Spider-Man 2006:
And Nothing Will Ever be the Same Again!

Really This Time.

No, Seriously.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – so what else is new?

Like many comic fans, I'm very weary of this proclamation. For the last several years it has meant a poorly orchestrated and often lackluster "mega event" of such “earth shattering proportions” that everything that was supposedly great about it is conveniently forgotten by the time the next "mega event" rolls around. In the world of Spider-Man, for example, we had the so-called Avengers Disassembled tie-in (Spectacular Spider-Man volume 2 #15-20), which had NOTHING to do with the main "Disassembled" storyline except Captain America made a superfluous appearance spouting paranoid and discredited Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories. Let's not forget that Spidey got pregnant, turned into a giant spider, "died," was reborn after busting out of his spider carcass, developed organic web shooters and the ability to talk to spiders. Naturally, these additions to his arsenal have been scarcely referenced (and are now completely forgotten in the "Brand New Day" world). The House of M followed. A mentally ill Scarlet Witch altered reality and created a "perfect world" for mutants, where they were firmly in control of the political and cultural seats of power, with Homo sapiens a declining minority. In this world, Peter Parker was a rich celebrity, married to Gwen Stacy and the father of a little boy. All of this was wiped away with more Witch babble ("No more mutants") and the world returned to normal, except Peter still had memories of his "M" life. Now, he was so tortured about those memories, including the son of his who now never existed, that his agony lasted for exactly ONE issue of a non-Spider-Man related miniseries (Son of M #1) - and was NEVER referenced again. Also, pre-Brand New Day, he NEVER thought about his allegedly stillborn daughter. I'm convinced that Peter is either the king of denial, seriously mentally ill, or one of the most selfish, coldhearted bastards in all of comics. After all, he lost two children in the space of what – three years Marvel time (just a wild guess – don’t hold me to it) - and gave neither a moment’s thought.

But wait – there’s more! The Other was a 12-part Spidey event in which Spidey died again, this time shedding his skin which was then eaten by a bunch of spiders (gross). He gains yet more new powers (including stingers, enhanced night vision, and the ability to glue children to his back), which with the exception of a couple of appearances by the stingers in Peter David's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man were also largely been forgotten. And of course, the aftermath of Spidey's death and rebirth, and all of the spiritual and psychological ramifications that go with it, are casually brushed aside so that we could hurry up and wait - and wait - and wait for Civil War. To its credit, this was one of the few times Marvel's execution actually came close to its hype, as it really did feature what was likely the most significant event in Spider-Man's life outside of the original spider bite and Uncle Ben's death - the public revelation of his secret identity. But then, there's Aunt May getting shot and "One More Delay," and the inevitable Marvel cop-out on the whole secret identity thing - but I'm getting ahead of myself and the calendar. This is Spider-Man 2006, and there's plenty of material to cover without borrowing 2007's trouble. So, if you're keeping a scorecard at home, this review will cover the following issues:

Just for explanation's sake, for example, even though Civil War did not conclude until February 2007, it was well underway in 2006, and thus included in full in this article. This is in contrast, for example, to Spider-Man: Reign which started in December, but only 1 part out of 4 was released in 2006, and thus will not be discussed until the 2007 Year in Review.

All, in all, it appears that the Spider-Man titles peaked in quality during 2004, because 2006 continues the downward slide that began with 2005's disappointing storylines - and from where I'm sitting at the moment, 2007 only perpetuates that trend. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's start with the Civil War titles, and then come back here for the rest of 2006.

New Avengers Gets Old
I've made no secret of the fact (specifically in my article Team Player? that I liked the idea of Spider-Man being an official Avenger, at least for awhile. It was a story thread that had really never been explored in the character's long history. For years, Spider-Man has been on the "outside," the ostracized hero, always watching others get the praise and the glory for their heroic actions while he receives disdain and criticism. But, what happens when the outsider becomes an insider? How does his life change when he has partners who can watch his back and people to share his life with? And – is the grass truly greener on the other side of the fence? Does acceptance and praise come with a heavy price in one’s unique identity and independence? However, this was a highly criticized move, as many fans derided Spidey's membership, stating that living in Avengers tower and hanging out with Tony Stark and Captain America "wasn't really Spider-Man." Well, damn, no one said he had to stay an Avenger forever – why not try something different for awhile? It would have been interesting to watch this play out for a few years, and then have a falling out where Spider-Man swings alone once more.

This year picks up with issue #14, which is a solo Spider-Woman tale in which Spider-Man is just on the periphery. Captain America discovers that Jessica Drew is a double agent feeding information to the crime organization known as Hydra (which is deeply tied into her origin) and the story follows the re-telling of the last few years of her life to bring readers up to speed on how she regained her powers after a long powerless spell. The following issue deals with the New Avengers going public for the first time (the Sentry’s Watchtower on the top of Stark’s building was a dead giveaway that there was something – not typical – going on). Spidey is afraid that the team will take some flak in the media because of him, but Stark thinks he has a surefire way to circumvent that - by inviting not his arch-enemy, but his greatest nemesis J. Jonah Jameson to Stark Tower. Tony promises Jonah exclusive coverage and exclusive access to the team on one condition - that he lay off his anti-Spider-Man campaign. Jonah considers the deal, walks over to Spider-Man, and shakes on it.

Tony Stark is a very smart man. Tony Stark knows many things.

Tony Stark don't know J. Jonah Jameson.

The next day the Bugle includes a typical JJJ tirade, not only taking swipes at Spidey, but also at Luke Cage and Spider-Woman, referring to Stark Tower as "The Tower of Lies." Now, while on the surface, this seems highly duplicitous of Jonah, and well, it was. BUT, it was also true that Iron Man and Captain America were, from his perspective, trying to manipulate the media to their own advantage. And they were. Although Joe Robertson, who was with him at the time, told Jonah to accept the deal or he'd quit, I have to believe that as good a newsman as Robbie is - he would ultimately have had to agree with Jonah as well. JJJ's methods, as usual, lacked grace and tact, but unfortunately, he was right to turn the deal down.

Artist Steve McNiven deserved a co-writing credit on issue #16, which was the prologue to the only real New Avengers story arc that occurred during the year before everything was swept away by Civil War. Of the 22 pages in the story, 12 featured little or NO dialogue, as it told the story of an immeasurably powerful energy surge which crashed into Alaska. After taking humanoid form (or as it turned out, bonded with an energy absorbing mutant), it is now making its way to the United States, after massacring Canada's Alpha Flight team in the process. Joined by former Avenger Ms. Marvel, the New Avengers engage the entity over Cleveland, Ohio and then follow it to the island of Genosha, formerly populated by millions of mutants until their eradication by the Sentinels. As it turns out, this entity, that refers to itself as "Michael" is the embodiment of all of the missing mutant powers as a result of the Scarlet Witch's "No More Mutants" proclamation at the end of House of M in 2005. It was speculated that just because the mutant population was largely depowered didn't mean that their powers just went away. This story postulated that all of those powers essentially congealed together and crashed in Alaska, endowing one individual with the ability to use all of them. Ultimately, agent Daisy Johnson (from Secret War - yet another big event which seems to have been forgotten in the Civil War stampede) - initiates a tremor within the human host. The host is now Magneto, the ultimate target of the collective of powers, controlled by Xorn, yet another mutant with a complicated and convoluted history in the Marvel Universe. Xorn returns Magneto's powers to him so that he can lead the mutants again. Agent Johnson expunges the powers from Magneto, allowing Iron Man to contain the powers within an energy shield that the Sentry flies into the Sun. I left a lot out, but if you're primarily reading New Avengers for Spider-Man's presence, which I am, then you didn't miss anything. Thus far, Spidey's membership in the New Avengers served little purpose other than boosting sales of that title, since there had yet to be a story in which he served an integral part. In fact, the best New Avengers story that used Spider-Man occurred in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man issues #519-524. There were some notable things about this story arc, though, that I wanted to mention:

After this, the story switched to several issues which focused on specific members of the New Avengers, and their reaction to the events of Civil War, none of whom were Spider-Man (which is understandable, since he had his own magazine where the impact upon his life unfolded). I bought the Captain America, Luke Cage, and Spider-Woman issues (#21-23) before giving up on the title until Spider-man returned as one of the New New Avengers in issue #27. Frankly, I simply wasn’t interested in reading about Iron Man, the Sentry, or the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, and didn't even care for the ones with Cap and Spider-Woman. However, even though it did not feature Spidey, I really did enjoy the solo Luke Cage story, which was issue #22. Needless to say, Luke Cage does not agree with the Superhero Registration Act and will not sign, his decision fully supported by his wife, Jessica Jones. However, unlike the tedious sermonizing that JMS subjected us to by Captain America and Spider-Man in Amazing, Bendis has Luke Cage resist without the benefit of such labored politicking. He sends his wife and child to Canada, but refuses to leave his home until SHIELD comes for him which Stark warns him will happen if he doesn't sign. He wants the people of his neighborhood, which he fought to make a decent place to live, to see him standing up for what he believes is right. After sending Jessica away, the people of the neighborhood gather around Cage, with only a little boy brave enough to ask him any questions, a conversation that breaks down like this:

"You gonna sign that thing?"

"Nope."

"Cause it's crap?"

"Damn straight."

"What are your gonna do?"

"I'm going to go inside and sit in my home. And not bother no one. We're supposed to be allowed to do that, right?"

At 12:01, SHIELD comes after Luke, who is able to escape with the help of Captain America, the Falcon, and the Danny Rand Daredevil.

I'm giving this particular story so much play because this is an example of where resistance to the Registration Act is entirely genuine to the character involved. Luke Cage has always been an outsider, even moreso than Spidey. Peter Parker can stop being Spider-Man. Luke Cage can't stop being black - and there's a whole lot of bitter history that goes along with that very thing, and Cage's background put him at odds with the law many times (Cage was a petty criminal in his younger years). The very idea of the government being able to come into someone's home and take them away because they disagree with a law is a morally repugnant one, and Cage reminds Tony Stark that the law once allowed black people to be owned as if they were cattle. Even though Stark makes a reasonable argument that Luke should join them to work within the system, Luke still refuses. Tony bristles at Luke's suggestion that this is Mississippi in the 1950's, and he is entirely right to do so - because Stark is not racist and the Act is not racist. But, this is a case where well intentioned as he is, he simply cannot see the world through Luke's eyes. Unlike Spider-Man, who always craved acceptance and wanted to be paid to be Spider-Man, for Luke to even consider being an officially sanctioned agent of "the government" is anathema to him.

