Spider-Man 2000

...It was the Worst of Times?

When I updated this article to remove several of the dated references, I tried to think of a new paragraph of flowery bullshit to introduce it. But I couldn't. There simply isn't any other way to look at it.

Without a doubt, the year 2000 was one of the absolute worst in Spider-Man history. No debate.

I considered 1999 a C- year because I held out the faint glimmer of hope that things might get a little better. I was a fool. 2000 gets a D-, with two stories from that year making my 10 Worst Spider-Man Stories list. Why not an F? Well, perhaps this is a bias of my younger days, but I have always considered the Denny O'Neill era from Amazing Spider-Man issues #207-223 to be the worst era in Spidey history. O'Neill had the audacity to completely junk several promising storylines by Marv Wolfman, and then proceeded to give us a year and a half of simply dreadful, juvenile stories. And he introduced Madam Web, for which I will never forgive him. Hey - maybe there's another article there...

Another difference between O'Neill and Mackie was that Howard had been a steady, competent, workmanlike writer for the spider-titles for several years. I thought his noir writing, combined with John Romita, Jr.'s dark, blocky art (you can tell I have ZERO artistic inclination), worked well for Peter Parker just prior to the reboot. However, after the reboot, it became clear that a combination of (1) editorial interference from then Marvel Editor in Chief Bob Harras (2) splitting the Amazing writing chores with John Byrne, and (3) being assigned not just one monthly title, but two, on a character that he was clearly burned out on was simply setting both himself and the titles up for disaster. And a disaster is exactly what happened. Sometimes, I felt that the internet invective became a little too personal against Howard. Unfortunately, he, along with spider editor Ralph Macchio, were the most visible targets to take shots at when it became clear that Marvel was taking the titles in a direction that the majority of fans simply did not want to go, and the company became arrogantly condescending when its decisions were questioned. It was only when Harras was canned after botching Marvel's chance to capitalize on the success of the first X-Men film that changes were made. However, the bitterness and hard feelings generated between Marvel and the core spider-fans during this period of time, though certainly muted with the passage of time and changes in senior management, including the promotion of the apparently more astute Joe Quesada to the EIC chair, has still never quite yet gone away.

So let's not waste any more time - let's get right into it:

The "Death" of Mary Jane
Without a doubt - this was the event of Year 2000. Spider-fans were already incensed over the direction that Peter and MJ's relationship had taken during the prior year. The two became a couple of spoiled, whining brats who moaned and cried over how "this" (which was any number of things) couldn't be happening to them because they were so "young!" Of course, considering all that the couple had gone through prior to the reboot, including the Clone Saga and the alleged death of their own child (which many parents never recover from), what they were going through post-reboot was utterly inconsequential. It's one thing to have honest drama and conflict as a result of the dynamics of the characters - it's another thing to alter the characters to fit a predetermined conclusion. You'll be hearing me gripe about that a lot. Jill Stacy was shoehorned into the role of possible replacement for MJ (because face it - six months into the reboot, it leaked out that Marvel was going to dispatch Mary Jane), a development made more irritating by the fact that Jill wasn't given a personality to go along with her repeated appearances. She was a mope who clearly didn't have a life of her own because she only found fulfillment in hanging around MJ and crying on Peter's shoulder. (2004 Update: Unfortunately, this was validated by the fact that Jill has almost entirely disappeared from the titles. Which is too bad - a good writer might have been able to do something with the character.)

In addition, we had the added distraction of the "stalker" storyline, which provided more opportunities for false tension and out-of-character actions. When Mary Jane was first getting the phone calls, it made little sense that she refused to tell her husband, considering that he was an ex-superhero (well, she thought he had quit for good), and once Peter found out and received a couple of the calls, it made little sense for him not to use some of his contacts in the superhero community (Matt Murdock could probably listen to a tape of the stalker and figure out half a dozen things about him) or even scientific - couldn't one of his co-workers at Tri-Corp have provided some super-duper technology to find the culprit? Nah - too easy. It was another indication that the whole "MJ as successful supermodel" plot device was silly, redundant, and out of control. After all, hadn't it already been done before? Sure enough - those who remember the David Michelinie era would surely recall that MJ had been a highly successful model whose career was initially ruined by an obsessed admirer and industry player by the name of Jonathan Caesar, and that Caesar was later murdered by another obsessed admirer posing as a police officer. So, now we have our third fan dangerously taken with the lovely Mary Jane Watson-Parker. (2004: Yes, I know that the stalker ultimately turned out not to be a fan of MJ, but actually obsessed with Spider-Man, but according to Howard Mackie, perhaps the only time he spoke out after his run was over, the stalker was supposed to be someone whom MJ had actually known in high school, but that was "overruled.")

