"Back in the Web"
by Randy Lander
co-plot assist by Mark Bousquet
Peter Parker stepped under the "Police Line Ė Do Not Cross" tape into the shattered third floor apartment. He was here officially for the Daily Bugle as photographer, but unofficially he'd taken the assignment because the destruction, and the thing that had caused it, sounded familiar.
"Hey, you can't come in here! This is a crime scene!" The young Hispanic detective, dressed in a sharp blue suit, rushed over to accost Peter. His overweight partner just gave Peter a dour look.
"It's OK," Peter said, flashing his press pass. "I'm with the Bugle."
"Oh, well that's fine then," the overweight cop said sarcastically. "Here, you wanna touch the body?"
Peter didn't respond. As Spider-Man, he'd had more than his fair share of grief from cops, and he knew when to just shut up. Difference being, as Spider-Man, he ignored those instincts.
"Hey, Bobby, check this out," the overweight cop said. He produced a note, written on lined notebook paper that had been lying next to the body.
Peter took a picture, which obviously didn't sit well with either of the cops. He shrugged. Just doing my job, he thought, just like you guys.
"Now that is definitely weird," Bobby said. Peter snuck a look. It had been written on, in two columns. He recognized the format. Looked like a column in the newspaper, only handwritten instead of typeset.
"Oh, that's just great," the other cop said. "Sicko took notes, wrote down everything he did here, as if he were reporting it. Figure we got some kind of Geraldo Rivera serial killer here?"
Reporting it, Peter thought. Oh, no. He stole another glance at the notebook paper before the detective shoved it into an evidence baggie. The byline read "Eddie Brock."
Otherwise known as Venom.
Peter changed into his "work clothes," the blue and red costume of Spider-Man, outside the apartment. Heíd heard from Johnny Storm that Venom was back in New York, and that heíd taken on the Fantastic Four, (as part if the new Frightful Four in Fantastic Four #420 Ė Frightful Randy) but heíd hoped it was an isolated incident. After all, Brock had gotten better lately, becoming if not a hero, than at least something of a protective vigilante.
Peter shook his head as he web-swung over the city. Stupid! Venom had never truly reformed. The truth was, Spidey had been so scared of him, heíd let him get away. As long as he wasnít in New York, wasnít hunting down Peter or his friends, Spidey wasnít going after him. Now someone was dead because of that, and who knew how many others had been killed? No, it was time for Eddie Brock to be put down for good.
But to do that, heíd need help. Spidey swung past the former Four Freedoms plaza, now bearing the mark of the Thunderbolts. Man, I must be upset about Venom, he thought. I almost swung right in there by instinct.
Correcting himself, Spidey swung down to the Fantastic Fourís new headquarters, Pier 4. He pulled on the front door to the reception area, and was surprised to find it locked. He knew that Reed Richards would have put some impressive security in, so he did the polite thing and rang the bell. Nobody answered. He rang it again. Another minute, still no answer. Spidey got nervous. He rang the bell again, hoping nothing had happened to the Fantastic Four.
After about two minutes, Johnny Storm answered the door, looking half-asleep. His sandy blond hair was tousled, and he was dressed in a white bathrobe with a blue "4" etched onto the pocket.
"What are you doing here, web-head?" he yawned. "You have any idea what time it is?"
"Itís...oops." Peter had forgotten that his pager had woken him up to take the photo assignment that morning.
"Thatís right...itís 7:30 on a Saturday. And since you took the time to ring the bell, Iím guessing this isnít an emergency."
"Whatís eating you?" Spidey asked. "Every time I talk to you these days, youíre grousing at me over something."
Johnny didnít answer, he just sighed in frustration. "What do you want, Spidey?"
"Venomís back," Spidey answered.
Johnnyís face took on a more serious expression. "Come in."
The two of them wound their way through the Fourís Pier headquarters, eventually finding their way to the kitchen. Peter wanted to get what he came for, but he wasnít about to leave without finding out what was wrong with Johnny Storm.
"Seriously, though, Torch, whatís the matter? And why was the building all locked up?"
"Itís been an interesting week, Spidey. Reed and Sue are taking Franklin to go live on Titan, so the Fantastic Four is basically on temporary hiatus while we figure out what to do. Leaving me to realize that without the Fantastic Four, I donít have much."
