by Gwen Stacy, who thinks he's a burglar. Peter removes his mask, hoping Gwen will recognize him, but she strikes out anyway and Peter is tasered by Miles Warren.
There is a brief interlude, with Mary Jane confessing to Felicia Hardy (the Black Cat) that she worries that the health of her and Peter's unborn child will be adversely affected by Peter's irradiated blood. Back in Jersey, Peter wakes up to find Dr. Warren and Gwen both gone. As they drive towards an unknown destination, we get a glimpse into the past of Dr. Warren through his own thoughts. He was a family man. A husband and father of two, but the family left him due to his being more passionate about work than them. Before they could reconcile, Warren's family was killed. There's also an explanation as to how Dr. Warren and Gwen got together. Peter discovers that Warren knows he and Gwen are only clones, and more information refuting the earlier belief that the Gwen clone wasn't really a clone at all, but merely a woman named Joyce Delaney. It's explained here that a super being named Dreamweaver deluded the clone into thinking she was really another woman, assuming that would be easier to deal with than the knowledge that she was the clone of a dead woman. Peter also finds that Warren was working on a cure for clone degeneration.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : This was an attempt to finally explain away all the stuff established in "The Evolutionary War," but it probably could have been done better. And I REALLY didn't like finding out that the Gwen Stacy clone had set up housekeeping with a clone of Miles Warren in the suburbs - I thought that was just plain silly. Since I had no role in the development of this particular story (Eric Fein was the editor, and I was still Tom Brevoort's assistant), my involvement was limited to that of an observer. I don't think I even knew what was happening in WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #125 until I saw it in print. ]
The Scarlet Spider goes off in search of Dr. Warren and Gwen as a new Green Goblin arrives on the scene. As the car carrying Miles and Gwen crosses the George Washington Bridge (the scene of the real Gwen's death at the hands of the original Green Goblin), it crashes and nearly tumbles into the water below. The new Goblin swoops in and rescues Gwen, although it looks as if he's kidnapping her. The Goblin carries Gwen to the top of the bridge. While Warren shoots at the Goblin, Gwen loses her balance and falls, only to be rescued by the Scarlet Spider. After getting Gwen to safety, the Spider rushes to Dr. Warren to find that he's degenerated and the Goblin has gotten away. Gwen leaves during the confusion, and tries to come to grips with the realization of who she is; not Gwen Stacy, not Joyce Delaney, but a clone.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Returning to the bridge where Gwen died had become an established Spider-Man cliché by that point - and an overused one, at that. To this day, whenever a Spider-Man writer tries for dramatic irony or poignancy, it usually involves Spider-Man being at that bridge. I was guilty of using this cliché myself, in the very first professional Spider-Man story I ever wrote (it was in the 1995 SPIDER-MAN HOLIDAY SPECIAL, which we'll presumably get to in a few weeks). But it's now about six years later and I've seen this scene played again out a number of times since then, so all I can say is: ENOUGH WITH THE BRIDGE ALREADY! MOVE ON!
Incidentally, it's still unclear exactly which bridge was the site of Gwen's death. In the original story, told in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121, it was drawn as the Brooklyn Bridge, but writer Gerry Conway referred to it in the script as the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man even comments that it's appropriate that Norman Osborn would go to a bridge named after his favorite president, and that Osborn has the same sort of hang-up about dollar bills. In later reprints of the story, the dialogue is changed so that the bridge is identified as the Brooklyn Bridge, and Spider-Man's comment about Norman's love for money is deleted. However, plenty of other stories were still being done in which the bridge was referred to as the GWB, which only added to the confusion. To deal with this, whenever Tom Brevoort and I worked on a story that referred back to the events of AMAZING #121, our approach was to simply not refer to the bridge by a specific name. That's how we had writer Kurt Busiek deal with it in the LEGACY OF EVIL one-shot, and how I dealt with it when I wrote THE OSBORN JOURNAL. ]
The backup story in this issue sheds even more light on the Warren and Stacy clones. It details how the real Miles Warren had a dream that his clones would live on to have lives he could never lead. The Warren and Stacy clones fall in love, and marry, living an idealistic life under the false notion of reality, though Warren is fully aware of the ultimate fate in store for all clones.