So, in Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2, #13, Mary Jane took the flight to Latveria that exploded over the Atlantic Ocean. Boom. And she would have stayed dead if the "core" fan base had not revolted.

Spider-Man fans are smart enough and savvy enough to know that Mary Jane is not whom the stories are about. It is not The Amazing Model Mary Jane as some wags who criticize the core fans' fury at MJ's departure like to say. But the "death" of Mary Jane was simply one of the most creatively bankrupt decisions Marvel has made in the history of the titles.

For one, the spider-titles did not need "shaking up," because Spidey had already been shaken silly over the course of the last few years. Making Peter the clone and Ben Reilly the original? Bringing back Peter and killing off Ben after the previous plot development turned into a catastrophe? Bringing back Aunt May from the dead? "Ending" the series and rebooting the titles? And even further back in the past - Gwen was killed off to shake things up. Peter David stated in the introduction to the "Who Killed Jean DeWolffe" trade paperback that Marvel had ordered Jean's death to "shake up the titles." Hell, our hero has been suffering from "Shaken Spidey Syndrome."

Now, Gwen Stacy was killed off largely because she was dramatically spent. She simply had not been an interesting character for the last 50 or so issues. I don't want to go into any more detail since I covered some of the same ground in my "Why Did it Have to be You Mary Jane" series. Also, in the context of the times, the early 1970's, the death of Gwen was a truly dramatic, momentous, and unexpected event. Some have suggested, although I'm not sure how much I really believe it, that Gwen's death was the demarcation line between the end of the Silver Age and beginning of the Modern Age. Paired with the death (well, at least for nearly a quarter of a century) of the original Green Goblin, it was one of the most significant events in comics history. However, that also meant it could not be duplicated, no matter how often writers have tried.

And the specter of death has hung over the spider-titles so often that not only does its impact diminish, but the long term effect is to drain the lifeblood out of the title. After Gwen died, other characters followed, such as Jean DeWolffe, Ned Leeds, Harry Osborn, Lance Bannon, Aunt May (for a time), Ben Reilly, and depending on your perspective, Baby May Parker. And that doesn't even include the villains who were buying the farm, including Spencer Smythe (not that I miss him), the original Tarantula, Kravens I & II (them either), Doctor Octopus (again, for a time), the original Mysterio (if Daredevil Volume 2, no. 7 still stands). At times, death can make for a gripping and heartbreaking story (like Aunt May's "death" in Amazing #400 - by then May was dramatically spent as well), or just simply turned out to be a damn good story ("The Death of Jean DeWolffe," and some will say "Kraven's Last Hunt," but not me - but that's not an issue here). But the cumulative effect of all of these deaths is a slow, but steady erosion of the titles. Not only does it gut the supporting cast, but it also makes death a trite and meaningless event.

But that didn't stop Marvel, or specifically, Bob Harras, from ordering MJ's departure. Boom. Get rid of her. But the problem was, she simply wasn't just Spidey's wife - but she'd been a major part of the titles off and on for almost 35 years.

Apparently, neither John Byrne not Howard Mackie agreed with this decision. Byrne was not a fan of the spider-marriage, but felt it would be even worse to end it by death or divorce, as such a decision would "age" Peter even more than being married, which is why he drew the emergency exit door flying off the plan before it crashed, to provide an out. And Mackie did credibly have Peter not initially accept MJ's death for the simple reason that in his experience so many other characters had come back from the dead before. But overall, the death of Mary Jane cast a pall over the series and turned it into a sheer act of masochism to read every month. And then having Peter lose all his money, lose his home, sleep on the streets, get a job as a dishwasher in order to have money to eat, all of these indignities heaped upon Peter were for the sole purpose of heaping indignities upon him.

