Alternate Spidey - Part 2

All in the Family

Considering the large number of Alternate Spidey tales that have appeared, primarily in What If?, I have tried to group them together in themes for discussion. This article's theme features four stories in which a key turn of events resulted in a change in Spidey's familial status. The first hypothetical, and the most bizarre is:

What if J. Jonah Jameson Adopted Peter Parker?
Written by William Messner-Loebs for What If Volume 2, No. 82 (February 1996), on first glance, it's a rather outlandish and unlikely scenario. Yet, it does fulfill my primary criteria of a good (though not great) alternate story - it allows us to view how the characters we've come to know and love (and in Jonah's case, tolerate) react when placed in a different set of circumstances.

The event that results in our veering off into an alternate world is John Jameson's space flight from Amazing Spider-Man #1. This time, the face changing supervillain the Chameleon is there to sabotague the flight (which he did not do in the original Lee-Ditko story - but did do at the behest of Dr. Doom during Chapter One - not that I'm giving any credence to Chapter One). Also, in another variant event, Aunt May is in the crowd with Peter watching as the flight takes off. The Chameleon's remote control by which he manipulates the rocket has malfunctioned, and rather than being diverted to another country as was his original plan, it comes straight back, crashing into the launching pad, and killing many of the people in the crowd, including John Jameson and Aunt May. Peter uses his spider-strength and webbing to clear debris, a mistake which will come back to haunt him later. Jonah finds Peter in the rubble, and sobbing in each others' arms, they are united in grief. Over the next few weeks, the two men help each other cope with their respective losses. But then, Peter finds himself being swept up in something that he never really agreed to. Jonah decides to adopt Peter, an action which Peter, now an orphan, finds himself unable to prevent due to Jonah's wealth and influence. However, Peter quickly learns that it's not a bad arrangement. One of the significant changes that occurs is that Jonah enrolls Peter in a prestigious private school, which allows him to pursue his scientific interests. And then there's the other favor (which as Peter notes, whenever Jonah does you a favor - watch out). Jonah buys a small weekly newspaper and gives it to Peter to run as assistant editor, perhaps a stepping stone to Peter succeeding Jonah at the helm of the Bugle (now there is a great What If? story waiting to be told in the right hands). Betty Brant is Peter's office manager, and Frederick Foswell is the editor, expected to wet-nurse Peter until the younger man is ready to take over as full editor. Peter senses Foswell's seething resentment, and forces Jonah, as a condition of accepting the job at this paper, to give Betty a substantial raise and Foswell a formal contract and full editor status. This prompts Foswell to drop any idea he had of pursuing additional sources of income, and thus the world never is faced with the criminal boss The Big Man.

One disadvantage to being under constant watch in Jonah's mansion is that Peter cannot readily become Spider-Man. After months of being on the shelf, Peter decides to become Spider-Man one night and leave the mansion, but his spider powers cut out on him due to a combination of lack of use, and his lack of confidence (hmm - seems like something occurred in Spider-Man 2). The inactivity was also prompted by the fact that since webbing had been discovered at the rocket's crash site, Jonah blamed Spider-Man for his son's death, giving Peter something else to fret over.

However, as a result of trying to comfort Jonah one night when the publisher, over a bottle of booze, is blaming himself for the circumstances leading to John's death, Peter gets his own head together, triumphs over his own grief and hesitation, and is able to become Spider-Man again. And he and Jonah actually begin to build a true father-son bond.

Peter decides to use his newspaper to promote Spider-Man as a hero, and of course, is able to get all kinds of exclusive photos and stories on the web-slinger's exploits. Initially angered, Jonah begins to appreciate Peter's opportunism - as well as the fact that the cheap little weekly he bought at a bargain price is beginning to make money, which for Jonah, covers a multitude of sins.

However, still believing Spider-Man to be a threat to him personally, Jonah hires Flash Thompson to be Peter's bodyguard (yep - same one. Peter just loves that). He also contracts with Spencer Symthe to create a Spider Slayer. When the slayer "accidentally" targets Peter (just like it did in the regular continuity) Jonah is so enraged at Smythe that the scientist quickly offers Jonah an alternative to the Spider Slayer - the Scorpion costume (created by his associate, Farley Stillwell), contingent on finding someone willing to undergo the radiological and chemical treatments to use it. Oh, by the way, Jonah also puts a $1 million bounty on the discovery of Spider-Man's identity.