The Amazing Spider-Man #402, written by J.M. DeMatteis and illustrated by Mark Bagley, Larry Mahlstedt, Al Milgrom and Joe Rubenstein, is the first of the 2-part "Crossfire" story. It begins with the Scarlet Spider paying a visit to Jacob Raven to go over the Parker murder trial. Raven tells Scarlet that he wants to prove Peter's innocence and Scarlet tells him that he's going to help in that quest. Peter goes back home, where MJ gives him the test results she's been worrying about, indicating that there could be some deformities with the baby due to Peter's blood. Before he can try to alleviate her fears, Traveller appears, stopping time in its place to transport Peter to another realm.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : For my opinions about Judas Traveller, you can check some of the earlier columns. I really don't have much to add about him here. ]
In this new realm, Traveller claims to have captured Aunt May's soul. He tests Peter's heroism by questioning how far he will go. Sacrificing himself is one thing, but would Peter sacrifice those he loves? Traveller tells Peter that it would be no big deal for him to return May to life, in return for Peter choosing the death of 100 others or 10 or even just one. The decision is his. Peter resists, telling Traveller that he is no god and that none of what Traveller says can be believed. Peter insists that it's all a game being played inside his head and he is in control, not Traveller. Traveller then admits that he is no god, but he's very close. He takes Peter forward in time 24 hours to witness a reality of New York City completely destroyed. The reason for the destruction? Peter himself.
Spider-Man #59, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by Tom Lyle and Sam DeLarosa, concludes "Crossfire." Traveller and Scarlet Spider (Peter) stand atop the ruins of an old building, one of hundreds in the now-leveled city of New York. As Peter fights to find Mary Jane among the ruins, Traveller tells him that he, MJ and their child will all live, but at the cost of everything and everyone else; a choice he could have prevented. He then brings Peter back to the present, to let him see how things will unfold as they happen.
Traveller explains to Peter that his Host are sabotaging an experimental Geothermal Heating Station. The resulting explosion will reduce the city to a wasteland. Since they serve a greater purpose in Traveller's experiments to discover the true nature of evil (and in turn discover the true nature of all that is good), he can do nothing. He promises to keep Mary Jane and her unborn child safe, even if he fails, so if all Peter wants is the safety of his wife and child, he does nothing. Peter tells Traveller that he wants to see Mary Jane before doing anything.
At the police station, Jacob Raven talks privately with Conner Trevane. He knows Peter Parker is innocent of the crimes and asks Conner to help him prove Peter's innocence.
Scrier warns Traveller that he is straining the limits of his powers, which makes Traveller angry. He admits that Scrier has been his friend and confidant for hundreds of years, but he should never presume to be his equal. Scrier admits that he never would.
Peter pays a visit to his wife and tells her that he is sorry for everything that's happened and promises that things will be okay. He says that he'll always love her and swings off to find the Host and prevent Traveller's warning from coming true. The Scarlet Spider confronts the Host and is able to stop them from sabotaging the station, but they find another reason to worry. A transpatial time vortex has been created that will collapse on itself shortly, leaving a destructive force greater than what they hoped to accomplish originally. Scrier informs Traveller that it is the result of his toying with the space-time continuum and reveals that the source of the destruction was Traveller all along.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Does anyone besides me feel that this just isn't a Spider-Man story? ]
The vortex is trying to reclaim itself through Traveller. Scrier reveals that Peter's family will still be safe, since they're protected by the last of Traveller's powers, but the city will still be laid to waste, with Traveller dying, as well. As the vortex tries to engulf Traveller, we get a glimpse into his past, a past which includes the crucifixion, knights, gladiators and world wars. The Scarlet Spider reaches in to grab Traveller and pull him out of the vortex's power. As Scrier picks up his weakened partner, he warns Scarlet Spider that Traveller will never be satisfied until he can understand him and it will not end. Peter accepts it as part of his life and goes to his wife, and holds her close as Scrier and Traveller disappear.
Spectacular Spider-Man #225 is another anniversary bonanza with a holodisk cover. It's written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Bill Sienkiewicz and the story is titled "The Return of the Green Goblin," which is appropriate since the issue is basically a lead-in to a new ongoing Green Goblin series set to begin in a couple of months.
The issue opens with Peter Parker at the grave of his friend, Harry Osborn, who died like his father-in the guise of the Goblin. Peter explains that with all of the clones and doppelgangers, he doesn't know what to make of this newest Goblin. Elsewhere, the Jackal is feeling the same way. Though trying to devote his time to wiping out mankind, he can't help but notice the new Green Goblin and wonders it's a clone from a secret competitor: "a Valiant Dark Horse who is intent on ruining my Image." Cute.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Tom DeFalco was always doing stuff like that in his stories- throwing in little in-jokes that referred to what was going on in the comics industry at the time. I remember how Tom, as writer of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, savagely poked fun at the 1990s FF animated series. He caught some heat over that, but it was damn funny. Later, Tom D. would get a lot of mileage out of Marvel's financial woes by having the Daily Bugle go through the same thing. ]
Peter returns home to find Mary Jane sewing him a new Spider-Man costume. He's grown tired of wearing Ben Reilly's Scarlet Spider duds so MJ has created another Spidey suit. Peter is intent on proving his innocence before his trial begins but Mary Jane tells him that he is needed at home, too. When they overhear a story about another homeless man set ablaze by the mysterious Firefist, they know Peter needs to check it out, as Spider-Man.