"You have your health," Spidey cracked.
Johnny didnít even respond, instead sitting down in a chair and reaching for the cereal on the table.
"Sorry," Spidey said, sitting down opposite him.
"Itís OK," Johnny said, pouring some of the chocolate cereal into a bowl. "Iím just not in the best mood lately. My sister and my nephew, not to mention my brother-in-law, are moving out into space. My wife turned out to be a skrull, and I canít even find her! The woman I thought I was marrying turned out to still be in love with Ben, and I donít begrudge them their happiness, but itís hard to take when I feel so alone. Sometimes it just feels like the worldís out to get you, you know?"
Peter didn't know what to say. While the Torch obviously needed a friend, and he considered them friends, he didn't know if Johnny shared the same feelings about their sarcastic repartee-heavy relationship. He didn't feel like he could tell the Torch how much he empathized with him, because that would mean revealing his identity. Wouldn't it? Or did the Torch deal with this secret identity thing enough from other heroes that it wouldn't matter what Peter told him? Before he could decide, Johnny took the decision out of his hands.
"Ah, forget it," Johnny said. "You didnít come here for that. While weíre on the subject...why did you come here?"
Peter paused, considering whether he should let Johnny change the subject or not. But Venom was a bigger menace than any personal problems the Torch was having, so he let it go.
"I thought maybe I could borrow one of the sonic weapons weíve used against Venom in the past," he said.
"Could be a problem there," Johnny responded. "Most of our equipment was shunted into the Negative Zone after we fought Onslaught. We got it back, but being in the Negative Zone wrecked some of it. Reed was still working on repairing a bunch of that stuff, and Iím almost sure the sonic cannon was one of things he was working on."
Spidey felt his hopes sag. Venom was tougher, faster and stronger than Spider-Man. He was immune to his spider-sense. His vulnerability to sonic attacks was the only edge Spidey had. Now he was going to have to take him on without it.
"But if you could use some help..." Johnny offered.
"I sure could," Spidey replied, relieved. Johnny might not be able to offer up sonic attacks, but his flame abilities would be a huge asset against Venom. Plus, if he were being honest with himself, Peter would admit that he was terrified of taking Venom on alone.
The two of them walked outside. As Johnny locked up Pier 4 using the handprint security scanner, Spidey talked about their next move.
"I think the best thing to do right now is patrol the city," Spidey said. "Iím betting that heíll come after me eventually. Hopefully weíll find Venom, or heíll find us, before someone else dies."
Johnny nodded, and got ready to take off. He was about to ignite when he noticed Spidey staring at him. Johnny cocked his head. "What?"
"Címon, you gotta say it."
"I donít say that anymore."
"You gotta! Please?"
"For old timeís sake? Iíll be your best friend."
Johnny sighed, then grinned. "Flame On!"
"Mr. Osborn?" Flash Thompson poked his head into the office of his new boss, Norman Osborn. The boss kept the door locked most of the time, but when it was open, Flash was encouraged to come in.
"Liz is here," he said.
"Good," Osborn said. "Send her in."
Liz Osborn walked into the door, glancing only briefly at Flash Thompson. She didnít know him that well anymore, had mostly related to him lately through her former husband, Harry. Still, what she had known about him in high school didnít fit with this eager beaver personality he was displaying. Sheíd heard he had turned into something of a drunk. Better a drunk than a servant of evil, though.
"Liz!" Norman said happily. It made Lizís skin crawl. No less so when he hugged her jubilantly. "How is my favorite daughter-in-law?"
"Iím fine, Mr. Osborn," she said icily.
"Norman, please. Sit, wonít you?" Liz just stood there, hoping to get this over with. Norman narrowed his eyes and repeated himself, this time in a much firmer tone of voice. "Sit down, Liz."
A little frightened, she sat. He walked around the desk and sat down as well. He locked his predatory gaze on her.
"How is Normie?" he said, his tone conversational but his eyes boring holes right through her.
"Heís fine, too," she replied. "Norman, Iím actually pretty busy with Osborn Chemical right now, is there..."
"Actually, thatís what I wanted to talk to you about," he interrupted. "I know that when Harry died, ownership of Osborn Chemical passed to you. But now that Iím back, Iíd like to take over again."