The writers wanted to bring Peter to his knees. Fine - that could be good drama, but in this case the objective steamrolled the entire creative process so that established characters and compelling storylines were sacrificed for this one objective. Even the death of Gwen was not handled in such a gloomy fashion, largely because Peter still had his support network of friends, which, coincidentally, included Mary Jane. Even Flash tried to be supportive at that time. But this time, many of Peter's established network of friends (well, those who hadn't been killed off by now) either turned on him, or ignored him - all out of character of course.

For example, where was Felicia Hardy during all of this? After all, she and Mary Jane had come to a sort of peace during the events of the Clone Saga. And she still cares about Peter/Spider-Man. She never shows up once to offer her condolences or some assistance? She appeared in a backup story in one of the annuals, but MJ's situation was never mentioned between them.

And even though Peter and Matt Murdock aren't necessarily the best of friends, both Peter and Mary Jane did attend Karen Page's funeral in the pages of Daredevil. I can't believe that Matt would be such a slug that he wouldn't get ahold of Peter as Murdock, or run into Spidey as Daredevil, and offer his sympathies, as well as some help.

Anyone remember when Flash Thompson offered Peter a place to stay in Amazing Spider-Man #138 after Harry Osborn had blown up their apartment a couple of issues before? And that was back before Peter and Flash had really begun to connect as friends. What's he do this time? Well, in the infamous Peter Parker Volume 2 #18, he talks about with some amusement how the women Peter gets involved with wind up dead. He isn't stating this in a sympathetic or incredulous way, either. He seems to be actually enjoying it.

And then Liz Allen-Osborn, of course, takes the cake, by telling Peter she doesn't want to be around him because of what happens to everyone who gets close to him. Now, Liz has had some bouts of weird behavior before, throwing Peter and Mary Jane out of the Soho loft after Harry's death, and then being subjected to one of Harry's post-mortem mind control plots in the one-shot Legacy of Evil. But, it seemed that she and the Parkers had settled their differences since then. And considering that she herself knows the grief and agony associated with losing a spouse, wouldn't it be logical for her to have some sympathy for Peter? After all, he didn't just lose Mary Jane, he lost his home, his funds, everything. In fact, if you want to speculate and take things to a somewhat logical conclusion - with their long history and mutually shared grief - wouldn't it be possible for Liz and Peter, who had had some flings and flirtations before in high school, to become a little closer? If Marvel truly wanted Peter to play around with other women - wouldn't this alternative make more sense than many others? Well, that's the problem, it would make sense - and sense was never part of this equation anyway. Again, the objective was to "de-age" Peter - and involving him with a widow and single mother probably would not achieve that objective.

And Jonah was mishandled as usual. Did no one connected with this story remember that ole JJJ secretly paid Peter's legal bills when he was on trial for murder during the Clone Saga? Now, JJJ is having some problems with Alistair Smythe during this time frame, but I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't come to Peter's aid, although certainly in an indirect and secret way as to maintain his gruff exterior. At least, however, Jonah did show up at the Parker household twice to offer his sympathies.

And this is the big one - you can never convince me that Peter, or anyone would prefer starving and sleeping on the streets over living at Aunt May's, or that any sane person would turn down a warm bed, hot meals, unconditional love and sympathy, unless that person was mentally ill. Of course, this is exactly how Peter behaves in the months following MJ's alleged demise. And I don't think for a minute that Marvel planned to suggest that its trademark character was mentally ill. No, this was just bad, bad storytelling.

Personally, if this had happened to me, and I had lost my family and all my money, I probably would high tale it to my mother's house almost 500 miles away and hang out there until I got my head together. Certainly Peter would have done the same with Aunt May only some web slinging away.

In conclusion, Mary Jane's "death" was simply in no way defensible. Her prolonged absence left a huge hole in the series for some time.