Peter sabotagues the slayer so that it flunks its big test against Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Peter miscalculates how much this failure enrages Jonah, who demands that Smythe get the Scorpion suit ready. Flash, still a big Spidey fan in this universe, is fearful of Jonah hiring a real hard case who might kill his hero. He is also enamoured of the possibilities of having the power of the Scorpion, and thus drinks the formula.

Unfortunately the formula, in addition to giving Flash super-powers and the ability to wear and control the Scorpion suit, drives him mad and he blasts a huge hole in the side of Jonah's mansion and escapes. Peter, aghast at the fallout from Jonah's personal vendetta, changes to Spider-Man in front of the old man and takes off after Flash. Then, Jonah receives a call from the Bugle that super-criminals are converging on New York in order to collect his bounty on Spider-Man. Needless to say, Jameson is forced to reflect upon his actions.

While trying to save Flash, Peter (taking flight as Spider-Man without his mask) is attacked by Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, and the Sandman simultaneously, and the Thompson/Scorpion begins to move in for the kill as well. Jonah, watching news reports on television that show the villains in the process of beating Spider-Man to death (and saying to himself "he's my son, and they'll kill him!"), tells Smythe to get the Spider Slayer up and running.

When things look their grimmest for Peter, the slayer under Jonah's control comes to the rescue, and between the two of them, they are able to defeat the villains. Peter refers to Jonah as "Dad" for the first time.

The last panel wraps up this story - as Peter decides to pursue his career as Spider-Man without a secret identity. He also picks up a partner - the Jonah-controlled Spider Slayer. They clear out the top floor of the Bugle building and use it as their headquarters. Peter isn't too sure about Jonah's latest idea of a coast to coast chain of superhero franchises, but he assures us in the narration that he'll try to get Jonah to change his mind.

Frankly, this is a silly story, but it's cute, and despite the wacky concept, everyone is totally in character. This is an opportunity for us to see in yet another way that deep down, even in our own universe, Jonah and Peter do genuinely care about each other, although they have a hard time admitting it, even to themselves. And it does share some additional light on why Jonah has a problem with Spider-Man in the regular continuity. Jameson cannot see Spider-Man as another flawed, but decent human being because he hides his identity behind the mask. Once Spider-Man is revealed to be someone Jonah has grown to care about (and obviously, this story occurs very early on in Spider-Man's career, therefore there is not the years of emnity between the two), the older man has to rethink his earlier position. Also, it is another opportunity to see what a decent man Jameson is underneath that flattop haircut and his rampaging ego and bluster.

Of course, any partnership between Peter and Jonah would probably have its share of acrimony, to the point that I do have a hard time believing that they could make it work, and therefore, I never really anticipate any kind of sequel to this story. Considering Jonah's controlling nature, and the fact that Peter by nature rebels against any kind of control, I just can't see them making a go at the superhero business together.

It is interesting to speculate though, that if they were able to put aside their differences and work together, and with Jonah's fortune, what kind of superhero Spider-Man would ultimately turn out to be. It is likely that both Spencer Smythe, who now won't become obsessed with destroying Spider-Man, ultimately destroying himself, and Farley Stillwell, who won't be a victim of the Scorpion, would continue to be on Jameson's payroll. And Peter's no slouch in the science department himself. Therefore, Spider-Man might have evolved into a more technologically-based superhero since he would be able to afford the kinds of improbable devices you actually see on toy shelves today. And knowing Jonah, there probably would be a Spider-Mobile, a Spider-Copter, a Spider-Boat, you name it, and they'd no doubt be licensed to the hilt as well.

Again, not a great story, but enjoyable. No harm, no foul.

Our following hypotheticals do not result in happy endings, however.

What if Gwen Stacy had Never Died?
True to the blurb on the cover, What If? Volume 1, #24, written by Tony Isabella (December 1980) truly was the most eagerly awaited issue of this title. When Marvel polled the fans for potential alternate universe stories, this topic was the most popular choice by far. Unfortunately, however, the story comes up a little short, although I've never been really sure why it did not live up to my expectations.

