Peter froze as the harsh glare of a police spotlight stabbed down into the alley. He could hear the helicopter hovering nearby, hear the voice over the loudspeaker demanding that he surrender himself.
It never gets bad enough, does it, Peter thought. Not only did Norman Osborn frame me as his murderer when he died of some kind of natural condition, but when I try to grab my street clothes to get away from here quietly, someone's snagged them*. (* It all happened last issue! – Back-Issue Madness Randy)
The spotlight moved and finally found its target.
"There he is!" came the excited yell from the helicopter. A burst of automatic weapons fire peppered the alley, as Peter leaped onto the wall to avoid it. The spotlight moved, following him, and the gunfire moved with it, punching a line of holes in the shoddy brickwork of the building.
Spidey kept moving up the wall, but turned his head briefly to get a look at the spotlight. He brought one of his arms up and aimed a glob of webbing at the bright light far above. He muttered to himself something about "not my day" when he heard the webbing smack into the side of the helicopter.
Spidey flipped backward off the wall, feeling a sharp pain in his left ankle. He looked down, and sure enough, one of the bullets had caught him in the leg. He forced himself to finish out the flip and land on both feet, and it sent a sharp pain into his left leg, causing him to collapse. The spotlight followed him again, and now it was on top of him.
The gunfire had stopped for now, and Spidey heard, "Surrender now, Spider-Man. It's over."
Desperately, Peter looked around him.
City street. Too far away.
City street. Manhole cover.
Gritting his teeth, Spidey pushed out with both legs, flinging himself toward the manhole. The light tried to keep up with him, and the gunfire started again, but he managed to land next to the cover and yank it off, slipping down into the sewers.
He landed with a splash in the sewage.
"Cripes," he said, standing up and limping down the tunnel as fast as he could go. "I bet this kind of thing never happens to Captain America."
J. Jonah Jameson, cigar-chomping Editor-in-Chief of the great metropolitan paper known as the Daily Bugle, was beside himself with glee. Robbie Robertson knew this particular brand of glee well.
This was the "I'm right about Spider-Man" brand of glee, brought on by a security camera photograph of Spider-Man standing over the desk of fallen industrialist Norman Osborn.
"Jonah, doesn't it seem the least bit suspicious to you that within hours of his death, a photo of Osborn's murder makes its way to us?"
"Robbie, when you've been in the newspaper game as long as I have, you learn not to look an anonymous source in the mouth."
"Jonah, I have been in the newspaper game as long as you have."
There was a knock on the door. One of the interns, a young college kid named Frankie, poked his head in. "Uh...M...Mr...Jameson? There are some...uh, people here to see you."
"Send them in, my boy! Send them in!"
The door opened wider to reveal the massive frame of Luke Cage and his partner, the martial arts master known as Iron Fist. Cage strode in confidently and sat down, while Iron Fist slipped in quietly and stood beside his partner.
"You wanted to see us, Mr. Jameson?" Iron Fist asked.
Jameson's smile disappeared, to be replaced by his usual scowl. He hated doing this, but he knew the police would never bring Spider-Man in.
"You're the 'Heroes for Hire,' aren't you?"
Iron Fist nodded.
"That paper will hit the stands in a couple hours. I want you to bring in the murderous menace."
With that, Jonah tossed a mock-up of tomorrow's newspaper at the two of them. Iron Fist snatched it out of the air and stared at it wordlessly, then passed it to Luke Cage, who very nearly choked.
On the front page of the paper was the security cam photo. Spider-Man, standing in a shattered office looking angry, with Norman Osborn slumped over his desk. The headline read "MURDERER!"
Luke Cage stood up and flung the paper back at Jonah's desk. "Let me talk to my partner for a minute."
Cage stood up and walked out of the office with Iron Fist. "Danny, what's going on here? He was framed, right?"
"Of course, Luke. It has to be."
"So we turn it down."
"Do we? Then Jameson might hire someone who doesn't share our belief in Spider-Man's innocence. Even if he doesn't, there are certain to be people with far less scruples looking for him. Better that Spider-Man have someone looking for him, if only to cover his back."
Iron Fist cocked an eyebrow at Luke, who rolled his eyes. Luke reached back, opened the door and said, "We'll take the case."
Peter woke up, still drowsy enough to not know where he was. He reached over to where Mary Jane should have been in the bed and felt cold, wet stone.
Then he remembered.
After getting into the sewers, he'd gone as far as he could until he found an alcove where he could hide. He pulled some rubble over to fashion a hideaway for him and crawled underneath it, just before the pain in his ankle caused him to fall unconscious.
He was lucky to be awake, he knew that much. He also knew that he wasn't alone.
Lifting his head off the sewer, he turned his head. A man in tattered clothes was lying against the near wall, with a big pile of ashes and burnt wood next to him. He snored loudly and clutched his bottle of whiskey like a teddy bear.
Peter looked down and saw that his ankle was bandaged. Looking closely, he realized that the bandages were fashioned from a familiar looking flannel shirt.
The other man shuddered and woke up.
"Hey! You're awake! That was a close one, wasn't it?"
"Your leg. Thought you weren't going to make it."
"You bandaged it?"
"Yeah. I was a combat medic in 'Nam. Found a package of clothes upstairs and used that. Lucky thing, huh?"
"Duh. Who shot you? The Green Goblin? Doc Ock?"
