There is a bar called O'Malley's on DeGaub Street in New York City. The bartender and owner, Mike O'Malley, serves watered-down booze and lousy conversation, with a nice side order of rotten attitude. O'Malley's has a clientele of almost exclusively thugs, junkies and lowlives.
Problem is, most of the heroes in town know this as well.
So Mike O'Malley has spent more than his fair share paying for windows after one of his clientele has been thrown through it by a local do-gooder.
Case in point? One Stanley Vetter, small-time hood and mugger, who has just exited O'Malley's through the front window, courtesy of the Amazing Spider-Man.
Spidey leaped out after Stan and landed on the street next to him.
"Pardon the rough stuff, Stanley, but I thought maybe out here we could talk without being interrupted."
A tingling of danger sense alerted Spidey, and he leaped into the air as gunshots came from inside O'Malley's. Twisting in midair, he fired his webshooters inside and pulled a gun out, still attached to its owner, a now airborne thug named Vito.
As Spidey landed, Vito went sailing by him, only to stop roughly when he hit the pavement. He groaned, tried to stand up, and failed, collapsing into a pile. Spidey grinned underneath his mask.
"See? Much easier to deal with these minor distractions out here in the fresh, dank air of New York City at night! Don't you agree, Stan? Stan? You're awful quiet now, Stan. Just a few minutes ago you were blabbing your head off about the price on my head. What happened? It didn't sound like the story was over. You missed the best part...."
"You hadn't told us who was behind it yet!"
With that, Spidey lifted Stan off his feet and shook him lightly. Not enough to hurt him, just enough to scare him. Peter silently thanked Clint Eastwood for his movies, which had taught him the ever-so-useful art of interrogation.
"I just heard a few things, webs. You gotta believe me!"
"Oh, sure, Stan. You've built up a lot of credibility with me in the past."
"Look, I don't know anything!"
"But you've heard things. Tell me!"
"Okay! I heard...jeez, it's crazy, but...I heard that Osborn's got something in for you!"
Spidey dropped Stan. His body was shaking with anger as he choked out the words. "Norman...Osborn?"
"Yeah! Word is, that guy don't much like you, webs! Said he put a price on your head! Course, nobody reliable is saying anything, if you know what I mean. Nobody the cops would believe."
"I don't need cops," Spidey muttered. He swung away on a webline, not noticing the shadowy figure in a nearby alley who approached Stan.
"Very convincing," the man said. "I almost believed you were actually frightened, Stan."
"Yeah, yeah," Stan said, straightening up and holding his palm out. "Now how about my payment?"
Two gunshots rang out, and Stan dropped to the street, bleeding from his head wounds.
"Nobody the cops would believe," the figure quoted. "But why take chances?"
He flipped open a cellular phone and waited a few seconds. "Mr. Osborn? The trap is baited."
"Mr. Urich? What are you doing all the way out here in Queens?"
"Afternoon, Mrs. Parker. I actually was looking for your husband."
"Peter? He..." is no doubt off playing Spider-Man, she thought, but instead said, "had to go to class in the city. I think he'll be back later tonight. Is there a message?"
Urich looked uncomfortable, but just replied, "No...no thanks. I just wanted his opinion on something. I'll catch up to him later."
Ben smiled at her, but he was disappointed. Peter had been his best shot, the only one he knew well enough to bring into this. Now he was going to have to go to someone else, and he wasn't sure who he could trust. He turned to go as the phone rang.
"Hello? Oh, hi, Liz. What's the matter?"
Liz...the name struck a chord in Ben's mind. Liz...Osborn. She would be able to help him, and he knew that even if he couldn't trust her, she wouldn't turn him in to Norman. Ben said goodbye to Mary Jane and rushed off.
Mary Jane waved absent-mindedly while chatting with Liz about her encounter with Norman. She didn't notice anything else until the door slammed shut, and the hooded stranger was standing there leaning against it.
"Liz...I've got to call you back."
Lance Bannon sat in his office, sorting through photographers from his freelancers. It was nice to be just looking at photos, after all that he had been through. The phone on his mahogany desk rang, and he grabbed the receiver.
"Bannon, Now Photo Editor."
The voice on the other end was deep, a bass that vibrated the phone in Lance's hand. It was the voice of his true boss.
"Mr...Bannon, is it?"
"Oh, boss. It's you."
"Who the hell are you?" Mary Jane yelled, hanging up the phone.
The hooded stranger didn't speak. He just stood there, listening.
"I asked you a ques..."
"Norman Osborn is not what he seems to be."
"What does Norman Osborn have to do with my daughter?"
"That's the question, isn't it?"
"Yes. How are things going there? Enjoying the position I arranged for you?"