Up until the critical moment, this story follows the events of Amazing Spider-Man #121 in which Norman Osborn has gone off the deep end, kidnapped Gwen Stacy, and taken her to the Brooklyn Bridge, which ultimately in the regular Marvel Universe resulted in the death of them both (well, in Norman's case, things eventually turned out a little differently). However, this time, when Gwen falls off the bridge, Spidey decides not to try to retrieve her with a web line, but propels himself off the bridge, catching Gwen in midair (much like he does with Gwen's daughter Sarah in Amazing Spider-Man #513). He conducts several manuevers to slow down their descent, and shields her as they both crash into the river below. The Goblin leaves the scene, thinking Spider-Man to finally be dead (thus forgetting one of the critical laws of the Superhero Universe - always check for the body).

Right after the Goblin leaves, Spider-Man and Gwen come up for air - but Gwen is still unconscience and not breathing. Peter takes her ashore, rips off his mask, and performs mouth to mouth in order to revive her - which is successful. And then, we get the revelation that was long overdue in the regular continuity.

Peter bares his soul to Gwen, telling his secrets to another human being for the first time. Initially she is horrified that the man she loves and the man she blames for her father's death are one and the same. But as she listens to his story, she realizes that Spider-Man is not the monster she thought he was - and she accepts Peter's dual identity - which she would have done in the regular continuity if she had truly loved Peter. One of the most aggravating things about Stan Lee's run on Amazing Spider-Man was that Peter never acted like a real human being and coughed up the balls necessary to tell Gwen the truth about his double life. Issue after issue was "I can't tell Gwen who I am" yada yada yada. It ultimately contributed to making Gwen more of an appendage than a genuine character, and thus resulted in her demise and removal from the titles. Anyway, that's history, and another article...

On the pier where Peter revived Gwen, he proposes marriage to her and she accepts. Of course, there is still a little matter of a certain green garbed lunatic to be dealt with...

The Green Goblin is already making the rounds of the underworld bragging about his final victory over Spider-Man and demanding his coronation as crime lord over all of New York. Unfortunately, Spidey foils Osborn's fun by not being dead and crashing his party. Our hero's adrenalin is already racing after nearly dealing with the murder of his girlfriend, and it jumps up even another notch when Osborn threatens to reveal Spider-Man's secret identity to the assorted mobsters. The hoods decide to come to the Goblin's aide now that they think he has something worth protecting, and Spider-Man has to let go of the Goblin to deal with them.

The ferocity of Spider-Man's attack on the gangsters, and the implication behind his threats to put an end to the Goblin once and for all unnerves Osborn to the point that he abandons the scene and realizes that he could never truly defeat Spider-Man hand to hand, particularly if the web slinger is really out for blood. However, we all know what Norman's trump card is - and he decides to play it. He mails a secret package to "Spider-Man's greatest enemy save myself," knowing that even if Parker kills him that night - the Green Goblin will have the last laugh (An interesting note: during this scene the Goblin laments how the "gods" raised him to greatness, but then dashed his dreams of conquest to the dust. This almost seems like a hint of the spirituality and mysticism that Osborn most certainly must have been interested in for him to eventually undergo the Gathering of Five Ceremony).

Fortunately, Peter has calmed down by the time he reaches the Osborn townhouse, where Norman has unmasked in front of Harry and shared the secrets of the Green Goblin, including the fact that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. The battle that takes place after Spider-Man arrives turns against the Goblin, but Peter's choice of words about putting an end to the Green Goblin results in Harry being fearful that Spider-Man will kill his father. Although he hasn't a prayer against Spider-Man, Harry attempts to defend Norman and places himself between the two super beings. The elder Osborn, who was prepared to detonate an explosive that would level the townhouse and kill all three of them is stunned and humbled that his son would, in his mind, risk his life to defend him (although in reality Spider-Man is merely arguing with Harry, and has no intention of striking him). In one of those miracle moments that only fiction and the storytelling environment of the 1960's and 70's could provide, Norman Osborn overcomes a lifetime of mental illness in one second, tosses away his detonator, and embraces the son that just 30 seconds prior he referred to as his "worthless offspring." He's back to being the "normal" Norman Osborn, but also remembers being the Green Goblin. Spider-Man leaves the townhouse after it is implied that once the Osborns have some time alone, Norman will turn himself in (which apparently he does, as later it is indicated he was taken to a mental hospital). And after a quick visit to see the good Miss Stacy, Peter and Gwen visit Aunt May to tell her the news about the impending nuptials.

