Spider-Man 1999

A New Beginning – or the Same old ****?

Author's Note: The 1999 Year in Review was the very first one written for Spidey Kicks Butt, and it was originally called "Year One After the Reboot." This was only supposed to be a one-shot deal, but after time, I did a "Year Two" before converting the articles to a "Year in Review" format. As you'll see, the earlier entries tend to be shorter and less comprehensive than later entries. Perhaps that's a good thing, but as always, you the reader are the ultimate (no pun intended) judge.

New beginnings are supposed to have a sense of renewal, of change, of jettisoning tired old baggage and ideas, and starting fresh. They're not supposed to be rehashes of the same old crap that we had gotten bored with, or, heaven forbid, actually be worse than what they followed! What would have been the point of the new beginning anyway?

Which brings me to the re-booting of the Spider-Man titles.

Let me put this in historical perspective – since this is the third version of this article as I try to periodically update them to reflect either current events or modify them in order to make them less dated.

After the speculator-fed boom of the 1990’s when comic books, both old and new titles, were being printed and distributed in quantities rivaling that of the German Mark in the hyperinflation after World War II, the comic book market was due for a “correction,” (the term that those annoying business shows like to use when they think the stock market is going to tank) a BIG correction. Speculators, particularly those who got hosed buying multiple copies of DC's Death of Superman finally realized that they were never going to have the next Action Comics #1 among their piles and piles of multi-colored paper, chromium covers, inserts, variants, and other gimmicks, and abandoned the market. Not only that, but the folks who had actually been trying to read their comics got fed up with them because the explosion of titles had stretched the talent way too thin, the gimmicks took on more importance than the stories, and the stories - well, they flat out sucked.

As the market began to spiral downward, the Spider-Man titles, all five of them, (four monthlies and a quarterly), were no exception. However, Marvel, blind to the fact that this was a market and a quality issue, came to the conclusion that Spidey was “broken,” and needed to be fixed. They deduced that his sales problems had nothing to do with the overexposure of the character or the mediocre quality of the stories (most notably the excrutiating 14 part wankfest Maximum Carnage – and the overly long “Return of the Parents” storyline in which Peter Parker’s parents had supposedly returned from the dead – a directionless storyline which probably had 6-8 months of story stretched to two years – with the ultimate and obvious denouement that they weren’t really Peter’s folks. What a waste.) but that all of the problems with the Spider-Man titles centered around the fact that he and aged and was married. Simple enough, eh?

Therefore the solution to this dilemma was to bring back the clone of Spider-Man, which we thought had died way back in Amazing Spider-Man #149 (October 1975), and then reveal to the world that this “clone” was actually the “real” Spider-Man and that the Spider-Man whom we had been following for the last twenty years was really the clone!

And the comics community collectively vomited. Sales of Spider-Man titles, which had actually been fairly good during the Clone Saga, crashed. Actually numbers are difficult to come by, but thanks to a careful researcher by the name of "Nose Norton," at the Spider-Man Message Board, we can see that sales of Amazing Spider-Man dropped from over 350,000 at the nadir of the Clone Saga, to less than 220,000 at its end - a drop of almost 40%. Marvel reversed its decision, bringing back Peter Parker as the “real” Spider-Man, but the damage had been done – another devastating blow to a character that was already reeling from various other problems, and an industry that was in serious contraction. Marvel had also compounded the problem by tryng to distribute its own comics, but purchased a distributor totally inadequate to the task. Sales continued to fall, down to 120,000 by Amazing Spider-Man #441, and Marvel figured that the only way to generate interest in the spider-titles again was to cancel some of them and start the surviving titles over again with new #1’s. However, before it did this, it forced the writers of the titles to jettison some fairly promising storylines and wrap everything up in a multi-part crossover that had the unique distinction of being one of the worst stories ever in Spider-Man history – the “Gathering of Five” followed by “The Final Chapter.” You would have thought Marvel would have at least tried to end the original numbering on a high note – but no. After a month off, the two surviving titles Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man returned in December 1998 at #1.

Some modest interest returned as sales stabilized, and then took another disastrous drop for reasons that will become fairly obvious soon.