Another Avengers story, with a lighter tone, was the New Avengers Annual which featured the return of the "other" Black Widow, resolving a subplot from the New Avengers' adventure in the Savage Land, and concluded with the wedding of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. The primary appeal of this issue for me was the family atmosphere in Stark Tower amongst the team, highlighted when Jessica Jones brings baby Danielle into Stark Tower. Most of the ladies, including Mary Jane, ooh and awe over the baby, with the humorous exception of Jessica Drew ("That is a baby - now get it away from me"). Of course, what is completely ignored during the entire thing is the fact that considering that Peter and Mary Jane allegedly "lost" their baby girl years before, the arrival of baby Danielle should be both a happy and profoundly sad moment for them. Here, it's like MJ's pregnancy never occurred (and I guess in our "Brand New Day" era - it didn't!) as Peter asks her if she wants a baby, and MJ responds "no - I want to look at this one and hand it back before it pukes up on me." To which Spidey responds "whew!" I suppose it could be argued that Pete and MJ are putting their "happy faces" on because they don't want to tip anyone off to their very personal grief, particularly in a room full of people, many of them they do not know particularly well.

After the smackdown with the enhanced Black Widow (and we finally learn that it is the combo of Hydra and AIM that approached her in the hospital at the conclusion of the Savage Land story with the offer of revenge for her mutilation), the story ends with the wedding. The final image is a full-page picture of the bride, groom, and baby standing amongst the New Avengers team, all in their civilian clothes (even Logan dressed for the occasion). That is the kind of thing I was hoping to see more of as New Avengers progressed, how these very disparate people, including the iconoclastic Spider-Man come together in good times and bad, supporting each other, and yes, sometimes fighting amongst each other. I don't know what direction Bendis is going to take New New Avengers, and from what I've seen so far, I'm not overly optimistic - but let's discuss that more come the 2007 Review.

A "Sensational" Effort by a guy Who's got a Really Long Name
I didn't know much about Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. On the Spider-Man Crawlspace Podcast - we often have to bring in that Latin Lovely, the Black Cat, to pronounce his name because none of us white-bread corn fed country boys can adequately do so. I knew he wrote plays and that he was to be the new author of Fantastic Four when Mark Waid was originally unceremoniously dumped by then-publisher Bill Jemas because Jemas allegedly wanted to turn FF into "suburban comedy." Whether that was true or not, ultimately Waid came back and Sacasa was given the FF spinoff title 4. When Reginald Hudlin wrapped up his less than sensational run on Marvel Knights Spider-Man, the title was changed to Sensational, harkening back to an older run with that name that was originally created for the new "Spider-Ben" Reilly during the Clone Saga. It was subsequently cancelled during the reboot of 1999. Like I mentioned earlier, I knew nothing about Sacasa, but considering how Hudlin never really got his sea legs under him on Spidey, I more than welcomed a new take on the webslinger - and after a rough start, Sacasa didn't disappoint.

His first story arc was an overlong five parter in issues #23-27, called "Feral." This tale focused on a meteor brought to New York by (you'll see later) which emitted radiation causing life in the city to return to a more primitive, more "feral" (hence the title) state. People and animals were both being driven mad, resulting in a sharp increase in vicious crimes. It turns Dr. Curt Connors back into the Lizard, John Jameson into the Man Wolf, brings back one of my faves (sarcasm) - Vermin the Cannibal Rat Man, as well as Puma, the Black Cat, and at the center of the madness - Stegron the Dinosaur Man, the one responsible for bringing the rock to Manhattan. I've never been too keen on Steggy, but he's a favorite C-Lister of many, and always good for a thumping where Spidey doesn't have to hold back. Naturally, when you're a walking reptile, the thing you want to do is create a world in your own image and rule over it. However, with the Iron Spidey suit, our hero is able to use part of it to cover the rock and cut off the radiation emissions - returning everything to normal - well, as "normal" as Spider-Man's life could be before Civil War. The art duties, which were split between Angel Medina and Clayton Crain, were different, but something I could get used to. I thought that Medina's "Pebbles Flintstone" Mary Jane was actually kind of cute.

As I mentioned earlier, although the story was overlong, there were several good character moments. In issue #22, where Mary Jane asks May if she is happy living in the tower - and begins to pine for more privacy and a place where they can live together as a family under the name "Parker" and not Spider-Man. And as I mentioned before, the Black Cat made her first of several appearances in Sacasa's run as a regular supporting character. I usually enjoy seeing Felicia, particularly when the writer seems to "get" her personality. Although she's not quite as morally ambiguous as I prefer (see Millar's Marvel Knights Spider-Man run), I think Sacasa does a very good job with her. She has several good lines in issue #22, taunting Spidey's haggard appearance asking if "Red caught you with another woman," and after tangling with the Lizard telling him "I like a nice piece of tail as much as the next girl." Although augmented by the meteor, we definitely see that Felicia has a natural ferocity that is at the same time attractive and frightening to Spider-Man.

When John Jameson as the Man Wolf attacks Mary Jane and May in Avengers Tower, good old Aunt May proves to be very resourceful, including clobbering John over the head with a teapot, and activating the tower's defense systems. After all "I don't just wander these halls delivering sage advice." She also makes another reference to that "handsome Tony Stark" bringing to mind the fact that she used to video tape Iron Man's appearances on TV just as she did Peter's, because Stark reminded her of an old movie star (MK Spidey #1).

The next issue, #28, was the first one in this title to deal with the unmasking. "My Science Teacher is Spider-Man," is from the point of view of young Jordan Harrison, one of Peter Parker's biology students who is very much like the high school pre-spider bite Peter Parker (sans glasses, however). Jordan has confided to Mr. Parker that he really wants to be a marine biologist, since he happens to like octopi and squid, and Peter has offered his help in mentoring him. However, Jordan realizes that Mr. Parker's outing as Spider-Man is going to change his world as well (in a couple of humorous little panels).

Speaking of octopi, the world's deadliest, Otto Octavious, learning of the unmasking, is even more furious at his old foe than usual. Humiliated by the fact that when they first fought, Spider-Man was only 15 years old, Ock realizes that he had him at his mercy in the past and let him go, in the famous Amazing Spider-Man #12. To compound it, his deadliest enemy had been under his nose the entire time he was hanging out with Aunt May! He shows up at Midtown High looking for Parker, and finds Spider-Man. During the battle, Jordan arrives and distracts Doc Ock long enough for Spidey to level him with a knock out punch. At the end, we're allowed a little peek into Jordan's future, after he obtains a scholarship and receives his Ph.D. for work with squids, he gets the nickname "Doctor Octopus." Not the greatest nickname, but one he could live with. Oh, and he gets the girl, too. Speaking of the girl, she has a humorous line stating that Mr. Parker showing up to class with bruises makes sense now, because before she was wondering if his wife abused him.

This was a nice little one-part story (you don't see many of them anymore). Oh, sure, Jordan's distracting Doc Ock by actually engaging him in conversation (you think Doc would know better than to turn his back on Spider-Man) is a little convenient, and I don't like it when Doc Ock, who I believe is second only to Norman Osborn as Spidey's greatest villain, is used as a fill-in punching bag when almost any other villain could have served the story - but this was better than never seeing Ock's reaction to the unmasking at all, which is what likely would have happened considering how quick Marvel decided to zip through the stories in a helter skelter rush to get to "One More Day" and Reboot Redux. Of course, as we hard core fans know, Doc Ock already found out Spidey's secret identity once, during the Clone Saga, but was then killed off by Killer Klone Kaine in probably the second stupidest move of the entire Saga.

After this story, I began to feel pretty comfortable with Mr. Sacasa.

The next story arc, the three-part "Deadly Foes of Peter Parker," is another winner, and at its core is the reaction of one of the oldest long-time supporting characters of the titles, Liz Allan Osborn, to the unmasking. Of course, Liz isn't just Pete's old high school crush, but the widow of Harry Osborn, Peter's best friend and the second Green Goblin (well, she was a widow all those years that Harry was dead).

Spidey's oldest costumed foe, the Chameleon, is putting together his own "Deadly Foes" (a tip of the hat to an old mini), including the Molten Man, Will of the Wisp, Swarm, the Scarecrow (yes, Spidey has one too, an observation used for comedic effect more than once). Raxton, though supposedly reformed, is blackmailed by the Chameleon, who threatens young Norman Osborn (that old plot again), into joining his motley crew, and forces Liz to call Peter to her home so that he can be ambushed. While Spidey is distracted by the Wisp, the Scarecrow, and Molten Man, Swarm goes after Mary Jane and the Chameleon, in the guise of Peter himself, sneaks himself into Avengers Tower along with Aunt May, planning to snap her neck when the opportunity provides. However, the ladies in Peter's life prove to be rather formidable on their own. Mary Jane dowses Swarm with the sprinkler system at the theater where she's performing (water weighs the bees down), and the Black Cat provides capable backup at the Osborn residence. Aunt May, that crafty old gal, figures out right away that someone is impersonating Peter, and drugs the Chameleon by feeding him oatmeal raisin cookies laced with sleeping pills!

There are a number of good moments in this story - the characterization of the Chameleon, for one. In a nod to the convoluted continuity of his "death" and "rebirth," he reflects back on his fall from the bridge in Paul Jenkins' Webspinners #11. Then, we see his incarceration in a mental ward in the best forgotten Ron Zimmerman epic "You can Call me Al," (which ran as a backup feature in Get Kraven back in 2002). However, he doesn't explain it, which, continuity fanboy whore than I am, this is one instance where things are best left unexplained because it's not worth the effort. As mentioned, he's Spidey's oldest costumed foe - and I for one do not believing in killing off the old Lee/Ditko villains. The Chameleon is angry because his knowledge of Spider-Man's secret identity, which once gave him an edge, is now irrelevant. However, the statement that "Osborn" told the Chameleon what he'd long suspected seems a bit out of whack, since the Chameleon, who had been trying to discover Spider-Man's identity, found out on his own back in Spectacular Spider-Man #242 (January 1997).

Another moment that I liked was with Mary Jane and her fellow cast members in the "MacBeth" production. The rest of the cast overhears MJ lecturing Peter over the phone (Peter doesn't want her to leave Avengers Tower, MJ tells him he needs to support her in her endeavors as she has supported him). Their response is what is she doing arguing with Spider-Man - because - well, he's Spider-Man! Of course, to Mary Jane, he’s also the guy who leaves the seat up, who squeezes the toothpaste from a different spot than she does, etc. but the others only know him as a self-sacrificing superhero.

We also see Felicia Hardy's reaction to the unmasking, which is throwing a remote through the television screen (she has taken up with Thomas Fireheart since "Feral"). She is disappointed in some of the same ways as the Chameleon is, because in her case, her knowledge of his identity made everything mysterious and alluring, since she was one of the few who knew, and now that's all gone…

But it's the characterization of Liz Allan that is the most complicated. Unlike Flash, who's reaction was initially disbelief, then grudging acceptance, or Betty's which was relief now that so many weird things in her life made more sense, Liz is downright angry, bitter, and resentful. Rather than express outrage to the villains over their plans for Peter, she merely tells them not to make him suffer. She tells Peter that "After today, I pray I never see Spider-Man, or you, again" and proceeds to tell him that she felt that he was laughing at her behind her back all of these years. Strangely enough, Harry is never mentioned during this exchange, although Liz is seen sadly looking at a picture of her, Peter and Harry together and references "all of the death" that Pete has brought into their lives.