The story then shifts to Gwen and Peter's wedding. Flash is Peter's best man as both Harry and Mary Jane are with Norman at the mental hospital. Joe Robertson gives Gwen away - but Jolly Jonah is conspicuously absent. After the couple is married, Jonah bursts into the room accompanied by several of New York's finest, accusing Peter of being Spider-Man. Remember the package that the Goblin mailed to Spider-Man's other "greatest" enemy? He had mailed Jonah the proof of Spidey's identity (oddly enough, 20 years later, that's very similar to what Norman did to Peter in the Earth X alternate universe).

And then it happens - the event that Peter has worried about all of this time - as the police move in to arrest him, Aunt May, incredulous that her Peter is "that awful Spider-Man" finally has THE BIG ONE. Peter crashes through the window and escapes, hoping that his absence will allow Aunt May to get medical attention (I'm quoting - I didn't make this up. I still don't quite understand how he made that association).

With the police shooting and chasing after Peter, Jonah gloats to Robbie about exposing Spider-Man, saying that Parker must have been laughing at him under his mask every time he took a check for Spider-Man pictures. Robbie is furious that Jonah has betrayed Peter like this, citing the number of times that Peter has saved JJJ's hide while as Spider-Man, and the fact that Peter genuinely cared about Jonah. After Jonah whips out a copy of the next edition of the Bugle revealing Spider-Man's identity, Robbie shoves the paper back in Jonah's face - stating that he is resigning as city editor because he can no longer work for a man capable of such a heartless act. After consoling a sobbing Gwen Parker, Robbie tells her that after they make sure that May Parker is alright, they are going to all of the other papers and other media outlets in New York telling the public what kind of man Peter Parker really is. And he pledges that "by the time we're through, they won't be using the Daily Bugle to wrap fish in."

The story ends with a despairing Peter Parker on a roof overlooking his apartment, which has now become a mecca for media and law enforcement types. He has no costume, no webshooters, and can't even call the hospital to see how Aunt May is doing. His last thoughts are worries about whether or not he is going to have to become the criminal that Jonah always accused him of being in order to survive.

As I said before, one of the positive things about this story was that us long-time Spidey fans actually got to see the confrontation that we had actually hoped for many years ago - but which never happened - the moment that Peter has to come clean with Gwen. I always felt that Gwen's love for Peter would overcome whatever fear and hatred she had of Spider-Man, and Peter's inability to realize this was growing more irritating all the time for the reader.

It is ironic that in the regular continuity, Norman Osborn destroyed Peter's relationship with Gwen by killing her - but in this alternate story - Norman still succeeds in destroying that relationship through entirely different means that don't involve killing anyone. The ending of this story also illustrates the point I made in the first Alternate Spidey - that there are no guarantees of a happy ending. Peter was tormented, and remains tormented, over the death of Gwen Stacy in the regular continuity - but is that particular torment better than the other one that was in store for him had events not unfolded as they did? Who can say?

However, the story is ultimately harmed by the characterization of two of the major characters.

The ease at which Norman Osborn overcomes being the Green Goblin is both lame and laughable when analyzing it based on current storytelling standards. In fairness to Isabella, who remember, wrote this story over 25 years ago, his resolution to Norman's problems was entirely consistent with the way Stan Lee had dramatized Norman during his long run on Amazing Spider-Man - you know, the cycle of Norman freaking out and remembering that he's the Goblin, then getting slapped upside the head or confronted with an emotional trauma, and then forgetting everything and actually acting like a nice guy. And considering how our understanding of mental illness has changed considerably over the last 25 years, this aspect of the story does not hold up well.

The story also conveniently ignores that one of the things that set Norman off on what in the regular continuity was a (temporarily) fatal course of action was Harry's drug overdose. Therefore, at the time in this story that Norman Osborn is telling Harry the secrets of the Green Goblin, the younger Osborn should still be seeing ghosts and goblins of his own coming down from a bad LSD trip.

