Spider-Man: Shush

Being a redneck with pretty simplistic views on law and order (not the TV shows, but the concept, although I do like the TV shows), one of my favorite movie series was always the "Dirty Harry" films with Clint Eastwood (except the 5th one - that sucked). For far too many people, law and order is a political issue full of misunderstood people who just need more hugs in their lives, rather than good guys vs. bad guys, but for those who can divorce their politics from their movie entertainment, the first film is a true classic of the police genre, partly because of the times in which it was filmed, and also because it has one of the creepiest, most disgusting, vile and irredeemable villains ever to grace the silver screen courtesy of the underappreciated Andy Robinson (who also turned in a superb job as the Cardassian Garak in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series).

And yes, this is going somewhere with Spider-Man, trust me.

The second and third Harry films are decent and still have some actual plots that move along underneath the violence. The 4th, Sudden Impact, although it is the second best of the series and one of the more enjoyable ones to watch, is what film critics Siskel & Ebert called a "cartoon distillation" of the character and the series, meaning that Harry simply goes out and shoots bad people. There is no subtlety, no underlying subtext, no commentary on the events of the day, just a plot that hits all the high points and pushes all the right buttons, with only disgusting one-dimensional bad guys for Harry to ventilate in any number of crowd pleasing ways.

Which brings us to one of the more anticipated Spider-Man titles in long time, Mark Millar's Marvel Knights Spider-Man, or as it became known virtually from the beginning the title was announced - Spider-Man: Shush. Writer Millar indicated that the storyline would last the entire first year of the title, involve one of Spidey’s villains learning his secret identity and wrecking all sorts of havoc in his life, while a veritable potpourri of classic villains romped and stomped through the story. For many, this seemed eerily familiar to the recently completed Batman: Hush, which unfolded along similar lines. Of course, in the interim, the title Spider-Man: Shush has almost been completely co-opted by Sean Whitmore’s demented, yet hilarious Parody, to the point that many people think I'm referring to that parody instead of the actual story. Of course, if you haven't seen the result of Sean's borderline certifiable mental state, you should – AFTER you read my article!

Millar was a hot commodity after such efforts as The Authority, which took the idea of super powered teams and villains to its logical conclusion - a messy world with high body counts and huge swaths of destruction, Ultimate X-Men, and then The Ultimates which reimagined Marvel's Avengers for the 21st Century and is consistently a top 5, if not a #1 seller (that is – whenever it came out – being a notorious victim of late shipments). With this hard-livin' Scotsman's pedigree, and the samples of lead characters and villain re-designs from the pencils of Terry and Rachel Dodson that were released, spider-fandom was foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs waiting for this series - and I include myself as one of the serial foamers. It also didn't hurt the marketing of this title that the release of the first several pages from issue #1 brought howls from fans who saw it on the internet because it literally starts off with a bang and what appears to be a life altering event for Spidey - the defeat of the Green Goblin after a fierce battle, with the wall crawler leaving him webbed up for incarceration by the police. Of course, this seemed inconceivable considering Spidey's tortured history of just what to do with the man who knows his secret identity. The problem was, as we now know, this story was beginning just after The Pulse storyline dealing with Norman Osborn's public outing was starting. But The Pulse went bi-monthly soon after publication, significantly delaying the end of that story which would ultimately lead into Marvel Knights Spider-Man #1.