I think it’s apparent that by her behavior in recent years that Lizzie has issues, dating back to Harry’s death, if not before, then exacerbated by losing her husband. To be fair, Liz has been through a lot in her life. When we talked about Liz in my Goblin Prince series, although her pre-Amazing Fantasy #15 life is a mystery to us, it's apparent that there was probably some family trauma while she was young. Just the presence of a "step" brother in Mark Raxton indicates that there was either a death or a divorce in the family. She sacrificed her college-age years to take care of Raxton while her compatriots were all going to school. Of course, he went nuts and supposedly died in a blaze of glory (but as you know, a good supervillain never really stays dead). She fell in love with, and married, an emotionally troubled man whom she thought she had helped nurse back to wellness, but it wasn't until later that she realized just how horrifying that skeleton in his closest was. And she discovered that her father in law was the evil Green Goblin, and as a result of that, the lives of her family have been in constant jeopardy ever since. She was threatened by two separate HobGoblins and how many times has little Normie been kidnapped over the years? (not counting the current story, I can think of 3 off the top of my head; the Legacy of Evil one-shot, the Spider-Hunt storyline pre-reboot, and the 2000 Amazing Spider-Man Annual.). In the Legacy story, Harry took control of her mind from the grave and almost caused her to condemn their son to the Osborn legacy of insanity by dumping him in Harry's revised, and fatal, Goblin Formula. She watched her husband go irrevocably mad and die (until "One More Day" that is). And then her evil father-in-law returned, slapped her around and tried to blow her up with the rest of Peter Parker's acquaintances (Peter Parker #75), booted her out of Oscorp, and took control of her child away from her (Spectacular Spider-Man #250). Norman finally got tripped up by his own sloppiness in committing a series of murders and was incarcerated - but he's always there in the background, always a threat to her and her son. So, we might want to cut Liz a little slack.

Still, her anger at Peter in the Sensational storyline seems to run a little deeper than just him being Spider-Man and her son being threatened to lure him into a trap. After all, she blames Peter for all of the death that has come to her doorstep – but anyone with any sense would realize that the man really responsible is Norman Osborn. It was because of Norman that Harry was a troubled young man, and inevitably went mad and died (o.k., I'm not even going to bother to mention it anymore). It was because of Norman's legacy and criminal past that two different HobGoblins came looking for his secrets. And Harry would never have become the Green Goblin if Norman had not originated the part. Peter Parker and Spider-Man are as much victims of Norman Osborn as she.

Interestingly enough, there seems to be some nagging anger and resentment dating back to high school, when Peter spurned her advances (this is something that Flash Thompson commented on in Web of Spider-Man #11 that angered even him and made him bully Peter even more). We know that Peter was in love with Betty Brant at the time, and Liz was always messing with his and Flash’s heads anyway and sometimes a little tease get's what's coming to her. Was Liz even deeper in love with Peter than she realized? And was she more than a little infatuated with Spider-Man as well – and resents that Peter knew that she liked Spider-Man and still didn’t clue her in – now believing that he was laughing at her behind her back? Is she angry at herself for not seeing the secret that was staring right in front of her for years? If she had pushed herself onto Peter a little more (wait a minute – I don’t like the sound of that either – sometimes I wish our hero’s name was something a little less suggestive – like Bart or something) would she have wound up with Spider-Man as a grand prize (“You could have had me” she tells him)? Or is it that Liz – whom we already established in Goblin Prince as a person who seems to desperately need to be needed – takes Peter not sharing his secret with her far more personally than we could imagine? She seems oblivious to the fact that not only was Peter not telling anyone, even his Aunt May, but that she herself was not nearly mature enough at the time to handle a secret of this magnitude.

At the end, Peter tells Liz not to hang around when the cops come because "she wouldn't want to be mistaken for a villain," after she pleads with him to understand because she had no choice. At first glance, this seems rather harsh of Peter. Normally, you would think he would understand what a horrible Hobson's Choice she was given - her son's life or his. And he's known her forever, longer than he's even known Mary Jane - is there something else at work here?

Remember the comment I made earlier about how strange it was that Harry was never brought up during their conversation? Peter probably noticed that not once did Liz mention Harry. It was all about her, her feelings of being made fun of, of being lied to, of betrayal - and nothing about what happened to her husband. It's interesting that for one woman (Betty), the revelation of Spider-Man's identity brought a clarity to her life - for another - it brought even more chaos and despair.

Liz is clearly a very emotionally troubled person in need of help – but that’s not a tale for this time.

Sacasa's last 2006 tale was a three part arc, which was really three standalone stories about the women in Pete Parker's life - MJ, Aunt May, and the Black Cat. It's interesting that in the story of Spider-Man, there have always been three women - "Mom," the "good girl," and the "bad girl." Of course, "Mom" has always been Aunt May. At first Betty and Liz were the "good girl/bad girl" combo (although to call Liz the "bad girl" might be a stretch, but she was a tease who messed with our hero's mind), then Gwen and Mary Jane, and finally Mary Jane and Felicia Hardy. These stories take place after Peter's inexplicably stupid decision to turn on Tony Stark and join the resistance to Registration movement, and the Parker family is currently hiding out in a fleabag motel.

Issue #32 is the first, featuring Mary Jane, and begins with her dreaming about being in the middle of the Roman Coliseum, being judged by the Emperor in the form of Tony Stark, and his Queen - Gwen Stacy, with all of Spidey's supervillains in the crowd jeering her. She imagines Madam Web offering her a choice of two doors, behind one, her man, and the other - a spider, and death. Reality proves a little more mundane but no less frightening as she tries to reconcile the choices she has made to stand at Peter's side in more ways than one, and how much it has cost her. It's not just the physical danger she has been placed in, but the fact that Peter's life has overshadowed hers. She lost the role in her play because of the "undue attention" she brings, and a woman on the street recognizes her, but not as herself, even though she had her own career as an actress and a model, but as Mrs. Spider-Man. It's a harsh reminder that compared to the life that her husband has led, hers seems so inconsequential by comparison. She even briefly contemplates running away, taking note of the train schedule. She turns to Susan Richards for some comfort and perspective, but Susan tells her to grow a set and reminds her that she knew exactly what she was getting into when she married Peter Parker. Sue reminds her that at one time she made a choice to tie her life together with his, and when the going gets rough, to go back to that moment of choice and remember the certainty and the strength that she had at the time. After some contemplation, Mary Jane remembers exactly when it was - and Spider-Man fans remember the moment full well - the end of Amazing Spider-Man #122 after the death of Gwen Stacy. Although in his grief he tries to throw her out of his apartment, she stays. At that moment, she realized that she was in love with him. So, she comes back to the motel, flings the door open (harkening back to her earlier dream) - only to find a disturbing reality - Peter bloodied and broken, with Aunt May tearfully at his side, after losing a devastating battle with the Rhino.

Of the three stories, this is probably the weakest, not because it's bad, but simply because it really doesn't give us anything new about Peter and MJ's relationship. Basically, Mary Jane is feeling sorry for herself and has to be reminded that she chose to marry Peter Parker, and to remember when she made that fateful choice. It is interesting that when she imagines Tony Stark as a malevolent emperor enjoying the blood sport, it's Gwen that she imagines as his queen, when by all rights, Gwen shouldn't come up in this at all. However, it's another reminder of the baggage that she carries, the fear that for all that she has given and done for Peter Parker, no matter how much he professes his undying love for her - she will always come in second to the memory of a dead woman.

I'm going to skip issue #33, which is from Aunt May's perspective, for the moment and jump right into issue #34, Felicia's story. After Spider-Man’s savage beating by the Rhino, Felicia is determined to exact a little payback in her ex-boyfriend’s name. After all, it’s not like she doesn’t have experience in this sort of thing (see Marvel Knights Spider-Man #4 and Spectacular Spider-Man #119) – although the Rhino would be her toughest customer yet. While searching for the Rhino (he ultimately doesn’t prove to be very hard to find – figure that), she runs through a boatload of memories she shared with Spider-Man, and being the huge fanboy wanker that I am – I remember them all! In fact, considering how heavily loaded this issue is with references to past events, it may be a perfect example of the type of writing that certain comic book pros who relentlessly criticize the modern superhero comic book style rail against – ones that make the fanboys feel all warm and gooey inside but do nothing for the “new reader.” I don’t know that I really want to get into that debate because yes, you definitely appreciate this issue more if you remember the events as they happened, particularly the references to those great Bill Mantlo issues Spectacular Spider-Man #75-76, where during the Owl/Doc Ock crime war, Felicia gets thrashed to within an inch of her life by Ock, and Spidey rips his mechanical arms off in a delicious and furious moment of revenge. Despite the fact that their relationship ultimately collapsed, to Felicia the events of those times linked her and Spider-Man forever – and she’s probably right.

By the time Felicia finds the Rhino, the poor guy is hopelessly wasted after chugging kegs of beer (literally) and about to mop Battery Park with a bunch of drunken sailors who are taunting him (frankly, it’s a shame that he couldn’t have just crushed one – they really did deserve it). He expected to be paid by the Chameleon for beating the hell out of Spidey, but what rotten luck – the Chameleon got busted before the Rhino came to collect. But rather than picking a fight with him, Felicia she chooses to talk to him and settle him down, recognizing two things (1) down deep, the Rhino is just a sad, marginally educated thug who was doing another man’s bidding and (2) her own motives for going after him were skewed – wanting to take him down in order to regain the love and approval of a man who doesn’t want her anymore. It’s actually a rather sad moment, but something that Felicia has to face if she’s to move on with the rest of her life.

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed Felicia’s revisiting the past moments of her and Peter’s relationship, but probably my favorite moments of this story were the bookends – both of which featured Felicia meeting with MJ and Aunt May to inquire about Peter’s health, and then to let them know the Rhino was no longer a threat. May Parker doesn’t even make an attempt to hide her contempt for Felicia, feeling that she’s Bad News in a catsuit, and, like the overprotective, worrisome mother that she is, thinks Felicia is a bad influence on her boy. When Felicia asks about Peter – May sharply responds “Fine. We - his family took care of him.” Mary Jane’s feelings are more complicated (twice she has to chide May for taking nasty shots at Felicia) since, of course, this is her husband’s ex-lover, a former romantic rival, and probably the first woman he’d take up with if their marriage went sour (that is, unless, of course, Peter just forgot the whole marriage thing to begin with). While MJ considers the Cat crazier than a rat in a drainpipe, she also knows that underneath all the overt sexuality and flighty behavior, Felicia deeply loves Peter Parker, and has more than once demonstrated that she is willing to risk her life for him. I like this scene because while we understand May’s and MJ’s feelings toward Felicia, we still have sympathy for the Cat because all of us at one time or another know that sinking feeling when people are passing judgment on you behind your back when they don’t know the real you. After all, these are the most important people in Peter Parker’s life – and they want nothing to do with her.