Senator Who? - Oh, that guy
One of the numerous things we suffered through during 1999 was the relentless build-up of Senator Stewart Ward as THE BIG BAD GUY. As Dana Carvey would say in his impressions of the first President Bush, "He's bad, bad!" He was always snarling and plotting, and we had Arthur Stacy continually reminding us of just how bad he was, even thought he refused to talk in anything but cryptic language, even to Ward himself. Ward apparently had connections to Hydra (who was trying to kill him), the Wizard, the Kingpin (who was also trying to kill him),and all kinds of bad guys. At at the end of the first year, when it seemed the plot might finally be going somewhere as he began to glow funny and emit all kinds of energy, and Mysterio and Electro took him into their custody to use him for some nefarious purpose - he didn't show up again for eight months. Now, it can be argued that the "MJ is dead" storyline took precedence, which is a logical argument. However, I would also contend that Mackie simply didn't know where he was going with the storyline, and the MJ problem provided a way out of that, at least temporarily, until he, or someone else could think of something.

When Ward finally did show up again, it was without Mysterio and Electro in tow, so there's an unsolved mystery - just what did those two goons have in mind for Ward - and why didn't they still have him? Did they lose him on the subway or something? And then the nature of Ward's powers seemed to change as well. Rather than energy discharges, he was now some kind of oozing, icky, slimy blob creature. Maybe that was it - he was just too disgusting for them.

Finally, though, the Maximum Security crossover bailed out Mackie. When the three-part storyline was announced, editor Ralph Macchio assured readers that this would bring the Senator Ward story to a conclusion. When an editor has to make a statement like this, you know things are out of hand. Of course, we still had to put up with a number of issues of Arthur Stacy and the Ranger (returned from Peter Parker #1 and the Amazing 1999 annual) talking in circles about just how bad and dangerous Ward was - but in the final analysis he was simply a power-hungry bad guy whose body was the host for an alien pathogen - the aliens in question being the Z'Nox who were the really big bad guys in the crossover. And Ward's and Stacy's conflicts all stemmed from having competed for the same woman years ago. I won't get too much into the whole Maximum Security thing because, true to form, I refused to buy other titles for the sake of getting the complete crossover story.

Was this a satisfying conclusion? Oh hell, no, by no means. There were still way too many questions unanswered and loose ends tied up, and frankly, as readers, we were misled. In interviews at the beginning of the reboot, Byrne and Mackie made it seem like so many apparently disparate storylines were actually going to come together and form something really big - "The Big Reveal" as one of them called it. Ultimately, however, the Ward storyline proved to have nothing to do with anything else, and all of the loose ends simply fizzled. But, we were simply grateful that it was over. I don't want to go back and revisit or try to resolve any of those loose ends. I'd rather go back and find out who F.A.C.A.D.E. was than revisit any of this crap.

At least one thing was positive. Norman Osborn was behind neither the Senator Ward thing nor the "death" of MJ. I was really afraid that in desperation to resolve everything, the writers might turn to him again as they did during the Clone Saga. Thankfully, that was avoided.

Fewer guest stars and crossovers
The gross overreliance on guest stars that populated the first year was toned down considerably. We had dumb Hulk in Peter Parker #14 for Spidey to take his anger out on, and then there was that pointless and unneccessary appearance by time traveller Cassandra Locke in Amazing #16 to promote the series Marvel: The Lost Generation. There was also the Spider-Woman crossover (discussed later). Otherwise it was mercifully a team-up free year, after a year in which Marvel didn't seem to think it's trademark character was saleable on his own. And while, of course we had to have yet another idiotic crossover (last year's was "The Eighth Day" whatever that meant), this time it was called "Maximum Security." While the story had the effect of completely sabotaguing one of Paul Jenkins' stories, a positive was that without it I doubt that the Senator Ward storyline would ever have wrapped up.

See you later, Jill
Even though Jill Stacy continued to make frequent appearances, the number of red herrings hinting that she would be Peter's next conquest dropped substantially. Maybe someone finally realized that as slow as Marvel time moves, it would be a long time before Peter could realistically be seen bedding some other chick. There were a couple of moments, as when Peter caught Jill sacking out at Aunt May's wearing one of MJ's nightclothes, but otherwise, Jill seems to be heading to that graveyard of underdeveloped supporting characters. In a way, it's too bad, because the spider-verse does need a core of strong supporting characters, and Mary Jane does need a female friend and confidant. But Jill was being written as a potential replacement for MJ, and nothing more than that.

