Spider-Man 2005:
I've Been Better

One step forward. Two steps back. Two big steps and down into a bloody hole - kind of like our friend in the picture.

This article is the 7th in the series, dating back to 1999. In the previous six years, the article title seemed a fait accompli, virtually writing itself. But this year was harder because so many came to mind that could have been used. Some of the names I bandied about before settling on "I've Been Better" (which is based on an old joke - plus sort of sums up my feelings that I'm a little rusty and this article shows it) included:

Some common themes emerge, notably the padding of stories. In all of the years I have been reading Spider-Man, and that covers a damn long time (I’m one of Joe Quesada’s worst nightmares as a fan: I’m old, I’ve been reading for more than 30 years, I like the Spider-Marriage, I have a long memory, and am a continuity fanboy whore), I cannot think of a year where so many stories could have been told in literally half the time, or less. Whatever has been in Brian Michael Bendis’ Kool-aid must have oozed into the general drinking supply at Marvel. But even padded stories are tolerable if they’re good stories, if they lead somewhere, if there’s a point to be made once you reach the conclusion.

If, if, if.

It's not like there was a lack of significant events in Spidey’s world during the year. He finally became a full-fledged member of the Mighty Avengers, a development long overdue (in my humble opinion, but not one held by the majority, it seems), moved into Avengers Tower to hang out with the Superfriends after losing his childhood home, and finally shared his secret identity with his best superhero buddy, the Human Torch (yeah, plus virtually every other superhero in the Marvel Universe it seems, but I digress – that’s for later). Aunt May finds a man worthy of her, and Peter Parker goes on a journey through Life, Death and Rebirth, not to mention Paradise, only to discover that the latter was all a mad mutant’s delusion. Writer Peter David, one of the best of those who dabble in the four-color press, returns to chronicling the adventures of the webslinger. And in what surely must be one of the signs of the Apocalypse - Kevin Smith finished his Spider-Man/Black Cat miniseries! If on December 31, 2004, I had told you all of this was going to happen in 2005 - you would have salivated like a rabid dog in anticipation of getting your hands on these stories. This should have been a helluva year, maybe not up to 2004, yet close.

But things crashed faster and harder than a junkie who’s run out of blow.

We’ve got a lot of Spidey to cover, so keep this checklist handy, True Believers, because we’re going on a whirlwind tour through a veritable Spidey potpourri that includes the following:

And yes indeed, believe it or not:

I’m going to try something a little different this year than in recent years (although closer in style to the earliest years of these articles). Rather than strictly looking at the year via each title, I’m going to try to focus more on story arcs and story patterns, which make it easier when discussing something like "The Other."

Speaking of which:

The Other
I really wanted to like "The Other." Seriously. Now, I'm not a fan of "Events" because more often than not, they fail to deliver on their promises and they run in packs. I can tolerate them as long as they are the exception, not the norm, and as long as there is a solid story behind them. But where Marvel (and to be fair, DC as well) is concerned, there is no such thing as "infrequent events." When we get one, we get a zillion, with a new one always bellying up right after completion of a previous one. Frankly, this time around it smacks more than a little of fear and desperation as Marvel watches DC rack up sales and tons of publicity as a result of "Events" such as "Identity Crisis" and "Infinite Crisis." So now we have "House of M" and "Civil War" (11-06: which to be honest, is paying off big time for Marvel at this time; and for Spidey "The Other."

But I was hopeful. It's good for the titles and the character when Spider-Man is at or near the center of the comics world. There really hadn’t been a Spidey event since the pre-reboot days – I think "Spider Hunt" and "Identity Crisis" (whoa – that has a familiar ring to it) were the last two. That’s been at least 7 or 8 years. And there was the mystery of "Who is the Other?" heightened by those die-hard Ben Reilly fans who keep hoping beyond hope that the Spider-Clone will return (I think that’s even more far fetched than my beloved Baby May returning), and not surprisingly stoked by Marvel when they began to release previews of variant covers, one which featured the Reilly version of the Spider-Man costume. On the subject of the variant covers – I actually didn’t mind this particular gimmick, again, since it’s the first time in a long time – I think since the reboot – that Spider-Man comics have had variants. And this one really seemed a bit clever, similar poses with the variations of the spider-costume over the years, a whetting of the appetite for the new costume to be unfolded in 2006 (a subject which will not be dealt with in this article - that's for the 2006 Year in Review). If I wasn’t on such a tight budget these days (blasted mortgage) I may very well have scarfed up all of them. However, I think Marvel should have stopped at 9 rather than go the whole 12 yeards. Spider-Ham, the wrestling outfit from Amazing Fantasy #15, and the infamous Six-Armed Spidey from Amazing Spider-Man #101-102 were definitely bottom of the barrel ideas (although I do give Peter Porker fans credit for their loyalty to their hero). And I liked the way that Marvel handled the writing chores on this event. Rather than the bad old days of the 1990's when each succeeding part of an event was handled by the writers of that particular title - the effect was whiplash as the reader was buffeted from one writing style to another, and not necessarily getting a coherent story in the process. By assigning the first nine parts in three "chunks" to each of the three spider-writers, irrespective of title, it seemed that the story should flow more consistently.

I will admit, however, that since the title of this event was identical to an old book and horror movie from the 1970's, I began to have cause for concern - which skyrocketed when it was revealed that "The Other" was a sequel of sorts to the infamous Ezekiel-Morlun-Shathra-Totem-Mystic SpiderCrap that I loathed from the day that J. Michael Stracyznski first began scribing the spider-mythos. Again, I shouldn’t have been surprised – JMS telegraphed the return of Morlun the Morbius Variation Vampire back in Amazing Spider-Man volume 2 #46 (when Doc Strange is in Peter’s mind – we see a picture of Morlun with a caption of "I'll be back.")

It’s that weary feeling you get when you see a sequel to a movie or TV series that either very few people liked, or simply didn’t lend itself to a re-telling. While the whole Ezekiel and Mystic Spider storyline did have some intriguing possibilities, it was snuffed by the all-too frequent appearances by Doctor Strange, the Marvel character that JMS clearly would rather be writing, too much mumbo jumbo and gobbledygook substituting for dialogue and legitimate plot devices, and a storyline that simply meandered for three years and whose ending barely limped over the finish line. I don’t think I’m off base to suggest that the fans who actually liked this storyline were in the minority, and that the collective Spider-Man fan community exhaled with great relief when it was over.

And then "The Other" was revealed to be Ezekiel-Morlun-Shathra-Totem-Mystic SpiderCrap II. And the collective Spider-Man fan community groaned.

I like to consider myself a fair-minded person. I even defended the revelations of "Sins Past,"(although not the story as it ultimately played out) and still do, regardless of how unpopular that opinion is. Now that was an event that came closer to cracking the internet in half than during the ridiculously overzealous, overhyped and outright insulting touting of the "return" of Hawkeye during the "House of M" miniseries. Fans crapped all over "The Other" before the first issue was even released, ranting and raving about how much it was going to suck. It seemed tiresome, infantile, narrow minded, and grossly unfair. At least let the story play out before you criticize it, people.

And then they turned out to be 100% right about the whole thing. I’ve found that crow doesn’t taste too bad if you put a lot of steak sauce on it. Rather than regarding "The Other" with interest and a healthy amount of legitimate skepticism, the fan community correctly pegged it as a writer’s stubborn refusal to simply let go of a plot device that really didn't work the first time around. And what was also really, really sad about this is that the spider editors were clearly out to lunch or somewhere when this story was proposed. After all, it seems like a retread of stories that had only been told a year before! Spidey got beaten to within an inch of his life during the first part of Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man epic. Not to the extreme that Morlun clobbered him, but pretty bad. And then there was the whole Spidey “dying” and being reborn with new powers, bursting out of a dead spider body in Paul Jenkins’ serious miscalculation of a story during Spectacular Spider-Man (issues #15-20).

Basically, here’s the story in a nutshell, which ran through all three Spider-Man titles during a period of four months:

The End

That’s it? That’s friggin' it?

Where is the story? We didn’t get a story, with a real beginning, middle, and end, we merely got an overlong prelude to what may or may not be more stories in the future, depending how long JMS stays on the title.

Look - if people are going to get excited about an event that most are already skeptical of, it needs to start out with a bang, six shots to the groin, a body crashing through a window, a sultry bad news vixen with an offer our hero can’t refuse – something to suck us in and hold us so we don’t let go until the ride is over. Kind of like Millar's 12 issue run on Marvel Knights Spider-Man, in which the first issue opened with Spidey taking down the Green Goblin and ended with the kidnapping of Aunt May by a long time villain who has discovered our hero's secret identity.

But "The Other" just meandered all the way from Part 1 to Part 12. At the end of Part 1 Spidey gets some bad news from the doctor - but we don't know what about. And we don't get any answers in Part 2, because the story doesn't even focus on Spider-Man, but on Mary Jane. I like Mary Jane, always have, but her story is peripheral to the major event, which is Spidey's illness. This would have worked as a stand-alone story, but stuck into this "Event" it's a momentum killer. At the end of the story, Spidey shares his bad news with Mary Jane, but we still don't know what the news is. During Part 3, we get no where on this story because writer Peter David actually had another story in process with a new villain, but then had to shoehorn that into "The Other" (Spidey fans will remember the same thing happening to writer Paul Jenkins, the villain Typeface, and the "Maximum Security" crossover). So, the storyline about the new villain, Tracer, and his machine subjects, essentially becomes a subplot that just peters out (pun intended). The end of Part 3 is identical to Part 2 - a family member discovers that Peter is sick, but we still don't know what of. Folks, I am THRILLED to see Peter David back on a Spider-Man title on a regular basis. I wonder what took Marvel so long to ask him back, and after reading Spider-Man House of M, I'm incredulous that Mark Waid could even be considered for a regular gig on a Spider-Man title over PAD, as he originally was for Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man (which was nameless at the time). But even then, the story just never gets out of the starting gate. I am eagerly awaiting post-"Other" PAD beginning with FN Spidey #5.

And the story limped along with Reggie Hudlin, Black Panther writer, and BET executive, but whose Spidey stories, even his non-Other story (there was only one) never really caught on. In Part 4, the panic button gets pressed as all of Spidey's superhero buddies try to figure out what's wrong - but none of them do. Spidey flies to Africa to hang out with the Black Panther and flies out to the Southwest to talk to the Hulk's alter ego - but none of them tell him anything other than he's sick, which we as the readers already knew three issues ago. At the end of Part 4, Doctor Strange (it isn't a JMS Spidey story without Doctor Strange showing up) tells Spidey he’s going to die - but of course, doesn't tell him what of. That's more than a month and 88 pages of NOTHING! And then Part 5 really becomes whacked, with a time travel story that seems like a trip back to classic 1970's Gerry Conway/Len Wein badness (don’t misread me, I’d liked Conway’s and Wein’s runs on Spidey in the 70’s – but after all, it was the ‘70’s, ‘nuff said). Perhaps not quite as absurd as Aunt May nearly marrying Doc Ock, but Aunt May and Mary Jane waltzing into Latveria dressed in Iron Man armor, taking out Doombots and other assorted nasties, has got to rank up there. And that absurdity seemed so needless. While Spider-Man tells his family that Doctor Doom has "the only time machine in existence," I don't think this is true. Doesn't a fellow by the name of Reed Richards always have a time machine handy? But I must admit, I wasn’t as honked off as a lot of people by the girls in Iron Man armor because there was a certain amount of nostalgia in its badness. It reminded me that there was a time when our comics didn’t have to be so darn gritty and realistic, when they were prone to a forgivable amount of absurdity because, well, they were absurd, escapist entertainment. I mean, we are talking superheroes here. To me, the real crime of this part of the story is not that silliness, but the actual trip through time that followed.

Think for a second - what would you give to be able to see people you have loved and lost – to be so close to them that you could almost touch them? What would it be worth to see your parents in the prime of their lives, before your sorry, ungrateful little hiney came along and forced their hopes and ambitions to take a back seat to raising you and your puking, crapping, snot-nosed siblings? To see them before they got old, worn out, and beaten down by a lifetime of responsibility, pain, and broken dreams?