Punisher War Journal, Entry Number One: I still don't know who I am. I have flashes, vague memories, but no concrete sense of the man I was. By doing some research, I've been able to figure out that I once called myself the Punisher. I was a former marine named Frank Castle whose family was killed by gangsters. I cut a swathe of terror through the underworld before I was executed. Guess the execution didn't take.* (* See the last Punisher series by John Ostrander – Ostrander Fanboy Randy)
Frank Castle continued doing push-ups in the mixture of broken glass and garbage that he had brought into the abandoned church he now called home. After months of research into who he was, he finally had clues. Even if he didn't have any emotional connection to them anymore.
What he did have was a reason. A purpose to go on. Even if his memories never came back, something deep within him told him that his crusade was justified.
He stared at the copy of the Daily Bugle in front of him as he did his push-ups. He wasn't reading the stories. He was memorizing the target.
Research showed he was a vigilante, like Frank had been. But now he'd crossed the line, killed an innocent businessman. Research showed Frank had done the same thing, killed an innocent family in a crossfire, and that's what had led to his execution.
Frank couldn't blame them. The murder of innocents was motivation enough for the death penalty.
Something Spider-Man was about to learn first-hand.
Mary Jane paced nervously along the hospital corridor. She had seen the paper, she knew Peter was in danger. But there was nothing she could do for him, and there was something she could do here.
There. One of the doctors walked in, chatting and laughing with the others. Mary Jane reached into her purse and walked in his general direction, being careful that he didn't see her.
As she moved past him, and his friends moved away, she spun, pulled something out of her purse, and jammed it into his back.
"Don't say a word or it'll be your last. Move."
The doctor didn't say anything, he just walked in the direction she led. Which was into a supply closet. She closed the door behind her and locked it. Without letting him turn around, she said, "Tell me about May Parker."
"May Parker? I don't recognize the name."
She jammed the object into his back again. "Yes you do."
Time to use what little information she had.
"Mr. Osborn sent me."
"Oh god. Oh god. No, please. I have a wife. I did what he asked."
"Did you really? What? What did he ask?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Alright! He asked me to tell the Parkers their baby was dead. Then he asked me to hand her over to him. Oh god please don't kill me."
Mary Jane unlocked the door and slowly backed out. "Stay here for fifteen minutes. If you come out before then, I'll have to use this."
She closed the door and put the tube of lipstick she had been threatening him with back into her purse. Maybe she had a future in acting after all.
"This your idea of fun, Torch?"
Benjamin Grimm was not happy. This was not his idea of how to spend the early morning, wallowing in the filth of New York City's sewer system.
Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, flew overhead, safely above the noxious waste that covered the floors.
But not above the smell.
"We're not doing this for fun," he replied.
"Why are we down here again?"
"Police spotted Spidey heading into the sewers, rocks-for-brains. We've got to find him, talk him into turning himself in before the cops shoot him again. You saw the blood in that alley, didn't you? He was lucky to avoid being killed, but his luck won't hold forever. What is Reed's scanner showing?"
The Thing produced a handheld device that looked like a combination radar gun, minicomputer and mine detector. He pointed down one of the tunnels, and then he and the Torch continued that way.
Another figure trailed silently behind them, careful not to let his splashing in the water give him away.
Ben Urich caught up to Liz Osborn at a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan. With her son Normie sitting next to her, she detailed everything Norman had done to regain control of Osborn Chemicals.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Osborn. I just don't have the credibility I used to, after Norman discredited my book. Without some solid proof, I can't do much with your story."
"It's okay, Mr. Urich. It helped just to vent a little. But I'm sure that's not why you called me. What can I do for you?"
Ben slid the piece of paper containing the chemical formula he had liberated from Osborn computers over to her. "Do you still have connections in the company?"
"A few. What is this?"
"I found it on the company mainframe. Don't ask why I was hacking into it. But the important thing is, Norman Osborn accessed it...before he took over. I think it might be important."
Liz looked at her watch as she shoved the paper into her pocket. "We've got to go. Normie's late for swimming lessons!"
She walked outside the coffee shop with Normie in tow. Ben heard a squealing of tires and looked in time to see an unmarked van pull up next to them. A man leaned out and grabbed Normie, pulling him into the van. As Ben stood up, the man reached out and grabbed Liz too. The door slammed and the van drove away before Ben could get there.
Standing on the sidewalk, Ben remembered where he'd seen the man's face before. Colin Warven, the guy who had been working security at Osborn Chemicals.
Osborn, it seemed, was everywhere. But Ben had friends too.
It was time to call on them.
Flash Thompson sadly piled the stacks of papers and books from Norman Osborn's office into boxes. His new life had just been starting, Flash thought. They had just moved him into this new office, ready to start rebuilding Osborn Chemicals.
No one had asked Flash to do this, of course. Packing up the office was the last thing on people's minds. But Flash needed some kind of closure, and just standing in this office, the one Osborn had been killed in, he felt like he could get it.
"Mr. Osborn, I don't know what happened. I can't believe Spider-Man would kill you. I need to talk to the cops again soon. Explain what I saw, how it didn't look like anything Spidey could have done."
"Oh, that won't do," came a voice from the door, which opened suddenly. "No, that won't do at all."
Flash stammered. "It...it..can't be!"
Spidey heard splashing. He tried to stand, but even though the ankle was bandaged, he was still having trouble putting weight on it. He managed to push himself up and lean against the wall by the time the Thing and the Torch came around the corner.
"Spidey," Johnny Storm breathed in relief. "You're alive."
"Not for long," came another voice from behind them.
They all turned to look. Standing in the water, holding an assault rifle with the scope aimed square at Spidey's head, was a man in a dark black suit and trenchcoat with a white skull on his chest.
No letters this time. C'mon, you guys, I'm dying for feedback on this arc! Drop me a line, even if you hate it. (Especially if you hate it, because I'd like to know why.)
Randy "Will beg for mail" Lander