"Spider-Woman" crashes - for the third time.
We had to go through a silly crossover with the Spider-Woman title, which was inevitable, but after Amazing Spider-Man #14, the ever obnoxious and annoying Mattie Franklin drops from the spider-titles never to reappear in them again. Her own title followed within the following year, and then Brian Bendis turned her into a druggie in his Alias title. She was a completely contrived character and with two ex-spider women running around, along with a "bad" spider-woman, she had no use. "Bad" Spider-Woman does have possibilities, if only because Spidey historically had few enduring female villains. Spider-Woman will never make it as a stand alone character. Marvel, give it up.

Chapter One No More
Although no "official" statement was made to that effect, for all intents and purposes Chapter One was shit-canned as part of Spidey continuity. After the thoroughly stupid Captain Power story and appearances by Pantless Bionic Ock, it seemed that all references to this critical failure disappeared. The fact that editor Ralph Macchio allowed Paul Jenkins to use Spidey's original Chameleon encounter as written by Stan Lee as a reference when he did his 1999 story in Webspinners was the unofficial dumping of this concept. John Byrne's departure after Amazing #18 sealed its fate.

Calling Robert Stack
However, there still remained a raft of unsolved mysteries dating back to the first year:

Peter loses his Tri-Corp job
Now that was a suprise, which occurred in Amazing #16. After tons of fanfare about his new job, Mackie never had him show up for work! The entire menagerie of politically correct characters laboriously introduced never amounted to anything. I guess I'm not too sad at this development, but it was clearly a mistake from the get go.

Aunt May has still contributed nothing
Remember, she was brought back from the dead after a beautifully written demise in a thoroughly unconvincing way because the spider-titles "lost" something. Yeah, they lost a character that had long outlived her usefulness. The website Life of Reilly places the blame for May's revival and perpetually dipstick attitude on former EIC Bob Harras, who ordered May back and "hated" the idea that she knew Peter was Spider-Man. Actually, the "death" of Mary Jane would have been the perfect opportunity to actually use May's character, but Peter didn't even bother to live with May since we wanted to have wacky roommate high jinks with Randy Robertson. She fulfilled her usual role of hanging on the periphery of the stories, worrying about Peter, Peter worrying about her, and even being threatened by a villain.

As we now know, J. Michael Straczynski made some drastic changes in May's status during his run on Amazing Spider-Man which lessen the hostility over her return. Still, when May first returned, there was no JMS in sight.

The Jekyll/Hyde roommate
As part of the trend to make Peter a young, single, hip, funky, cool guy, the writers decided to pair him off with young, single, hip, funky, cool Randy Robertson, who then proceeded to throw a bunch of hip, funky, and cool parties that were regularly attended by a bunch of young, single, hip, funky, cool people. As Mackie wrote him in Amazing Spider-Man Randy was the kind of guy all of us fellows used to know who seemed to take a vicarious thrill out of whether or not we were engaging in successful(or unsuccessful) relations with members of the opposite sex. However, an informal part of American culture seems to be that a recent widow(er) is allowed a period of time from 6 months up to one year to grieve for the lost partner before concerned friends and relatives take it upon themselves to try to reintroduce that person to the dating world. Now, I'm no Miss Manners or Dear Abby, so that's just stuff I've gleaned from life knowing a few people who've lost life partners. Of course, we all know that Marvel time doesn't move nearly in tandem with real time, so Randy's repeated urgings for Peter to find him a woman, or to hook him up with Jill (who was not only MJ's best friend, but Gwen's cousin to boot - tactful move there Randy) came across as the worst in bad taste. The ultimate act was to suggest that Peter sell some of MJ's stuff on Ebay to make some money to pay the bills. Fortunately, Glory Grant slapped Randy in the head - just a shame it stayed attached to his neck.

Conversely, Paul Jenkins' take on Randy Robertson was much different. In Jenkins' stories, although Randy was still interested in socializing Peter, the pressure was less intense and more from the perspective of being a concerned friend than looking for gratuitous fulfillment through someone else's life. Randy was also written here as a more mature young man and less hip, funky, and cool. However, after JMS took over Amazing Peter moved out and Randy is now also in supporting character limbo.