It should have been a beautiful story all its own, not sandwiched in between a lot of silliness and repetitive story elements. Peter, convinced that he is dying, decides to take MJ and May on a trip into the past, to the Forrest Hills of yesterday, to the day that his mother and father departed on that fateful mission to spy on the Red Skull (although that Skull was not the real Skull, but was a pretender, but that’s another matter beyond this article - check with your local Captain America expert), leaving him with the people who would become his true parents, Ben and May Parker. I honestly felt a little choked up as May silently watches younger and healthier versions of herself and Ben with baby Peter. No dialogue is necessary – the gentle smile on her face says everything about a lifetime where joy and tragedy have walked in lockstep with each other, but at this moment, she is only focused on the joy. Unfortunately, the mood is spoiled by a totally contrived and false dramatic scene where Peter runs out of the Parker house, chasing after his parents, begging them not to leave. If I had gone back in time and seen my father alive and in his prime, I probably would have just sat in the corner and quietly bawled my eyes out and not made any ridiculous dramatic attempts to engage him (which admittedly, does lack a certain amount of drama), as did Peter. Ironically, just minutes earlier he explained to May and MJ that they were essentially “invisible phantoms" that couldn't be detected.

In fact, Hudlin seems to have been the master of mischaracterization during his time on “The Other.”

Part 6 is one of the few parts where anything really happens – the big battle between Spider-Man and Morlun, which ends very badly for Spidey. Once upon a time, I would have raged relentlessly about the moment where Morlun rips out Peter’s left eye and eats it, about how gross and disgusting it was, particularly in a comic featuring a character who features prominently on small childrens' underwear. But you know what? I didn’t really care. For one, I've become desensitized to crap like this – to shock moments that are totally devoid of true shock or substance. And thanks to previews and internet spoilers, we all knew this was coming, and we all knew that it was going to be all resolved in a nice neat happy package because Spidey was going to somehow regenerate everything back. It wasn't even a particularly dramatic moment. Although we got another “never been hit that hard before” moment and another "crashing through the windows of the Daily Bugle" cliche.

And frankly, it just galls me that of all the villains to beat Spider-Man to within an inch of his life, it’s a lame nobody like Morlun. Not Osborn. Not Doc Ock. Not Venom, be he Brock or Gargan. Not even anyone else in the classic rogues gallery – but a villain who I can almost guarantee will NEVER show up again once JMS leaves the series.

The next arc, written by JMS, focuses on Peter’s death and rebirth. It’s also the part with the most mumbo jumbo as well as appearances by Spider-god, and Peter’s inexplicable transformation into more of a spider than a man when he attacks Morlun in the hospital. A lot of the dialogue seemed regurgitated from the old Ezekiel storyline and Spidey’s first meeting with “The Great Weaver” or whatever Spider-god’s name was. Nothing seemed particularly new or interesting, just a rehash of what we didn’t care for the first time around.

Not to say there weren’t certain things that I liked – most notably MJ’s attack of Morlun in Part 7 to prevent him from feeding off of Peter’s life forces (or whatever the hell he “eats”)– when she knows that she has no hope of surviving this confrontation. This of course represented another “editors at lunch” moment, when MJ’s arm was clearly snapped in two by Morlun, but the injury never again was seen or referred to in subsequent parts, although to Joe Quesada’s credit, he came out and admitted this was just a flat-out error (11-06: and then dealt with very humorously by JMS in a later issue of Amazing). And then, Peter, even though near death, instinctively arises from his hospital bed to protect her from Morlun. Yeah, there was the part with the stingers, but I’ll discuss that later. I also thought it was interesting to see the preparations that were being made by Tony and Mary Jane about how to handle the public disclosure of both Peter and Spider-Man’s deaths, but in such a way that the connection was not made, and that Spider-Man’s secret identity would die with him. While I agreed completely with Tony in this case, that the secret would have to be maintained in order to prevent old enemies from taking out May and MJ as a “consolation prize,” I was surprised to not see MJ at least consider the possibility of disclosing the secret, so that everyone would know what kind of man Peter Parker truly was, and that he would receive the hero's sendoff that he deserved. In fact, there was simply a whole lot more that could have been done with this premise to begin with.

With Morlun dead (again), let’s consider what we never did learn during the entire story:

Now, someone may remind me that we didn't know everything about Spidey's classic villains the first few times we met them, either - particularly the Goblins - whose identities remained secret for years. But there's a big difference - we knew the Goblins were coming back - and we wanted them to come back. Can’t say the same for Morlun. And sadly, we probably haven’t seen the last of him if JMS stays on the title.

The last quarter of the story, rather than the conclusion, the culmination of where the entire “epic” has been leading, is really more of an epilogue than anything else. In fact, I don’t think we really even had a conclusion. First of all, we don’t know the extent of Peter’s new powers. And when we saw them, they were within the auspices of yet another tired old plot device, the collapsed building from which Spider-Man has to rescue both himself and innocents. Yawn yawn yawn. Not to mention, we never really saw a true fight with “The Other” or whatever that thing was that ate Spidey’s old carcass and became sentient. Spidey and the creature just did a little dancing, exchanged some mumbo jumbo and the creature ran away. Not much of a finale if you ask me. The best moment was a disguised MJ flipping Jonah "the bird" (which was cleverly obscured by a bird) as she and Spidey swung by the Daily Bugle building. Loved that one. And then there’s the return of Flash Thompson as a teacher at old Midtown High, where Peter is also teaching. Both of these moments are courtesy of Peter David in Part 10. While it would have been interesting to have seen Flash undergo a more prolonged recovery period, rather than go quickly from mental vegetable to back on his feet (although with some parts of his memory missing), frankly, the Spider-titles need the old Flasheroo, as well as the rest of the supporting cast that has been too long ignored (or killed off over time).

I believe that I stated in my 2004 Year in Review, that I am not opposed to revisiting Spider-Man’s powers. Frankly, I think he’s due for an upgrade. While not in the same heavyweight class as the Hulk, Thing, or Thor, he is Marvel’s flagship character, and as such, he should be among the most formidable of figures in the Marvel Universe, much like Superman and Batman are for DC, in different ways. Also, considering that he first obtained his spider powers at 15 - wouldn't it be logical for him to become much stronger and more proficient as he matured? But not only am I not in awe of what I’ve seen so far, there's so little we know, even though we spent twelve issues and four months getting to this point! And answer me this – does Spider-Man have organic webshooters or not? Oh, perhaps it’s implied when he talks about “feeling the vibrations,” through the web – but ever since that occurred in the Spectacular story arc last year, it has been mentioned a grand total of two times – and neither of those (New Avengers, Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries) were even in the core titles! You would have thought that as his stingers, “night vision,” enhanced spider sense, and other things began to kick in, he would have at least referred to these in the context of the changes he’s already gone through! I mean, Mary Jane even mentioned to him during Part 2 about what she perceived as his “death wish,” citing the fact that he didn’t have an indicator light on his web cartridges when they got near empty (which he has had before - in Amazing Spider-Man #297 - and I want to thank "Bev" and "Mike" for providing me with the issue number when I couldn't remember it) – this would have been a logical moment to bring up the organic webshooters! Damn, I used a lot of exclamation points in that paragraph. I’m just incredulous how so much of this storyline appears to have taken place in a vacuum from the rest of the Spider-Man Universe.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a story about Life, Death, and Rebirth, although it’s admittedly been told numerous times in numerous places. And it could have been good this time – but it never seemed properly focused – the emphasis seemed to be in all of the wrong places. For example, say there are three sections of four parts each, rather than 3 sections of 3 parts, with a 3-part epilogue. The first section should have been about Peter getting the news of his impending demise (and us finding out exactly what it was), making peace with the past, seeing old friends and settling old scores as a person would when they think they're going to die, and the end of Part 4 being the confrontation with Morlun and Peter’s death. The second arc would have been about death, the reactions of the people closest to him, and the possibility of a world without a Spider-Man. I would rather have spent at least an entire issue dealing with the fallout of Spider-Man's "death," or at least his beating and subsequent disappearance, which was known. How would Jonah Jameson have reacted to his savage beating? Norman Osborn? Joe Robertson - who probably knows the true identity of our hero? Matt Murdock? Felicia Hardy? Felicia would have shown up at Avengers Tower in a heartbeat. So would have Johnny Storm. There was a time period of at least five days between Spider-Man’s thrashing and Peter’s “return,” plenty of time for us to have seen what the reaction would have been. Admittedly, any of this could have been explained with various characters being out of town or pre-occupied (it seems that Matt Murdock is going through some additional problems right now), but their absence seemed all too conspicuous and convenient. And the final arc would have been about Rebirth and the eventual reflection and re-prioritization such an event would have caused. However, one would have to be careful not to turn the story into a ridiculously maudlin and overlong self-indulgent grab for every stray dollar out there like the 1990's "Death of Superman" saga – and perhaps JMS et al foresaw that this is exactly how it might have been perceived, and therefore focused on other things.

I guess what I’m trying to say, as I often say, the idea wasn’t bad. As is the case 90%+ of the time, it’s in the execution where the story fails, and that’s the case here. This event could have been much more than it ultimately was.

But Marvel made a lot of money and probably story quality considerations came in second, which makes EIC Quesada’s self-congratulatory comments at the end of the final chapter even more grating, because it should have been apparent that while a commercial success, this series was a critical failure, with more than just us aging fanboys dissing it. If you didn’t pick up your stash at the comics shop on Wednesday or Thursday during this first six months or so of “The Other,” you were screwed, at least until the second printing, that’s how fast they were flying off the shelves. For various reasons I don’t want to get into right now, I do not have a favorite shop where I have a pull list, and so I was doing a lot of scurrying to ensure that I got each and every part of this story in order to share my opinions with you, my valued readership.

Sad events such as that will no doubt convince Marvel that the whole thing was a huge success and we'll get another one just like it. Sigh. We simply never do learn, do we?

New Avengers
One of the more controversial events of the year was the announcement that Spider-Man, along with Wolverine, was becoming a full-fledged member of the Avengers, or The New Avengers, as the rebooted title would be known. And of course, there was the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth primarily for the following reasons - all of them quite valid in one way or another:

Anyone who has read my Spider-Man: Team Player? article back at the home site knows that I like the idea of Spider-Man being an Avenger, and think it is a development long overdue - at least for the moment. I never understood how Marvel could advertise the Avengers as “The World’s Mightiest Heroes” with a straight face when the team carried around too many instantly forgettable second and third stringers. Also, I feel that most arguments for him not joining a team are not as valid as they used to be, for one. But the primary reason I like this is that membership in the Avengers represents fertile storytelling possibilities that haven't been plowed in the character's long history – and believe it or not folks, Spidey is steadily chugging towards 50 years of history. And unlike marriage, death of supporting characters, new powers, clones, and accelerated aging super-powered bastard offspring, this is one of the easiest things to undo. Whenever the concept of Spider-Man being an Avenger is no longer viable - he either quits or is fired - simple as that.

How the New Avengers came together is pretty simple. Spidey's old enemy, Electro (and it’s always nice to see a member of Spidey’s classic rogues gallery figure into such a major Marvel event – someone who actually had Electro’s powers were be a seriously bad-ass dude) - orchestrates a massive jail-break at Ryker's Island - the home of 87 of the world's most dangerous super criminals, in order to cover up the escape of one of the inmates, Sauron. Absorbing all of Manhattan’s electrical power and channeling it through the prison, he overloads the security system and creates an A-1 catastrophe. Matt Murdock, accompanied by his law partner Foggy Nelson and Luke Cage, is already there to see Robert Reynolds, the mysterious superhero known as the Sentry. Jessica Drew, Agent of SHIELD, better known as the first, and probably the best, Spider-Woman, escorts their party. The explosion and subsequent power outage draw the attention of Captain America, Spider-Man, and Iron Man, who with DD, Spider-Woman, Cage, and an assist from the Sentry, who takes out the deadly symbiote Carnage by flying him into the vacuum of space and literally ripping him in half, are able to put down the riot, but not before 46 super fiends escape. Captain America sees this as a sign to get the Band back together (wait, that's The Blues Brothers), I mean, to get the Avengers back together. With the exception of Daredevil, who feels that he would bring too much personal baggage and undesirable scrutiny to the Avengers, the newly constituted team tracks Sauron to the Savage Land - you know, where Ka-Zar hangs out Zabu and various assorted dinosaurs. They want to find out just why it was so important to bust Sauron out of prison. The evidence is leading to SHIELD complicity in the prison break itself. Turns out that the local Savage Land pigmies wanted Sauron for as of yet unspecified motives, but that's not all. In addition to Sauron, the Avengers also run into Wolverine, who’s tracking Sauron himself, as well as a rogue SHIELD contingent using the local population to mine Vibranium, the wonder element of the Marvel Universe. The sudden, and suspicious arrival of the SHIELD helicarrier puts the entire operation out of commission with lethal force, and leaves the Avengers with two dangerous and disturbing missions: (1) corralling the rest of the prison escapees, and (2) finding out who or what is turning SHIELD rotten to the core in the absence of Nick Fury (whose initiation of the Secret War made him persona non grata).