Now first off, let me come clean here. I don't like reboots, so I'm not 100% objective. I think reboots are gimmicks drug out of the closet when all else has failed, or when publishers don't want to face the fact that the real problems are in the storytelling. Also, it smells like an effort to tempt speculators back into the market by giving them "All New No. 1's" and screaming "Collectors Item!" just to see how many of them jump in. Of course, it was the speculators who, in dumping comics en masse during the 1990's, helped send the industry into a tailspin. Admittedly, the industry did a lot to feed and abuse speculator frenzy back in those days (double glossy polished aluminum foil covers, ridiculous #0 issues, scratch n’ sniff cards to smell the blood spilled during fight scenes, etc.), but trying to woo them back seemed to be the equivalent of being married and having your partner knock you over and kick you senseless before leaving you, and then you crawl back to them on your hands and knees and go "please, can I have some more?"

Sigh. I know. Bad attitude. But I was really pissed that it looked like I would never get my Amazing Spider-Man #500. Fortunately, we know that eventually worked out, but back in 1999, we had no such hope awaiting us.

Just one minor bit of housekeeping as this is the first of the “Year in Review” series. The purpose of these articles is not to try to review and evaluate every single issue that was released. Not only would that be impractical – but other websites do it a lot better than me. So, my focus is to take the major events that occurred in the titles and evaluate them as a whole.

And after the first full year after the reboot - what was the verdict?

Well, in polite company - it was a do-over. If it were a meal at a restaurant you’d send it back. And it forever purged from my brain the idea that one writer should control the destiny of Spider-Man in multiple titles. Howard Mackie, with a less than able assist from John Byrne, simply did not have “it” - whatever "it" was.

Now – I do not consider myself a Mackie-basher. He is far from the worst Spider-Man writer, and too much personal invective has been heaped on him from the fans. His biggest sin was simply being out of ideas on a particular character. He even admitted that he was tapped out on Spider-Man after his run on Web of Spider-Man concluded. And even then, I felt he did a decent job in his run on Peter Parker before the reboot. However, after the reboot, he should have been allowed to move onto other titles and someone new take over Spider-Man. But – he was given an offer he didn’t feel he could refuse, and therefore was put in a position he should never have been placed into. He also suffered from a considerable amount of editorial interference from then Editor in Chief Bob Harras, who took at least one storyline that might have made sense and had a finite conclusion (the MJ stalker story) and turned it into incoherent garbage. Mackie was forced to steer the stories to a direction (the death of Mary Jane, which fortunately was undone) that neither he nor John Byrne, his collaborator on Amazing agreed with. If you want to get Howard’s perspective on the end of his Spider-Man run, the Spider-Man Crawlspace has one of the rare post-Spider-Man interviews that Mackie has granted. It’s worth a read.

That being said – we have what we have in the way of stories. 1999 was a very sub-par year for the Spider-Man titles, full of unresolved plots and an unbroken string of unremarkable stories. Not only that, but the plots in development moved sloooooooowwwwwwwwllllllllyyyy, and we were teased mercilessly with tidbits in almost each and every issue when some time would have been better spent in actually wrapping up a story or two rather than pummeling us with oblique reference after oblique reference to how evil Senator Ward was (as if you didn’t realize it after the first couple of times – but he was bad, real bad. Really bad. Really, really bad. Did I say that he was bad?), or yet another innuendo about whether or not Peter Parker will screw around with his wife’s best friend and one of the last remnants of the Stacy family, Gwen's cousin Jill. If there was a key phrase to 1999 it would be Get on with it!