Does Jonah know?
Of course not. Did you really think he was going to? In Peter Parker #10, after a battle with Venom over Jonah (who Venom tries to kill for the umpteenth time), Spidey slumps into unconscienceness, and Jonah debates on removing his mask, saying "at last I'd know." Peter is made to squirm for nearly a year (our time) as Jonah stops buying Spider-Man photos and drops hints that he knows something, but in Amazing Spider-Man #20, we find out that Jonah chickened out and didn't look. Let's see, having been through the "does Jonah know" now for the third time, the first two in Amazing Spider-Man #169 (where it made the cover), and Amazing Spider-Man #193, the resolution turns out the same. This particular tease no longer has any drama or merit. Either let him finally find out or don't do it again. Frankly, I'm not so sure he doesn't already at least suspect. After all when he said "at last I'd know," with 8 million people in New York City - what makes him think he'd recognize Spider-Man's face? Unless he suspects it's someone he already knows. Even Joe Robertson, way back in Amazing Spider-Man #64 (before I think Robbie suspected that Peter was Spider-Man), noted that Spider-Man seemed all too familiar with himself and Jonah. And as good a newshound as Robbie is, or Ben Urich, who recently told Peter in The Pulse #4 that he had known he was Spider-Man for some time, you don't think Jonah is at least as good? But that's getting a bit off-topic.

Jonah needs to be seriously revamped as a character. He needs an article all his own (maybe someday) to discuss the various issues, but a few things need to happen (1) No more Jonah as hostage situations (Venom, Smythe, and the Scorpion keep going after him - and he was also Doc Ock's hostage in Death & Destiny) and (2) No more attacks on the Daily Bugle by supervillains (it was attacked as part of "The Eighth Day" in 1999, and twice this year - once by Venom and another time by someone dressed as the Green Goblin). Currently, between Brian Bendis in The Pulse and Mark Millar in Marvel Knights Spider-Man Jonah is undergoing some positive changes.

Another Mighty Marvel Money Grab
The Spider-Man/Punisher one shot was originally part of what had been a Marvel plan to re-tell certain classic stories with today's fresh, new, modern perspectives. Ultimately, it simply turned into another cheap money grab involving two of Marvel's more popular solo characters, because the re-telling adds nothing to what we already know about the characters. The only thing we get is some insight into the Jackal's thoughts now that we all know he was really Professor Miles Warren. Nothing new was learned about the Punisher's mission or agenda, and neither did we get any additional perspective on Spidey's feelings at the time, which occurred soon after the death of Gwen. Of course, this still didn't preclude Marvel from calling it a "Collector's Item."

The Annuals
Annuals are a curious thing. Theoretically, they should be a "big" story due to their once a year issuance and double length size. However, more often than not they are lackluster efforts, typically written by someone outside the regular creative team. The Amazing Spider-Man 2000 annual was not of the same wipe-your-ass-with-it-bad that say, the Peter Parker annual from 1999 was, but it is a complete mess. The plot is that a branch of the Scriers that seeks to overthrow Osborn's control kidnaps grandson Normie Osborn, and Spidey, in looking for the boy, meets a hologram of Harry Osborn, who leads Spider-Man to Normie and the Scrier splinter group, which Spidey dispatches with a little assist from a certain unseen person who specializes in neck-breaking. The problems with this story are almost too numerous to mention, but to start with, this marks at least the third time in recent memory Normie Osborn has been kidnapped. Also, Norman Osborn had already been deposed as the leader of the Scriers in the previous Peter Parker annual by his own madness as a result of the Gathering of Five, and, supposedly the real Scrier. This presumes anyone actually read the 1999 Parker annual, although I can't say I blame them if they didn't. A small faction did indeed remain loyal to Osborn and showed up later as the "Order of the Goblin" (shudder), but for the most part, Norman was already on his way out, thus sucking whatever motives this fringe element had right out the window. Then there was Holo-Harry, the computer program who became a real boy. Supposedly the splinter Sciers took all of the information about Harry and created a full-scale hologram of him, but in the process, all of the information supposedly congealed and he became a sentient being possessing memories that not even the Scrier scientists could reproduce (such as knowing that Peter was Spider-Man). And probably the most grievous problem - during a recollection, Peter remembers Harry being his best friend all through high school. In the reality we all know, Harry and Peter never even met until their freshman year in college.