Bannon leaned over and shut the blinds that overlooked the rest of the offices. He knew that it didn't make a difference, but given the clandestine nature of this phone call, it just made him feel more secure. Also, a very sharp observer might have noticed a slight change in his facial expressions, as if Lance Bannon were a mere act, and he was slipping character.
"It's great, boss. Really. I mean, I don't have to shoot anyone...well, except for with a camera, but you know...Are you sure nobody's going to come looking for this Bannon guy?"
"I'm quite sure. He was terminated*, and the few witnesses who knew about it have been dealt with. You are Lance Bannon. Enjoy your new life. All I ask is that you report in on Joy Mercado and her newest freelancer, a Mr. Parker. I believe that one or both of them knows who Spider-Man is." (True! It happened in Web of Spider-Man #113-116! - Undead Writing Randy)
Mary Jane was near tears with frustration. "Why can't you give me one straight answer?"
"I tried playing it straight before, and it got me ki... this is how
it has to be, Mary Jane. I'm sorry. But I needed to tell you, Osborn is
the key. I've been investigating him for a while now, and I owe him the
Mary Jane sniffed the air, smelling something burning. She turned and saw a thin trail of red smoke coming from the kitchen.
"Boss...that's a sweet deal. All I gotta do is rat out Spider-Man and I get to go legit for good? You're the best! You're the king!"
There was a soft chuckle over the phone, and then his boss hung up.
So he thought Parker might know who Spider-Man was, huh? Maybe it was time for Bannon to cozy up to his new freelancer. He reached over to his rolodex to search for Peter Parker's beeper number.
Mary Jane dashed in and found a small chemical cake sitting on one of the burners, attached to a kitchen timer. She turned and ran back out of the kitchen, but the stranger had used the distraction effectively and was long gone.
"Peter," she said. She reached for the phone to dial his beeper number.
In an alley near the Osborn Chemical headquarters, Raymond Candelart stirred. He hated waking up. Just reminded him how lousy life was. No job, no home, just this alley and, on good days, a bottle of booze. Today wasn't a good day. Not to mention that for the second time in five minutes, this stupid beeping sound had woken him up.
"What...what the hell is that?" he muttered, stumbling to his feet. He followed the sound.
There it was! Up on the wall, attached in some kind of black substance. Was it a bomb?
Nah, he thought. Bombs don't beep, then stop, then beep again fifteen minutes later.
They beep and then explode.
He moved one of the trashcans over and stood on top of it. He could almost reach the package. Thing was still beeping. Frustrated, he jumped up and grabbed it. He let out a squeal of surprise when he couldn't let go! It was some kind of sticky substance, and he was stuck hanging there, hands mired in this gooey mess about a foot above the trash can.
And it was still beeping.
There was a rumbling sound from the wall and Raymond felt the package slip a little bit. He just had time to realize what was happening before the chunk of bricks cracked and let go of the wall, sending him crashing down into the alley.
Raymond stood up. He held the heavy substance, along with chunks of the cheap bricks it had been attached to, in both hands.
It was stuck to him.
And it was still beeping.
Complaining and cursing, he walked out of the alley and decided to go find him some booze. As he walked away, he kept smashing the package against the walls.
"Shut up!" Krack!
"SHUT UP!" KRACCK!
There was silence, blessed silence. Raymond held the package above his head and cheered.
He didn't notice the slight tear, revealing the package to be full of street clothes.
Dr. Curt Connors worked in a lab he had built in the basement of his home. His wife didn't know about it. She wouldn't understand. He knew the risks, knew that the chemicals could turn him into the Lizard again. But he was getting desperate. For a time, he had known life without the Lizard, when the beast was removed from him entirely. Now it was back, and he had to cure it. For his wife. For his son. For himself.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Connors."
The voice startled him. It didn't belong to anyone he knew. Sounded young, probably a New York native from the slight accent, but muffled somehow. Connors turned to see someone standing behind him. Or more precisely, something. The Green Goblin.
"How did you get in here?" Connors said. He tried to stay calm. Already he could feel anger and fear welling up. Too much and the Lizard would run free again.
"A simple chemical solution to melt the lock, then a silent blast from my goblin blaster to weld the door shut so we can have privacy. Not a problem for a goblin of my talents. You are seeking a cure for your unfortunate condition, aren't you? Your skin condition?"
The Goblin walked over to the chemicals and started pawing through them, nonchalantly flipping vials over his shoulder that then crashed against the walls.
"Skin condition?" Connors asked.
The Goblin turned, his macabre grin focused on Connors. "You know. The condition in which your skin turns all leathery and scaly?"
He let loose with a hideous laugh and then stopped. "I can help you, Dr. Connors. I'm a brilliant chemist."