It was a promising start, an interesting story with a lot of tantalizing loose ends that will hopefully be followed upon, with Spider-Man as usual providing a healthy helping of comic relief. Some of his better lines

Other good moments included:

Still, I had some quibbles:

"The Sentry" (issues #7-10) is a Superman-like character created by writer Paul Jenkins (who actually shows up in an amusing cameo) that appeared in several one-shots with various other Marvel superheroes during 2001. He was one of the greatest heroes of the Marvel Universe whom no one remembered because he had the knowledge of himself blotted from humanity because every time the Sentry appeared, his destructive alter ego "The Void" would also appear. I guess the Void was the Sentry's "Monster of the Id" for those of you who remember Forbidden Planet as more than just a line in the opening song of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There is no way I can do justice to the Sentry or to the ideas that the original miniseries was supposed to explore, so you're on your own there.

That said, I don't really care for the Sentry. Nothing against Paul Jenkins, or Bendis for wanting to bring him back, and I understand that he is not as much a Superman clone as he is a commentary on what it would mean to be such an incredibly powerful character with various psychoses. But a character this powerful creates one of the problems that I had with the original Avengers, besides their lame line-up. I didn’t care for the emphasis on science fiction related adventures, trips to outer space and confrontations with crazed demi-gods and goofy looking aliens. The Sentry is so powerful, essentially that means you have to up the ante on the villains that the Avengers fight, which means we're back to crazed demi-gods and goofy looking aliens. As Spidey noted in issue #13, after the Avengers meet with a mob of murderous maniacal ninjas – the Sentry could have cleaned up the whole mess in 3 minutes. But, I'll be open-minded and see how Bendis uses the character.

The best moment in the Sentry story was actually a subplot with Spider-Man and Woman, Cage, and Wolverine trying to corral one of the escapees, The Wrecker of the Wrecking Crew. Spider-Woman gives off powerful pheromones when she’s under a lot of stress, which makes men extremely susceptible to suggestion. This renders the Wrecker vulnerable to an onslaught (no pun intended) by the other Avengers, but also messes with the minds of the other guys, which provides a humorous moment when they all realize just why they suddenly started having the hots for Spider-Woman, particularly Spidey and Cage, who are already in committed relationships! There is also the revelation of the existence of a covert group comprised of Reed Richards, Professor X, Namor, Black Bolt, and Doc Strange that apparently influences the course of superhuman events - which feeds into Marvel's The Illuminati. Otherwise, this story was pretty much a snoozer.

The next story "Ronin," (issues #11-13) revealed the identity of the mystery figure that had been featured in publicity photos for New Avengers since before the title even debuted. Ronin was supposed to be an existing Marvel character, and speculation was rampant as to his/her/it's identity. Daredevil (although Bendis had suggested the character did not currently have their own title)? Shang-Chi? Elektra? Iron Fist? Silver Samurai? Speaking of the latter, he was one of the 46 super-criminals (for some reason, Cap tells Murdock the number was 42) who escaped from Ryker's. He was quickly spirited away to Japan, possibly as an attempt to strengthen the Hand's (a Japanese crime cartel) to attempt to control the Japanese underworld, an event Cap tells Murdock cannot be allowed to occur. True to their primary mission of tracking down the escaped convicts, the Avengers travel to Japan in pursuit of the Samurai, without realizing that Cap already has someone on the ground, recommended by Murdock (who continues to rebuff his offers of Avengers membership).

The revelation of Echo being Ronin, frankly, just sucks. Actually, the beans were spilled even before this issue was released by another publication, Avengers: The Ultimate Guide, because New Avengers almost immediately began running late (which has since been remedied). I didn't have a friggin' clue who Echo even was. Fortunately, the internet being what it is, I was able to find out that Echo (aka Maya Lopez) is a deaf Latino woman who was actually raised by the Kingpin, yet fell in love with Matt Murdock. She was the subject of the Daredevil story arc that took place after Matt took over as the Kingpin of Hell's Kitchen (a story arc I did not read because Bendis did not write it). As Echo she has a white hand stain that covers most of her face, the significance of which I have no idea.

I wanted Ronin to be Murdock, like I'm sure a lot of people did. Oh sure, it was too obvious, and if it had happened this way, then fandom would have complained about how obvious it was. Still, I think she's far too obscure a character for us to have been teased this way – but Marvel seems to specialize in hype with little or no payoff. At least we weren’t promised that the internet would crack in half when Ronin stood revealed. Ronin heads off to parts unknown at the end of the story, but I suppose we'll see her again, although I'm not waiting with baited breath.

In the Ronin story, we also get the hint that something even bigger is going on in the background, and that someone isn’t just manipulating and screwing up SHIELD – they’re also dabbling with Hydra as well. Whether or not this has anything to do with the revitalization of Hydra in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, or is another case of increasing inconsistencies in the Marvel Universe I don't know. The best moment of the story is after Luke Cage is literally knocked out of a tall building by the mob of murdering maniacal ninjas, we see several panels of him calmly taking the elevator back to the top floor, silly elevator music playing in the background, and then literally coming out swinging again once he’s back. There is also a joke about Spidey's increasingly less secret identity that fans concerned about the current explosion in the number who know will appreciate.

Probably my favorite New Avenger story, as well as my favorite story from Amazing Spider-Man this year ran from issues #519-524. I think it's one of JMS' best Spider-Man stories since he signed on five years ago (man, has it really been that long? I'm going to have to do some research, but in these days of revolving creative teams, that's a pretty good length of time), although it tends to suffer from a weak ending like so many others. This story has a lot of good things going for it, including:

Still, the end of the story was less than satisfying. I know - after all, Spider-Man nearly sacrificies his life and literally saves millions of lives and the entire nation from collapsing. What other kind of ending do I want? It just seemed that the story failed to make it past 1st and goal again, as several of these stories appear to do lately. It's hard to pin what really went wrong. Maybe it's just the off camera aspect of the final battle with Hydra. We spent five issues stalking them and their sinister plot - and the Avengers team shows up at the end of Part 5 to do some serious butt-whomping, and all kinds of chaos breaks out in New York - but it's mostly dealt with in a flashback as Tony relates the story to Peter, who's recovering from his heroic effort. It almost qualifies as a Mackie moment. Rather than a six-part story, what we got was a five-part story and a prologue and avertisement for "The Other." And I've been there, done that, ain't belaboring it.

Spider-Man: Breakout
This mini-series, written by Tony Bedard, is a marginal entry for the New Avengers section, primarily because Iron Man and Captain America show up a couple of times, and because the events of the story were precipitated by the breakout that occurred in New Avengers #1. But if I had a caveat emptor award, this series would get it. That’s not to say it’s a bad mini, because it’s not. It’s actually a pretty intricate and fascinating story once all of the pieces finally fall into place. But here’s my problem – while it was called Spider-Man: Breakout, there was really no need for Spider-Man to be in this. It wasn’t about him, nor did it provide us with another perspective on him or one of his classic villains (such as last years’ Negative Exposure or Doctor Octopus Year One - they weren’t really about Spider-Man either, but they were from a third-party perspective on his world - although to be fair to Bedard - in this series Peter does actually agonize a bit more about whether joining the Avengers is the right move - moreso than in New Avengers or his own titles!). In this series, for the most part, Spidey’s just a glorified supporting character. The story is actually about two supervillain teams - one irredeemably evil (led by Crossfire), the other with some of their residual humanity left (the U-Foes), and the prison administrator that both are hunting. Of course, if the series were named U-Foes vs. Crossfire, it would have sold 5,000 copies if that. And, of course, mysteriously, it took five parts to tell, just like most of the other minis in 2005.

Each supervillain team is hunting for the aforementioned prison administrator who betrayed them (stealing money from one team, technology from another), and are looking to take out each other if they can. The plot is so complicated in fact that numerous pages are taken up explaining just how the various scams worked. Turns out the administrator is something of an altruist who was using the villains' money to take care of single mothers and fund other charitable causes as a means of seeking redemption and healing wounds inflicted upon her during her own upbringing. When all seems lost, Spidey uses a clever little tactic to call for help, and Cap and Shellhead come to the rescue. At the end, the really bad bad guys are going to jail, the simply bad bad guys are still on the loose, and Spidey comes to the conclusion that being part of a team isn't such a bad thing.

Like I said before, plenty of action and a well conceived plot - but a bit misleading if you were looking for a Spider-Man story. One scene I must confess I liked, however, was with Mandrill, the talking baboon villain whose potent pheremones have women of all races and species swooning over him. He tells the women that he currently has enthralled at a shelter (Crossfire wants them kept there as hostages) that he wouldn't tell the other guys this, but sometimes he just wants to be held.

Spider-Man and Friends
I remember a faithful reader asking me if I thought that Luke Cage and Spidey could become "buddies." My response was that I didn't think that Spidey would be buddies with anyone and I still hold to that but – they seem to get along quite well, considering that Cage is a big, burly black dude who went to the school of hard knocks and Peter is a sensitive white mama’s boy. There were some good moments between the two in the House of M series that I’ll discuss later. I was kind of surprised, but then again, it actually makes some sense. As really devoted Spidey fans remember, Cage and Spidey first met way back in Amazing Spider-Man #123, when JJJ hired Cage to take down Spidey after the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn. After the required hero/hero misunderstanding and tussle, they made up, and in an unusual bit of foreshadowing, Peter tells Mary Jane "Just had a talk with someone - and it made me suddenly realize - Hey, I'm not really alone after all." When you think about it, the two actually have some things in common:

During the House of M series, it was Cage who was the most sympathetic to Peter when both discovered how fracked up the universe was (yes, I watch the new Battlestar Galactica). Both learned that their significant others in their own universes were doing just fine without them, thank you very much, in these new universes. That has gotta suck.

Captain America is the icon, the legend from Uncle Ben's era of whom Peter is still quite in awe. He can never bring himself to believe that he is in Cap's class, no matter how many times Steve tries to reassure him that he belongs in the pantheon of heroes. Some of it is probably similar to how many people of my generation feel when we look upon World War II veterans, for example. I remember when I was in Washington DC at the Tomb of the Unknowns, surrounded by old men with ball caps identifying the aircraft carrier on which they served during "The Big One," and I felt totally unworthy of even being in their presence - particularly since I have never served in the military. Although Cap doesn't really qualify as a father figure - Spidey probably pegged it right when he described him as a really, really older uncle in New Avengers #2. Cap likes Spider-Man, but being a far more serious person, doesn't always understand his sense of humor or the function that Spidey's levity actually serves, and has a tendency to lecture the younger man too much - although as the years have passed and Cap has worked at Spidey's side more, the lectures are more from the perspective of an older relative who cares and doesn't want the kid to come to harm as opposed to any perceived notions of superiority. The "Bucky" flashback in Amazing Spider-Man #523 as Spider-Man rides the rocket (get your minds out of the gutter) is a grim reminder of how much Bucky's "death" (although as we now know - Bucky isn't dead!) traumatized Cap and how determined he is to never lose another young partner. Cap has been through so much in his life and career that he has likely forgotten that he may very well have not differed much from Spider-Man when he was young and arrogant. While there is considerable mutual respect, the generational gap will prevent the two from being close friends.

So far, I’ve been very surprised at how well Peter and Tony Stark are getting along. Tony is becoming almost a mentor to Peter, a big brother type figure, which will play prominently into the upcoming Civil War event. That relationship puzzles me. For the most part, they have gotten along – although Shellhead could be very patronizing to Web Head at times. Stark is a driven, wealthy elitist, who changes girlfriends like underwear. Peter is a working class hero, brilliant, but undisciplined (or "brilliant but lazy" as characterized by Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2) , and someone like Tony Stark would never be able to understand how a Peter Parker would fail to put the pieces of his life together and become just as much of a scientific and business mogul as himself. Plus, Pete’s a one-woman guy, stay at home and watch TV type, always has been, and has never been a partier or carouser like Stark. But then again, Tony certainly knows what it’s like to battle one’s innermost demons and to be almost destroyed by them – so perhaps his life experiences have made him less judgmental as he’s grown older.