Naturally, I have a problem with the ending because, as I illustrated in my previous article, I just can't see Jonah exposing Peter like that. And although I don't agree with this particular premise, it does reveal another interesting point - that the fates of Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson have become so intertwined, that by destroying Spider-Man, Jameson will bring aobut his own demise. It happened in What If #19 (reviewed last time) when Jonah, by revealing Spider-Man's secret identity and attempting to ruin his entertainment ventures, provokes a vicious response from that universe's rich, spoiled Peter Parker that ruins Jonah instead. During Earth X, by revealing Spider-Man's identity (a fact given to him by Norman Osborn), the Daily Bugle's credibility is destroyed and the newspaper suspends publication. And in this story, it is reasonable to assume that as a result of Robbie's and Gwen Parker's campaign in retaliation for Peter's exposure, the Bugle will be ruined here as well.

What If Peter Parker Never Married Mary Jane, but Married the Black Cat?

Since both of these hypotheticals were originally presented as a two-part story written by Danny Fingeroth for What If Volume 2 #20-21 (December 1990 and January 1991), I'll discuss them together.

The critical event in this story occurs during Amazing Spider-Man 290-292 in which Peter asks MJ to marry him. She turns him down at first, then goes to Pittsburgh to resolve some issues with her family. Peter goes after her, and all of a sudden Alistair Smythe and his super duper Spider Slayer (another one - sigh) show up. Mary Jane follows Peter to the battle site and whacks the Slayer with a baseball bat to force it to let go of Spider-Man. Now, in the regular continuity, Peter cracks the Slayer a good one before it harms Mary Jane. This time, he is just a split second too late, and MJ is critically injured.

She recovers, but Peter is so wracked with guilt, that on their wedding day, he pulls the plug on the ceremony. After a conversation in which he explains to MJ how he can't live with himself by putting her in harm's way (as if cops, FBI agents, DEA agents, and the rest didn't also put their families at risk - but that's our boy Peter's sense of self-flagellation for you), Mary Jane also walks away saying that there won't be a wedding "not today, not ever."

Of course, busting up with Mary Jane puts Peter in a real foul mood, and the street slime of New York are feeling his pain. And thinking more with his you-know-what than his brains, Peter takes an outside chance and mails a letter to Felicia Hardy's last known address, figuring that if she receives it - then their relationship was meant to be. Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, Peter receives a knock on the door, and is greeted with a very familiar line as the accompanying picture demonstrates. Spidey and the Black Cat are now an official crime-fighting duo, but Felicia turns out to be more brutal and sadistic than Peter would like. She likes to leave scratch marks on the hoods they capture like a cat toying with its prey, and one even comments to Spidey "good luck if she's your woman - because you're going to need it." Spidey also has to stop Felicia from finishing Venom off permanently after they have beaten him with a sonic gun. The Cat doesn't quite comprehend the basis of Peter's morality, particularly when Venom was trying to kill them (this still doesn't prevent Felicia giving Eddie Brock an ugly stomp on the ribs after he's down - I knew I liked that girl for a reason).

However, Felicia's aggressiveness comes in handy as well. When Kraven the Hunter drugs Spidey and succeeds in burying him alive, Felicia catches Kraven in the act and disables him using drugs on her own claws. This spares Spider-Man from the events of "Kraven's Last Hunt." However, when Felicia digs Spidey up, in his delerium he calls out to Mary Jane.

After she saves his life, a grateful Peter decides to pop THE question to Felicia. Initially she worries whether or not Peter is doing this on the rebound from Mary Jane or out of sincere love for her - but she happily accepts nonetheless. However, Felicia is all too eager to rub MJ's nose in the fact that Spider-Man is now hers alone. The last page sets the stage for the events of the succeeding part, in which Felicia, demonstrating the recklessness that always worried Peter, drops in on Mary Jane in the middle of the street, flashes her ring and tells her to buzz off - that Felicia is going to be Spider-Man's wife. Nearby, a two-bit hood who happens to know (what a coincidence) that Peter dumped MJ puts things together.

In the following part, Peter and Felicia make the trip to Niagara Falls, getting married in a storefront chapel under assumed names (fans of Spidey trivia will appreciate that Peter uses the name "Peter Palmer," which was the name that Stan Lee inadvertantly used not once, but twice in Amazing Spider-Man #1). After they get back to their roach motel where they are spending their honeymoon night - Peter is disappointed to find that Felicia is not "in the mood" (like a real marriage already). However, after a flight back to New York and a quick change into spandex, Felicia's "mood" picks up - considerably. However, Peter is still troubled by the fact that Felicia prefers his costumed alter-ego over his civilian identity.