In retrospective, if you were redoing the Spider-Man canon from the beginning, much like Brian Michael Bendis did in Ultimate Spider-Man, and as Sam Raimi did in the Spider-Man movies, it would be logical to bring Harry into the mythos as soon as possible. In a way, that makes the ultimate (no pun intended) sad resolution of their friendship even more tragic, and a better story. But, Spidey's origin was not being redone in this annual. Also, such a mistake might be acceptable for a new writer, but not someone who had been writing the titles for as long as Mackie had, and should have known the characters a lot better. In a way, it was the penultimate example of storytelling where both the writer and the editor were simply on autopilot by this time.

The Peter Parker annual, actually plotted by the one and only Chris Claremont and featuring amazonian female bounty hunter - er- Bounty - was pretty dumb, but actually enjoyable as a guilty pleasure. Peter seems far too careless about his secret identity, doing back flips in the bar he's working in (subbing for a sick Randy Robertson), and then when he takes on Bounty in the alley, he slips on his web shooters and displays his fighting prowess and spider powers in civilian clothes. The story also has strong West Side Story (barf) undertones as Spidey and Bounty try to save a couple of kids from rival gangs who have fallen in love and want to open a restaurant in Canada. But, it was fun to see Peter Parker relate to a woman on a totally non-sexual basis, as he and Bounty go from restaurant to restaurant, enjoying each other's company as each try to shake off a devastating personal loss, for him the loss of Mary Jane, and for her, the rejection by the man she loved - the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Michael Chiklis - er - Thing!

Erik Larsen speaks up!
Erik Larsen did some fill-in art for Amazing #19-21, which I thought was some of the worst art I had ever seen in a comic book. Aunt May in particular looked like the living dead. Turns out, Larsen hated the stories so much he basically phoned in his performance. He stated "Plus, in all honesty-- the stories aren't that fun to draw. This used to be an action-oriented book and now there's all this dull crap being shoved into the book-- I can't imagine a kid getting excited about Senator Ward and his problems. It put me to sleep drawing this stuff." It certainly looked it.

The arrival of Paul Jenkins
There was a definite cheer throughout Spidey land as it was announced that Howard Mackie was relinquishing his duties on Peter Parker beginning with issue #20 and then later Amazing. The problem wasn't Howard exclusively, but did illustrate that while letting one writer handle the writing chores on more than one monthly title for a character would seem to work in principle (I used to advocate it - used to), in reality it doesn't work that well. If the writer is in a rut, more than one title suffers, and even if the writer loves the character, burn out probably occurs just that much faster. Jenkins is lavishly praised by some, and not by others. I myself am in the middle. At times his personal, introspective type issues are brilliant, and other times it seems that he doesn't quite know how to satisfactorily wrap up a long story arc.

But Jenkins does understand that the way to humanize a character and make him accessible, is not to continually pound him with the massive tragedies, but to force him to endure the day to day indignities that life hands all of us. I happened to like Peter's failed attempt at stand-up comedy at the end of issue #21, though several readers loathed it. I also liked Peter mistaking a gay guy for a widower, which demonstrated just how socially clueless our hero is, and how much he actually needs Mary Jane to keep from seriously committing some major faux pas. On the other hand, the eating ice cream in the shower while singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" and then baring his ass to Randy and Glory Grant in a finale was a bit too over the top.

And of course, I can't mention Jenkins without mentioning the ill-fated "Typeface" villain. This clearly did not come off too well, but whatever was this villain's gig was botched by the requirement to participate in the Maximum Security storyline. But speaking of villains, his portrayal of the Sandman as a marginally educated thug who resented heroes such as Spider-Man because he was under the mistaken illusion that they were all popular high school athletes without any cares in the world was actually kind of touching.