I don't expect Spidey to have any significant relationship with Jessica Drew. Their meetings in the past have been few and far between (considering that she has bowed off the stage in favor of another Spider-Woman more than once), and there is no discernable chemistry between the two. I will be curious to see if Jessica and Mary Jane develop any kind of friendship, since, well, after all, they are currently the only two young women living in a predominantly male bastion.

Spidey's relationship with Wolverine is the most potentially interesting, but probably the most complex one and can easily be poorly written (like it was at the end of Marvel Knights Spider-Man #13 - I can see the two slapping each other around a little bit and Logan putting a few scratches on him as an object lesson - but I can never see Logan just skewering him right in the chest with his claws). Plus, there is that little salient fact that has never been follow upon (except in a non-continuity novel) - that Logan knew and once worked with Peter's father when the latter was a SHIELD agent (Untold Tales of Spider-Man -1). Neither really likes the other. Peter considers Logan too violent and too willing to kill - and lumps him in with Punisher and Ghost Rider as vigilantes whose attitude sickens him. Conversely, Logan considers Peter young and naive, foolish at times, with unrealistic notions of how the cold, cruel world really works. Deep down, Logan respects Spider-Man (in House of M #3, when Logan realizes that reality has been altered, and he can't find Charles Xavier, the next name he comes up with to try to contact is Peter Parker), probably more than the reverse is true. He knows that Spidey is a fighter and can be counted on in a battle, but also just can't resist being the schoolyard bully at times, pushing the younger man's buttons because he knows he can, just to see how much crap Spidey will take before losing his cool.

To Sum Up
As I've stated, I think it's a good move to make Spidey part of a team for a little while. After so long being on the outside looking in, it provides for some new reading experiences to see Peter Parker hang out with other superheroes, to develop new kinds of relationships with them - and to see Mary Jane and Aunt May take part in his world once in awhile, as opposed to always being kept in the dark or at arms length by him. I like it so far that it appears that the "New" Avengers are going to be a little more grounded than previous Avengers teams - dealing with more domestic and street level threats (which is why I think that Luke Cage is a good addition, even though I grow weary of Cage's status as one of Bendis' favorite sons - look, no one, but no one should bust Norman Osborn's chops other than Spider-Man). To me, it's the Fantastic Four who go into outer space and fight crazed scantily clad blue-skinned women, and the Avengers who take on the Hydras, the AIMs, and the other more earth bound lunatics. If Spidey makes one too many trips to the old Final Frontier, it's time to take May and MJ out of the Tower and find a 2 bedroom ranch. And the day will come when those stories will have been told and it will be time for Spider-Man to reclaim his loner and inconoclast status. And I will drop New Avengers faster than Angelina Jolie can ruin a marriage.

Our House is a Very, Very, Very Weird House
I'm a sucker for parallel universe and time travel stories - particularly if they are done well. After all, I've done an entire series of articles on my website called Alternate Spideys. These stories give us the chance to see what our heroes would do with challenges and in circumstances they would never face in their "real" universe.

And that brings us to an event that summons memories of the "bad old days" of the 1990's, when company wide crossover events were the rage in a less than subtle desire to suck an already diminishing readership base for as much as possible before the whole house caved in, which it almost did. More recently, DC was taxing both the wallets and patience of their fans with crossover events such as Our World at War and The Last Laugh. But, DC was nothing if not persistent, and it ultimately paid off with the hugely successful Infinite Crisis and 52.

So, not to be outdone, Marvel launched Avengers Disassembled, and then House of M, another Spawn of Bendis in 2005, and 2006 is going to bring us the Civil War. To say that House of M came with usual Marvel Megahype is to say that the Pope is Catholic. Both statements are equally obvious and can be taken for granted. But this time, Bendis really outdid himself by saying that the end of issue #3 of this 8 issue miniseries (and numerous offshoot miniseries) would "crack the Internet in half." He should get some kind of award for that one. I'll bet Stan Lee wishes there had been an Internet in his day just so he could have said something like that during one of his famous hyperbolic moments.

Really, House of M is just another overblown X-Men event disguised as a Marvel Universe event, even if the New Avengers are mentioned prominently on the cover. Therefore, Spider-Man is just a bit player in the mainline miniseries - but had his own five part mini tie-in, written by Mark Waid. When last we left Avengers Disassembled, the Scarlet Witch had lost her mind, whacking Avengers Vision, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man. Her father, Magneto, took her away to Genosha, former land of mutantkind, and as House of M opens, he and Professor X are trying to help her back to sanity. Unfortunately, it's not working, and Wanda's tenuous grip on reality continues to crumble, and threatens to take everything with it.

House of M
The first part of this mini starts off with a chilling premise - the superhero community, mostly the Avengers, old and new, the X-Men, and Doc Strange (wonder why not the FF? Or at least Reed Richards - since he's held in high esteem by virtually everyone in the Marvel Universe and his opinion would be sought out) - have to face the question - what do you do when one of your number is completely out of control and whose powers are so great they threaten to destroy reality as it is known? It's kind of like the unspoken contingency plan that Peter once told Mary Jane about at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #495 (August 2003), where all superheroes size each other up in the event the time comes where they lose control, or are controlled by an external force, and have to be taken down. While the players on each side of the debate are fairly predictable - i.e. Captain America and Spider-Man are against executing Wanda - Wolverine and Emma Frost are all for it - it's still an interesting and uncomfortable discussion. Grasping for a solution, the combined teams journey to Genosha to see Wanda, to try to come to a conclusion over what must be done - only Wanda, at least it seems like Wanda at first, has other ideas.

In a burst of white light - the Marvel Universe is turned upside down. A new universe (not that New Universe) emerges where mutants are the majority of the population and the ruling class, lead by the House of Magnus - Magneto and his family. Humans, known as "saps" (short for home sapiens), are the oppressed minority and are dying out. All of the various changes are too much for me to go into detail here - but where Spider-Man is concerned - he is a beloved billionaire world famous celebrity wrestler/actor/scientist/philanthropist, married to Gwen Stacy and with a son, Ritchie. Uncle Ben and Captain George Stacy are also still alive. Mary Jane Watson is a famous movie star in her own right, and has no connection to Spider-Man or Peter Parker other than appearing in a movie with him (ironically, playing Gwen Stacy). This doesn't seem too far off from an old Roger Stern story in Amazing Spider-Man #246 (November 1983), in which several characters, including Peter, imagine their perfect world - and for Peter, he's a famous scientist who's discovered a cure for virtually everything and superteams Fantastic Four and the Avengers are fighting each other over who gets to claim him as a member.

Wolverine is the first to realize that there's something wrong with the world the way it is (he currently has his full slate of memories, which as long time fans know - much of his origins and history are shrouded in mystery as he no longer remembers most of it), and eventually comes across a young girl who also knows that the world is broken and has the ability to make others who stare into her eyes realize it as well. Wolverine takes her to the human resistance movement, led by Luke Cage (and which includes an alive and well Hawkeye, supposedly the "internet cracking" revelation), and then Scott Summers and Emma Frost - each regaining their memories of their previous lives. They soon gather an armada of the old heroes together after restoring their memories - but the process is painful, and for Peter Parker, it is particularly devasting, so much so that he is afraid that if given the opportunity, he will kill Magneto and Wanda with his bare hands (everyone assumes that it was Magneto who created this universe using Wanda's powers).

The heroes travel to Genosha and engage the forces of the House of Magnus (and I'm leaving out a lot), but then Doctor Stange learns that it wasn't Magneto, but Wanda's brother Pietro, aka Quicksilver, who suggested that she use her reality altering powers to create this new world, where their father's dream of mutant supremacy is realized. Magneto turns on Pietro after realizing what horrors he has visited upon the world, and Wanda, having enough of her family at each other's throats, speaks three little words before the world goes white again:

"No More Mutants."

The world is put right once again - but with a twist - virtually all of the world's mutants, with the exception of the select few (essentially the "money" players in the X-Men like Wolvie, Cyclops, etc.) are depowered - and normal. It's Wanda's final revenge against her father, whom she feels destroyed his children's lives as a result of his obsession with mutant supremacy. Most of the world will not remember the House of M - as apparently only those within Dr. Strange and Emma Frost's protective sphere during the final battle will remember. But one of those who does remember is Peter Parker - who remembers his marriage to Gwen Stacy, that his Uncle Ben was alive, and who remembers - his son - who no longer exists. And the memory is tearing him apart, so much so that he begs Strange to take the memory from him - but Strange cannot.

You know, folks, this wasn't a bad story. Oh sure, it dragged a bit toward the end - and sometimes you wondered just what the heck was going on at the end of issue #7 - but it held my interest. I think that many times we are so sick of the hype machine, and how nothing is ever going to be the same again, and how lives are going to be changed, and how for some characters this will be the most significant blah blah blah. We're tired of it - and sometimes we see the stories through these admittedly jaded lenses. I re-read it prior to writing this article and came to the conclusion "not bad, not bad at all." Plus, long time Marvel fans will enjoy all of the little references to other characters and events. Some other observations I had include:

But there's some good stuff. I'm not an X-Men fan, so I'm not an expert on Magneto - but I can completely relate to his agony as a man who feels that he has failed his children - and that he has sacrificed their happiness and well-being on the altar of his own obsessive quest. Even he has no other solutions to the problem than perhaps a merciful execution of Wanda - and it is clearly tearing him apart. Excellent characterization which makes him a more three-dimensional character. It's a shame the X-Men films haven't delved into this part of Magneto's life, but that's probably because there's only so much story you can tell in a two hour movie. Contrast this with Norman's Osborn's relationship with his children, specifically Harry. Norman is clueless to how he contributed to Harry's self-destruction, and feels he bears absolutely no responsibility for the misery he inflicts on the people he supposedly loves (which admittedly - there never have been that many).

As discussed earlier, I was quite surprised to see the largely unspoken, but definitely there, bond between Peter Parker and Luke Cage. The latter is quietly supportive of Peter through this whole ordeal, more than anyone else. When Kitty Pryde wonders if the increasingly moody Spidey will be ready for the big battle - Cage quietly responds "He'll get it together." In the final issue, Peter is freaking out because he can no longer stand having the memory of his House of M life, and begins smashing up the table in the conference room. Tony Stark, who doesn't have memories of the alternate history, begins to move toward Peter and express anger at the destruction of the table, only to be stopped by Cage, who says "You'll buy another one."

Spider-Man: House of M
I suppose if I'm in the downstairs bathroom, which always seems to be short of toilet paper, instead of asking my son to run to the upstairs bathroom and get me a roll, I could always direct him to my comic boxes and pull this out. Yeah - I think it's that bad, which is pretty disappointing to me on a couple of fronts (1) there's few things worse than a good idea gone bad and (2) I wasn't familiar with Mark Waid's writing, but I had heard he was good, particularly his last stint on The Fantastic Four, and fans revolted when then-infamous Marvel President Bill Jemas tried to fire him and change the tone of the book. But, after hearing Waid's opinions on the Spider-Marriage, and reading this mini-series I think Spider-Fans are fortunate that he changed his mind about writing the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man title, leaving that in the more than capable hands of Peter David.

As we learned in the companion title House of M - Peter Parker has what should be the perfect life. And everyone loves him - with one exception - his public relations manager J. Jonah Jameson, whom Peter put on the payroll when he purchased the Daily Bugle years ago. Peter treats everyone around him with respect - except Jonah, whose life he makes a living hell by relentlessly berating him. Although Peter pays Jonah exceptionally well, and increases his salary after every instance of belittling him, JJJ is still bitter and resentful.

While Jonah is stewing, the Green Goblin approaches him and gives him Peter Parker's journal, which exposes the terrible secret that Peter has been keeping from everyone, including his own family - that he is not a mutant as he has been claiming, but received his powers by accident. A human trying to pass off oneself as a mutant has committed one of the gravest offenses in this society. Speaking of Goblins, Norman Osborn is now out of a job because his business has been purchased lock, stock and barrel by Spider-Man, Inc., and he learns from Gwen that the reason for the purchase was essentially to destroy all of Norman's work - which was weapons manufacturing. Hmmm...