If I were to give 1999 a grade, it would be a C-. If you religiously read every issue - then you read them out of habit, because nothing, and I meannothing other than inertia, certainly inspired me to pick up each succeeding issue. But I have this thing about actually reading the issues (or seeing the movies) before I criticize them, unlike certain political figures who like to comment on stuff they’ve never read or watched. What’s ironic is that in the year prior to the reboot, I was eagerly looking forward to the next issues. I thought that three of the four monthly titles, particularly Spectacular Spider-Man written by JM DeMatties, were rather interesting. Amazing written by Tom DeFalco at that time, did not represent his best work, which he has willingly admitted, but DeFalco on a bad day is still better than some others on a good day – and there’s no questioning his affection for the character and his history. And Peter Parker written by Mackie and penciled by John Romita, Jr., was a moody, more crime noir oriented series that wasn’t bad. I never did like Sensational, so I didn’t miss that one when it went away. But those storylines were completely and hurridly trashed, rushed along at breakneck speed to a horrendous conclusion, while others were completely ignored and subsequently forgotten. After being teased with the possible return of Baby May, Peter and Mary Jane’s daughter, which Tom DeFalco was actually working toward, it turned out that it was really Aunt May, who had died back in Amazing Spider-Man #400, that was coming back. Mary Jane embarked on a fabulously successful supermodel career which never really worked for the character or the storylines and betrayed the “struggling young married couple” stories that were actually working and interesting, and Norman Osborn went completely looney after coming up with a stupid and totally out of character master plot that involved him melting down the human race to its basic DNA elements and remaking mankind in his own image. I guess if you run out of ideas, steal some lame plot lines from another failed storyline (Maximum Clonage). So, Norman gets locked up, and Peter decides to quit being Spider-Man (again!) and take care of Aunt May, while living in fabulous penthouse apartment with his super-rich supermodel wife.

And here’s where 1999 comes in. So what were the salient events of the year?

Too many loose ends
In 1999, we got more fragments of stories than stories. In addition to the three big stories that went on and on without wrapping up (Senator Ward, Jill Stacy as a potential romantic interest, and the stalking of Mary Jane), there were numerous other loose ends that begged for a resolution:

Check the Spider-Man: 2000 article to see just how many of these loose ends were resolved.

Character regression
Aunt May is a sick, senile old fool who hates Spider-Man. J. Jonah Jameson is a one-dimensional blowhard whose obsession with Spider-Man borders on psychotic. Flash Thompson is a loudmouthed jock who calls Peter Parker a wimp. So much for new beginnings. SOS if you ask me.

Too many team-ups, guest appearances and crossovers
Did Marvel believe that Spidey couldn't sell his own comics by himself anymore? That he had to have help? Guest-starring in 1999 were:

MJ and Peter are on the outs
It was no secret that Marvel felt that all of the romantic tension was out of the titles with Spidey being a married man (BOY DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR - the more things changed, the more they stayed the same), and they set up all sorts of conflicts for Peter and MJ so they could get pissed off at each other. Peter lies to MJ about being Spider-Man again, and when she finally finds out - she's mad at him. Well, she should be pissed for his lying to her - but (1) it sure took her long enough to figure out that Peter was Spider-Man again, (2) After accepting, even supporting Peter's dual life prior to the reboot (remember that she even helped him pick out the Richochet outfit?), now she says being married to Spider-Man is worse than being married to a policeman. True - but it took her awhile to make an issue out of it. Besides, she was never home anyway, always jetting off on her modelling gigs. Did it ever occur to her that leaving Peter alone with Aunty May all the time might also be a motivating factor in him returning to crime-fighting? Oh hell no, because she was being written with only half a brain, if that. Now, marriage is an inherently tense and problematic arrangement - but in the stories, these tensions come off as forced drama. They didn't seem natural, or logical extensions of other events, but merely shoe-horned in there no matter how ill-fitting. It certainly got difficult reading this crap every month.

Mackie and Byrne seemed hell-bent on convincing us that Peter and MJ were young! young! young! MJ tells Peter during an argument that she's just too young for all of these problems. In Peter's introspection later on that night, he reflects on how they're just kids - and that maybe their lives are pulling in different directions because they're just so young. Another reference in another issue is made by Peter that they married young. Excuse me? These two are hardly kids. Marrying after high school is marrying young. Marrying after four years of college and a couple of years of grad school is marrying at about the same age I got married - around my mid-20's. Oh yeah, now that I'm in my 40's - 24 is pretty damn young - particularly since my hair wasn't gray and I was a few pounds lighter - but it sure wasn't then.

In summary, the writers kept insulting our intelligence and vainly trying to appeal to some other demographic by insisting that these two are children. Please.