In many ways, the hype was justified. The first 12 issues of this title, which were broken down into three story arcs that each ran four parts ("Down Among the Dead Men," "Venomous," and "The Last Stand") was the Spider-Man epic that many fans were craving. In fact, I hope I'm not so bold as to suggest that it's the most epic Spider-Man storyline since the failed Clone Saga ("The Gathering of Five" and "Final Chapter" prior to the reboot, for example, tried to be epic, and failed miserably. The Clone Saga was truly epic, but boy did it crash and burn.) The stakes are high, the villains dastardly, the leading ladies are voluptuous, and the action is flat out balls to the walls in its intensity and impact as Spidey suffers one of his most brutal beatings ever, as well as put through an intense emotional ringer. Plus, this epic behaves like an epic should behave - with a finite time lime for completion and a seldom-wavering focus. Even during the middle of the tale when it seems like it tends to waver and bog down a bit, we knew that it was going to pick up because we knew exactly when it was going to end. Plus, when it ends, we're not standing exactly in the same place we were when the story began. Oh, I will agree, there is more the illusion of change, than actual change (with the possible exception of the fates of Venom and Scorpion), but even though we perhaps wind up back close to the same place we were - we at least feel that we've been somewhere.

Without a doubt "Dead Men" is the strongest arc, as the storyline is initially established and builds to a frenzy. The middle part "Venomous" is a bit slower and sags at times, but by the time you're ready to say "let's get on with it," "The Last Stand," another action packed arc that gives us most of the answers raised in part 1, begins. Unfortunately, like with so many ambitious stories, the end does not quite seem to deliver everything promised. I wonder if some judicious editing could have effectively trimmed an issue or two from the tale, the bugs worked out, and then added the issue or two back with the additional exposition and action needed. Once Millar’s story finally wraps up, it leaves one feeling slightly schizophrenic. You find yourself caught in rapt attention and pure fanboy delight at its strengths, which are many, including several nods to the continuity obsessed (Millar relied on the guys at Spider-Fan to help with continuity issues), including references to characters and situations Marvel otherwise chooses to ignore (such as Ben Reilly, Baby May, clones, and the Spider-Mobile), and fun little tips of the hat such as the "Ditko Theater" where a vast congregation of supervillains attends the Venom auction. You also find yourself extremely puzzled over certain situations that seem contrived, out of character, or simply make very little sense at all (JJJ actually believing for one minute that his son could actually be Spider-Man, which we'll discuss later, being one of the serious problems). Then there's the revelation of the ultimate mastermind - which makes for a very good story and is totally logical considering what we know of the two principal characters involved - but still left a lot of people exasperated because it's the same old mastermind behind a lot of other plots going on in the world of Spider-Man. In many ways, the first year of Marvel Knights Spider-Man really was indeed a "cartoon distillation" of Spider-Man, like "Sudden Impact" (so much so that some particularly critical fans are considering this to be the ultimate fanfic) was to Dirty Harry. Action, excitement, and thrills a minute, but when the merry-go-round stops, you’re still somewhat dissatisfied with the tale it has told.

Now, for simplicity and sanity’s sake – I’m writing this as if most of the audience has already read the story – so not only are there spoilers galore – but the article bounces all over the map.

Down Among the Dead Men
After the aforementioned titanic struggle with the Goblin, Spidey is hit by further whammies when (1) he discovers that Uncle Ben's gravestone has been vandalized and that (2) one of his enemies now knows his secret identity and (3) poor old Aunt May has been kidnapped by the subject of (2)! All of this puts Spidey on edge and compromises his good judgment in more than one instance, culminating in an exceptionally nasty fight with both Electro and the Vulture, hospitalizing him in serious condition. If that wasn't bad enough, he is accidentally shot by the police while the Vulture is using him as a human shield, and then the ugly old birdman nearly drops him to his death until Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, literally swoops in and makes a rescue. The story ends on yet another stunner as an employee at the hospital where Spider-Man was taken quickly snaps a photo of the webslinger sans mask - and takes it to the Daily Bugle, where an immensely pleased J. Jonah Jameson is seen to say "that's a very familiar face."

This part of the long arc was goosebump city from start to finish. Part of the fun of multi-part comic tales in the past was that the first part would end on a cliffhanger like a classic serial and you just had to get the next part to see how it could come out. In today's padded storylines, more often than not they simply sequeway into each other rather than really leaving you hanging at any point. This tale was like a blast from the past, and resulted in another one of those times, where I just had to get my comics on Wednesday and not wait until the weekend or following week to pick them up (and man, was I pissed when my store forgot to pull issue #11 for me).