Jonah uses the journal to out Peter and his secret, which brings grave recriminations upon the Parker family. Their assets are seized, and Peter is a fugitive. Not only does the journal explode Peter's secret, but it also seems to be a blow by blow accounting of how the regular Marvel Universe unfolded, with the deaths of Uncle Ben, Captain Stacy and Gwen, and Peter marrying Mary Jane Watson. The Green Goblin appears to the Rhino, who was Peter's bodyguard before everything crashed around them, and offers him the chance to further destroy Peter. The Goblin, however, has been double-crossed, as the Rhino wants revenge all right, but against the person who gave JJJ Peter's journal. The Rhino, with the assistance of his buddies the Ox, Vulture, and Electro, unmask the Goblin who is revealed to be - Peter Parker. Apparently, Peter felt so guilty about his "perfect" life that he outed himself.

The exposure of Peter's deception has far reaching consequences in this society - as the mutant heirarchy uses this as an excuse to crack down on the human population. Peter sees only one way out of the whole mess - staging a fake suicide. Later, Magneto receives a note that says "If you want me to stay dead, ease up on the humans." The final scene is the Parker family in seclusion in the mountains on a camping trip, with Peter happier than he ever has been. The end.

I could go on and on about what was was wrong with this story, but let's start with:

Not to say that there aren't some good touches in the story:

I Bryne-stole rather than purchased Son of M #1, which prominently featured Spider-Man, because, frankly, I felt burned by the Spidey M title and was not spending another $3 on any of them. Unfortunately, Son of M featured what should have been dealt with in the regular Spider-titles - Peter's agony, and his anger at Pietro for creating the House of M world and Peter's fantasy life - which no longer exists. Peter is besides himself with grief for the son he lost, and for the fact that his so-called "perfect" life did not include the woman to whom he is married to in the "real" universe. Spidey wants to beat Peitro to within an inch of his life, and who can blame him? Could the fact that House of M is not being referred to in the regular titles be JMS' and Peter David's silent commentary on what they thought of the whole thing? It sure doesn't appear like they're going to refer to it any time soon, if at all. The only reference to it in a Spidey-related title is New Avengers, which is a Bendis penned title - and House of M was Bendis' brainchild.

Now here's where I drift into personal territory, but it's the best way I can illustrate that I totally related to Peter's grief in Son of M. As everyone who’s read my columns knows, I have two children, a girl and a boy. Every once in a while, I joke to my wife or mother that the kids aren’t mine, and I know that sounds bizarre and cruel, but you’re not there and you don’t hear the jokes and context, especially since both kids definitely look like the genetic mixing of my wife’s and my chromosomes (poor little things). Most of the joke revolves around the circumstances upon which we had them. Without going into graphic detail, my wife and I had to have the assistance of modern medicine - particularly where my son was concerned – and when the boy is acting goofy, I tell my wife that the doctors mixed up the samples and gave her the wrong ones.

Well, one day, probably around the time my son was 18 months to 2 years old, I was talking with my mother and just joked “but what if he isn’t mine?” And then she came back with a devastating comeback that showed that she wasn't as totally whacky and senile as I had been led to believe all of these years.

She asked “Does it matter now?”

If you recall my treatise on turning 40 years old - Confessions of an Aging Goblin - I talked about how when he could barely walk or talk, my son greeted me at the door every day after I came home from work, with the Spider-Man DVD in hand, and made a beeline for the basement and OUR CHAIR, where we could sit together and watch the Spider-Man movie. And then there were all of the times we spent together when my wife and daughter were out tending to my daughter's dance stuff. We'd play with his cars, his train set, and even watch The Wiggles. But don't tell anyone.

In other words, it didn’t matter whose genetics he had. It didn’t matter if he had been grown in a Petri dish, found in a cabbage patch, was from the sperm of Howard Stern, or was a strange visitor from another planet whose spaceship crashed in my backyard. He was MY son. And I would want to kill with my bare hands anyone who tried to take him from me.

That is the source of Peter’s real rage in Son of M, moreso than ending up with Gwen Stacy rather than Mary Jane. As was made clear in the excellent Earth X: Spidey one-shot from 2001, it isn’t so much being married to Gwen rather than Mary Jane that Peter wanted – it was to live in a world where Gwen never died – where Peter never had her blood on his hands. But now he has what appears to be three or four years of raising his son – and then all of a sudden - he now has no son. Unlike the faith of religious people (which I believe that Peter is religious, but the writers have wisely avoided specifics) – if the boy had actually lived and then died,(as supposedly Baby May did - but that's a real can of worms these days) - Peter would have the hope of seeing him again in the afterlife. But this is far, far worse – the boy never even lived – but Peter still has the memories.

That's why I found it totally in character for Peter to want to kill Magneto and Wanda when he originally believed it was their doing, and then turned his wrath on Pietro when he discovered he was behind it. If it had been me in the Spidey suit with the super powers, Pietro would not have survived. And I suppose that's why I don't have super powers.

Other In-Continuity Tales
This week, we go on a whirlwhind tour of the remaining in-continuity Spider-man tales, with two notable exceptions, for reasons which should become clear in a couple of weeks. But let's get started:

A Molten Man by Any Other Name
"Skin Deep," which ran from Amazing Spider-Man #515-518 was simply a blah story featuring a Molten Man derivative. JMS even acknowledges the similarities to the Molten Man in the story. In another one of those high school classmates of Peter’s that we didn’t meet during the original Lee-Ditko run, or even the Kurt Busiek "Untold" run – Charlie Weiderman is a nerd much like Peter Parker, called "Weinerman" by Flash Thompson and the gang of bullies. Except Charlie was even more pathetic than Peter and that allowed Pete to consciously deflect some of the bullying from himself onto Charlie. As a result, Peter has always had the guilt of his behavior nagging at him, so when Charlie suddenly shows up one day with a half-cocked idea of using vibranium to create super suits for the military, Pete lets Charlie use his name as a reference for Charlie's interview with Tony Stark. Charlie lies about the extent of Pete's involvement in the project to get the grant from Stark, but takes too many dangerous short cuts. Peter threatens to rat Charlie out to Stark, but before that happens, your CONVENIENT LAB EXPLOSION occurs, coating Charlie's body with the vibranium and turning him into Molten Man redux, and him nuttier than he already was. He kills people, goes after Peter, and burns the Parker house down.

But, there really isn’t much to recommend it – its primary contribution to the Spider-Man mythos having the antagonist destroy the Parker down which prompts the move into Avengers Tower in issue #519. There are a handful of good scenes:

In the end, a story that could easily have been told in two parts is stretched out to four so that it could fit in a trade. Not a particularly insightful revelation, I know, but it is what it is. Don’t go looking for this one in the back issue bin unless you’re a completist.

Paul Jenkins Says Good-Bye
For some people relatively new to the titles, it’s hard for them to understand just what Paul Jenkins meant in the panorama of Spider-Man history, particularly if they measure him by his lackluster run on the third coming of Spectacular Spider-Man. But for about 18 months, Paul Jenkins was the only thing positive in the Spider-Man titles. The Mackie-Byrne post-reboot match up was one of the lowest points in Spider-Man history, and JMS' run on Amazing really didn't start working until after the first Morlun story ground to a halt (many say it still hasn't started working, but that's overly cynical). When Ralph Macchio replaced Mackie with Jenkins beginning with issue #20 of Peter Parker: Spider-Man, Jenkins focused on short, character driven stories that were completely divorced from the whole Senator Ward/Captain Power trash going on before. He gave us a wonderful Uncle Ben story (issue #33) and one of the best Green Goblin stories ever in "Death in the Family." Therefore, a lot of us cut him some slack when the endings of most of his multi-part stories fell flat, when he got continuity wrong, when he went to the well too often with a particular concept, and when he turned in a couple of truly dreadful stories last year.

Paul's last Spider-Man story in issue #27, which was also the swan song for Spectacular is really just a retread of two other stories that featured Peter reminiscing about Uncle Ben. Peter remembers the times that he and Ben built snowmen (in various positions and locations, much to Aunt May’s chagrin - "You pair of twits!" being her frequent statement), and he also remembers when his parents were alive and he was a bug in his first grade school play and botched his big moment on stage. Yes, this is yet another continuity fiddle, since it was established earlier that Peter was little more than a baby, a toddler at the most, when his parents died – certainly not school age. Jenkins gave us a couple of Uncle Ben stories in Peter Parker (issues #20 and #33), so he’s going to the well again – and really isn’t telling us anything new. Still, on its own, it is a sweet story, and I do like the final scene, though, where in Peter’s dreams, as a young boy he is center stage taking a bow, and Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are also taking a bow on each side of him, with various members of the rogues gallery behind them. And if Uncle Ben has always been portrayed too uncomfortably close to a saint all of these years by other writers, Jenkins gives him a goofy side which makes him no less likable, but much more human – and also serves as a precursor to what eventually became Spider-Man’s trademark wit and prankster personality. Plus, several panels, drawn in a tribute to the "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip, keep things light-hearted.

Peter leaves a box at Ben’s grave, which May later finds and opens, responding with a soft, teary "Oh." One of my faithful readers thought he was missing something and asked what it was. My response was that I believe that Jenkins deliberately left it up to the reader to imagine what Peter might have left behind. Was it a picture? A note? A trinket special to the two of them? What would you have left behind?

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s an Uneven Satire
Fans of my articles have heard me say this more than once – it’s one of my mantras. If a title is created to showcase a particular writer, artist, or creative team, then it should come to an end when said writer, artist or team leaves because it has fulfilled its purpose. Otherwise, it usually just meanders along. The best example of this during the 1990’s was the No-Adjective Spider-Man title, created as a forum for Todd McFarlane, then the hottest artist in comics. McFarlane did the art, the writing, and had made a conscience decision to set his title somewhat askew of the regular Spider-Man universe with a not entirely fitting horror angle. However, MacFarlane left after issue #16, and after that, No Adjective simply became another Spider-Man title. It should have been cancelled. I had great trepidation about whoever replaced Mark Millar, whose year long story arc, although uneven and with a couple of really incredulous moments, still ranks as an epic adventure and one of the top 25 Spider-Man stories in my opinion.

Reggie Hudlin never really had much of a chance. Dissed by fans because he was another media person writing comic books (which has been leveled at J. Michael Straczynski and Ron Zimmerman – the latter making it way too easy for his critics by shooting himself in the foot a couple of times) – although Hudlin had been writing Black Panther, he really only tried his hand at one original story (or two – considering "Wild Blue Yonder" is really two stories wrapped into one six-part arc to feed Marvel’s insatiable trade paperback habit). His next story was his contributions to JMS’ "The Other," and then he was off to be an executive at BET. So, he never really had a chance to get his sea legs on Spidey.

That said, "Wild Blue Yonder," in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #13-18, just doesn’t click. It could be the fact that it’s a six-parter comprised of two separate and totally disparate stories, both of which might have been better if they had been the "A" story in two different three part tales, or better yet, two two-part tales, because this thing seriously drags at the end. The Ethan Edwards story seems like it wants to be a riff on the Superman legend – basically, what if Superman, with his squeaky-clean image, was forced to toil in the more cynical Marvel Universe? And there’s probably something good there – but the problem is that we bounce from story to story, with each losing momentum every time the gears are shifted. Turns out that Ethan is really a shape-shifting super powered Skrull. He almost goes wacko, but it’s up to Aunt May of all people to talk sense into him and save the world. With Hudlin now gone, Ethan will be another character left in limbo, never to be seen again, and no one will care. Speaking of such characters, Hudlin also introduces yet another high school classmate of Peter’s we never heard of before – a girl name Laurie Lynton – and while he must have had something in mind, since she makes a cameo appearance during Hudlin’s portion of "The Other," whatever plans he had for her has likely left with him.

The "B" story involves the Absorbing Man, the Owl, and some female hit person who also learns Spidey’s secret identity when she lifts his wallet – but the knowledge dies with her when the Absorbant One caves in her skull. In an interesting twist, the Absorbing Man, during inhaling some powder up his nose, is turned into a street drug and sold. People who take a whiff of this stuff wind up with a small modicum of his powers, with no understanding of them or ability to control them, often with devastating results. But the rest of that story is pedestrian, and not helped at all by the art of Billy Tan, who was a poor fit for the title. It was not Humberto Ramos awful, or even Pat Lee bad, but I just didn’t care for it.