A "new" Spider-Man. And Spider-Woman
When the reboot began, someone else had taken over the reigns as Spider-Man. Howard Mackie stated in an interview with Wizard magazine that we'd never guess who the new Spider-Man was. Ha ha, the joke was certainly on him. The posters at the Spider-Man Message Board had it figured out virtually after the first post-reboot issues hit the stands. It was Mattie Franklin, the excrutiatingly obnoxious teen-age girl from the Gathering of Five ceremony, who stood in for her father who was too much of a wuss to face Osborn. Turned out she was the one who got "Power." As Peter returns to the role soon afterword, Mattie decides to become Spider-Woman. The third one.

Sigh - not another one. For reasons of trademark protection (if Marvel hadn't come up with a Spider-Woman character, rumor had it that CBS television was going to), Spider-Woman is a concept that Marvel will not let die. As an independent character, she was a bust - not once, not twice, but counting Mattie, three times. Not only did we have a third Spider-Woman-as-hero-title with yet another character, there was also an evil Spider-Woman in the mix. Plus the other two Spider-Women were still alive. And that didn't even include Madam Webb, who I wish had gotten death - but instead received eternal life, de-aging as a result of the Gathering ceremony (this was apparently reversed since she is now aged again). Now, after the cancellation of the She-Hulk's original title, Marvel didn't keep reviving the concept using different characters. Rather, it simply kept the same She-Hulk and made her one of the supporting characters in the Marvel Universe, and now she's on what - her third or fourth go-around? Why couldn't the same be done with Spider-Woman, if Marvel is absolutely determined that there be such a creature (And actually, in 2004 - it essentially was - as Brian Bendis returned Jessica Drew, the original, to the role of Spider-Woman). Although an evil Spider-Woman had potential as a recurring villain since Spidey has almost no recurring female villains, we've never seen that one again.

Peter gets back into costume
Of course we knew after the costume burning ritual at the end of "The Final Chapter" that Peter was going to be Spider-Man again. However, considering that by the time of Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 No. 1, Peter has not become Spider-Man for "months," one would figure that it would take SOMETHING MAJOR, SOMETHING MOMENTOUS, SOMETHING...well you get my point, for him to assume the superhero lifestyle again after no doubt numerous temptations, and jeopardize his marriage in the process. When am I going to learn not to be so naive and trusting? Spider-Mattie goes up against Shadrac in Peter Parker #2, gets conked out, and (cue heroic sounding music) "our hero faces his responsibility." Yeah yeah yeah. This is NOT the major event that I would have guessed Peter would have returned as Spider-Man for. But, since the whole "Peter giving up the costume" gig in the Final Chapter was lame anyway, it shouldn't be surprising that his return was lame as well. Like I have always said, Marvel should have brought Baby May back at the end of "The Final Chapter" rather than Aunt May. As often as the costume burning thing has been overdone, this time, we would have believed that parenthood would have realistically made him want to quit for good this time. That would have also made his subsequent return to the crime fighting gig more emotionally excrutiating for him and his family and come with all sorts of inherent drama and conflict. The only problem is, how come a no-talent lame like me can figure this out - but the dudes who are paid to write the stories can't? (The answer is easy, which makes me wonder why I agonize over it so much - Marvel's policy is "No Baby" for Spidey. Period.)

Peter gets a new job
And doesn't show up. So what was the point in him getting the job - particularly considering that in Amazing #1 so much time and effort was turned over to setting up the Tri-Corp community, including giving us a politically correct batch of people, including an Asian woman, a Hispanic male, a fat white guy (whose name was Stan Hardy - gee what is that a combo of?), someone who looked like Howard Hessman, and I suppose because there was a limit to the number of new characters to be added - a double amputee black woman, to get the minority and the disabled in one swell foop. If I belonged to either of those two groups, I think I'd be insulted. Mackie also set up a conflict between Peter and the token Hispanic - a guy named Javier who for some reason was jealous of Peter and thought his scientific talents are overrated. Of course, that subplot never went anywhere, either. For awhile though, he was my #1 suspect to be Mary Jane's stalker (until Peter was fired from Tri-Corp) and also the number #1 suspect on the Spider-Man Message Board. But as we know, that didn't come to pass. Certainly would have been better than what they came up with.