When a new writer, particularly one we’ve never heard of, takes the helm of a Spider-Man title, we all take a deep breath and hope that not only will he be a good writer, but that he will “get” the character and his supporting cast. Fortunately, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa fulfilled all three objectives.

Peter David's Friendly Neighborhood
Now we shift to the author who’s name is much easier to remember and spell, considering that it’s really two first names. Peter David had a previous writing stint on the character during Spectacular Spider-Man #103-136 (with an occasional guest writer from time to time) and contributed other stories in the character’s other titles, most notably the classic “Commuter” story in Amazing Spider-Man #267 (April 1985) but also drew the short straw when it came time to “reveal” that Ned Leeds was the original HobGoblin in issue #289 (June 1987). And as I’ve mentioned before , I always liked his classic Star Trek comics for DC back in the 80’s and 90’s and was very glad to see him back on Spider-Man. He was also the very first celebrity guest on the Spider-Man Crawlspace Podcast (scrawl down to Podcast #6). Unfortunately, while there were still some good stories, it seemed this run, perhaps even more than Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s concurrent run on Sensationalwas impacted by the constant need to shift gears to stay in synch with the events of the main title and Civil War.

Friendly Neighborhood’s first four issues had to tie in with that crapfest called "The Other," (which I dissected and eviscerated in last year's review, but beginning with issue #5 he was on his own, briefly, before more “events” not only continued to disrupt his run on the title, but brought it to an unfortunately premature end. And, like Sacasa’s post-"Feral" efforts, the stories were simple and relatively self-contained two or three issue arcs, which I think are ideal for most comic book storytelling (although as you’ll find out, there was one story I thought could actually have been longer!). Of the three Spider-Man titles at the time, I think Friendly Neighborhood made the best use of Spidey's supporting cast, and had the more interesting subplots, bringing back some long time favorites in Flash Thompson, Betty Brant and yes, even poor old Debra Whitman, for whom I've always had a soft spot. It was also apparent that his initial plans included focusing on Peter's teaching job, and re-energizing his relationship with Flash, whose nearly fatal accident in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #45 (August 2002) left him with significant gaps in his memory, including the part where he remembered that he and Peter Parker had reconciled many of their previous differences and were now good friends. He didn’t even remember that he had been the best man at Peter and MJ’s wedding or that Peter and MJ had even been married. Which I guess put him ahead of the curve, eh?

After "The Other," was finally expunged from the racks, David gave us a stand alone story in issue #5 that was a Tangled Web-like story, featuring a troubled and paranoid young woman (Vanna) who routinely poured her angry, unhappy thoughts into a computer blog, developing an unhealthy and paranoid obsession with Spider-Man, using him as a straw man for her unhappiness. Interpreting sporadic and random encounters with the web slinger over the years as proof that he was obsessed with and stalking her, she eventually obtains a restraining order directing Spider-Man to stay at least 500 feet away from her. Naturally, Jolly J. Jonah Jameson gleefully makes this story front page news, but Vanna’s sad self-absorption and anger is so strong that she won't even shake Jonah’s hand, glaring at him with the same contempt she has for everyone. Coincidentally, Spider-Man never crosses her path again. Forty years later, the troubled and lonely young girl is now a troubled and lonely old woman, living in the home left to her by her parents, never having married or made steady friends, still writing angry thoughts into her blog. Except, on this day, while in the park she receives a visitor - an unidentified sharply dressed elderly lady who takes her to task for her lifelong rants against Spider-Man, and then proceeds to contrast Spidey's eventful, heroic life with her sad, lonely, and unsuccessful one. Producing a torn, blood stained mask, she introduces herself as Spider-Man's widow (Peter David stated that he had Mary Jane in mind as he wrote the story - but she could be almost anyone – particularly now). Vanna is genuinely sad to learn that Spider-Man is long dead, because in her own warped way, she was hoping that Spidey really had noticed her, because it made her feel important (although we don’t know much about this woman’s history, the background early in the story indicates that her parents for the most part ignored her). The end has her returning to her home and her blog, resuming her sad and uneventful existence, more aware of just what a waste it has been. Well, at least she didn’t spend ten years of her life writing essays about Spider-Man for a web site with a crappy web design and an even dumber name. Now that really would have been a waste of time.

Bizarrely, David caught some flack from readers for the widow's upbraiding of Vanna at the end of the story, as cruelty toward an obviously mentally ill woman. Frankly, I would rather feel sorry for the widow with the bloodied mask. But that’s just me. Some clever moments in this story included:

Issues #6-7 featured a Mexican wrestler (ever wonder why there are SO MANY stories about Mexican wrestlers - check out the podcast) attempting to regain his family’s honor by fighting (and unmasking) Spider-Man in a wresting ring (there’s more to the story than I really want to go into here). The story was o.k. – in fact, it’s one that I liked a LOT more when I re-read it for the purpose of this review than when I read it the first time. It is notable for among other things (1) the fact that David actually followed up on Mark Millar’s rather weird plot point at the end of Marvel Knights Spider-Man #12 where JJJ inexplicably believed that his son, John, was Spider-Man, and (2) Spidey’s newfound stingers (courtesy of “The Other”) came into play, inadvertently popping out during the wrestling match and disabling his opponent. Of course, regarding (1), there really is no satisfactory explanation, so David merely leaves it as Jonah being angry at Peter Parker for duping him, blowing hard about getting even, and then dropping the whole thing. However, Robbie, like the rest of us, is incredulous that Jonah bought that story – so, do you think that maybe – deep down, Jonah really knows that Spider-Man is a hero, but the only way he could reconcile that subconscious belief with his jealousy of and other problems (too complex to go into here) with the wall-crawler was believing, however fleeting and bizarrely, that he could be his son?

Now, there were plenty of good character moments in this short little story:

Of course, the end of this story had fandom talking, when Aunt May, out with Jarvis for dinner, spots Uncle Ben looking at her through the restaurant window. It’s hard to believe how many people seriously believed that somehow Uncle Ben might be back, particularly at the hands of Peter David, who has proven more than once his respect for continuity and what makes Spider-Man work as a character. The only reason I give some of the more rabid fanboys some slack on this is because considering some of the stunts that Marvel has pulled recently, including the “deal with the devil which somehow brought Harry Osborn back from the dead so we can tell stories about Peter trying to get laid, ” their credibility is suspect.

O.K. - here's an admission contrary to popular opinion - I liked the next story, which ran through issues #8-10 (as Peter David said when he guested on the podcast – “oh so you’re the one”). And to show what a hypocrite I can be, yes, I’ve bleated before many times how I don’t really care for Spidey stories that have a strong sci-fi slant, or involve magic (a clue as to what I thought of 2007’s Spider-Man and Red Sonja five-part snooze fest). BUT – I’m a huge sucker for time travel (if it involves the future in some form or fashion) and some parallel universe stories. I say some, because all too many of the What If stories are poorly done, with Spidey making an appearance only for the purpose of getting killed, like he did in 2007’s “What If” riff on Civil War. Also, I believe that this story only scratched the surface of the potential inherent in a cross pollination between the regular Marvel Universe and the 2099 Universe, since Peter David was the primary (and virtually the sole) author of Spider-Man: 2099 stories.

Just in case some of you are not familiar with 2099 (and yes, most of you are - just bear with me a minute), this was an additional line of comics that Marvel debuted in 1992 featuring futuristic versions of the classic superheroes who typically had no ties to the original superheroes, i.e. Spidey 2099 was a fellow named Miguel O’Hara who had no connection to Peter Parker. There were 2099 versions of the Hulk, Dr. Doom, the Punisher, Ghost Rider, the X-Men, and others set against the background of a future in which corporations ruled the earth, and a brand new clean, shiny New York City had been built above the “classic” New York, which was now called “downtown,” and was at the bottom of the scale, literally and metaphorically. And I’m not doing the concept justice. Peter David wrote Spidey 2099 for 44 of the 46 issues the title was in existence, and also the one shot team-up in which the Spider-Man of our time met the Spider-Man of the future (and also Spider-Man 2211 and HobGoblin 2211 – who appear in the Friendly Neighborhood story arc). In fact, here’s the cover that 1995 story. David left along with the other 2099 writers when the editor of the line was fired by Marvel during one of the implosions in the industry during that decade. The entire line was cancelled with the exception of one “World of 2099” title that supposedly was released to coincide with a video game (that never happened), and wrapped up with a final “Manifest Destiny” graphic novel that supposedly ended the story. However, as shown by a recent series of 2099 one shots a few years ago, Marvel still occasionally dabbles in that world.

Issue #8 begins in a past that we are all too familiar with, Peter coming home after a night of performing as Spider-Man only to discover that one of his loved ones has died. Rushing in, he finds Uncle Ben, who tells him that Aunt May had a tragic fall and died. So, before the initial credits, we know that we’re going to be dabbling in an alternate reality. After May’s funeral, as Ben worries about how he will manage things, include the family finances, Peter tells him that won’t be a worry, and reveals that he is Spider-Man, the entertainer (in this reality May died by way of an accident and not during the commission of a crime), and that they will have no money worries. In fact, he makes Ben his manager, since, after all, the checks have to be made out in the name of someone who can cash them (in reference to the infamous moment in Amazing Spider-Man #1). We have to suspend disbelief just a bit since no one seems to question why Spider-Man the celebrity has an old man in Queens as his personal manager. Much like in the other alternate realities we’ve seen where Spider-Man becomes a celebrity rather than a crime fighter (most notably in the first volume of What If, issue #19), Peter becomes self-absorbed and indifferent. He has continued to live in Forrest Hills at Ben’s insistence, but has grown tired of being forced to maintain the façade of an ordinary existence, and weary of the older man telling him that he should use his talents for something more constructive. So, he tells Ben that he has signed with a talent agency and will be moving out.

As time passes, it becomes apparent that Peter has become so beholden to his celebrity and fame that he doesn’t even bother to return Ben’s phone calls. One night, as Ben is walking back from a showing of the latest Spider-Man movie (fans should appreciate the irony of Ben coming out of a theater showing Spider-Man 4, and commenting that it was a lot better than the previous one - and then there’s the Star Wars riff), rather than finding his house, he finds the burned out shell of one (remember, the Molten Man wannabe burned down the Parker home after Amazing Spider-Man #517). An inquiry of two passing cops does nothing to answer Ben’s question, but is enough to tell us that somehow he has crossed a dimensional threshold and is now in the Marvel Universe that we are familiar with. When he visits a certain graveyard, he sees his own tombstone instead of May’s, and when a strange figure on a glider offers to take him to his family, Ben willingly agrees.