I’m not too sure why people got bent out of shape about Peter's behavior in issue #13 when he catches what he believes is Wolverine flirting with Mary Jane. First of all, Peter has always walked around with a chip on his shoulder. Off the top of my head, this was the guy who exploded in Johnny Storm’s face in Amazing Spider-Man #21 (February 1965) when the latter sent Betty Brant away in tears after wrongly accusing Peter of making a play for Dorrie Evans. This is the man who slammed Flash Thompson against the wall in issue #80 (January 1970) when he thought Flash was seeing Gwen Stacy behind his back, who just about punched out JJJ during the "Robot Parents" storyline when Jonah wanted to do a story on Peter’s parents, not to mention all of his hot headed behavior as Spider-Man, picking fights with the entire Fantastic Four and Avengers on separate occasions. Yeah, he’s older, but still prone to, as Mary Jane succinctly stated "Flash Thompson flashbacks." Wolverine probably was flirting with Mary Jane because he likes redheads and also because he simply likes to push Pete’s buttons. I do think, however, it was out of character for Logan to stick Peter right in the chest with his claws, but I’ve already discussed that.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name
O.K. – pet gripe. I touched on this a little bit earlier in my look at the House of M, but I want to say a little something more.

I know that in the real world, there would be no secret identities. Not in a world of spy satellites, electronic eavesdropping, heat signatures, DNA identification, and 24 hour news channels. Superheroes and supervillains are not elusive like good serial killers – they are in the public eye way too often and can be easily followed and tracked. And frankly, anyone who hung around Peter Parker for any length of time would have long figured it out. Spider-Man has historically been seen most often in three areas (1) Empire State University (2) The Daily Bugle and (3) Queens. It doesn’t take too long to run a computer program using public and other records and put it together.

That said – this is getting ridiculous. He’s simply getting way too sloppy.

As utterly silly as the idea is, I'm actually beginning to agree with some of the posters on the boards that there should be some huge mind wipe event that takes out the memory of Spidey's secret id from everyone except the following: MJ and May (in my opinion, keeping this information from his wife and mother figure would make him an inconsiderate scumbag. You don’t keep stuff like this from your wife- and I think that during the regular continuity – he was becoming irresponsible in not telling Aunt May), Felicia Hardy (I think Felicia’s recurring presence is essential to maintaining the “Betty and Veronica” tension that made the 1960’s and early 70’s era fun), and Norman Osborn (hey – Norman’s gotta know). And he would no longer be a member of the Avengers after this happened.

Although it would make for some interesting stories if Peter were outed, and would probably be more realistic, but for the character to remain viable – he can’t have a public identity. His career as Spider-Man would be over (11-06 - I know! I know! But that's another article). Look at the trouble Matt Murdock is having. Peter would be spending all of his time in court because all of the insurance companies would sue his butt off for all of the property damage caused during his battles, not to mention every crook he pulped, bystanders who might have been hurt or suffered “emotional distress” during the fights, and every Federal and state law enforcement agency would be after him. You simply can’t let someone dress up in a pair of long underwear and go around beating up people, even scumbags who deserve it (which oddly enough, may play right into the upcoming Civil War). Admittedly, the whole superhero concept and the whole construct of the Marvel Universe is totally unrealistic anyway – so we have to live with a certain amount of absurdity in order to simply enjoy the stories. What fun would science fiction be without “warp drive” and “time travel” - two concepts, which are utterly impossible, based upon science as we now understand it?

Where am I going with this? Nowhere – I’m just ranting a little.

No Norman? No Doc Ock?

No problem. Let's let them rest another year or two.

Better Never than Late

Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men do
I don't know and I don't...well I'll be damned.

When this miniseries first debuted, we were reveling in the joy that was Spider-Man, the first movie. I could invest some ink in how ridiculous it is that this thing came out three years late - but look, Smith has already fallen on his sword, apologized, and everything else for it being late. He's aware of it, Marvel's aware of it, and they've all learned their lesson (I hope) when dealing with Kevin Smith, that his movies are more important than his comic work, so let's just move on and talk about the story.

That said– what a waste. I actually thought the first three parts were pretty good, with the exception of the fact that no way Felicia gets the drop on Spidey and knocks him to the ground and incapacitates him – no f’in way. Part 3 ended on a horrific cliffhanger with the possibility that Felicia would be raped – and therefore Part 4, which is how long the series was originally supposed to run - should have had the rescue and the final climatic battle with the villain. Garrison Klum, the crime lord in question, was appropriately slimy and villainous, with the apparent ability to make people OD by teleporting massive doses of heroin into their bodies. But rather than the wrap up – we get an overlong treatise on the evils of unwelcome sexual advances as we find out that Garrison’s brother and prime lackey, Francis, was also a teleporter, and Garrison was molesting him which is why he’s an emotional basket case. Then we find out that Felicia was raped in college, which motivated her to become the Black Cat – when it was already long established that it was her twisted sense of loyalty to her father and her own warped perspective on life that led her to become the Cat. Admittedly, a spoiled little girl becoming a well toned, formidable fighting machine and world class athlete who can hang with the super powered crowd just because she was looking for Daddy’s love is quite a stretch, and Smith probably figured Felicia needed an element of anger and revenge to supplement her motivations. Still – it’s already Felicia’s character that she is somewhat misguided and off-centered. Maybe not a criminal anymore – but there are reasons why she and Peter’s relationship wasn’t permanent. While I was strongly opposed to her being turned into a complete twit during her time in Spectacular Spider-Man some years ago, I just don’t see her as a good girl who always fights on the side of the angels and makes the “right” decisions. Her moral ambiguity is one of her character’s strengths.

Some fans were turned off by Felicia’s double entendres, particularly references to doing “the nasty,” with Spidey – and it is legitimately debatable whether you want that in a Spider-Man book that kids are going to read (“Mommy – what’s the nasty?” “Go ask your father”) – but at least that’s Felicia talking, and not Peter Parker the hero. Felicia’s flamboyant sexual behavior actually serves the purpose of accentuating just what an ordinary, kind of square and morally conservative guy that Peter Parker really is. In many ways, he is still the class nerd, even though he’s Spider-Man and no longer wears the big glasses. That’s what a good supporting cast does – illustrates other facets of our hero’s personality so that he doesn’t have to go around wearing a big sign that spells everything out. And it is interesting that Smith has Felicia beginning to legitimately respect and admire that aspect of Peter’s personality – which she originally disdained. This was also somewhat underscored in Mark Millar’s 12-part “Shush” epic when Felicia offered to go into prison and bust Norman Osborn out alone, rather than allow Peter to do something he felt might morally compromise himself.

If the story had finished as originally planned, it would have been a relatively good story – not a classic, but a welcome reunion of Spidey and his former ladylove. But upon returning to the story three years later, we get a terribly padded denouement that was likely stretched from one final part to three because it would have been silly to solicit only one part of a four-part story so long after the previous three were released. In fact, the last three parts don’t even flow logically from the first three, which began as a grim crime caper, and then veers off into a talking heads story. Parts 4, and 5, which bring Daredevil and Nightcrawler into the story are totally unnecessary (although it is pretty funny when Peter dredges up some of Matt’s goofy behavior over the years – the curse of being a decades old character with one long string of continuity) and consists primarily of needless exposition on mutant history which has nothing to do with the story.

Then there was the crap like Felicia repeatedly screaming Peter’s name out loud while he’s in costume and pounding the crap out of a supposed villain? And Peter not saying anything to her about it? And Peter appearing in public arm in arm with Felicia Hardy (as many celebrities have found out, sunglasses and hats do NOT do a very good job of concealing one’s identity – particularly with that flowing platinum blond hair. At least in "The Other" all of MJ’s dazzling red hair was hidden – AND no one on the ground could see her anyway. And I doubt that JJJ recognized her middle finger among all of the other middle fingers he’s probably received in his life)? And don’t get me started on the Kingpin selling a disfigured Francis Klum the Mysterio costume and hardware, even though we already have a new Mysterio to replace the one that Smith foolishly killed off and Marvel even more foolishly allowed to happen. Now, the idea of a Mysterio who does actually have some powers is interesting – but then again, that’s not really Mysterio. The gimmick behind the great domed one is that he’s a fake – a creative fake – but a fake nonetheless. It’s like the old Scooby Doo mysteries where all the monsters were fake. You knew that, and the hook was how the bad guys pulled off their fakery and that they would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.

But then again, for a book that is already three years late, if you’re a Marvel editor, you’re just glad the thing is done so you can publish it and stop having to having to look sheepishly at your feet whenever someone asks (1) "When is the book coming out" and (2) "Why did you solicit the series before Kevin Smith even completed it?" It’s been a profoundly embarrassing event and Marvel just wants it over with – so my editor pillorying in this case has mitigating circumstances.

Frankly, we’ll probably never see this story referenced again. I don’t see Smith writing another Spider-Man story for a long time, and I don’t see any other writer referencing it. As much as a continuity fanboy whore that I am, this is one of those stories best left buried.(11-06: And I would be wrong - yet again - as a story arc in the following year in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man demonstrated).

But I really do like the art of Terry and Rachel Dodson, particularly their women. Sigh. I think they only have one basic female face, but it’s still a gorgeous one.

Secret War
That high pitched squealing you hear in the background is the wallets of the Marvel faithful who were suckered into paying a full freakin' $4 per issue. What's sad is that for the first three issues, it was actually worth it, and then it was saddled with a limp resolution and The Unbearable Lateness of Being. I'm partial to painted art, and although I thought the inks were too heavy and the colors too dark, I still thought it was an attractive looking package. And the best part - it was PACKED with dialogue. Bendis gets a lot of flack for his decompressed stories over in Ultimate Spider-Man, but he had no such problem here. These were not books you could get through before you finished your average crap, or even are able to read while driving your car on the interstate (not that I ever do…I’ve just heard stories…yeah), and once you got through the story, then there were extras such as Nick Fury’s interviews with various villains and others that illuminated other parts of the story, and hero and villain profiles, ostensibly from Fury’s point of view. My favorite was Captain America’s call to SHIELD after being attacked “by one of those Goblins that’s always fighting Spider-Man.” This was a great meld of what’s good about comic books – plenty of hard-core material to read plus pretty pictures to look at.

Somewhat like Evil That Men Do, it's much too easy to bash this comic, particularly for its lateness. Supposedly, the series was dreadfully late (what should have been 5 issues released quarterly, which would have been 12 months from stem to stern – took almost two years) because the artist complained that he was given too many villains to paint. Not sure what to make of that. I mean – big event – lots of superheroes – lots of supervillains – lots of fighting – kind of comes with the whole superhero comic book thing. He knew he wasn’t signing on to do a still life portrait. But I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, so I’m not one to sit in judgment on an artists’ timeliness.

But, as with the Kevin Smith story – it’s over, the lateness has been acknowledged, and hopefully, Marvel has learned its lesson. I think they have because it wasn’t long after announcing the Stephen King/Dark Tower project, it was almost immediately postponed to 2007 – which reading between the lines – they weren’t going to be getting that out on time, either if they tried to start it when originally proposed.

Anyway, this story begins with Luke Cage being attacked and rendered comatose, and this has something to do with a covert action that involved Cage and several other superheroes that none of them remember. We then flashback a year where Nick Fury is becoming real suspicious of all of these poor, dumb super villains who knock off the equivalent of candy stores with high bucks high tech hardware. Following the money trail, he discovers that they are being funded by the new Prime Minister of Latveria, Lucia Von Bardas, who replaced the departed Victor Von Doom with the full approval and support of the US Government. Fury believes that she is ultimately planning terrorist attacks on the United States, but he is blown off by the current administration, which has too much skin invested in the game with Ms. Bardas’. So, Fury figures he has to do this his way – by illegally recruiting a rag tag group of superheroes to travel to Latveria and bring down that government. This group includes Spidey, DD, Captain America, Wolverine, Luke Cage, the Black Widow, and some teenage chick I never heard of.

A year later, we find out that the mission succeeded, but Ms. Bardas is coming back for revenge, and she nearly gets it in a big big way that involves a bomb, and an all out battle between a dozen of superheroes and assorted villains.

O.K. - I liked the cool battle that happened in parts 4 and 5. I liked most of the art. I even thought the first couple of parts of the story were a great lead-in and I couldn’t wait for the rest. And then not only did the story get delayed past the point that anyone cared about it anymore, but ultimately let us down by completely avoiding the deeper issues that it raised, and by not giving us the story that we were promised in the first place.

First of all, you’re a superhero who believes in truth, justice and the American way, and Nick Fury comes to you and wants you to help overthrow the legitimate, US recognized government of a foreign country. And there’s no debate? No discussion? No angst? You just say “sure, Nick, no problem.”