The #1 topic for discussion on the boards was the identity of the shadowy bad guy. Very few clues were given, except that (1) he liked to hang upside down and (2) according to Peter, over the phone he had a voice like "cut glass" (which in a comic book, admittedly is not much of a clue). Of course, speculation ran rampant, from a revived Harry Osborn, to the Chameleon (who already knew), to the HobGoblin, to the Vulture (who was soon dismissed obviously), and many more. But one favorite began to emerge - Mac Gargan - the Scorpion, although Hobby proved to be a popular fallback choice. But one thing we knew - it couldn't be Norman Osborn - right? Because after all - he was in jail when all of this was going on!

Riiiiiggghhhttt.

It's not surprising that so many people suspected Gargan, particularly since it generally seemed like it would be a huge letdown if the villain wasn't a classic villain, someone from the Ditko days (and Millar's statements that the storyline had its roots in the Lee-Ditko days added fuel to that fire) - since after all - other than the Kingpin (who the villain clearly wasn't), Venom, who already knew, and the Shocker - most of the really good villains come from the Ditko days. I mean, yeesh - who wanted to see HydroMan as the kidnapper and mastermind? Plus, Gargan just seemed like a natural choice for an upgrade from B list to A list. His Scorpion had a very long history with Spider-Man, would appreciate the irony of Peter Parker being Spider-Man (since after all, we are first introduced to Mac Gargan waaaaaaaay back in Amazing Spider-Man #19 when he is a private detective following Peter at the behest of J. Jonah Jameson). He has the distinct disadvantage of having been misused over the years - an enormously powerful villain turned into a joke by overuse and lazy writing - but also the advantage of being a villain who could be turned into something much better if placed in the right hands. Among other notable parts of this story:

But as much as there was to rave about this part of the story, there were a lot of nagging issues that just didn't seem right. For example:

But I liked it, I really did. And I couldn't wait for the next arc to begin.

Venomous
Just repeat to yourself…this cover is not sexually suggestive. This cover is not sexually suggestive. The artist does not have "issues." The artist does not have "issues."

Didn't work for me, either.

But getting back to the task at hand - issue #5 opens with a dying Eddie Brock (we learned he had terminal cancer in Paul Jenkins’Spectacular Spider-Man #1-5 in 2003) arriving in town at the behest of an unidentified sponsor, for an unidentified purpose. There are no references to the short-lived Venom series that ultimately spawned (no pun intended) the latest symbiote superhero in Toxin. This was just fine with me because I avoided that series like the plague, regardless of how many times Spidey appeared in it.

Peter Parker awakens from a 2 1/2 day slumber while his badly damaged body healed itself, all the time under the close care of his wife, Mary Jane, and the aforementioned Felicia Hardy (hmm, how many of us would go a few rounds with Electro if we knew that we would have a couple of nurses like that looking after us?). He should have stayed in bed, as the Daily Bugle is offering a $5 million reward to anyone who can identify the disfigured face under Spider-Man's mask (although unmasked, he was apparently too battered and bloodied to make a positive ID – although I find myself wondering what a forensic artist or computer specialist would have been able to do with that picture given a chance). While looking for photo ops that he can hustle to old J. Jonah Jameson (MJ's been a bit careless with the checkbook again), he runs into a half-naked, deranged and drooling Doctor Octopus terrorizing the city (I know that they are rare, but there are some "Shirtless Ock" groupies out there that probably got the biggest charge out of this). Doctor Drool goes down easier than usual this time, as Spidey finds out that he has been drilled with a half dozen tranquilizer darts in the process of escaping from a police convoy that was transporting him from prison to a medical facility for some "tests."

Hmmm.