And frankly, I think Peter's days of dreaming of being a scientist should be over - and I thought J. Michael Straczynski's making Peter a school teacher was a good step in that direction - shame it didn't stick.

Spidey gets Alzheimer's
Not really, but his reactions to the vampire known as Hunger would lead one to think that. There was a storyline that worked itself through Peter Parkers #4,7, & 8, and guest starred Blade and Morbius the Living Vampire. Anyway, Spidey doesn't believe in vampires. He's only faced aliens from outer space, Frankenstein's monster, the Man-Wolf, dinosaurs in the Savage Land, you name it - but he doesn't believe in vampires. It's things like this that make you wonder if the spider-writers all have bad memories, know so little about the characters they write about, or simply don't care and just assume that we're stupid?

Aunt May contributed nothing upon her return
Now that was a big surprise, wasn't it? In issue #1 of Amazing, she was back talking about "that awful Spider-Man." Gee, and it only seems we went through 30 years of that one-note drill. It was so good to have it back. In Peter Parker #2 she doesn't get her medicine, passes out, and Peter feels guilty...just like in the good old days. But, at least she uses a different adjective when she talks about "that horrid Spider-Man." And she got that new haircut.

Fortunately, the writers knew better than to spend too much time showing the cast adjusting to May's return from the "dead." It was dealt with briefly in a couple of issues and then ignored, which really was the only reasonable thing to do. It would raise too many questions and force us to relive the "genetically engineered actress" explanation, and I don't have the stomach to face that again. Of course, no one ever wonders why a sociopath like the Green Goblin would want the world to believe an old woman was dead. Just like no one made the connection over why the same Green Goblin killed a young blonde college student many years ago.

Senator Stewart Ward is a bad guy
How do I know? Well, everyone has been saying he is ad infinitum, so I guess he must be. For example:

And there was nothing that indicated that this plotline was going to be resolved any time soon (in fact, it wasn't until a year later, and unsatisfactorily at that - but that's for later). Certainly, the mystery would have been a little more enticing if either Ward or someone talking about him simply appeared far less frequently, rather than pummelling us with repetitive hints and tidbits with little or no follow-up (stepping into the future - does this remind anyone of a certain Ezekial-Morlun-Totem story in which the dialogue kept going in circles?). It was apparent even then that because of the huge amount of build-up, the ultimate resolution was bound to be a disappointment.

Nothing in the way of interesting new villains
We were promised new villains - but we got a legion of losers who never appeared again. It was impossible at this time to figure out how Senator Ward was going to figure in. The Ranger turned out not to be a villain. Shadrac had no staying power - and he reminded me too much of the Molten Man anyway. The Spidey mythos already has one pseudo vampire in Morbius, it certainly doesn't need Hunger. And Captain Power?

Time is wasted trying to validate the worthless Chapter One
In Amazing #1 we get treated to a brief backup story of Spider-Man's powers which seems to accomplish little more than plug the events of Chapter One into the current continuity. Then, in Amazing #9 and #10, we get a story about how some mysterious person is killing everyone who survived the "accident" that transformed both Doctor Octavius and Peter Parker. And Doc Ock shows up again, close to his old look rather than the Pantsless Bionic Ock look. The fact that not only Ock, but Venom, as well as the other members of the Sinister Six showed up by the end of the first year invalidated Mackie's claim in an interview that none of the old rogues gallery was going to appear during the first year because that ground was being covered in Chapter One.

The villain, however, that emerged from this continuity-ripping "accident" was utterly ridiculous. Ock's female assistant at that experiment was transformed into some big guy with rippling muscles who called himself Captain Power. Captain Power? Geez! Looks like a Superman ripoff with the same colors, only switched around. And it only took her anywhere from 12-13 years (comic book time) to get around to seeking out Doc Ock for revenge. Of course, in Marvel's attempt to make you think that Spidey is still a kid, it only happened a little while ago.