No way.

Now, politically, I agree with Nick Fury. Get the MF's before they get us and just kill them. Don’t negotiate; just kill them and anyone who associates with them. That’s how you ensure no more 9-11s. You f**k with us – you die - and your little dog, too (easy to believe, simple to plan, but damned nasty, ugly, impractical and foolhardy to casually implement, which is why we don’t let the Nick Furys or the MadGoblins of the world make the rules). So, I’m not debating the story over Fury’s motives…but several of the characters should have – and we should have seen that debate. Peter Parker probably more so than anyone else would have had serious problems with this. He already felt in way over his head just being there. And he tends to lean a lot left of Fury in the first place. Wolverine and Black Widow would definitely share Fury’s worldview. I really have no idea how Daredevil and Luke Cage would think – but you think that Cage of all people would find it pretty unpleasant to be used as a pawn in someone else’s political agenda, especially an old white dude's. And most of all – where does Mr. Star Spangled Banner Captain America fall in this debate? Why did Fury pick this particular cast? Seems to me if you’re gonna fight a war with someone, you’re going to need more cold-blooded killers on your crew than Logan – so where’s Frank Castle? Why pick someone like Peter Parker with all of his personal angst and issues? Duh, J.R. - because Spidey’s the most popular character in the Marvel Universe and because we know that dopes like you will buy it if we put him in there.

Got me there.

We should have seen the friggin’ Secret War. For a series called Secret War, we actually saw next to nothing of the Secret War. We spend two issues with the buildup, assembling all of the characters, and then we skip the main event and deal with the fallout. WTF?

We get one of the banes of my comic book reading – the introduction of the new character that winds up taking center stage in the story even though they are neither as interesting nor popular as the heroes that we’re buying the book for. This time, it’s Daisy Johnson, daughter of Mr. Hyde who can cause earthquakes and various things, including Wolverine’s heart, to explode. Maybe she’s not a new character, but the final part places her at the epicenter (pun somewhat intended) of the story’s conclusion, which just pissed me off.

And in the final part, the art craps out as it looks like the artist took some lessons from Mark Bagley during the first couple of years of Ultimate Spider-Man – repeating several panels over and over again. And for this the final chapter was how many months late?

What really could have and should have been The Event of the Year turned out to be an expensive misfire.

I hope none of you people bought the hardcover.

Ultimate Spider-Man
I tried. I really tried. I wanted to make it to at least issue #100. But I just can't do it anymore. I’m done with this title. At least until I change my mind, which I am prone to do (11-06 - I still haven't - even skipped issue #100).

As faithful readers know, I was not a fan of the Ultimate titles initially due to Marvel's investment and promotion of them at the expense of the regular Spider-Man titles. And, the origin story was overlong and gave us a gutteral, brutish "Hulk-Goblin." But that was a long time ago, the injustices to the original titles were corrected, and Ultimate Spider-Man became a fairly good title, decompression nothwithstanding. However, for me, the title jumped the shark at issue #50, when 13 pages of a 39 page supersized comic were dedicated to the dialogue free theft of the Mysterious Tablet by the Black Cat. The following Doc Ock arc was a little better, with a strong portrayal of the good doctor, but then was followed by an utterly crappy Carnage storyline that resulted in the inexcusably lame death of Skanky Gwen Stacy. Additionally, I simply felt that I was not getting my money's worth, when it seemed, without a whole lot of exaggeration, that I could read an entire issue in 60 seconds. And then there were those issues where neither Peter Parker nor Spider-Man appeared, notably the "Aunt May on the couch," issue (#45) and the "Mary Jane and Skanky Gwen kiss and make up" issue (#62 -the same issue Gwen died). There was a pretty funny "Freaky Friday" riff when Spidey and Wolverine switched bodies- but I was only hanging on because I knew that the HobGoblin would be making an appearance, and you all know how I feel about my Goblins, even my Hulk-Goblins.

But first I had to make it through issues #70-71, an uninteresting two part story featuring Dr. Strange, who wasn't really the Dr. Strange that us old fogies all know, but the son of that Dr. Strange, who's also called Dr. Strange. Which strikes me as kind of strange. Obviously Bendis thinks there's a story there that we should eventually care about, but with only four Ultimate titles, who knows when, if ever, it will be told. In this story, Peter Parker and Hippie Ben Urich visit Dr. Strange for an interview (because he's a celebrity mystic in the Ultimate universe), but his manservant Wong (I think if I had a manservant, my wife would become seriously concerned, particularly one with a nipple ring), chases them off. Peter stays behind, his spider sense getting the creepies, and breaks into Strange's house, only to be overcome by Nightmare, and subjected to - well - pretty nasty nightmares. And that's the story in a nutshell. If you missed it, you didn't miss anything. Although one of Peter's nightmarish visions, the Hulk-Goblin marrying Aunt May, a nod to the 70's era absurdity of Aunt May going to the altar with Doc Ock, is amusing and a tip of the hat to classic continuity.

And thus with issue #72, the 6-part HobGoblin story begins. To everyone's expectations, the HobGoblin, which turns out to be an Orange Hulk Goblin (whom I thus dub "Orange Crush Goblin" - could have used "Thing-Goblin," but that's a bit uninventive since I already call the older Osborn "Hulk-Goblin" ), is Harry Osborn. His diabolically evil father, Norman, seems to have as many contingency plans in the Ultimate Universe as he does the regular one. This time, through the hypnotic therapy he's had Harry under for years, he has had planted a post-hypnotic suggestion in the form of his henchman, Shaw, whom we last saw way back in the first Ultimate Spider-Man story arc. "Shaw" leads Harry to a undetectable underground bunker that his father has fully stocked with all kinds of goodies, including a plentiful supply of the "Oz" drug, which was responsible for transforming Norman into the Hulk Goblin. Harry discovering the Oz drug brings back memories of James Franco making the same discovery in the final moments of Spider-Man 2. Speaking of the films, there's a little "easter egg" on the two page spread when Harry finds the bunker. There are masks representing the three versions of the Green Goblin, the classic comic version, the movie version and the Ultimate version. Harry takes the formula and becomes the Orange Crush Goblin. Spider-Man fights the Goblin, but is really more worried about hurting him than anything else. Sadly, barely coherent, Harry begs Peter to kill him. Eventually, Harry is brutally put down by SHIELD, an act that so infuriates Peter that he slugs Nick Fury, causing the latter to ponder taking away Peter's spider powers.

Once again, Bendis proves that, unlike some other recent Spider-writers (Reggie Hudlin comes to mind), he at least reads the classic Spider-Man tales and is up on his continuity. Harry's grandfather is referred to as "Amberson," which, as classic Goblin fans know, was Norman's father - whom was referred to by that name only once, in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #14.

To me, this helps illustrate, perhaps even better than the classic universe, the differences between Harry and Norman, and why Norman is ultimately the better villain. Harry is not a criminal, he's a screwed up kid. He's not in his father's intellectual class (although I dare say that Classic Harry is far smarter than Ultimate Harry), and lacks the sheer magnitude of his father's cunning and chilling sociopathic behavior. And I know that is a GROSS oversimplification - but there is a time and place for a more thorough examination of this issue....

In true Ultimate fashion, the Orange Crush Goblin does not even appear until part 5 of this six part tale. The first four parts are simply set-up, with the annoying technique of subsequent parts taking place in flashback and disrupting the flow of the story. Is the story that bad? Admittedly, it definitately reads better in one sitting than it does piecemeal over six months, but man. Frankly, I was feeling ripped off each and every month I plunked my $2.25 down. And then, when I was feeling just a wee bit conciliatory, issue #78 is yet another non-Peter Parker, non-Spider-Man story, as Mary Jane is being wooed by Ultimate Mark Raxton (yes, in regular continuity Raxton is the Molten Man - but he lacks that particular gold sheen thus far in this universe). Oh yeah, and issue #78, this non-Peter Parker, non-Spider-Man story was the first to bear the increased price of $2.50. And oh yeah part deux, Ultimate Spider-Man was supposed to be "for the kids," because too many cranky old farts like myself were reading the regular titles. But I can almost darn well guarantee ya, when my boy starts reading comic books, and he will, he ain't gonna be the slightest bit interested in an issue of a Spider-Man comic that don't got no Spider-Man in it.

So I'm done.

Trust me folks, I hear what you are saying. I read ALL of my e-mails and respond to most of them. I hear that the "Warriors" story arc was a definite improvement over prior stories (along with the suprising twist that Ultimate Captain Jean DeWolffe is on the payroll of the Ultimate Kingpin). I also hear that the annual, which featured the beginning of Spidey and Ultimate Kitty Pryde's relationship, was also a good one. Actually, the idea of a teenage Peter Parker taking up shop with the similarly young Kitty Pride is an interesting idea, and just the type of thing I always thought the Ultimate titles were for, not just to do modern retreads of classic stories, but actually go in different directions than the original series could or would.

UPDATE: During my travels, I happened to find a comic shop that was having a 50% off going out of business sale (which I have seen happen far too often in all of my years of reading comics), so I purchased Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1. The original $4 price tag had kept me away, but I figured it had to be worth a couple of bucks. And you folks were right. It is a very nice story, a very sweet story about falling in love, and I think most of us can relate to what an awful, awkward, and simultaneously wonderful moment that is. It certainly helped that it was also a dialogue rich story, not like the usual Ultimate-fare. Easily the best Ultimate Spider-Man story in a very long time.

But no, that's not enough to make me start buying the title again.

For looking into the future, I see stories dealing with Ultimate Morbius (and I never liked regular Morbius), Ultimate Deadpool, who simply does not interest me, and then the Ultimate Clone Saga. And the majority of these stories aren't just one or two parts - they each extend over several months. So, I couldn't even make it to issue #100, as badly as I was hoping to. And I have no regrets.

And I don't think I'm the only one. Ultimate Spider-Man has been gradually and consistently shedding readers for the last two years. Although many titles were in decline at this time - it's clear that support for Ultimate Spider-Man is eroding.

I've got a few more thoughts on single issues vs. "writing for the trade" later.

Conversely, a title that I did feel that I was getting my money’s worth from every month is the title that is literally on death’s door, and that is Spider-Girl.

In contrast to the bloated storylines of the day in most titles, Spider-Girl had a number of different adventures this year, including:

Notable moments this year included:

There was also an MC2 event - the weekly five part series Last Hero Standing. Loki, that master trickster and brother of the Mighty Thor kidnaps several superheroes and brainwashes them (including Peter Parker) into becoming darker and more violent, setting them on the road to confrontation with the other heroes. Loki's hope is that the ensuing wanton death and destruction, in addition to sharply dropping the superhero population, will turn the public against them, and thus bring the entire superhero subculture to an end.

LHS is not a bad story, just a predictable one, with an ending specifically designed to elicit heart-tugging emotions. Once we see a scarred, aging Captain America, references to his declining abilities, and the lack of respect shown to him by the younger generation of heroes, we know exactly where this story is going.

As well all know, in 2005 we were informed of Spider-Girl's cancellation with issue #100. I have mixed feelings about this. There’s some aggravation in that Marvel just promoted the hell out of Arana, for example, and it didn’t take six months for her sales to sink lower than Spider-Girl’s. But, it seemed to take them a loooong time to warm up to Spider-Girl, with a lackluster promotional effort (of course, considering the number of times she's been cancelled and revived before, that's pretty good publicity on its own). But you know what, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if they had pushed the series harder – I think the sales would have been exactly the same. In fact, they never increased even with the publicity - they just stayed the same - and now are declining. I don't think Marvel should be compelled to publish a title that doesn't make the minimum profitability threshold. 100 issues these days is a good run, and Spider-Girl has been remarkably consistent in quality. Tom DeFalco has every reason to be proud of "his girl."

Originally I thought some of my dismissiveness of Ultimate Spider-Man had to do with the fact that he is a teenager, 15 or 16, and it has been more than 25 years since I have been 16 years old. Yeah, I'm old. One of my faithful readers, in a polite way, suggested as much, that I had simply grown too old and cranky to relate to a teenage character anymore. But then again, why do I love Spider-Girl? She’s 16, and gasp –FEMALE! And as clueless as I may be about teenage behavior these days – that pales in comparison to how clueless I am when it comes to FEMALE behavior, and I say this being an old married man of 17 years with a daughter who’s almost a teenager herself. Guys – you think women are a mystery now – trust me – it don’t get no better.