The honeymoon is over quickly for a number of reasons, the first being Felicia's exasperation with their living arrangements. They continue to live in separate apartments, splitting up when they conclude the evening's crime-fighting. Spidey reminds her that with the Black Cat's identity being public knowledge, if Felicia Hardy were seen with Peter Parker, then he would no longer have a "secret" identity (you would have thought the two of them would have hashed this out before getting married - but they wouldn't be the only young couple to rush impulsively into something only to realize the consequences later - and Peter is still not thinking too clearly after his break-up with Mary Jane).

Then, Felicia begins going to Peter's apartment and checking out his mail, which today, of course, includes a birthday card to Peter from Mary Jane. Felicia angrily rips up the card, paranoid that MJ is trying to take Peter away from her, and storms off warning that if she keeps it up, the Cat will tear her apart as well.

And what about the crook that overheard Felicia's gloating to Mary Jane? He tries to sell the information on Spidey's secret i.d. to the Vulture, who apparently must have left his million dollar payment in his other costume, since he repays the hood with a bullet through the chest after getting Spider-Man's name. Peter then receives a phone call from the Vulture telling him that he knows who he is, and that his loved ones are going to be dead. Aunt May's house in Forrest Hills is blown up, killing most of the people in the house (Aunt May was running a halfway house at that time) but May herself happened to be in the basement and was spared. Then the Vulture targets Felicia - and as he is about to snuff out all nine lives at once - Spidey comes to the rescue and pulverizes the Vulture in two seconds flat, ripping out his flight pack and telling him that he's going nowhere but to the morgue. A battered and bloodied Vulture tells Spider-Man to go ahead and kill him, that he'll die happy knowing that Spidey is probably done for anyway. "Your wife is too careless with your secrets - some two-bit hood heard her babbling and told me." Just as Spidey is about to clip the old's bird's wings permanently, Silver Sable, Sandman (back when Sandman was a "good" guy), and Paladin pre-empt his attempted execution in order to collect an oustanding bounty on the Vulture.

Being in the grip of the Sandman gives Spidey the moments he needs to chill out, but he later has it out with Felicia over her carelessness with his secret identity, and swings off telling her that their relationship is over for good.

Desperately in need of a friend, Peter hangs outside of Mary Jane's apartment, but is afraid to enter. He then decides to drop in on Silver Sable to collect his share of the bounty on the Vulture. Sable picks up on the vibes coming from Spidey that he really needs to talk to someone, and although she's not the Joyce Brothers type, she lends a sympathetic ear while Spider-Man unloads the torment he has dealt with over the last several weeks. Sable also shares her own stories of guilt and responsibility - and slowly, the two of them begin to develop a bond....(you know where this is going, don't you?)

In the meantime, during an attempted prison break, the Vulture is killed by a shadowy figure whom he recognizes, and as he lays dying in a pool of his own blood, his last words are "Spider-Man..."

Spidey decides to pop in on MJ one more time, but this time, she is not alone, accompanied by a big, pretty himbo. Spidey scampers out before his replacement in MJ's life sees him, but before he gets too far, the Sandman hits him with a burst of sand and pins him against the building. Sable and her pack have tracked him down because they believe he has killed the Vulture, his protestations to the contrary. Since this all happens near Mary Jane's apartment building, she hears the ruckus and walks down the block to the action, telling Sable that Spider-Man couldn't possibly have murdered the Vulture. However, once Spidey breaks loose of the Sandman's grip, Sable's goons get all itchy fingered and gunfire rings out, imperiling everyone around. Suddenly, the Black Cat swoops down and picks MJ up (it's a night of coincidences - but there isn't much time to tell the story, so...) stating that she figured Spider-Man would be around her apartment, and telling MJ that if anyone finishes her off, it'll be the Cat. She then confesses to Spider-Man and everyone else in the street that it was she who killed the Vulture.

Since, despite her bravado, she actually has no intention of harming Mary Jane, and gently shoves her in the direction of an open window, telling her to get back into the building. However, MJ slips on the residue from the Sandman's attack on Spider-Man and falls off the ledge. Both Spidey and the Cat move in to save her, but Paladin, arriving a day late, a dollar short, and without a clue as to what has been going on, believes the Cat is attempting to hurt MJ and opens fire on her.