However, Peter isn't getting any closer to finding Aunt May, and the mysterious kidnapper hasn't called again. So, to find out how a psychopath thinks, rather than go see an experienced shrink like his old pal and John Jameson's squeeze Dr. Ashley Kafka, Spider-Man inexplicably pays yet another visit to the No.1 psycho on his hit parade - Norman Osborn (again, Spidey goes to a crook for help instead of someone from the right side of the tracks. Bad judgment on Spidey's part or was it the writing?) However, "Silence of the Lambs" was clearly not on Norman’s "must see" movie list, as he has no intention of being Anthony Hopkins to Peter's Jodie Foster. He then proceeds to tell Spidey a horrid little story about what happened to the last person who asked for Norman's help, which moves him up another notch on the all-time Sick Bastard list. But Norman also tells Spider-Man that his very life is in danger, and that it is tied to recent burglaries at Osborn's company as well as the events surrounding Doc Ock.

Big things are also happening with Spidey’s other "A-List" villain – the Vicious Villain Venom. At the Ditko Theater (neat, eh?), a huge congregation of B to Z-List Marvel supervillains is gathering to bid on a very special "costume," the alien symbiote that comprises one half of Venom. The auctioneer, the Terrible Tinkerer, introduces Eddie Brock, who after seeing "Passion of the Christ," and being your typical guilt-plagued Catholic, has decided to seek penance. He will auction the symbiote to the highest bidder, give all of the proceeds to charity, and then wait out the rest of his days until the cancer takes its final toll. The winner of the auction is crime boss Don Fortunato, who paid $100 million so that the symbiote could make something of his nerdy, weasel of a son, Angelo.

In the meantime, Spidey takes yet another couple of kicks to the gut. First, JJJ's $5 million bounty on his secret identity is bringing all of the nut job supervillains out of the woodwork, as well as lesser lunatics who think that by putting on a Spider-Man costume they can convince JJJ to part with the money, except that some of these dopes are getting themselves killed. And then, in one of those soap opera cliché moments of coincidence, Spider-Man has a chance meeting with the mother of the Vulture's sick grandson, who laments the fact that old Vulch promised to come up with the cash to meet the kid's medical needs - but then disappeared.

Oops. Punch Pete's ticket for another Parker guilt trip.

Later, Liz Osborn cons Peter and Mary Jane into attending his 10-year high school class reunion (anyone remember when Peter went to his 5-year reunion back in the pages of Spider-Man Annual #17?), where Pete does get a little joy out of parading his supermodel wife around for all of his former tormentors to see. His moment of self-indulgence is ruined by the appearance of the Angelo Fortunato Venom, clearly enjoying his power and determined to make a name for himself by killing Spider-Man. But although Angelo has the power, he doesn't have the experience or the intestinal fortitude to withstand Spider-Man's relentless assault, and his confidence fades. He flees from Spider-Man, but the symbiote, disgusted with Angelo's weakness, abruptly abandons him in mid leap from skyscraper to skyscraper, leaving the young Fortunato to fall to a rather messy death on the pavement below. And Eddie Brock? Unfortunately, $100 million for 50 charities still wasn't enough to purge Brock of his torture and guilt - and he slits his wrists in a suicide attempt and "doesn't look like he'll make it through the night."

Peter decides to end Jameson's competition, and brings in photos that appear to prove to Jonah that his son John, who briefly dropped by earlier in the story, is Spider-Man. Inexplicably, Jonah actually believes him - and gives Peter a share of the $5 million (of course, Jonah rationalizes not giving him any more because he can never print the pictures - he's not going to out his own son). Feeling guilty for having accepted $500,000 on false pretenses, Peter finds a perfect way of disposing of the money - by leaving it with the mother of the Vulture's grandson, saying it was from the old bird himself.

Finally, the kidnapper comes calling again, this time offering to meet Peter and explain the whole thing. No cell phone reception problems with this call, as we happen to see the kidnapper making it while sticking to the antennae on top of the Empire State Building.

The anticipation builds…

Is Eddie Really Dead?
According to Millar on his message board (you have to virtually go through the whole thread to read his answers), when he originally wrote the story, Eddie was dead beyond a reasonable doubt. However, Marvel asked him to leave some ambiguity, which I actually find myself agreeing with. Personally, I do think that Eddie Brock is used up as a character. I don't think he ever really recovered from his "Lethal Protector" phase in the 1990’s, when Marvel ruined him to cash in on his popularity. The original Brock was a psychotic killer, but one that was still influenced by the morality of his Catholic faith and had traces of humanity and compassion. This complexity was trashed by turning him into an Image-style violent vigilante, where it became o.k. to kill because everyone else he encountered was worse than he was. After this phase of his existence burned itself out, subsequent writers tried to move him back to what he was, but this ultimately resulted in a muddled character with way too much baggage. But even though I think that Brock should really have died at the end of Jenkins’ story arc in Spectacular, I actually see this as a glimmer of hope that Marvel is going to have a little more sense about killing off villains and supporting characters. It's too easy to do, and inevitably one of two things happens (1) some other writer comes up with an idea to resurrect the character, which even if it isn't a completely goofy one, still negates whatever impact the "death" story had or (2) the series actually suffers near irreparable harm because the character leaves a hole that is never completely re-filled. An example of (1) would be the death of Doctor Octopus during the Clone Saga - which was such a stupid idea - killing off one of Spider-Man's few A-list villains - that I had no objection to a completely lame mystic ninja ritual bringing him back. An example of (2) would be the death of Harry Osborn, which I don't want to delve into too deeply because - well - I have plans for Harry - but even though his death made Norman's return possible - I'm not sure that killing Harry hasn't actually done more harm than good. So, just leave Eddie in story limbo. No need to revive him if no one finds a sufficient reason to tell a good story. But if someone does have such a story - then why not go for it?

Obviously, the handling of Brock and the symbiote in this story ran afoul of how Jenkins wrapped up his Venom story, with the two permanently joined. Brock could not survive without the symbiote, while the latter stated that it was capable of only one more joining, and did not want to rejoin Brock because it did not want to share his cancer. In this case, going with the Marvel Knights rather than the Spectacular story seems to be in the best long-term interests of the character.

Things I liked about "Venomous" included:

And then there's the dings:

So, in conclusion, although it had more plot than its predecessor did, "Venomous" was a weaker story than "Down Among the Dead Men," and slowed the overall storyline down. Still, it was pretty good, and was probably the most interesting use of the Venom character in recent memory. And, at least the stage was been set for an exciting conclusion.

The Last Stand
And this is what it all comes down to, after all of the months of speculating and second-guessing. It was interesting that Millar decided to play all of his cards in the first issue of this story arc, #9, rather than keeping everyone guessing until the very end, but it works for me as this allows a better and more gradual build to the climax. Peter finally meets May's kidnapper and discovers that it is none other than Mac Gargan - the Scorpion, who was probably the odds-on fan favorite by this time (my personal choice was Alistair Smythe because I thought the kidnapper and mastermind were one and the same and Smythe has the scientific know-how to pull off some of the techno wizardry – plus he has undergone some mutations in the past himself and could conceivably be "no longer human"). But then there was the bigger surprise - Gargan was acting on the orders of someone else - Norman Osborn - and a collective groan was heard 'round Spideyland as it is revealed that Norman is behind yet another master plan to screw with Spidey. I remember thinking that it couldn’t be Norman, it wouldn’t be Norman, that would be too obvious and repetitive to have Osborn behind this plot as well. But, as it turned out, Osborn’s cryptic comments to Spider-Man in issue #2 really did give the plot away.

But this revelation comes with an additional twist as Gargan gives Peter the previously untold history of the Marvel Universe - that many of the original super villains that came into existence were actually created at the behest of a secret cabal of powerful business interests, who wanted them to serve as a counterweight to the rise of the superhero. Norman Osborn was in the middle of it - with his connections, money, and scientific acumen – creating several of these villains – until he went nuts and became one himself. And now with Norman arrested, his old cronies consider him a loose cannon that could potentially expose them all (remember back during the first HobGoblin saga in the 1980’s when Hobby ran across a cache of Norman’s files and used them to blackmail several of his old associates? The guy is nothing if not a fastidious record keeper), so now their contingency plan goes into effect - Doctor Octopus is being programmed to murder him to keep him from exposing any of them.

So what do Gargan and Norman want? Spider-Man must break Osborn out of prison - or else May dies. Simple as that. But as Peter and Gargan return to their respective residences - Gargan discovers that he has a visitor waiting for him - a certain alien symbiote that's looking for a new host.

With the Black Cat's assistance, Spider-Man succeeds in freeing Osborn - but once again he misjudges his greatest enemy - assuming that Norman would actually keep his end of the bargain and free Aunt May. Instead, Norman has hired 11 of Spidey's rogues gallery to keep him busy and ultimately kill him (he collectively calls their association "The Sinister Twelve") - while Osborn himself goes to kill Mary Jane. However, the Scorpion shows up to the party late – and no wonder. Mac Gargan is now the keeper of the Venom symbiote – and he couldn’t be happier (of course, Norman is pissed off because this was not part of his plan).

As Osborn seeks out MJ, Spidey and the Cat are doing their best against the remaining 11, but they really don’t have a prayer. Peter decides that if he’s going to die, then he’s going to take as many of them down with him as possible. But at the last minute (trumpet please!) the cavalry arrives in the form of Captain America, Iron Man, Giant Man, the Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Turns out that Mary Jane figured that Osborn was going to screw Peter (figuratively) and called SHIELD, which sent out the troops.

The combined might of the varied superheroes defeats 10 of the Sinister 12, but Venom is able to slip away as Peter heads for home, the former attempting to delay Spider-Man to allow Osborn to take Mary Jane. It works - MJ is gone when he gets there, and Spider-Man heads to the place he just knows that Osborn is going to go – the bridge (well, not the same bridge, a new bridge just for her according to Osborn - which come to think about it - looks like the Queensboro Bridge from the first Spidey film - that's a neat little tie-in) – and we see Norman’s ugly Goblin mug in one of the best renderings ever of the Green Goblin. Spidey finds out that Norman has kept Aunt May anesthetized all of this time - but she will run out of air in 45 minutes – and Peter will never find her in time!

MJ finally gets to pull out her gun and shoot Norman, but the ricochet sends her off the bridge, and Peter gets to practice that move he’s been going over in his head ever since Gwen died. Sending out multiple lines of webbing rather than a single strand, he is able to save MJ’s life.

Suddenly, Doc Ock appears crawling up the bridge looking for Osborn! But this is yet another cheat. The Ock who escaped in the previous issue seemed to be of a clear, though hypnotized mind "oh – this will not do – this requires a plan with serious legs," but the Ock that caught up with Osborn is virtually a mindless zombie "Must kill Norman Osborn." Bleh. The first ever meeting between the Green Goblin and Doc Ock is this? They don’t even get in any good licks on each other because a bolt of lightning comes from nowhere, separating the two, and sending them plunging into the murky waters below. Talk about an easy way out of a story.

Suddenly Peter remembers that there was new turf over Uncle Ben’s grave. Why replace the turf when just the headstone was vandalized? That, combined with a cryptic comment from Osborn about May "not being down among the dead men yet" leads him back to the cemetery, where after furious digging, he discovers Aunt May alive and well – rescuing her just in the nick of time.

But this isn’t the end. Doc Ock is discovered alive and well and floating in the river – but Osborn is nowhere to be found. Peter receives a letter from Osborn, congratulating him on his victory, and ensuring him that he has earned a respite whether or not Norman survived the final battle. And then the letter gets really weird, with Osborn expressing nothing but affection and good will towards Peter and his family - all of the smarminess you would expect from the mind of a madman who continues to play his devious little games.