Best story of the year
And it's not even a story written in the regular continuity or by one of the regular spider-writers. It's the Death & Destiny miniseries, by Lee Weeks. Originally conceived for Webspinners, the story was transformed into a miniseries upon the cancellation of that title. D & D is as perfect a "reimagining" as one can get. For one, it tells a completely different story relative to the death of Captain Stacy between Amazing Spider-Man #90 & 91, without contradicting or mitigating Stan Lee's original story. The only negative was the overused "Jonah as hostage" subplot. The story fit seamlessly into the established continuity, but allowed us to look at the characters in a new light since we know what later happened to them, such as oblique references to Harry's drug use, Peter's debating on leaning on Professor Warren as a father figure upon the death of Stacy, as well as the latter's suspicions about Mr. Parker (Peter claims to be calling from Aunt May's house, but Warren's pager shows that the call is coming from an auto body shop where Spider-Man has just clobbered a bunch of thugs), and foreshadowing of Gwen's death - with Peter promising Captain Stacy that he'll take care of her - a promise we all know that he was unable to keep. Where was this guy when the regular title assignments were being handed out?

Years later, I still consider Death and Destiny to be the best Spider-Man mini-series in the post-reboot era. And I still wonder why Lee Weeks hasn't been given another Spider-Man assignment to flex his creative writing muscles.

Worst story of the year

So bad, it was my choice for the worst Spidey story ever told. Ever. It's Amazing # 18 and PP #18, the resolution of the Green Goblin V storyline. My reasons have not changed since I wrote Ten Worst Spider-Man stories, and my full criticism of this story is included there. This is truly Spider-Man at its worst. Although I got soundly thumped on the Spider-Man Message Board for this perspective, and the article overall (you can tell how heart broken I am), I received some validation for this perspective at another web site called The Spider's Web, where the author stated, and I quote "Still, all things considered, it is not hard to see why these issues made the top ten list of worst Spider-Man stories over at the Madgoblin's Ward website, or why they in fact were the top story on the list."

Did I like anything this year?
Well, now that you mention it - I actually liked the two-parter in issues 15 and 16 where Peter went to Latveria in search of MJ. The story is only o.k., but the brief relationship between Spidey and one of the freedom fighters, who tells him she liked him better in costume (He has to remove his costume in order to blend in), and his comments to her that he plays the hero because someone simply has to stand up to people like Doom, is actually pretty good.

And although I've never really been fond of Venom, I think Mackie's portrayal of him was "on" this time. Venom can stay around as a villain, but he just isn't arch-nemesis material. He also isn't anti-hero and "protector of the innocent" material, although there was a big push a few years ago to make him just that. This time, Venom is a crazy, not so serious, "I wanna eat your brain" villain who simply seems to delight in sheer mayhem and destruction. Nothing deeper than that. Works for me.

In Conclusion
Marvel finally responded to the increasing wailing and gnashing of teeth during 2000, and replaced Bob Harras as Marvel EIC with artist and fan-favorite Joe Quesada. Alex Alonso replaced Ralph Macchio as spider editor, and Paul Jenkins, and subsequently J. Michael Straczynski, were brought in to helm the core Spider-Man titles. Quesada has taken his fair share of shots from the public, but right away he realized early that the spider-titles needed new blood. As fans we haven't agreed with all of his moves, but that is the subject for another time.

The purpose of this article is not to dig up Howard Mackie's bones and beat on them again just for the sake of sport. But - it's not just that there were a lot of bad stories or dopey villains - but it seemed that the character we had come to care about and follow for decades was literally being destroyed by those who supposedly were responsible for being the caretakers of his legacy.

For you see, Spider-Man is owned by Marvel, which has the right to try to make as much money as possible off him (ala "spider-berry" pop-tarts), but in a strange kind of way, he belongs to all of us as he has transcended his four color press origins and become a part of our popular culture. Considering that Spidey is the Marvel character most frequently requested for personal appearances, particularly at children's hospitals (there's a touching story by a Spidey impersonator in one of 2004's Wizards), you know that he's become something larger than his origins.

And that's why we care as much as we do.

Back to The Year in Review

Back to Spidey Kicks Butt!

Write me at MadGoblin

Copyright 1998-2006 The MadGoblin's Ward. All Rights Reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of the MadGoblin's Ward. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment.