Amazing Spider-Man #390-393
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man #390, Amazing Spider-Man #391, Amazing Spider-Man #392, Amazing Spider-Man #393
For reasons explained here (and see also the top of that thread), i am covering these issues without covering the other Spider-Man books from this time period. The problem with that is that this is an era of complex continuity between Spider-books. Looking at the MCP, there are 10 issues which they've placed in between panels of this arc's issue #392. One of those issues is Web of Spider-Man #116, which itself is split so that 7 of those 10 issues take place between its panels. And another of those issues is Spectacular Spider-Man #215, which seemingly takes place a day before Spectacular Spider-Man #216, but between which the MCP has placed 22 other Spider-Man appearances, including some overlap with the above 10 issues and the conclusion of this arc. So we have gaps within gaps within gaps.
I'm mentioning this upfront in part to cop to the fact that i'm not able to evaluate any of this myself (in addition to the MCP, i've gotten hints like from Michael's comment on the Annex miniseries). But it's clear that there's a very tangled web (pun acknowledged) of continuity for Spider-Man at this point. This isn't completely new - see the year's worth of Marvel Two-In-Ones stuck between panels of Fantastic Four #176 back in the late 70s, for example - but you'd like to think that Marvel had gotten better about such things especially after all the work that was done on the Indexes and Handbooks since then. When you're publishing 5+ books about the same character plus launching a ton of miniseries all of which guest star that same character, the logical thing to do would be to pace the plots so that there can be gaps between stories, and be a little careful about referencing ongoing events of other books. The problem is that major events were happening in these issues that Marvel wanted to promote. Aunt May's stroke is in this arc, and the mystery leading to the revelation of the Spider-Clone is building. So the temptation to reference and promote these events is understandable. But it seems to have been done in a careless way.
I like to think of this era as being one in which the writers of the Neo-Golden Age of the 80s had left but a lot of the veteran editors from that era were still around and were providing a counterweight to the marketing demands of the 90s. So even while a lot of the stories were bad and the art is crap, Marvel's output still usually feels like a coherent "universe". And when it fails, the sheer number of books that Marvel was publishing helps us understand why. It's hard to have Spider-Man's appearances make sense when he's appearing in like a dozen books a month. That may be letting Marvel's editors off too lightly - as i say, i think there are ways it could have been done - but it's worth acknowledging that the storytelling decisions weren't happening in a vacuum. The Clone Saga itself is a prime example of how Marvel's marketing department derailed an intended storyline in a catastrophic way. But more on that when (if?) we get there. In another sense, the publishing decisions around the Clone Saga were a way to address this problem. Beginning after this arc, the various Spider-books essentially merge into a single weekly book, with each title taking a chapter of the ongoing story. That comes with its own set of problems, but at least the order of the appearances will be clearer.
Ok, on to this arc...
A lot of this storyline is about Spider-Man being in a rage. The arc starts off with Spider-Man having a fit over having learned at the end of the last arc that Harry Osborn was behind the fake resurrection of his parents.
It's not the last multi-page fit he'll have in this arc.
Aunt May is also feeling distraught after the parent thing, and Mary Jane is again fighting her addiction to cigarettes.
She tries to talk to Peter about their relationship, but he's a mess and eventually leaves her alone.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kafka and her assistant Edward Whelan (formerly Vermin) are looking in on two of their patients at the Ravencroft Institute: Shriek and Carrion (II). Carrion, in his human form as Malcolm McBride, is feeling guilty for what he did during Maximum Carnage. Kafka makes the mistake of showing Shriek to Carrion, with the idea of demonstrating to him that he doesn't have it as bad as she does.
But during Maximum Carnage, Shriek treated Carnage like he was her husband, and in her mind Carrion was a surrogate "son". So when she senses Carrion, she becomes enraged and breaks out of her cell, badly injuring Kafka in the process. She then kidnaps Malcolm and escapes.
Spidey was going to Kafka for advice, but when he gets to Ravencroft he finds security chief John Jameson, who tells him about the breakout. Spidey catches up with Shriek, who had been torturing Malcolm (and attacking at least one random bystander). Spider-Man attacks without his usual quips, because of his own emotional issues.
But he hesitates when Shriek begs him to stop, allowing her to blast him.
She then uses her psychic energy to transform Malcolm back into Carrion.
Carrion tries to kill Spider-Man, but Shriek stops him, saying that Spider-Man will become corrupted by continuing to chase them.
Meanwhile, Aunt May has her stroke.
Spider-Man crawls home after his loss to Shriek and Carrion, and falls asleep for "half a minute or half the day". It's only when he wakes up that he finds the note from MJ about May's stroke. He has his second multi-page fit after seeing May at the hospital.
I don't mind multi-page mostly silent panels for the right kind of story, but it just feels like wasted space to me in this arc.
I guess part of the issue is that i don't think Aunt May's health problems are that worthy of all this drama. She's like 900 years old. I get that it's a lot for Peter to deal with especially after the death of his fake parents, but it feels more like this is more fake melodrama after that fake melodrama (and this is all even ignoring the way this story will be reversed). I definitely don't think May having a stroke is the most shocking ending of the year, despite what the cover of issue #391 says. I mean, Aunt May health scares are a bi-annual occurrence, and there's no definitive indication that she's definitely going to die this time. I think a story where Aunt May died in a quiet way, maybe in a downtime issue while saying goodbye to Peter and with some flashbacks, might have been an opportunity for a good tragic issue (and made it feel more real). But mixed in with ridiculous characters like Shriek and with Peter having a complete meltdown, it all just feels cheap.
Peter eventually leaves MJ again and catches up with Shriek and Carrion, who have gone to Carrion's house so that Shriek can have a confrontation with Carrion's real mother. When Spider-Man arrives, he's totally silent and i guess we're really supposed to buy into this idea that Spidey is Over The Edge.
And when Spider-Man attacks, Shriek sees that her prediction is coming to pass.
But Malcolm's mom pulls Spidey back from the edge, stopping him before he kills Carrion. Carrion then tries to kill himself with his own virus-power. When Mrs. MacBride tries to stop him even though it means getting hit with the virus herself, Shriek realizes that MacBride loves Carrion as much as she does, and she stops her and then uses her own powers to restore Carrion to human form. The effort makes Shriek sick, and Spider-Man rushes her to a hospital. Peter then goes home to find that Mary Jane has left him.
In issue #393, we also see someone who looks a lot like Peter visiting Gwen Stacy's grave.
He then goes to visit Peter's old high school.
This isn't the character's first re-emergence; the Spider-clone was appearing in other Spider titles at this time as well, starting with Web of Spider-Man #114, and the lettercols were billing him as Mystery Man.
The Shriek/Carrion plot - and resolution - are handled terribly, and so is Aunt May's stroke. Even Mark Bagely's art - while nice - contributes to the padded and overdramatic nature of these stories. If i were reading this in realtime without any idea of what was coming, the Mystery Man subplot might have been the only thing keeping me interested in the book, but it's also interesting in retrospect how bereft of ideas the series is. Coming off the heels of Peter Parker's fake parents, we now have a fake Peter Parker himself (and that's not even mentioning the fake Aunt May who retroactively appears in this story). And the Shriek story is a downright parody of the psychological studies that J.M. DeMatteis has been doing on the villains during his Spider-Man run(s). The Spider-books have been creatively bankrupt for a while. And in fact Marvel knew it, which is why it was looking to do a reset by replacing Peter for his clone (or vice versa, actually). Marketing (and, ultimately, fan reaction) screwed up that original intent, but you can see why the original idea was to get Peter out and do something new with the Spider-Man books.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: As noted above, a lot of other stories take place during Amazing Spider-Man #392. There are various ways to handle that, but i am placing this arc after all of those stories. As Michael notes, Spider-Man ceases to be Peter Parker during this story and shouldn't have any appearances with his classic status quo after this.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAshley Kafka, Aunt May, Aunt May Imposter, Aunt Watson, Carrion II, Julia Caputo, Man-Wolf (John Jameson), Martha MacBride, Mary Jane Watson, Scarlet Spider, Shriek, Spider-Man, Vermin
In Amazing Spider-Man 392, Peter decides that he will be no longer be Peter Parker and only be Spider-Man. He doesn't really go back to having a normal life until Spectacular Spider-Man 220.
Posted by: Michael | April 3, 2018 7:53 PM
Those pointy chins...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | April 3, 2018 8:34 PM
I had these issues as a kid and hated them, especially after learning that they led to the Clone Saga. In Brazil the whole arc was dumped in a single issue with a lot of scenes and dialogue being cut (including the whole Parker clone subplot).
Posted by: Enchlore | April 4, 2018 12:37 PM
"The Clone Saga itself is a prime example of how Marvel's marketing department derailed an intended storyline in a catastrophic way. But more on that when (if?) we get there."
Come on, no ifs. You can't just give us decades of Marvel reviews and takedowns only to pass up one of the greatest disasters in comics history!
Posted by: Bonez | April 4, 2018 1:04 PM
Peter decides that he will be no longer be Peter Parker and only be Spider-Man
Better yet, "the Spider." I remember not liking this story as a kid, too. The whole fake parents thing was a trainwreck. (Though I do like the page where he tears up the Osborne portrait.)
Posted by: iLegion | April 4, 2018 1:42 PM
I'm willing to grant a one-time pass to skip straight to Heroes Return
Posted by: Andrew F | April 5, 2018 11:17 AM
Somehow Bagley's chins seem pointier than usual. He's still the premier Spider-artist at this point. Though I don't think Mahlstedt's inks do him justice.
"Lifetheft", "Pursuit" and "Shrieking" make the entire Norman-Osborn-wasn't-really-dead-he-was-just-sitting-around-doing-zilch-retcon especially egregious. Harry revived Peter's phony parents because Spider-Man killed his father, Norman killed Peter's daughter because Spider-Man killed his son (didn't kill Peter's wife though, probably because his own wife had already died before Spider-Man even existed). Neither of which was true and all of which were retconned away anyhow.
I never understood why Marvel felt they should bring back Peter's clone to replace him just because Spider-Man had become to dark and brooding and humorless. One thing they could've done was, you know, STOP making him dark and brooding and humorless. Doesn't that sound just like Norman Osborn, taking the longest, most complicated, and least unreasonable way home?
Posted by: The Transparent Fox | April 5, 2018 1:38 PM
@bonez, don’t worry. I have a feeling that, as much as he hates it, Fnord won’t be able to resist doing the clone stuff. :)
Posted by: Mquinn1976 | April 5, 2018 1:49 PM
Reading the opening of this review made me imagine a Spidey-continuity matryoshka doll, with each layer painted in extreme '90s style.
I only owned the last issue of this arc. Mutely beating on Shriek highlights an absence of the qualities that make Spider-Man an enjoyable character to me. Though in retrospect, his response to Aunt May's hospitalization wasn't to sell out his wife to the devil, so it could be worse.
Posted by: Mortificator | April 5, 2018 4:49 PM
@Transparent Fox- the decision to bring back the clone was made in 1993. It was the other way around- Marvel decided to turn Peter dark so the readers would accept Ben as the original.
Posted by: Michael | April 5, 2018 8:05 PM
@Transparent Fox. From what I heard, this "clone" storyline was yet another (inept) attempt by Marvel to nullify Spider-Man's marriage, a way to "have their cake and eat it too" (in an odd sense of ironic juxtaposition, Aunt May at death's door was the inspiration for another...er infamous effort to derail the Spidey marriage.)
I think a story where Aunt May died in a quiet way, maybe in a downtime issue while saying goodbye to Peter and with some flashbacks, might have been an opportunity for a good tragic issue (and made it feel more real). But mixed in with ridiculous characters like Shriek and with Peter having a complete meltdown, it all just feels cheap.
But isn't that how it actually happened (which is why that issue was held in high regard among fans)? I will say that Aunt May dying from health issues is a much much better way for her to go than her being "fridged"
Posted by: Jon Dubya | April 6, 2018 1:00 PM
The repeated panels & Peter angrily lashing out & destroying stuff were both done by DeMatteis before in his Child Within storyline, both I think worked better with Sal Buscema's art more than Bagley's here. (In part because in Child Within, Peter had been drugged to cause the lashing out, while here Bagley draws them as histrionic tantrums.)
I was going to complain that I think Peter is written as too fragile here - Like Fnord, I never believed that the parents were real or a good story idea, & so can't get too invested in Peter's anger about them, and while Aunt May is of course one of the most important people in his life, as a long-term Spider-Man reader I have seen her survive many previous health scares & Peter has never acted like this on the previous occasions, and those were when he was dealing with it alone rather than with MJ there for him.
However, as Michael has pointed out, Peter was intentionally being written as bitter & cracking under the pressure here to contrast him to Ben who is portrayed as strong & still believing in staying positive, in order to "prove" to fans that Ben is the real guy not Peter. So as much as I dislike the histrionics here, it was at least partly intentional.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | April 7, 2018 8:50 AM
Incidentally, as much as some comics insiders believe that Peter shouldn't have been married as that caused too permanent a change in the character, it's strange that editorial had since allowed for Peter's best friend Harry Osborn to be killed off (dramatically it made sense, but as a commercial decision it didn't, as a consistent replacement for Harry was never found & he was eventually brought back to life for Brand New Day), and that the solution for Making Spider-Man Great Again involved killing off Aunt May, and would have also written MJ out of the book along with Peter.
As much as Spidey has one of the best supporting casts in comics, with Aunt May and MJ added to Harry already being gone, that would basically just leave Flash & the Bugle staff, which would have been a strange result if this Clone Saga had actually worked as planned and we'd gone ahead with Ben taking over as Peter with a depleted supporting cast.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | April 7, 2018 9:07 AM
Fnord12, will you be adding reviews of Spectacular Spiderman 213-214, where he fights Typhoid Mary.
Posted by: Jason FP | June 3, 2018 12:21 PM
Please ask these types of questions on the Are You Gonna Cover thread, not on random entries. :-)
Short answer is no, not any time soon. See here for a longer answer.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 4, 2018 3:20 PM
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