Now, I don’t often imagine myself a writer of a Spider-Man title (other than that rather silly Reboot Speculations article I did many years ago, which is just a clean up of something I did for the old Hero Realm when George Berryman challenged everyone to come up with a way to fix the Spider-Man titles after the Reboot Horror of 1999). For one, it has never been a career objective. There are a lot easier ways to make a living. And I have no illusions about being as good or better than the folks being paid to do it because guess what – I’m not and never would be. End of story. That said, if I were on a title, I would love to have a divergent tale where some of the characters in the Spider-Man Universe, for example, Peter Parker, Norman Osborn, Doc Ock, and maybe some others, are accidentally catapulted into one of these futures for a longer period of time to where they actually have to make adjustments and live there for awhile. Would they be forced to cooperate to survive in a world where their skills are obsolete? Or would someone like Osborn, for example, still have enough savvy to manipulate and conspire into a position of prominence in any world that he inhabited? And the thing about time travel is that the characters could spend any amount of time in that future – and yet when it came time to return them to the present – they literally could return one minute after they left, and therefore create zero conflict with anything else going on in the other Spider-Man titles at the same time (of course, something like this would not work in the current 3 times a month Amazing publication). Sadly, this sounds all too much like fanboy fiction, and derivative of that abortion of a cartoon Spider-Man Unlimited in which the premise was Spidey going to Counter-Earth pursuing Venom and Carnage and fighting talking animals who walked upright. Like I said, I’m not a writer or an editor and it’s a damn good thing.

Issue #8 ends with Ben finding Spider-Man courtesy of HobGoblin 2211, who arranged Ben’s transfer to the Marvel Universe. Most of issue #9 is set in the 23rd Century, where the surface of Earth appears to be devastated and the occupants of this world live underground. We learn that HobGoblin 2211 is the daughter of Spider-Man 2211 (her name is Robin Borne, but her childhood name is “Hobby” hence why she’s the HobGoblin even though she wears the Green Goblin’s colors) and a researcher at a future Empire State University fascinated by alternate realities (in fact, her father’s primary job is as a time traveler, a guardian of the time stream). And then, holy shades of the movie Minority Report, her father comes to arrest her for crimes that she hasn’t committed, but will commit due to a suit that she is constructing that will be able to allow her cross realities. She is imprisoned by suspension in a virtual reality, but the methods her boyfriend takes in busting her out (a virus to disrupt the computer programming) drive her irrevocably mad, so she now spends her “time” traveling (that was awkward) to various times and realities attempting to kill the various Spider-Men and fighting her father as he tries to stop her.

At the end, our Spidey nabs one of Hobby’s “retcon bombs” (love that idea – it actually showed up in the one-shot a decade earlier) and hurls it back at her. Of course, our Spidey doesn’t realize just how damaging this type of pumpkin bomb really is – as it not just explodes – but removes HobGoblin 2211 from reality. Just like Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage at the end of “One More Day,” she now never existed (damn – wonder how many “One More Day” references I can sneak in here? And it’s not even intentional – it seems to overshadow everything right now).

Cut to “Uncle Ben,” he has no luck convincing Aunt May that he is the real thing (sort of) and starts getting a little belligerent (understandably), earning a sock in the jaw from good ole Jarvis. However, Ben then flattens Jarvis. May is appalled, and Ben realizes that there really is no place for him in this world and sadly walks away. Ah – but his story isn’t over yet, as he meets a mysterious stranger (is there really any other kind of stranger?) who offers him a gun to what – commit suicide – kill someone else? We then see Ben back at May’s grave, and Spider-Man 2211 offering to take him back to his own reality – but Ben shoots him dead! Yet, back to the alley where Ben met the mysterious stranger we see what looks like Ben, dead from a gunshot wound! Holy paradoxes – what just happened? There are two Bens now? Well, even though Peter David indicated that he left clues all over the place, I was too dense to pick them up (such as the second Ben’s reference to “blending in”, and the fact that Ben knew the Spider-Man offering to take him back to his own time was from 2211). Unfortunately, the story did not conclude until 2007 – and then David was forced to combine it with another story as the One More Day/Brand New Day reboot was already in the works.

O.K. – deep breath – spent a lot more time on exposition than I intended, but that’s what happens with these time travel/parallel universe stories. Now, as I mentioned before, I liked this story because it dealt with a subject that fascinates me and introduces us to a future that we want to know more about. And while Spidey doesn’t really need any more Goblins in his rogues gallery, at least this was a unique spin on the old tale, with a mentally disturbed woman under the garb. 2099 fans may recall that when Peter David introduced a Green Goblin into that series, it was intended to be a woman, a character called Father Jennifer, a priest who was also the sister of that Spider-Man’s slain girlfriend. However, due to the change in editors, and David’s own resignation from the title, that whole situation was completely botched with the Goblin revealed as Spider-Man’s brother, but then that was retconned in Manifest Destiny. David indicated that he had not devised a background for HobGoblin 2211 when he debuted the character in the 1990’s, and that making future Hobby a woman had nothing to do with his original intentions for the Green Goblin – it just worked better for this particular story. And for “homage fans,” the covers to issues #9 & 10 are very recognizable nods to some classic Goblin/Spidey covers.

You also can’t help but snicker at some of the little inserts here and there into the dialogue:

However, unlike long story arcs that feel like they should have been a lot shorter, this is a story that more could have been done with. I wasn’t really happy with the ambiguous ending not because I thought that David didn’t intend to adequately resolve it – but because of the current comics environment, where publishers are continually switching creative teams and because one mega event keeps flowing into the other disrupting whatever storylines are in progress – I didn’t have faith that we would get a satisfactorily resolution – and we ultimately didn’t. For example, I wanted to know more about the 23rd Century and why the denizens of that time frame are living underground, and more about Robin’s theories and ambitions that eventually resulted in her arrest. Also, Spider-Man 2211 sees a horrid future if that alternate reality Uncle Ben isn’t returned to his own era (Spidey turns into a big spider and is about to eat the New Avengers), but there’s just a long way from Point A to Point B.

Issues 11-13 comprised another promising three part tale which brought back my favorite B-List Spidey villain – Mysterio. And it wasn’t just one Mysterio, but three – including the one who was dead! It also made effective use of Peter Parker’s day job as a high school teacher, was the first of the Friendly Neighborhood stories to reflect the events of the unmasking, and had a turning point in Peter and Flash’s relationship, as the latter has to face a reality that he never saw coming – that the man he has known for years and considered a weakling is really his hero Spider-Man. AND – yeah there’s more – Flash meets the new school nurse who gives us more than one hint that she might have something to do with whatever the hell sprung out of that cocoon at the end of “The Other.” That’s a lot to digest and in a good way.

The plot is that Frances Klum, who bought Mysterio’s equipment from the Kingpin in the final part of Evil That Men Do has decided to attack Midtown High School as part of his planned vengeance against Spider-Man for the death of his brother in the aforementioned miniseries. However, as he monologues (thank you The Incredibles), he is being watched by a mysterious stranger (no relation to the mysterious stranger in the previous story). Meanwhile, Peter Parker’s outing as Spider-Man has turned Midtown High into a media and protest zone, as parents are claiming that his presence there puts their children in danger (well, yeah, I guess it does). He gives the school principal his resignation, effective the end of the day. His students, however, are seriously bummed out, but as they begin to air their disapproval, the school is enveloped in a black cloud, and soon there is a voiceover stating that all of the windows are wired to explode if anyone tries to get out that way – and that the front door is the only way out. Of course, since this is Mysterio Take Three, the entire school is rigged with projectors, ”hauntings,” and death traps to mess with everyone’s minds and sense of direction, so just getting to the front door is going to be an adventure.

Before this story is over, not only does Daniel Berkhart, the Mysterio from way back in Amazing Spider-Man #141-142 (February and March 1975), who took over for the original, Quentin Beck, after Beck faked his death the first time, and then after he blew his brains out for real (see the miniseries Mysterio Manifesto - discussed in Spider-Man 2001 Year in Review ) show up at the school – but someone claiming to be the original does as well. Except rather than the standard Mysterio green, this one is in red (the devil’s favorite color) and his cape is tattered. Spidey never faces this Mysterio, but the new school nurse, Miss Arrow does. As the picture leading off this review shows, this apparently IS the real deal – blown off head and all. How can he be back? Well, the story doesn’t quite make that clear. Beck talks in riddles as he tells Miss Arrow his story, that while he was done with life, life was not done with him, or rather, as he went to the place that all suicides go (does that mean Mysterio is Roman Catholic, believing that suicide is a mortal sin?), there were certain individuals who felt he could serve their needs. And he’s telling Miss Arrow this because? Well, when you’ve been brought back from the dead, I guess you develop a certain, eh, “sixth sense” about some people, which proves to be correct as Ms. Arrow shows off some stinger-sprouting wrists of her own when the Francis Klum Mysterio gets a little too pushy. However, before Beck disappears in a flash of hellfire, he tells Ms. Arrow that there is a great game going on, in which everyone must be in their place – and that Peter Parker must not leave the school – that “it’s not time,” and that “my superiors” want this. He tells her to work to keep Peter there – after all- her superiors would want that as well.

So what did all that mean? Who were Mysterio’s “associates” who apparently gave him some semblance of life after death and what is the great game he was referring to - the one that required Peter Parker to stay at Midtown High?

We’ll probably never know - what a shame. Like I alluded to with the “2211” story, open ended stories are annoying when you know they’ll never be resolved, and this story wasn’t during David’s stay on Friendly Neighborhood since he didn’t have the time before he was unceremoniously dismissed. It’s my guess that the “Peter Parker must stay” was devised by David as a way to keep the Midtown High School teacher subplot going even though after being outed, it realistically would have been irresponsible of Peter to continue as a teacher and he should have resigned.

I liked the characterization of the school principal, Roger – who although getting pressure from parents to fire Peter, states that because of what he has done as Spider-Man (and because he registered), he’s going to cover Pete’s back and resist the calls for his resignation. However, when Peter says he’s quitting anyway, Roger couldn’t be more relieved. I felt Roger had the ability to be a good supporting character, particularly when mediating between Peter and Flash during their disagreements. Unfortunately, not only was the entire school subplot eventually canned, but Roger went the way of too many members of the supporting cast over time – but that’s for next year.

My favorite line is when after Peter changes to Spider-Man, one of his students asks “Who’s doing this, Mr. Parker?” to which another responds “Dope! He’s not Mr. Parker now! You gotta call him Spider-Man – or Spidey!”

The interaction between Flash and Peter/Spider-Man was fun, being 45 years in the making. At first, of course, Flash is in denial because Peter Parker just can’t be Spider-Man. Now, secret identities, although a key part of the superhero canon, are silly and unrealistic because you would think that since Peter and Spider-Man hang around the same people (at Midtown, ESU, or the Bugle), and one keeps appearing the same time the other disappears, everyone would figure it out sooner or later. But Flash, like Jonah, is a special case. For one, Flash has a highly idealized picture of the type of person that Spider-Man has to be, more so than many of Peter’s crowd who really should have figured things out years earlier, like Betty, Liz, Harry, Gwen, etc. To Flash, it isn’t just so much that Spidey can’t be Peter Parker – he can’t really be anyone “normal.” His Spidey is a movie star, war hero, football quarterback, brother figure all wrapped up into one. Considering Flash’s tortured relationship with his alcoholic policeman father, Spidey was the ultimate big brother who he looked up to and wanted to pattern his life after. He wasn’t a fraud like his old man, who wore the uniform of a man sworn to protect and serve, but failed to do that for his own family. And the fact that Spidey always seemed to show up in the nick of time and more than once save Flash’s ass, just further solidified that perspective. Although taken to the extreme by hero worship, Flash Thompson was the first person to realize just how much of a hero Spider-Man was, how brave and self-sacrificing he had to be. The best story of the dreadful first 18 months of the two core Spider-Man titles after the 1999 Reboot was the two-parter (Amazing Spider-Man volume 2 #7-8 which featured Mysterio as the villain coincidentally) that was Flash’s fantasy of being a superhero in his own right who fought crime as Spidey’s sidekick. Even in this fantasy (which includes Flash marrying Mary Jane, and Norman Osborn as the Mayor of New York), Flash never gives his hero a face or an identity beyond that of Spider-Man – and why would he?

But Flash isn’t stupid. When the truth finally comes to him, it isn’t a loud “oh my god! I don’t believe it!” but a quiet moment of introspection, and perhaps some sadness as he realizes that his hero is a frail human being like himself, and not only that, but a man whom he treated as an inferior for years. And once that’s over, he rushes to Spidey’s side to help him against the Mysterios without giving it a second thought.

It’s a testament to Peter David’s talents that he was actually able to weave a story featuring the antagonists of two garbage stories, the Evil That Men Do, and The Other, that in all honesty, were better left forgotten, and the stupidity of Mysterio’s suicide, and actually made it all interesting.

Again, as much a continuity fanboy whore that I am, the reversing of the original Mysterio’s death is not something that I would object to, in much the same way I didn’t object to the Chameleon just “showing up” fine and dandy after taking a spill off a bridge in Webspinners, or Doc Ock being raised from the dead in a mystical ceremony. So, if as a result of the “One More Day”/”Brand New Day” clusterf**k, Quentin Beck just happens to show up alive and well and purged of the cancer that was ravaging him in the pages of Daredevil, then I tip my globe dome to him. I don’t even have to know how it happened – after all, it’s magic – no one has to explain it.

Everyone complains about the recent lack of “fun” in the spider-titles. Well, I think it would have been “fun” to have a year or two worth of stories dealing with Peter Parker (and by extension Spider-Man), as a public school teacher, dealing with the pitfalls and agonies of such a demanding job, and finding out that not even a superhero can cut through the bureaucracy that strangles our school systems. And one of the hallmarks of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man was the humor.

In the final story of 2006 for this title, David brought back Debra Whitman, who hadn’t been seen in more than 20 years since Spectacular Spider-Man #75, and more prominently, Betty Brant, both ladies in Spidey’s past of whom I’m rather fond. We see their reaction to the unmasking, which is quite different than Liz Allan’s for example. Whereas Liz was angry and bitter, Betty was relieved, because now so much of the turmoil she had experienced in her life, including the continued presence of Spider-Man, made sense. But poor Deb, well, poor Deb just can’t catch a break.

Because of a desperate need for money due to her mother’s poor health and staggering medical bills, Debra is easy prey for a book publisher owned by J. Jonah Jameson who wants to do a nasty tell all book about Spidey. Using Deb’s understandable resentment of Peter (if you read the original issues from that time period, Peter did treat Deb rather shabbily. The worst moment was when after he came to her apartment for help and passed out after a battle with one of his foes, she bandaged him up and cooked dinner for him – and then he walked out without even giving her the courtesy of actually sitting down to dinner with her), the Bugle’s people distort her story into a book called Two Faced – How Peter Parker Ruined my Life. Deb comes to New York for a book signing, and Peter is determined to be there to give her a piece of his mind. However, if you’ve been following Civil War, you realize that Pete has turned on Tony Stark and is now a fugitive. So, SHIELD springs the Vulture out of the can and sends him after Spider-Man. Knowing his prey like he does, old Vultch figures that it’s a cinch that Peter is going to show up at the signing – and he isn’t disappointed. In the subsequent battle, just as Spidey is about to go another round with the old bird – the Vulture is defeated not by our hero – but by his own advanced age – suffering a debilitating stroke during the fight. Overwhelmed by guilt over what she’s done, Deb bears her heart to Betty Brant, who figures out a clever way to turn the tables on Jameson and embarrass him, but in a way that doesn’t compromise Deb, allowing her to keep the money that she was paid.

Whew – that was covering a lot in one paragraph. Key story points included:

I was never able to understand why this title was the lowest selling title of the Spider-Man line, and why it and Sensational sold only half the numbers that Amazingdid. The Spider-Man as portrayed in Amazing at the end of 2006 was a pathetic shadow of his heroic self, self-pitying, making stupid decisions and the title itself became grim and dark. The other two titles did a much better job of telling well rounded stories, brought back different members of the supporting cast and used them effectively, and in the case of Friendly Neighborhood remained lighter and included much more of the humor that is so often associated with the character. Folks,these are the Spider-Man stories you’ve been claiming you’ve always wanted – but these weren’t the stories you bought.

But since we’ve been talking about Peter David, let us mention one more Spider-Man story that he gave us in 2006, which proved there are limits to how much of a silk purse one can make out of a sow’s ear.

What If? The Other
My review of this title could be best summed up as What For? No one ultimately gave a damn about "The Other" the way it ultimately unfolded - so why did Marvel think anyone would care about an alternative ending? The best What If? stories are where we learn something new about a character when things don't go the way they normally would. But - there really was no story to tell here. In “The Other” Peter died, faced some kind of giant spider god that told him to embrace the spider – then he was “reborn” bursting out of his cocoon. And not a damn thing was ever really done with it in the titles, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment. In this reality, rather than listen to the spider-god and embrace his inner spider, he rips its head off – and therefore never emerges from the cocoon. Cut to Ryker’s where the Mac Gargan Venom is incarcerated, the symbiote “senses” that something has happened to Peter Parker, something that would give it another chance to bond with him – so it abandons Gargan and finds the cocoon, inserting itself into it. Many months later, a regenerated Peter Parker bursts forth – but it really isn’t Peter. He is for all intents and purposes dead, and the symbiote has completely consumed him, and is the dominant personality. Calling itself “Poison,” it returns to Stark Tower (where MJ and May have remained all of these months) and attempts to bond with Mary Jane, replicating itself within her. She refuses at first, but then when Luke Cage and Wolverine come to her aid and are injured, she changes her mind – but tells “Poison” that while she will be part of him now, because of what it has done to Peter and will do to her, she will make every day a living hell for it. Whether there is a residual spark of Peter Parker left inside of Poison, or whether it simply realized that there was no point of having an uncooperative mate, Poison departed – but he wasn’t done looking for a woman. Even though the rest of the story was a waste, the ending had a ghoulishly cool factor to it. Poison digs up Gwen Stacy’s body, replicates the symbiote within it, bakes it in a cocoon for awhile – and viola! Instant companion!

So what was the point because sucking another $2.99 + tax from me?

Some day I’ll learn.

Rounding third and heading for home in the year that was 2006 in Spider-Man comics, we’ll look at a series that virtually never disappoints and is rewarded by having one of the most maniacally devoted fan bases in comics, including the Spider-Man Crawlspace’s own Spideydude. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, they seem to be a rather small maniacally devoted fan base.

Now she's an Amazing Spider-Girl
As a head’s up for those unfamiliar with the Spider-Girl universe, May Parker is Peter and Mary Jane’s daughter that either died, was kidnapped by Norman Osborn, or wiped from existence by Mephisto, depending on what version of the tale you prefer. Right now, it’s probably the latter. In the Spider-Girl universe created by Tom DeFalco, May was kidnapped at birth by Osborn, who left her with the Scriers, his criminal cult that he took over in the seven years between his “death” and return to the United States at the end of the Clone Saga. However, Peter Parker’s scarred clone, Kaine rescued May and returned her to Mary Jane. Spider-Man confronts Osborn at the Gathering of Five Ceremony (which took place right before the Reboot of 1999), and in battle, Osborn is killed (for real), and Spider-Man loses a leg, effectively ending his career. He and Mary Jane raise their daughter like any normal parents, but at 15, May’s spider powers start kicking in, and she soon takes up the family business. Meanwhile, Kaine, after a rough start in the series, has hooked up with this universe’s own version of the Thunderbolts (they’re not called that, but that gives you an idea of the kind of team they are, although a bit more G-rated) to seek redemption for his past (and keep an eye on his “niece”). Now back to the present.

As usual, the lives of 16 year old girls are rather complicated, sometimes through their own doing. However, May has more than her fair share of burdens. As we begin 2006, the tension shows no sign of relenting. Young Norman Osborn is now the host of the Venom symbiote, the Avengers are mad at her for not following orders on their last mission (Spider-Girl is a reserve Avenger), her social life at Midtown High is falling apart, a South American crime kingpin is in love with her, she’s about to get paid a visit by one of her old man’s deadliest rogues, and her title was constantly facing impending cancellation. Yep – a girl’s life can be tough.

This year’s events are kicked off when Kaine (May does not know just how closely related she is to him), has a vision that the Scriers are going to kill Spider-Girl. You may recall that since Kaine was a clone of Peter Parker, his powers were accentuated versions of the original’s – in this case – his enhanced spider sense is truly precognition.

In addition playing superhero himself with the symbiote (he rejects the name Venom as that was the combination of the symbiote and Eddie Brock), Norman has also revived the Green Goblin technology that originally made Phil Urich a super powered Goblin when he was a teenager (and the star of his own brief series) and given it back to Urich to use. The Osborn-symbiote combination actually saves the day in issue #95 when Tony Stark’s old friend, Jim Rhodes, goes berserk due to the nanites infesting his body malfunctioning after an attack by the Scarlet Witch, and begins taking out Avengers old and new.

Unfortunately, as Kaine bloodies up some local Scriers, he unwittingly sets the events of Spider-Girl’s “death” in motion himself by drawing attention to her (the new cult leader had no idea there was a Spider-Girl), and the leader (now a woman) sends an agent to follow her to discover just what her connection is to Kaine. After the agent is defeated by Spider-Girl and the Scarlet Spider (yep Felicity Hardy, daughter of the Black Cat and Flash Thompson), he commits suicide to avoid capture. In revenge the Scriers, rather than risking any more of their own membership decides to enlist someone with experience in fighting “spider-people.”