O.K. - I had a couple of questions:

What About the Businessmens’ Secret Cabal?
Well - that was interesting. A secret cabal of businessmen who wanted to keep the superheroes busy so that they wouldn’t turn their attention to politics and social injustice, created the original villains in the Marvel Universe? I’m not sure this is a particularly original idea, or even one that is congruous with the origins of the Marvel Universe as related in other titles. Probably some knowledgeable fans could tell me if a theory similar to this has been posed elsewhere. But after all, what better way to ensure that superhumans don't start running for political office or investigating white collar corruption but by giving them super bad guys to fight to keep them off balance? It also provides a more logical sequeway for Norman Osborn to assume the identity of the Green Goblin. It’s the one reason that I actually liked John Byrne’s story in Chapter One that showed that Osborn once owned a small movie studio that made science fiction films. When you’re already evil, rich and powerful, what would possess you to don a garish costume and fly around on a big metal toy? Well, if you’re already in the position of creating colorful supervillains, maybe there comes a point in time where you say "I can do this better!"

I must confess, I also like this because as a result, Norman Osborn is not only a key player in Spider-Man’s world, but he’s also a key player in the Marvel Universe – period. Maybe, just maybe, this is the chance to have Norman show up and bedevil some other superheroes (like Iron Man, for example – since he and Tony Stark can’t stand each other) and give his enmity with Spider-Man a much needed and well-deserved rest.

And oh yeah, the superheroes actually began showing up in the Marvel Universe in 1939, not 1945.

Why did Norman Choose Mac Gargan?
It’s hard to believe Norman Osborn letting anyone in on any of his secrets. He once stated in Revenge of the Green Goblin that Peter Parker’s little secret was going to stay to himself. And to reveal Peter’s secret to someone also meant revealing his own. But why would Norman chose Gargan – since there’s no indication of there ever being a relationship between the two? Why not his "cousin" (f we are to believe John Byrne’s Chapter One) Sandman? Or the Vulture – since in Tangled Web #13, Osborn visits the Bar With no Name at the Vulture’s invitation. The fact that Osborn is good-natured enough to take some flack from the Vulture in that story, but gives Kraven Jr. the "Stare of Evil," in a similar situation, implies a certain amount of existing respect. The Vulture also knows Peter Parker, since Parker attacked him once when the old bird was seeking May’s forgiveness for the death of her boyfriend, Nathan Lubensky, during the time he was dying of cancer. Toomes also had some scientific know how – and due to the electromagnetic impulses from his flying apparatus, is a lot stronger than men half his age. Or what about choosing someone else who also knew the secret – such as the Chameleon did at one time? I figure that Osborn would only choose someone who had been at the supervillain game nearly as long as he, and who also knew of Peter Parker because then they could appreciate the irony of the knowledge (such as Parker working for the Bugle and JJJ).

Well, for one, to use the Chameleon would have been a huge letdown, because it seemed that the story was being set in motion by someone who only recently found out. Osborn would not have used Doc Ock, because I do not see any conceivable way those two with their massive intellects and similarly massive egos and their mutual long history with Spider-Man could ever cooperate. Sandman, although perhaps Osborn’s cousin – was a just a thug. Lizard? See below. Electro? Another thug. The original Mysterio was dead – and I don’t see Osborn using his replacement. Kraven is dead. The Enforcers are just thugs for hire. Alistair Smythe? Similar in a way to Doc Ock, Norman would never work anyone who might think he was as smart as Osborn, or smarter.

So that pretty well just leaves us the Vulture and Scorpion, and my speculation is that Osborn trusted Gargan because he had dealt with him before. Remember, let’s go back to Amazing Spider-Man #19, when Gargan is spying on Peter Parker for J. Jonah Jameson. How do you suppose that Jonah chose Gargan for his dirty work? Could it be that Jonah hired Gargan based on a reference from another member of Jonah’s social circle or country club? And could that member who had employed Gargan be – Norman Osborn? Perhaps Norman had used Gargan before in his capacity as a private detective – and Gargan proved himself adept and trustworthy in some particularly dirty assignments that Osborn had given him. So, when Norman needed someone in the supervillain community to help him in the next stage of his war against Spider-Man, he picked the one villain he had dealings with before – and one he felt he could count on not to betray him.