The stalking of Mary Jane
Well, here was the beginning of the end of Mary Jane, at least for awhile. Frankly, the whole stalker gig seemed like a blatant ripoff from that absymal "Profiler" TV show, with Serial Killer Jack (which is now ancient history, I realize). Starting in PP #5, Mary Jane began receiving a series of harrassing calls. At first she refused to tell Peter (makes sense - your husband is a superhero - yet you choose not to tell him when someone has been threatening you), and then when our hero actually picked up one of these calls himself we heard the tantalizing "You think I don't know who YOU are?" Of course, Peter didn't bother to call one of his "superfriends" (like Daredevil) for help. By the end of the first year, we didn't learn who the stalker was because he ostensibly blew himself up in Amazing #12. We all know how that ultimately turned out.

Jill Stacy is being forced on Peter and us
Easily the winner of the "beat us over the head to death with it" award. Jill was obviously being set up as a romantic interest for Peter once Mary Jane was taken out of the picture. For example:

Again, the problem isn't just that the writers may be trying to inject a little romantic tension into the stories. Written correctly Peter's and MJ's marital problems could be dramatic and realistic, and sometimes human nature being what it is - dalliances are considered, if not acted upon. But, as you can tell by the list above - Jill is being wedged into the stories in so many instances where she normally wouldn't or shouldn't be (like her trips to the Daily Bugle), which strains credibility. And besides, Jill isn't being given a decent personality to which Peter may be attracted. Hey, it's a no-brainer (at least I always thought so) that if something truly did happen to Mary Jane, Peter would probably take up with the Black Cat again. Felicia implied in Amazing #5 that she'd take him back in a heartbeat - and there always was genuine sexual tension between the two. So why waste so much time shoe-horning Jill into the picture? And if she isn't being set up as a possible romantic temptation for Peter, then someone is wasting way too much paper and ink on her - because all she does is cling and cry.

For a brief period of time, I thought it might be cool for the stalker to actually have been in Jill's employ, and that she was a devious skank pretending to be MJ's friend in order to get to Peter. Admittedly, it has a lot of trashy soap opera possibilities, including the potential for a cat fight between Jill and MJ on the par with Alexis and Crystal Carrington (uh - is that too arcane of an 80's pop culture reference?), but even though Spidey can be a soap opera at time, he's not a trashy soap opera, and this would have sunk him to a new low. Still, for me to even consider it shows awful the first two years after the reboot were - because even that story would have been better than many of the others.

Best story of the year
In the original version of this article, I had a different story of the year, and in deference to my thought processes at the time, I have kept that portion (see below). However, once I decided to bring Webspinners into the fold for Spider-Man 1999, it was clear to me that the best story, hands down, was Paul Jenkins' first Spider-Man attempt, in Webspinners 10-12. It was a genuinely spooky story that unlike the other Webspinners tales that year, was set in the current contintuity, as the Chameleon decides to insert himself into Peter Parker's life (even eating Aunt May's meatloaf! Literally - don't get any ideas there) while setting up a confrontation on THE bridge (which admittedly, is a bit of an overused plot device - but anyone who knows that Peter is Spider-Man knows that this is the place to get his full undivided attention). Spidey's oldest costumed villain has seldom been handled better than in this story, and it was a monumental relief that when Jenkins flashbacked to the original meeting between the two, he referenced the Lee-Ditko story - and classic fans rejoiced. It also gave us one of the weirdest moments in spider-history, in which the Chameleon stated "I Love You, Peter" during the climax. Frankly, I'm still kinda scratching my head over that one. According to the following issue, Peter states that he thinks that was the Chameleon's clumsy way of trying to reach out and ask for help. I suppose Chameleon was desperately trying to connect on some level with the man whom he both hated and admired through all these years. Still weird, though.

Speaking of Webspinners, let's spend a couple of moments on that short-lived series which lasted only 18 months. The first issue gave us a terrific backup story by J.M. DeMatteis about Peter and Gwen's last night together before her death at the hands of the Green Goblin. Sad, tragic, bittersweet, all of those emotions rolled into one - and pencilled by John Romita, Sr. to boot. It's worth the cost of the issue by itself.