He doesn't miss.

Spidey saves Mary Jane, but Felicia hits the street with a sickening thud, bleeding heavily from both the fall and several bullets courtesy of Paladin. Spider-Man rushes to her side, but it is too late. Felicia tells him that although he wouldn't approve, making the Vulture pay for what he knew and what he did was something that had to be done, and she did it (and frankly, I agree with her). After one last expression of love for Spidey, the Black Cat dies.

Peter and MJ are close together - so that if there ever was a moment for them to find each other again, it is now, when both are in pain. However, with Felicia's body between them, it's a move neither one makes. Mary Jane turns around, walks around the block, and out of Peter Parker's life forever.

According to the Watcher's narrative, Spider-Man is in mourning for some time, but finally resumes his crime-fighting career, sometimes solo, often with Silver Sable. And like I said before, you knew where this was going when the two of them started sharing confidences...

It goes without saying that Felicia comes off very poorly in this story. She is a spoiled, selfish, immature, whiny child, and one completely unworthy of Peter Parker. For those of you who have been reading Spider-Man only since the Clone Saga or just prior, you will not recognize this characterization of Felicia Hardy. This is Felicia #2. Felicia #1 was the criminal who teased and titilated our hero, and who was one sharp, wild, and unpredictable lady. She also wasn't completely bolted down upstairs, which made her all the more dangerous and interesting. However, when Felicia became Spidey's partner during Spectacular Spider-Man #75-100 she was turned into Felicia #2 by writers who clearly either didn't like her, or simply didn't know what to do with her. It was also Felicia #2 that showed up later and dated Flash Thompson in order to break up with him to hurt Peter. Nowadays, we have Felicia #3 who is not as infuriating, and in fact, seems to have grown up, and is now one of the good guys - but the danger, unpredictability and goofiness that made Felicia #1 so appealing is largely gone (although based on some of her more recent appearances over the last couple of years - she might be coming back). So, the way the Cat is portrayed in this story is entirely in line with how she was written in the regular continuity during this particular period of time.

I also find it a bit of a stretch that Spidey would wind up with someone like Silver Sable in any universe. I could be wrong because I am not a Sable expert - but I always thought she was a little old for Peter. I tend to think of her as, say, Jean DeWolff's contemporary. While it was established that Jean had a crush on Spider-Man before she was murdered, I doubt she would have felt the same way about Peter Parker, who was (at that time) in his early 20's.

Could Peter have married Felicia? Well, yes - but it would not have been to the betterment of the series. For one, while Felicia definitely would have been a wild and reckless contrast to the more serious Peter, from a dramatic standpoint I think it would be a mistake for Peter to be married to another costumed adventurer. Part of the appeal of Spider-Man has been the fact that he has another life outside of the costume - and that it is a life that has been the subject of good stories in its own right and doesn't always require Peter in spandex. If Peter had married someone like Felicia, that's all the stories would be about - superhero stuff. Whether together in their civilian lives or as superheroes, that's all they would have talked about. And, with Felicia's i.d. public, there really wouldn't have been a civilian relationship, so as a writer you couldn't tell as many stories with Felicia and Peter as you could Peter and someone else.

However, it would have been interesting from the standpoint of Peter being involved with someone who is not familiar with, and therefore tolerable, of the people in his life as MJ was. It would have been fun for Felicia to comment on some of Peter's long-standing relationships, like "Why do you let that old woman treat you like a child?" "Why do you let that miserable old skinflint walk all over you?" "Why don't you give up the idea of going to school and being a scientist - you never show up anywhere on time anyway." It's funny, because during the "Robot Parents" storyline in the regular continuity just prior to the Clone Saga, Peter actually visited Aunt May briefly with Felicia in tow - and May was none too impressed. Also, they recently met up again in Sensational Spider-Man #32, and May expressed to MJ her belief that Felicia was a bad influence on Peter.

NEXT UP: We know that Spider-Man has recently joined the New Avengers (and the New New Avengers), but before that, the What If stories often took a look at what might have happened had Spidey joined a super team. We take a look at those in Alternate Spideys Part 3.

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Copyright 1998-2008 by J.R. Fettinger. All rights reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin, and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used in these articles for the purpose of analysis and commentary.