That sets the stage for issue #97, which brings back one of the best of Spider-Man’s old foes – who’s been having such a good time in the Spider-Girl universe that he’s never left! A bounty hunter captures Roderick Kingsley on the tropical island where he has apparently stayed in retirement after cutting out at the end of “Goblins at the Gate” (Spectacular Spider-Man #259-261 July-September 1998), and while incarcerated in an local prison, the Scriers approach him with an offer – his freedom in exchange for taking out Spider-Girl, and capturing Kaine for the Scriers (it is fuzzy whether or not the bounty hunter apprehended Kingsley on behalf of the Scriers so that he would be open to accepting their offer, or whether it was a fortuitous coincidence). The Goblin brutally attacks several of Spider-Girl’s associates, such as the Ladyhawks, Raptor (also Norman Osborn’s fiancé), and the Buzz (also JJJ’s grandson) in order to lure her in. After a warm up battle in issue #99, the HobGoblin leads both Spider-Girl and Kaine into the midst of the Scriers, where May is mortally wounded much like in Kaine’s vision. In issue #100, Norman gives up the symbiote to May so that the latter may heal her. The symbiote bonds with May, who pursues the HobGoblin, and is joined by none other than her father, who has once again put on the duds to protect his little girl (amazing how he still fits in them after almost two decades in retirement). The HobGoblin is prepared for the symbiote and uses sonic technology to force it from May’s body. But rather than slink away, the symbiote continues to attack Kingsley, and is destroyed in the process. She weakens him enough that he is captured by the Spiders, but due to their distraction by a Scrier attack, he slinks away to nurse his wounds and prepare for his next attack. In the meantime, the Black Tarantula, having heard of the Scriers contract on May, travels to their temple to intercede on Spider-Girl’s behalf, but is rebuffed. Therefore, he engages the current Scrier Prime in combat for control of the cult, and emerges victorious, calling off the attacks on May, Kaine, and Spider-Man.

The first one hundred issues of Spider-Girl closes with Norman and Brenda Drago’s wedding at her hospital bedside, May achieving an uneasy truce with her father after her mother has made it clear that she wants no more costumed shenanigans in the Parker household, and May realizing that through all of the ups and downs, good times and heartbreaks, there have been more than enough successes to outweigh the mistakes, and that Spider-Girl still has a place in her life. And I’ve left a lot out.

That Spider-Girl reached 100 issues is nothing less than miraculous, considering how few titles even reach the century mark anymore, particularly one with relatively low sales numbers in which cancellation was announced three times that I can remember, yet each time receiving a reprieve by her devoted fans. However, this time it really did look like her number was up, as sales, which had been very steady in the low 20,000 for some time (the consistency of which was a factor in keeping it alive), turned south and began to permanently shed readers, reaching the 16,000 level. This is hard to figure, unless a combination of title fatigue and steadily rising prices across the board was causing some people to drop it. It couldn’t have been the quality, because as I’ve said in virtually every annual review in which this title is discussed, the quality is remarkably consistent. That doesn’t mean that every story is a winner, because it’s not, but like I’ve also said, we also don’t have to worry about garbage like “One More Day” showing up. And it also consistently meets shipping dates, which is not to be taken for granted these days. I never openly wished that the title would come to an end, but I found myself wishing at times that the fans would let it go, because I can’t really see anyone besides Tom DeFalco writing it, and there comes a time in virtually ever writer’s stint on a character that he runs out of steam, but so far, DeFalco does not seem to have reached that point.

Still, the title appeared to have reached some kind of turning point due to the sales slippage and issue #100 looked like the end. Some additional interesting moments during this finish to #100 included:

Issue #100 also includes two reprints, issue #27, Norman Osborn’s last turn as the Green Goblin, and issue #53 which prominently features Felicity Hardy. Yes, you’ve heard me gripe more than once (and will again) about paying an extra dollar and getting reprints. However, Spider-Girl has typically had relatively low distribution numbers and her back issues haven’t been as easy to come by (as has been my experience, although your mileage may vary) and are not reprinted as often. Plus, this larger sized issue was a way of using the publicity surrounding the 100th issue to bring more attention to a character that has received precious little and to show potentially new readers stories they might not have seen the first time around.

To Marvel’s credit, they decided to reboot the series with a new title Amazing Spider-Girl, and give it some long overdue promotion. In the new #1, May has stopped being Spider-Girl for the last few months due to Mary Jane stressing out it, and after some time, she decides that she likesbeing a normal teenager and getting her life back together. She’s even dating Eugene Thompson, son of you know you and Felicia Hardy (in the Spider-Girl world, Flash and Felicia, who dated for a little while in the regular universe but split up, had a longer relationship, eventually marrying, but later divorcing). May also spends time volunteering at a local women’s shelter, which I think is an appropriate avocation for the character. Of course, it doesn’t take long for May to realize that the world needs Spider-Girl, and she receives her mother’s blessing to once again take up the threads. And as the series kicks off (in 2006 we only got to issue #3), the HobGoblin is already firmly in place as a prominent player.

And for all of the talk in years past about Marvel failing to promote Spider-Girl as if they wanted it to go away (as it belied their persistent claim that no one wanted to see Peter Parker as a father), while it may have been true years ago – that is no longer the case. The first issue of Amazing Spider-Girl sold over 60,000 copies, but then the numbers began to crash through the floor, and as we open 2008, it is now back down to its pre-relaunch numbers.

As I mentioned before, this has been a consistently good title, and seems to be the harbinger to the simpler and more enjoyable storytelling that people say they want out of their superhero comic books.

I just don’t get it.

Last Planet Standing is a sequel to last year’s <,i>Last Hero Standing, where Loki attempted to turn the superheroes against each other, but failed. That story ended with Thor creating a new star from a dying Captain America’s essence. That new star is what has attracted the FF’s old foe Galactus, who seeks to evolve into something else besides the Devourer of Worlds, but his plan to do that will literally destroy the entire universe. This story includes the Fantastic Five, the Avengers, and a host of other heroes and villains and really is a story of massive scale. Galactus even consumes Asgard, home of the gods and destroys New York (it’s restored at the end, though, thus avoiding the destruction having to be constantly referenced in the regular Spider-Girl title). The Silver Surfer comes to the rescue and ultimately merges with Galactus and eliminates his personality. May is a bit player in the entire affair, but is crucial in its conclusion and unlike the previous mini, her father doesn’t make an appearance. I don’t recommend it as a “must by,” but if you’ve got a few extra bucks to burn on a trade, it’s not a bad pickup at all.

Ultimate Spider-Man
No, I did not return to it this year. Although this version of the Clone Saga had an interesting twist in that Doctor Octopus was its mastermind, I was still smarting from the long, belabored arcs that took too long to get to where they were going and a Spider-Man that I found increasingly more annoying as time went on.

The "I Completely Missed the Boat on This" Storyline of 2006 - Marvel Zombies
There are jokes that, no matter how many times they are told, you just don't get. There are films and television series, that regardless of how much the critical community or your associates or family like them ("Friends," “American Idol” anyone? Although, I do somewhat understand the latter’s freak show appeal, and the genuine possibility that you can watch the beginnings of someone’s rise to stardom. Who wouldn’t want to say they saw the Ed Sullivan shows that featured Elvis and the Beatles?), you think they're vapid pieces of garbage. And there are comics like that too.

"Marvel Zombies" first appeared in Ultimate Fantastic Four #21-23, by Mark Millar, which featured the FF of the Ultimate Universe crossing over into another Marvel Universe, only to find that one populated by superheroes turned zombies, including Spider-Man, who have feasted on most of the human population. No problem there. But then it was made into a limited series, and another one, and another one, all with multiple variants and "homage" covers taken from some of the most famous covers in Marvel history. And then the sickness spread into zombie variant covers on the regular titles and collectibles.

The original Dawn of the Dead directed by George Romero, is probably my favorite horror movie of all time. Shaun of the Dead, a parody with Simon Pegg, is not only a good horror movie, but damn funny as well. Marvel Zombies is a cheap, disgusting idea and one has to wonder just what the hell was in the water at Marvel when this project was green-lighted.

Although repulsed by it, I Bryne-stole it when it came out in hardcover, because I sure as hell wasn't even going to pay for this thing even out of the bargain box. What was I missing? I still don't know, because I saw nothing to alter my initial opinion of it. Zombie Spider-Man feeling guilt over eating Aunt May and Mary Jane? Giant Man keeping Black Panther alive and sedated so that he can dismember pieces of him for consumption? This was entertainment? Some people appreciated the gallows humor, or the “characterization” of the zombies. Or so I heard.

Well - the joke's on me. I not only missed the boat, I wasn't anywhere near the damn dock. And Marvel and Robert Kirkman laughed all the way to the bank. And all of those variant covers on the regular titles caused sales to spike briefly on those titles.

Shows what I know.

Best Story of 2006
The death spiral that claimed Amazing Spider-Man during Civil War reduced the number of stories eligible under my admittedly arbitrary and probably illogical criteria for Best Spider-Man Story of the Year. However, two crossed the finish line in a photo finish, so I’ve decided to discuss them both - first the runner-up, and then the winner.

Runner Up - Web of Romance
This was a one-shot entry in Marvel's Valentine oriented "I Love Marvel" series. Written by Tom Beland, it concerns Peter's annual dilemma of what to get Mary Jane for Valentines Day (guess he won’t have to worry about that anymore). Pete - like far too many of us guys - is clueless when it comes to figuring out what his significant other wants. He is even reduced to asking the talking baboon whose pheromones make him irresistible to women, the Mandrill, (last seen by Spidey fans in Spider-Man: Breakout), for advice. However, during a demonstration of how Spider-Man's web shooters worked (past tense since he can now produce webbing biologically – well he could then – he can’t anymore), he hits upon the ideal gift - which makes perfect sense - so perfect in fact, that of course, it was never been referred to or seen again - typical.

The Mary Jane in this story is the giddy, goofy Mary Jane that we sadly, almost never see anymore, whose street smarts, flirtatious nature, and outgoing personality continually reinforce what we love about Peter Parker. Contrary to Marvel's persistently deluded belief that being married to Mary Jane makes Peter's life too "perfect" and "un-relatable," when written properly, she reinforces just what we love about him - he's a socially awkward, obtuse nerd at heart who sometimes needs directions just to cross the street. Mary Jane is far more comfortable just "hanging out" with Captain America, Iron Man, and Luke Cage watching a basketball game than Peter is. In fact, it is scenes such as this that were part of the promise that the New Avengers held, watching these people interact not just as super-powered heroes, but as human beings doing very ordinary, human things together. Unfortunately, this promise was shit-canned when Marvel decided to go for the granddaddy of Big Events and f**k it all up.