But what’s also interesting is that Norman gave this information to Gargan at least one year before the events of MK Spidey. Why that time? Because as I suspected when I wrote about Death in the Family, Norman must have sensed that he was going to lose his grip again, that his insanity was bound to get the best of him, which is why he wanted Peter to kill him in that story. He must have foreseen something like the events of The Pulse occurring, that he would reach a point where the carelessness accentuated by his insanity would result in his undoing. And he would have to have a plan to get his ass out of prison.

And it also makes sense that he would use Spider-Man to bust him out of prison, as opposed to any number of scumbags he could pay. With Spider-Man’s stealth, agility, ability to crawl on walls and ceilings, and spider-sense alerting him to danger, including alarms and various traps, he’s the perfect candidate to lead a jailbreak.

And this even falls in line with "Sins Past" to some degree. Norman always has plans backing up plans. Therefore, with Norman incapacitated in some fashion at the end of this story, Sarah and Gabriel Stacy were his back up in the event the scheme from Marvel Knights Spider-Man failed.

A New Venom?
And it’s about time. For Venom to continue to be an effective villain, there had to be a new player behind the symbiote – someone with motivations a hell of a lot sturdier and able to stand the test of time than Eddie Brock’s (I’ve discussed this in other articles – I won’t repeat it here) – someone who could return the character to A-List status without all of Brock’s baggage. Frankly, I've always thought it was a cheat back in Amazing #300 for Venom to be someone we had never even seen or met before. Mac Gargan is a classic Ditko villain who himself was in need of a boost, whose potential was being squandered by poor writing that was turning him into a joke, and who could conceivably have such an existing mad-on for Spider-Man that would more than compliment the symbiote’s own hatred and solidify their bond. The new Venom being Gargan solves some problems as well – since the symbiote knew Spidey’s identity and Gargan did as well. By making Gargan Venom, this keeps the number of enemies who know Spidey’s identity confined to himself and Osborn, which is how it should be. I’m assuming if the Chameleon DID survive the Webspinners story arc, his brain has blown a few gears to the point he’s forgotten Spidey's identity (he was a giggly madman in Ron Zimmerman's sad sack of a story "Call me Al" so maybe he's got amnesia) and unfortunately, I just choose to ignore Paul Jenkins’ "The Lizard’s Tale," where both Connors and the Lizard know his i.d. Again, I’ll assume that Connors’ referenced ingestion of chemicals in prison in issue #7 also fried his brain so that he’s forgotten the secret as well.

I can see why Gargan won’t reveal Peter’s i.d., either, even after being arrested. After all, knowing who Spider-Man is and also being the new Venom moves him from B-List to A-List, and even puts him in Osborn’s class of being one of Spidey’s deadliest foes. Why should he share that information with anyone else? Just like Doc Ock wasn’t going to reveal Peter’s identity during that brief period of time during the Clone Saga when he knew whom Spider-Man was (before he died). After all of these years, the battles are simply too personal for them to share this delicious information with anyone else.

More of the good:

And then there’s the bad:

Conclusion
"Old school Spidey fan" from the Hero Realm Boards said it perhaps the best – "the story was not perfect, but it was perfectly enjoyable." While it had way too many plot holes to simply gloss over – it was still one of the most exciting Spider-Man stories in a very long time. While I was initially sad that Millar left after issued #12, it’s pretty obvious that he used up all of the good tricks and really has nothing else to say about Spider-Man at the moment.

At least until 2006's "Civil War," I suppose.


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Copyright © 1998-2006 by J.R. Fettinger. All rights reserved. All original content is the exclusive property of J.R. Fettinger. Spider-Man, the Green Goblin, and everyone else who appears in the Spider-Man comics is the property of Marvel Entertainment, and are used in these articles for the purpose of analysis and commentary.