"You're a cheap criminal with delusions of grandeur," Connors spat.
"No...you're thinking of that other goblin. I have neither delusions, nor criminal aspirations really," he said. "Well, one, but that's mostly by association. But I assure you, I could cure you of the Lizard."
Connors wasn't sure about this. The man sure didn't sound like the Green Goblin. And he noticed now that he had been studiously avoiding anything that would explode or burn when flipping the chemicals, only throwing the others away. A subtle hint, perhaps?
"Come with me, Dr. Connors. Hear our offer. If you refuse, we'll send you on your way, none the worse for wear. I don't think you can afford to turn down an offer like this without at least seeing if it's genuine, can you?"
Connors thought of his wife. His son. The nightmares. The Lizard butchering them, then locking Connors up inside his mind forever. The Lizard butchering them, and Connors being caught at the scene of the crime, only to be left utterly and completely alone - with not even the Lizard coming around to haunt him anymore.. Worst of all, the one where it wasn't the Lizard at all, but just the small part of him that always whispered into Connor's ear that humans had to be destroyed. The one where Connors murdered his wife and son and the Lizard laughed in his brain.
"Alright," he said. "I'll listen to your offer."
Spider-Man climbed the outside of the skyscraper where Osborn had rented offices a month ago, after his return. Since then, he'd been maneuvering himself into positions of power in the city, buying interests in various companies. He'd heard rumors that he might be trying to gain control of the Daily Bugle's parent company. And in all that time, he'd been careful to keep whatever criminal activities he had tightly under wraps. Now he had slipped up. In his hatred for Spidey, he'd done something completely illegal. Peter had been the target of numerous madmen and mercenaries before, but having a price put on his head by Osborn made him angry. He hadn't been sure before now that Osborn was after him, couldn't be sure it wasn't just paranoia. Now he had proof.
The blinds were drawn on Osborn's floor. Spider-Man tried to peer in, but couldn't see anything. Suddenly the window slid open, with a mechanical whir. He had been expected. For a long time, apparently, if Osborn had taken the time to install a window-opening mechanism. The blinds hadn't moved. Spidey still couldn't see in.
The voice that emanated from within was unmistakable, but it was unlike Peter had ever heard it. Weak, filled with pain. "Come in...I've been expecting you."
Expecting a trap, Spidey crashed in through the blinds and flipped, landing in the middle of the office. He spun and looked at the desk, to see Norman Osborn sitting behind it. Despite himself, he gasped. Norman looked as if he were ancient! His exposed hands and face were gaunt and drawn, like a corpse. But he wore a gruesome smile on his face. Peter started as he heard the window slam shut, so fast that the glass shattered. He spun and looked at Osborn, who was still wearing that smile.
"So predictable, Peter...you've always been...so predictable."
With that, the last vestige of life seemed to leave Osborn, and he slumped over onto the desk. Spidey rushed to see if there was anything he could do, and it was at that moment that the door to the office swung open to reveal Flash Thompson.
Flash looked in and gasped in horror, "Spidey?"
"Flash...it's not what it looks like."
Flash looked over the office, at the torn and ragged blinds that Spidey had destroyed in his entrance.
He looked at the mess where Spidey had landed, expecting a trap.
He looked at the shattered window.
And he looked at his boss, slumped over the desk right in front of Spider-Man. Despite his long years of hero-worship, there was only one conclusion he could reach.
Peter stared for a long second at Flash Thompson. His friend, Spidey's fan, had just chosen to back a ruthless villain over him. He couldn't really blame him, but he couldn't help feeling hurt either. Then he was gone, leaping out the window and swinging away. He'd been through this before...explaining himself to the cops wouldn't do any good. Behind him, he could hear Flash yelling.
"Spider-Man! He just killed Mr. Osborn!"
I'm enjoying the running battle between Shocker and Spidey a lot. Keep it up! This was a great issue! Norman's degenerating? This will be fun. I put my money on this mysterious guy as being either Kaine or Ben Reilly. Either way, I'm happy. Anyway, my only complaint is this issue was too short. I can't wait to see what's next! BTW, Let's see Phil Urich here soon!
Norman's degenerated, TJ, as you can see this issue. And you're the first one to bet on the identity of the mysterious stranger. Phil Urich hasn't shown up yet, but we're getting a pretty good shot of Ben Urich at least...and Phil's former alter ego the Green Goblin...or is that Phil Urich in the suit? Hmmmm....
Also, a correction...this series takes place right after Peter Parker, Spider-Man #75, not Spectacular Spider-Man #250. Thank you to Manuel Chavarria for pointing this out to me, and also the truth behind the unfortunate death of Lance Bannon, which is shaping itself up into a new subplot.