I was never a big fan of "untold stories." Still am not, but occassionally when the story sheds new light on a situation or a character, I don't mind it as much. After all, when you look at it - Stan and Steve couldn't possibly have told every single kind of story relevant to Peter's high school years. And high school has changed quite a bit since the 1960's, giving writers additional kinds of stories to tell. In Webspinners #7-9, the setting is Midtown High School just before the prom, and Peter throws the whole senior class into convulsions when he asks Liz Allan to the prom over Flash Thompson's admittedly boisterous objections. There's more to it than that, of course, but the most interesting part of this story was how Peter's burgeoning self-confidence due to the bite of a certain radioactive spider had an unsettling ripple effect among his classmates. All of the high school seniors are terrified of the changes that are about to occur in their lives, and the one thing they want to count on in their last few weeks of high school is certain things staying the same. However, Peter is beginning to chafe at his long-time role as the school nerd, particularly since, as we all know, he is much more than that now. He no longer has to take any crap from anyone, particularly Flash. Yet, when he displays his newfound confidence, standing up to Flash, asking out Liz Allan, acting bolder and more confident, he finds out that he's facing a villain more intractable and inflexible than any he has met in the past - the high school social caste system.

As far as the regular titles go "A Perfect World" (Amazing #7 & 8) was the best of the bunch, and it focused on Flash Thompson's fantasy that he was Spidey's sidekick in a world where Captain Stacy, Gwen and Uncle Ben are alive, Norman Osborn is Mayor of New York, Peter Parker is in a wheelchair due to "the accident," and Flash himself is about to marry Mary Jane Watson. The story turns out to be a hallucination by Flash due to some sort of wet-suited mind-control of most of the Spidey supporting cast (including Peter) by Mysterio, who is hoping to learn Spidey's secret identity. He has done so by kidnapping the cast because they seem to have the most frequent contact with Spider-Man. And he still didn't figure it out.

Nonetheless, Flash's fantasy that he is marrying MJ was perhaps a clue to what appeared to be his resurgent hostility towards Peter (unless you just consider bad writing). Has Flash always harbored romantic feelings for our favorite redhead? Does the fact that she married a man he considered weak and beneath him fan the flames of self-doubt and failure which have plagued Flash for years? After all, he ended the pre-reboot era as Norman Osborn's right hand man, which jacked up his confidence considerably. With Norman out of the picture at the Bugle, Flash was back on the street. But of course, whatever potential drama was here was wasted, because it was never followed up on.

This story however, does feature the stupidest cover of the year. You won't guess who kills Spider-Man in this issue? But he doesn't die - not even in a fantasy!

Worst story of the year
This was an easy choice as nothing was even close - it's the Peter Parker '99 annual. The story was called "Song of the Man-Thing" and the disappointing part was that it was written by J.M. DeMatteis, who was one of the better spider-writers (on the late, lamented Spectacular) before the reboot. The story is too weird and too un-Spidey like. In short, Spidey is drawn into something called the Nexus of All Realities where Ted Sallis and his wife Ellen (Ted was the Man-Thing, Marvel's answer to D.C.'s Swamp Thing - entirely coincidental, though, if you ask Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, the writers who created them) are merged into some kind of nebulous existence. Apparently, the real Scrier, the one with all the magic powers, shows up at a meeting of Scriers in New York and is on a mission to destroy the Nexus. Kad-Mon, the first soul to inhabit the earth, draws Spidey into the Nexus to save it, which he does by tapping into his human feelings. Confused? I still was after reading the thing. The story is full of New Age mumbo-jumbo and made no sense at all to my blue-collar intellect. The only thing even remotely interesting about this story is brief vignettes of alternative timelines which show Peter (1)married to Gwen Stacy with a daughter (2) an egomaniacal celebrity who never became a crime-fighter and (3) coming to Uncle Ben's rescue as the Burglar is about to fire, only to be fatally wounded himself. Unfortunately, the timing is poor, coming off a two-part alternate world story, and not very original.

And that was it for Spider-Man 1999, the first year after the reboot. When I first wrote this article, I was cautiously optimistic that the second year was going to be better. Oh what a naive fool I was.

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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.