So it just ain't that I'm a grumpy old man who's out of touch. Simply put, I get more value, more story, for a $3 investment in Spider-Girl than I was getting in 6 months and $15 in the last two major Ultimate Spider-Man arcs.

But why don't I just modify my buying habits and pick up the Ultimate trades if they read better that way, for example?

I am in a quandry as a long time comic fan and collector, and as a comic reader. Like most of you, I have a lot of crappy days at work. And like most of you, I love my family and vice versa, but we drive each other bonkers from time to time. I don't have a fishin' boat, a golf game, or guns and a huntin' dog, all of which, incidentally, my old man had and enjoyed. I stopped drinking six years ago. Hangin' out at the comics store and plunking down a few bucks for some four color funnies each week gives me a cheap fix. So, I like to get my money's worth with each issue, and I don't buy the comics so I can slide them into my "to do" box and not read them until the story arc in question is over. Nor do I like to wait months "for the trade" when everyone on the internet is talking about the story now. Besides, I have been collecting single issues of Spider-Man comics for 32 years. I'm proud of my month-by-month collection in my long boxes, because it isn't just a bunch of ratty old comic books that are in those long boxes - it's a month by month cataloging of my life.

And I could go on and on and bore you by doing so. I know that several of you who like my columns nevertheless grow weary of these digressions into my personal life. But you see, Spidey Kicks Butt is the name that the site just grew into by accident. If it were correctly titled, I suppose it would be called Spider-Man and Me - because it really is about both of us, and the life lessons we've each learned along the way.

Although I don't have the research at my finger tips to back me up, I'm assuming that the trade and digest business is a vital part of the cash pipeline of the current comics industry. I am not so short sighted that I long for the "good old days," because more often than not the "good old days," in virtually all areas, turn out to be a fiction rather than a reality. So I'm not really anti-trade. I even somewhat understand the "write for the trade" mentality that has gripped the industry, although I think it has had a negative effect on the overall quality of stories. A good trade is like a blue-chip stock that keeps paying dividends year after year - look at the amazingly consistent monthly sales of DC's Watchmen and V for Vendetta decades after they originally appeared. Marvel would desperately love to have trades that people buy month after month, year after year. I buy trades on some other titles that I sample and have liked them.

But I don't buy Spider-Man trades. And I won't. I buy the single issues.

Shouldn't be too hard to figure out why.

Best and Worst of 2005
You’ve probably noted two glaring absences during the previous discussions and figured out who the "winners" were. It’s been since 2002 that I’ve had a year where the best clearly stood out, which definitely leaves mixed emotions. 2003's winner was just o.k., winning by virtue of being slightly better than the rest of a fairly weak field. 2004 had several contenders, and it's fun for a critic to have several good stories to choose from. 2005's best is genuinely good and would have contended in any year since I began this exercise in 1999 - but it was clear pretty early on the way the stories overall were going that it would have little or no competition. As far as the worst, well, that one was in a class by itself as well. In years past, I’ve typically had an ancillary category, such as "Most Fun," or "Weirdest," stories that stood out in other ways that I felt merited mention, but there were no such entries this year.

So without further fanfare:

Best Story of the Year

Spider-Man/Human Torch
Probably the best miniseries that the fewest of you read, much like last year's SKB winner Powerless. Two years of this, and I'm beginning to feel like an Oscar voter, someone who picks obscure stuff that no one else sees as a way of convincing themselves and their cronies of their sophistication and superiority to the huddled, unwashed masses.

Unlike previous winners, this was not a single story, but five solo stories, each chronicling a previously "untold" moment in the lives of Spider-Man and the Torch, leading up to a big "revelation" in the final part – which was guessed farily early on and took no one by surprise, but was still welcome and a long overdue development in Spider-Man history. Dan Slott came from nowhere (well, I had never heard of him, but that really doesn’t mean a lot) last year with a surprise "Best" finalist in 2004 for his Spider-Man themed She-Hulk #4. For simplicity's sake, I’ll sum up each of the plots and then discuss the best moments in general.

Where do I start? While this series was mostly played for laughs, none of it was forced or awkward. While there was a certain amount of sentimentality, particularly the moment in Part 3 where Spidey tells Johnny that he's the only friend he has in the superhero business, it wasn't overdone, and the close friendship came through loud and clear without anything that smacked of a Brokeback Mountain moment. Slott gets all of the characterizations right with near perfect precision, each story stands alone as an entertaining, self-contained tale, and if there were any continuity glitches, I either didn't notice them or completely ignored them because I enjoyed the stories so much. Individual moments that stand out include:

Part 1:
Johnny is frozen in a block of ice by Doctor Doom, and while he successfully thaws out, his hair does not. Spidey accidentally chisels off his hair, and a panicked Johnny tries to get Reed to transplant it back – but then the Thing gets his hands on it – and breaks the Torch’s heart as well as his hair.

  • Spider-Man can't control himself - doubling over in fits of laughter when confronted by supervillain "Paste Pot Pete."

  • While visiting the Parker house to line up Pete's photographic services, the Torch feels a tinge of jealousy when he watches Peter and Aunt May hug, noting that he would almost give up much of what he has just to feel a parent's loving embrace.

    Part 2:

    Part 3:

    Parts 4 and 5 are both fun reads, but not quite as good as the first three parts. Although any story that opens with She-Hulk in a French maid costume (as #4 does), is certainly worth a gander. And yes, that was a fanboyish comment, made even more disgusting by the fact that it's coming from an old man with a wife and two kids. Johnny seems to be even more obtuse than usual to not even come close to guessing the true connection between Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and Peter seems unusually unconcerned, particularly for that time period, whether or not he figures it out. I suppose that (1) Johnny isn't a rocket scientist (the FF already has one in Reed Richards), but (2) it might also be indicative of his deep, unspoken respect for the Webhead. He just doesn't see his web-slinging buddy as the relatively ordinary person that Peter Parker seems to be. Sort of a variation on the moment when Angelo Fortunato had the Venom symbiote in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #8, and was thoroughly bummed to find out that Spider-Man was just a high school teacher, not something "cool" like a Navy Seal or a cop or something else.

    Part 5 really isn't as much of a story as it is an epilogue, a gift to long-time fans who have watched this particular relationship over the decades, with its ups and downs, and have puzzled as to how Peter seems content that Daredevil, Wolverine, and his New Avengers cronies all know his secret identity - but never bothered to tell his best friend in the superhero community. After the thugs have seized the hall where Johnny is supposed to speak to the students, Peter needs him to create a distraction so he can duck and change to Spider-Man - but that means he has to tell Johnny the truth, and signals that he IS Spider-Man - which is the last thing the Torch wanted to know! After the day is saved and Johnny and Peter talk things out, Johnny invites him and his family to FF headquarters for dinner and the bond between Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four is strengthened as never before.

    O.K., it admittedly took a huge suspension of disbelief to believe that Peter could stand right in front of the stage where the crooks are holding everyone hostage, give Johnny all sorts of nonverbal clues that he was Spider-Man (the web fingers sign, and "the itsy bitsy spider"), and no one else, particularly the bad guys, even noticed. And it's not quite how I imagined Peter telling Johnny after all of these years - but then I'm not sure how I would have done it had I written the story. Good moments include:

    O.K. admittedly a little schmaltzy in parts - nonetheless, it's one of the few stories I remember reading that when I turned the final page and closed the cover, I was completely satisfied with the tale it had told.

    Self-Righteous, Ponderous, and Arrogant Lecture
    Beyond the enjoyment of the story, this mini-series was an educational experience to me in a key way. For one, I learned that what appeals to the aging fanboy is not necessarily what appeals to most comic readers. Since I’ve been a reader of Spider-Man comics for more than 32 years as I write this column, I arrogantly and obnoxiously consider myself to be the "typical" Spider-Man fan – and what I like or don’t like, by god, is what most Spider-Man fans like or dislike because – well – just because I’m ME and I'm always right! But a lesson that has been learned in other media such as movies to television - sometimes the critically acclaimed stuff, or even the best stuff from a quality standard, does not pay the bills. The final issue of this series, and the payoff, sold only around 15-16,000 copies, less than half of the sales of #1 (based on numbers I saw several months ago – unfortunately, I don’t know where you would find them now). That doesn’t count the eventual sales of the trade, which was called I’m With Stupid. 15,000 copies. That's even sub-Spider-Girl levels, and you know what happened to her title.

    So where is this tirade going? For months I’ve been reading on the boards "Dan Slott should be given a regular Spider-title" and "why isn’t anyone writing any more light hearted adventures of Spider-Man – you know, like the old days when Spidey was fun?" Well I’ll tell you why – the answer to both questions is BECAUSE YOU WON’T BUY IT. No, I’m not talking about you, or you over there, or you, or even you sitting there in your underwear scratching your balls. But someone sure didn’t show up when it came time to support the type of Spider-Man stories you claim that you want Marvel to tell. You buy at least 75,000 copies of each and every chapter of "The Other," (and close to 100,000 for the final part) and then moan about how bad the story was. And then when Marvel gives a writing job to an author that you claim you want to see more from, and the type of stories that you claim you want to read, you dip your toe in the water by ordering 35,000 copies for issue #1, and then abandon it in droves. Look, I know that there’s more to this than just raw numbers. First of all, miniseries just don’t sell as much as the regular titles because it’s the regular titles that people usually budget for. Comic shops don’t order as much of these titles upfront, and if it does prove to be popular, then the johnny (no pun intended) come latelies can’t find it – and with Marvel’s goofy "no re-order policy (which is pretty flexible when the company wants to promote something), if you don’t catch one of the minis, then what’s the point of getting the others?

    But 15,000?

    With numbers like that, Marvel is likely to give you more "The Other" than anything Spidey from Dan Slott. Regardless of what you say on the message boards ad infinitum, you sent quite another message with your dollars.

    Worst Story of the Year

    Sins Remembered
    No competition for this one. For the second year in a row, Spectacular Spider-Man takes the crown, this time for the awful "Sins Remembered" story from issues #23-26.

    There are several reasons that "Sins Remembered" is the worst story of the year, and none of them are "just because" it deals with the controversial subject matter of Gwen Stacy having twins due to polishing Norman Osborn's Goblin Glider. Again, let's get past the idea and look at the story - we'll find plenty of flaws:

    "Sins Past," barely scratched the surface of the possibilities of this storyline. Yes people, Sarah does have dramatic possibilities. First of all, she's a classic half-breed - the child of an "angel" and a "devil" - and therefore forever at the mercy of her two warring sides. If she were to delve back further into her family tree, she would learn not only about her mother, but also her maternal grandfather, a police captain and a man of unquestionable integrity. And then there's the Osborn Legacy that she has inherited, in more ways than one. It's ironic that in "Sins Past," Norman told Gwen that Osborn blood is "special blood." And indeed it is. But not in a good way. It's not just the physical abnormalities that are causing Sarah pain, but the threat of the full onset of madness, something that even haunts people who are under treatment for depression and bi-polar disorders.

    Another Osborn child also gives Norman something to do besides plot evil against Spider-Man. It would be interesting to see Norman desperately try to connect with an "adult" child, since Harry is no longer around. Plus, as we see in a flashback scene in issue #24 that from her earliest years, Sarah has always challenged Osborn, defied him. Although it is something that would irritate him, it is also something he would respect, that she showed some backbone and strength (reminds me of an idea that I once had about Norman raising little May Parker himself, which "Ms. Marvel" turned into a pretty good fanfic, but I've misplaced the link), something that Harry never did. Gabe really has no potential as a character, except as the crazy "relative in the basement" but even then, he would be a constant reminder to both Norman and Sarah about the insanity that could claim them at any moment.

    But rather than tell any of those stories, we get a petty and mundane drug dealing storyline. Gabe and Sarah need drugs to control their pain and become indebted to a drug kingpin. Yeah, that's a good use of potential.

    These characters faced a long, uphill battle for acceptance in the first place, and this story sure didn't help.

    And that folks, is the end of the 2005 Year in Review. Very few strong stories this year, a lot of mediocrity, and at least three huge disappointments ("The Other," "Spider-Man House of M," and "Sins Remembered," - although most of the internet chatter had two of those stories correctly pegged as losers before they were published).

    Man, I hope 2006 turns out to be a lot better. After all - what could happen...?

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    Copyright © 1998-2007 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.