There's a lot of good stuff in one little story, including:

The story only missteps when Peter, in pondering just what he loves about Mary Jane, begins comparing her to Gwen Stacy. He emphasizes how strong MJ is by denigrating Gwen's ability to take care of herself, "because there's no way that Gwen Stacy could take on someone who was going to bring harm to her." I'm sure the Gwen fans out there, and they are legion (a couple of my most faithful readers are Stacyphiles), who would seriously disagree with that, and I wouldn't argue with them. The Gwen Stacy of the Steve Ditko - early John Romita, Sr. era was clearly able to take care of herself, as the bruised face of an obnoxious protester who slammed Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man #70 (March 1969) will attest. The original Gwen Stacy was a force to be reckoned with (one reason why I believe that Harry Osborn loved her so much – she was the best “big sister” a guy could have), but unfortunately, Stan Lee's increasing lazy and clichéd writing proved to be deadlier to her than Norman Osborn.

But otherwise, this is a good story that reminds me of just why both Peter, and I, love Mary Jane Watson, and will sorely miss her.

Winner - Sensational Spider-Man #33
Those who have followed the MadGoblin's deranged and biased bleating over what is now going on 10 years (get a life, JR!) may have noticed that there has been what I consider to be a sad trend in my "Best of the Year" stories. They are seldom from the core titles. In fact, thus far only the 2001 & 2002 entries were from the core titles, and both were Peter Parker stories written by the one and only Paul Jenkins, who at 3, holds the record for the most "Best" stories – a record which is likely to stand for some time as no one else has more than one. This story was the second part of a three part arc written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa focusing on the women in Spider-Man's life: Mary Jane, Aunt May, and Felicia Hardy. I discussed the other two earlier. This one was by far the best of the three and a strong contender for best story of any year. The premise is that Spider-Man and family are on the run because he decided to rebel against the Superhuman Registration Act and Tony Stark for the stupidest of reasons (feeling sorry for those poor mistreated supervillains in the Negative Zone). He inadvertently runs into the Rhino, who nearly beats the life out of him. Crawling back to the motel where he and his ladies are hiding out, the story is largely told in flashback. While bandaging him up, Aunt May reflects on another time she nursed him back to health, when he was young and broke his arm falling out of a tree, which he was climbing at the urge of another young boy.

This story gets to the heart of why May has been such a worrywart about Peter all those years - and it wasn't because she was a silly, nagging, childish, senile old coot, which is how she was portrayed for far too long in the Spider-Man comics. We are shown when Ben and May first receive the news that Peter's parents have died in that famous plane crash (engineered by the Red Skull), and their very palpable fear of becoming parents at their age and at this stage in their lives, disrupting how they certainly planned to spend the rest of their lives together. The fear soon gives way to a love that May, as well as many parents, never believed she had inside of her. You never realize just how much you could love someone until you have a child, but then the horror of it also strikes you. Your life will also never be free from the fear and the worry that goes with it. Their wounds are yours - their heartbreaks are yours – now and forever. The rest of your life has now been wrested from your control and will be largely defined by your children and what happens to them. I can't summarize it any better than Sacasa does at the end "Every single scar he carries - and many he doesn't - you do as well. Life is an accumulation of pain and wounds. Your own, and those belonging to the people you love. At any given moment, you believe your life is going to go a certain way - until in the time it takes a sheet to blow free - it all changes."

The flashback of May's vigil at the hospital, which she insists on maintaining even though Peter is asleep, and it's "just a broken arm," as Ben reminds her, trying to talk her into going home for the night, brought back a lot of memories. Here he goes again, you say, another regression into his personal life. O.K. – for those of you who are bored with such regressions just skip the next few paragraphs and rejoin me for the Worst Story of 2006. The rest of you, this won’t take long.

I was only hospitalized once in my entire life (knock wood, I’ve been very lucky). I was eight years old, and my brother and I were getting our tonsils removed. After the surgery, our mother was with us the entire night, even though back in 1972 the hospital rooms in Daviess County Hospital in Washington, Indiana didn't have roll-out beds or fairly comfortable Lazy Boy recliners for parents to take a snooze - just old wooden rocking chairs. My own children have been in the hospital, and each time, my wife has never left their side. I have all kinds of perfectly rational and very convenient excuses to leave: I have to go to work the next morning, or I have to take care of household business, such as picking the other child up from school and seeing after the dog. I tell myself that I leave because I have to - but the sad truth is - I leave because I want to. I can't stand to be there - can't stand to see my children in any sort of pain and discomfort. It destroys me. And my children are in good health - I'm one of the lucky ones, unlike the parents of some of the other children I have seen in those hospitals - the ones with no hair, the ones hooked up to oxygen or dialysis machines, the ones in wheelchairs. So, I come up with all kinds of logical excuses to get away.

But my wife never leaves, as much as she might want to. And I notice that the other mothers don't leave either.

Fathers have taken a bad rap in the era of "women's liberation" as certain, but not all, segments of the left wing insist children don't need fathers because we're sex-crazed, drunken, abusive foul-mouthed, foul-smelling misogynistic fiends at our worst, or addled buffoons nor more useful than a sperm donor at our best. But even given the hateful fallacy of that belief, there's something about the inner strength of a mother that I'm not sure that the majority of us dads have on our best days. And yes that is a generalization - I realize that some fathers do have "it" in them, just as some mothers are drunken, foul-mouthed, foul-smelling abusive uncaring bitches. But let's stay on track here.

May is an obsessive worry-wart over Peter because she is his mother. She is not "like" his mother, or his "mother figure," or the "closest thing to a mother he ever had." She IS his mother, biology be damned. And this story tells us that better than probably any other May-centered stories of Spider-Man's 45-year history. She herself would probably not definitively make that statement because she would not want to appear to disrespect the memories of Peter’s biological parents, or want him to believe that she is trying to take the place of his natural mother. Yes, she is overprotective of Peter and she does treat him like he’s a child at times, even if he is a grown man, and Spider-Man. But that's what mothers do.

Of course, I can't leave this with commenting that while the story is a beautiful one, the cover is just friggin’ awful! It looks like Zombie Spider-Man is crying out to eat Aunt May's brains!

That's ironic given another miniseries we've discussed earlier.

Worst Story of 2006 - Spider-Man: Blue, Black and Read all Over
Believe it or not, I had a hard time picking the “worst” story of the year. This was not a particularly strong year overall, in fact, the Spider-titles were in decline, but sometimes the mediocrity is so prevalent that it’s hard to pick that one out and out stinker. Now, I toyed with calling Civil War and “The War at Home” the worst stories of the year because of how Spider-Man’s character was so thoroughly hosed to serve the whims of that improbable storyline. But I wasn't sure that I could divorce my feelings about Amazing Spider-Man’s left-wing political stance and Marvel's annoying shipping problems from whatever gripes I might have felt about story quality. And both arcs really did start out as compelling stories for the first three parts before tanking. So, I decided to pick what I truly considered a bottom-feeding effort by Marvel to rip off Spider-Man fans - in which not only was the story bad, but the art was bad, and the reader was hosed for an extra buck for a reprint!

It’s the one-shot Blue, Black, and Read all Over. Talk about your conundrums - the August 2006 issue of Civil War featured Spider-Man revealing his identity to the world in a press conference. This one-shot was dated November 2006, and as you can tell by the plot, makes absolutely NO sense in the context of Civil War, or in the context of other recent events in the titles.

Over a cup of coffee at a restaurant, Peter confides to Aunt May about his bad dreams and anxiety over a confrontation with the Vulture that occurred. In the battle, Spider-Man had stripped the Vulture of his wings and other equipment, but had run out of webbing and couldn't nail the old bird as he started to disappear into the crowd. This, of course, ignores the fact that for the past year or so, Spider-Man has generated organic webbing - and there have been no references to it needing a certain amount of time to regenerate. A cop has a gun on the Vulture, but lets him get away. When asked by Spider-Man why - the response was "because that's your job," which, of course, is what a younger and more arrogant Spider-Man told a certain cop 15 years ago (Marvel time), and the result was Uncle Ben's death.

May actually tells Peter something he had needed to hear for a long time, that Ben would have gladly given his life knowing that a hero such as Spider-Man would have arisen as a result. However, then the conversation sequeways into May's suggestion that Spider-Man tell the world who he is so that they understand that he is one of them(?). Even MJ supports this idea, stating that "you might make the Avengers this time," to which Peter replies that "Avenger's Mansion's going to be the only place safe for you and Aunt May." Of course, this also ignores that for the past year Spidey has been an Avenger and his family has been living in Stark Towers! Spidey makes a deal with J. Jonah Jameson that if Jonah gives him the first three pages of the Bugle to tell his story, then he will unmask on the front steps of the Bugle on the date it is published. Jonah fulfills his part of the bargain, but as he gleefully anticipates finding out whom Spider-Man is once and for all, a large crowd gathers in front of the Bugle. Many of them are dressed as Spider-Man - and they begin unmasking, male and female, young and old (even Aunt May!), including the cop at the beginning of the story who allowed the Vulture to get away. So, naturally, when Peter pulls off his mask and "confesses," it has no effect. And now he can get a good night's sleep. The rest of the issue is a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #12 (May 1964) "Unmasked by Doctor Octopus," the issue where Doc Ock unmasks Spidey during battle, but no one believes Peter is really Spider-Man because of the ineffectual effort he put up against Ock due to a cold.

WTF?

First of all, what was the point of this story? I could go on about how Peter seemed to make the decision to unmask and tell his story to the Bugle way too quickly, but that's all irrelevant because of the events which have taken place since. And where did all of his "supporters" get all of those Spider-Man costumes on such short notice? The story must have been assigned and near completion when the real unmasking was planned, and rather than just kill the story and pay the requisite kill fees, Marvel decided to try to recoup some of the expenses. But the real salt in the wound that tipped this story into the “Worst” circle is bumping up the price to $3.99 just for a REPRINT of Amazing Spider-Man #12, which is readily available via other reprints, such as the Essentials, unlike the Spider-Girl stories I mentioned earlier, which have not been reprinted in several formats zillions of times.

But at least we got to see Mary Jane wearing Spider-Man pajamas.

Spider-Man Meets Stan Lee also received consideration for the award for many of the same reasons - including a lame story where Spidey is suffering one of his usual crises of confidence and good old Stan Lee talks him through it. And to get this, you had to pay the inflated price of $3.99 supplemented by yet another REPRINT. This time it was Amazing Spider-Man #87 (August 1970), another "unmasking" tale - this time where Peter gets such a nasty case of the flu it makes him delusional and he tells Gwen and Captain Stacy, Harry and MJ that he's really Spider-Man. The only reason it didn't get further consideration for worst story of the year was because I didn't buy it, I just Bryne-stole my brother's copy. He didn't like it either.

2006 in Conclusion
What can we say about this year? 2006 was the beginning of the end of Spider-Man as us old geezers knew him. It was a year that the main title sank, but the writers of the other two titles picked up the slack with interesting, and sometimes even compelling stories, yet Spider-Man fans chose to reject them and continue to line up to drink the Civil War Kool-Aid.

You have only yourselves to blame for what happened in 2007.


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