The new Green Goblin wants to investigate, as well, and his path crosses with Spider-Man, who isn't too pleased to see another person taking up the guise of his greatest enemy. As the Goblin pleads his case, telling Spider-Man he's one of the good guys, Spider-Man tries to stop him anyway. During the battle, Spider-Man realizes that the new Goblin can't possibly be an Osborn and wonders if he was possibly telling the truth.
In prison, Ben Reilly receives a visitor. Mary Jane confides in him that she's worried about the health of her baby and whether it's even fair to bring the child into this world. Ben says that although he's the most pro-life person in the world, being a clone that should have died years ago, Mary Jane can be assured that she won't go through any decision alone.
Spider-Man and the Green Goblin battle Firefist while the Jackal watches from the sidelines. Together, they manage to beat the villain, though the Goblin takes off as Spider-Man deals with the cleanup. The story ends with the Jackal returning to his lair to be greeted by... Peter Parker?
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Oy. Hadn't we seen this trick before? ]
It's also worth mentioning that there were five Spider-Man Super Specials that came out around this time. The main story was "Planet of the Symbiotes," which dealt with Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, Venom and Carnage battling aliens for the planet where the Venom symbiote originated.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Tom Brevoort and I edited those five Spider-Man Super Specials. There was one Super Special for each of the four monthly Spider-Man titles, and one for VENOM, as well. We inherited the "Planet of the Symbiotes" concept, which had been suggested by former Spider-Man Assistant Editor Mike Lackey and was approved by Spider-Man Group Editor Danny Fingeroth. Danny was overseeing Tom and me on this project, and suggested we hire former Spider-Man writer David Michelinie to write it. David was a logical choice, since he co-created Venom (with Todd McFarlane) and arguably knew more about the character than anyone else. If we were going to do a story exploring the origins of the Venom symbiote, it made sense for David to write it. I had never worked with Michelinie before, and was a little apprehensive. I absolutely loved his work on Marvel's STAR WARS comic back in the 1980s, and I was well aware of the legendary status his work on IRON MAN had achieved. But I must admit, I never really enjoyed his Spider-Man. Nevertheless, I thought David did a fairly solid job on "Planet of the Symbiotes," and it seemed like he was having fun with it. We also got to work with some really good artists, such as Kyle Hotz, Darick Robertson, and Steve Lightle.
One of these Super Specials had a short back-up story written by Stan Lee, penciled by Darick, and inked by the ever-awesome George Pérez. This, if I recall correctly, was my first time really working with Stan, and I was totally jazzed. The story takes place right after Aunt May's funeral, with Peter thinking back to the day when he found out that his parents had died. It was a very touching story, and the art was just fabulous. George really liked inking Darick's pencils, and I know how thrilled Darick was to be working with both Stan and George. Darick and I are still good friends, and he cites this story as one of the high points of his career.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the "flip-book feature" in these five Super Specials-namely the SCARLET SPIDER five-parter that Tom Brevoort and I edited. Stretching across all five Super Specials, this would essentially be a Scarlet Spider limited series, which I thought was a pretty cool idea. Tom B. and I really did want to make it special, to produce a worthwhile story that further explored Ben Reilly as a character and deserved all the space that was being devoted to it. It was the kind of project that J.M. DeMatteis would have been perfect for, but I don't remember why we didn't get him to write it. He was probably too busy, or Tom B. and I simply wanted to use this project as an opportunity to bring in a different writer, one that we'd always wanted to work with.
Again, Danny Fingeroth was overseeing us on this, and somehow, for some reason, he got it into his head that we would be bringing back the Lizard for this story. Tom B. and I were present at the Spider-Man writers' conference where the idea had been mentioned in passing as a possibility, but we'd never committed to it as anything other than a possibility. And as I recall, neither Tom B. nor I had any real enthusiasm for the idea, so it wasn't something we were going to actively pursue.
Tom B. and I brought in John Ostrander, a writer who had greatly impressed me with his work on DC's SPECTRE series. The initial idea that John pitched us was very intriguing, about whether or not a clone could have a soul. Unfortunately, it conflicted with future plans in the main Spider-Man books. I think John took another stab or two at coming up with a story line, but for whatever reasons, we couldn't get his ideas approved, and John eventually decided to just move on. Not only that, but every time any new story idea came in, be it from Ostrander or another writer, Danny would ask, "Where's the Lizard?" Tom and I would roll our eyes and try to muddle through.
Eventually, it became clear that Danny would simply not approve any story idea that did not include the Lizard, and he had already started to push his own choice writers upon us. With time-and our patience-running out, Tom and I simply submitted to Danny's will and did whatever he wanted. Terry Kavanagh ended up writing the story, which featured the return of the Lizard.
This was one of the few instances where Tom Brevoort and I felt completely disconnected-creatively and emotionally-from a project we were working on. It became a project we had to endure, rather than something that we could really take any pride in having put together. Some time later, this Lizard story was systematically undone in the pages of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and no one was more pleased by this than Tom B. and myself. ]