Liz stood up and walked toward the door. "I donít believe this! Osborn Chemical is all I have left of Harry, and I wonít let you take it!"
She slammed the door behind her. Norman just sat there, staring at the door.
"As if you had a choice, my dear," he muttered to himself. "As if you ever had a choice."
He picked up the phone on his desk and dialed. After a minute, he said, "Hello? Yes, please proceed."
Eddie Brock hung up the cellular phone. The phone was a tool of a reporter, and thatís what he was. All he had been, before the symbiote had entered his life. Now he was more than a reporter, but lately heíd been feeling the tug of journalism again. He sat down, still wrapped in the black and white costume of Venom, and began composing his new story:
"Venom Destroys Osborn Chemical Factory."
After sketching out a few ideas about what he was about to do, he let the phone, notepad and paper absorb into his costume. Now Eddie Brock was gone, replaced by Venom. He talked to himself as he fired a line of "webbing" that took him in closer to the chemical factory down the road.
"We wondered where you had been, Eddie," he said. In a different, more human voice, he answered himself. "I had to work. My job is important to me."
"We have no job," he replied in the "Venom" voice. "We are a force of destruction, a force of evil. We will have our revenge on the world for what it has done to us."
"No!" came the same voice. "We shall revenge ourselves on Spider-Man, not the world! We are a force for good, and Spider-Man is the evil!"
"Will you two shut up?" Eddie answered himself. "Iím trying to watch the carnage so I can write!"
The argument, amongst three personalities in one mind, continued while Venom crashed through the wall of the Osborn Chemicals factory. He shouted at himself as he grabbed the foreman and threw him against a stack of machinery so hard that bones cracked. He railed at himself about "journalistic integrity" while pouring vats of acid onto the floor and the unfortunate workers who couldnít run fast enough. He screamed about "death to Spider-Man" and "protection of innocents" while he smashed his fist into vat after vat of chemicals.
By the time the police had gotten there, Venomís argument had degenerated into hideous, mad laughter as explosions peppered the factory. The police were waiting outside, waiting for the SWAT team to show up in hazardous materials gear.
One of the managers ran over to the police, coughing. He sported burns on his face. "Youíve got to get in there! The chemical fumes overpowered some of my employees! Theyíre trapped in there with that madman!"
"Sir, we canít help them until weíve got the proper equipment! Iím sorry!"
"Youíve got to help! Youíre their only hope!"
At this, the Human Torch flew overhead, flying into the factory. Several of the cops and a lot of the escaping employees cheered. The Fantastic Four was here! Theyíd fix everything. Most of them shouted words to that effect.
As Spidey swung by, following the Torch, most of them shouted something similar to "Spider-Man? Whatís he doing here?"
Spidey swung down toward the factory, shaking his head. "Nothing like being appreciated."
"And thatís nothing like being appreciated," the Torch said, flying in a tight ring over Spidey.
Spidey landed at one of the open entrances, which had smoke billowing out from it. "Youíre a heck of a comedian, hotfoot. Care to do the honors?"
The Torch concentrated, drawing heat away from the fire. The smoke lessened, but didnít stop entirely. Still, Spidey could see inside now. Employees were lying unconscious on the floor, and some of them were sitting against the wall, dazed and unmoving. There was so much machinery, he couldnít get a good idea of how many there were. He also couldnít see Venom anywhere. And worse, his spider sense would be of no help against him.
It didnít matter. People were in danger. Spidey swung into the factory, and the Torch was right behind him.
"Iíll get the people out as fast as I can," Spidey yelled. "You keep an eye out for Venom!"
"You got it, web-head!" Torch yelled, flying off to another section of the factory.
Spidey reached down to pick up a couple of the unconscious employees. He spoke in soothing tones to the people sitting against the walls.
"Iíll be back for you in a minute. Iíve got to get these people out first, OK?"
He felt a solid impact on his back, and he dropped the people he was carrying. The impact sent him flying forward to hit solidly against a piece of machinery. He bounced back to the floor but quickly stood up and turned to see Venom. The people sitting against the wall seemed to have found strength from this, as they were staggering out the doors, leaving only the unconscious employees to take care of.
"Spider-Man," he said. "We are so glad you could be here to watch us destroy all of this. Can I get a quote?"
Venom spoke in three different voices. Spidey didnít know what to make of it. So he launched into his standard patter, hoping Torch would hear the commotion and come help.
"Sure! Venomís a grade-a nutball! Howís that for a quote?"
As he spoke, Spidey moved in close to Venom and punched, but the villain caught his fist and squeezed. Spidey felt a sharp pain in his hand.
"Oh, come on, Peter," he said in a mocking tone. "One reporter to another."
Spidey was glad the only people around were unconscious. Venom would have no problem spilling his secret identity. It was a good thing the Torch wasnít there.
Angrily, Spidey swung his other fist into Venomís midsection. Venom released his grip on Spidey, allowing the web-slinger to leap up above the villain and cling to the wall.
Yeah, he thought. Lucky the Torch isnít here. Wouldnít want a really good friend to learn my identity. I reserve that for psychopaths who want to kill me.
"Hey, Torch!" Spidey yelled. "A little help here?"
The Torch was having his own problems. A burning hunk of machinery had trapped several employees. Johnny was doing his best to deal with the flames, but the chemicals that were burning made it impossible for him to just snuff them. He wanted to fly in and pick the people up, but although he could withstand that heat, they would never make it.
He heard Spider-Manís cries for help, but he couldnít just leave these people in terror.
"Spidey! This way!" he yelled.
Spider-Man leaped away from Venom, toward the Torchís voice. He knew that Venom would follow. He landed near the Torch and saw the burning machinery, and heíd seen the people trapped behind it while he was in the air.
"Switch!" Spidey yelled. The Torch reacted instantly, unleashing a burst of flame at Venom, who had been about to pounce on Spider-Man. Venom roared in pain as the flames burned into the symbiote that covered his body.
"We shall make you pay for that, Spider-Man!"
Spidey reached down to grab the burning machinery as he yelled back, "Me?! I didnít do it! Ask the Torch to pick up the check!"
"Sorry, Venom," the Torch said, unleashing a couple fireballs. "I canít carry any money in this outfit."
Venom dodged the fireballs with incredible agility. He landed a few feet away and released a spray of webbing that grabbed the Torch.
"You will pay," he growled. With that, he yanked, and the Torch was flung headlong into another large piece of machinery with a resounding clang. He fell to the floor, momentarily stunned by the impact. Venom wasted no time in leaping over to him.
Meanwhile, Spidey heaved and lifted the machinery. It was burning, and he coughed from the smoke and felt the heat searing his hands. His costume caught fire at the wrists, but he couldnít let go. For a man with the proportionate strength of a Spider, a couple thousand pounds of burning machinery wasnít so heavy to lift.
"Move!" Spidey yelled, coughing. The people obeyed him, running for the exit. Spidey looked back to see Venom about to strike the fallen Torch.
"Hey, bunky! Heads up!" Spider-Man threw the machinery at Venom. Unfortunately, Venom was fast enough to react, and he caught the machinery. The momentum carried him back several feet, but he recovered, staggering back.
"You will die, Spider-Man!" Venom yelled. "Your precious wife and daughter will weep over your grave!"
With that, he threw the machinery back. Spidey leaped into the air and swung away as the machinery crashed to the floor, exploding. He had to put Venom down fast, or his secret identity was going to be a thing of the past. And how did Venom know about May, anyway? (May is Peter and Mary Janeís daughter, whom they think is dead, but is actually in the hands of Norman Osborn ĖComplicated-Ainít-It Randy)
"I wouldnít go making funeral arrangements just yet," the Torch said, waking up on the floor next to Venom. He unleashed a torrent of flame, battering Venom. The villain staggered backward, hurt and surprised by the sudden onslaught. The Torch marveled at Spidey's resolve in the face of a villain he was obviously a little afraid of. That blow from Venom had pretty near knocked Johnny out of the fight, and Spidey went up against this guy all the time.
Spider-Man took the momentary respite to put out the fires on his costume. He looked at Venom and the Torch, and thought they might have a chance at taking the villain out now.
Venom apparently thought so too. He gazed at both of them and then jumped up and out through one of the windows along the top of the building.
Spidey and the Torch were right after him, but when they got outside, they could see no trace. He could have gone anywhere. Before they started searching, the Torch asked Spidey, "So youíre married, huh?"
Peter hated what he had to say, but he couldnít risk his identity getting out to anyone else, even if it was someone he trusted. "No," he lied. "Venomís a nut, he was just trying to rattle me."
"That makes sense," the Torch quipped. "Whoíd want to marry you?"
The two of them began searching the nearby warehouses, along with the police. Spidey hoped they would find Venom. He had enough anger and frustration right now to need a good fight.
Venom stared at the man who had brought him to the warehouse. Actually, he looked less like a man and more like a monster.
A Hobgoblin, to be exact.
"Mr. Brock, I rescued you from those two to make you an offer. If youíre interested, I can get you out of here. If youíre not, Iíll leave you to deal with the forces aligned against you."
"We protect the innocent," Venom said. "We will not deal with a man such as you."
"As you wish," the Hobgoblin answered. He lifted off, flying away on his bat-glider. "Perhaps some time in the Vault will change your mind. You can get a message to me through a nightclub called Menagerie."
Just as the Hobgoblin left, light flooded the warehouse. That bum who saw him entering must have talked to the police.
"Venom!" The voice came from a loudspeaker. "This is Code: Blue! Spider-Man and the Human Torch are with us! Surrender now and you wonít be harmed!"
Inside, Venom warred with himself. He argued that they should kill them all, that they should flee to avoid hurting the police and kill Spider-Man later, that whatever they did should be newsworthy. Finally, another voice began arguing. It was one who had weakly protested when they killed the man who had discovered them in his apartment. It was the voice that had told them to run when Spider-Man and the Torch were ready to face off against them. It was the voice they all regarded as weak and ineffective. The voice was not sounding so weak now.
The Code: Blue officer standing next to Spidey muttered, "There were a lot of people hurt in that factory. I almost hope he doesnít come quietly."
He was doomed to disappointment, however. To Spideyís astonishment, Eddie Brock stepped out of the warehouse. Tears were running down his face.
"Help me," he said. He collapsed onto the ground. "Help me."
The police closed in to wrap the villain in power-neutralizing cuffs. Spidey and the Torch left, seeing that their job was done.
As the two men settled down at Pier 4, there was an uneasy silence, as there had been for the whole trip back.
The Torch broke the silence.
"You want to come in for some lunch?"
Peter shook his head. He felt dirty for lying to the Torch, but he couldnít fight his instincts. All these years, his secret identity had been his most sacred duty, and it was next to impossible to break that conditioning. Even Mary Jane and Aunt May had had to figure it out for themselves, rather than having him tell them.
"No, Iíve...got things I have to do." Like returning the pictures his belt-camera had taken to the Bugle, for instance.
"Take care of the wife and daughter, huh?" Torch joked. It was like twisting a knife in Spideyís heart.
"Yeah," he laughed weakly. "Thanks for the help, Johnny."
Spidey swung off, feeling as if heíd lost the fight.
Welcome to Web of Spider-Man #130. I hope you all enjoyed this first issue. It may not be what you expected from the web-slinger, but I promise you, very soon youíll have the Spider-Man you know and love back. And for those of you for whom Ben Reilly is the Spider-Man you know and love, well...Iím not a Ben fan, but I know what itís like to lose a favorite character. Expect it to be dealt with in the bookís first major storyline, "Who is Norman Osborn?"
Now to answer a question some of you may have. Why call the book Web of Spider-Man and not Amazing Spider-Man or Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man? Simple. In the spirit of MV1, we're using the first Spidey title that got cancelled to tell our tales. But this isn't a regression of the character, far from it. MV1 titles aren't about putting things back to where they were, it's about taking them someplace new.
This is a lot of fun for me. Iíd been toying with the idea of a Spidey book for a while, but figured that Iíd get to it after I was done with the Vault. However, circumstances led to it being a lot sooner, and Iím glad. Iím also glad to have on board as co-writer Mark Bousquet. Mark writes the incredible Fantastic Four series for MV1. Itís one of my favorites, and Iím honored to have such a talented collaborator.
Tell us what you thought of the book! What do you want, what donít you want? What are your favorite Spidey storylines and what made them so? Who are your favorite villains, allies, supporting cast? What should we call the letter column? Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!