"For Richer or For Poorer"
by Mark Bousquet & Randy Lander
special thanks to Tim Hartin for the Crime Wave sequence
On any given day, there are a multitude of villians who sit in some secret lair - be it a vast secret hideaway or their rundown apartment - and plot the demise of Spider-Man.
Plans lay in various stages of readiness. Some are just thoughts in an idle mind, others are so complex, so vast, so detailed, that their creator would probably serve himself better if he simply took a vacation.
On any given day, any one of a multitude of villains can come gunning for Spider-Man.
Today, at least, Peter Parker appeared to have caught a break.
He walked along the street next to his wife, Mary Jane. MJ pushed their
daughter, May, in a stroller in front of them. It was that
rarest of New York days for Spider-Man...an uneventful one. Even better, the sun was shining. It was as if nature had decided to give Peter a break to enjoy his newfound good fortune. His daughter, the one he'd thought dead, was alive and with them again. His old enemy, Norman Osborn, was dead, as he was originally believed to be, and the fraud who had been using his identity also gone.
"Peter? We have to talk."
That was never a good phrase. Every man knew it, and Peter was no exception. "Uh oh. What's the matter?"
"Things have to change, Peter. It's one thing for you to risk your life while you're married to me. I don't like it, but I accept it. I made the decision to be with you despite the fact that I could lose you to some psychopath like the Green Goblin or the Rhino or..."
"The Jackal?" Peter offered.
"Don't help," she said, and even though she had a smile, she obviously wasn't kidding. "I'm serious, Peter. May didn't get to make that decision. She didn't get to choose a dad who might not come home one night. She didn't get to choose a mom who didn't know what to do with her life now that her modeling career was over."
"True enough," Peter said. "She also didn't choose to live in a world where the closest thing to a grandfather she would have had died long before she was born because of a selfish kid."
"Peter, you've spent all your life making up for that. When is it enough? This city is lousy with crime-fighters! Daredevil, Moon Knight, the Avengers, they've all been at this as long as you have. Can't they handle it?"
Peter was quiet. Yes, they could. But there were always more villains, more schemes than there were heroes. And his responsibility was always too strong. He'd tried to quit before, several times. Once very recently, when he had been tricked into believing he was a clone. But something had brought him back. Something had always brought him back.
All these thoughts passed through his head before Mary Jane said anything else.
"I'm not asking you to quit, Peter. I know you better than that. I'm just asking you to be more careful."
"I'm always careful, pretty lady."
"Couldn't you get a partner or something, Peter? Or join a team? Strength in numbers, all that kind of thing?"
"A partner? Hrm … I think there's a rule that says only Captain America can have a partner. Falcon … Nomad … Bucky …"
"Daredevil had a partner before."
"Er, I don't think you'd want me to have a partner like that …" Peter smiled, as he reached down to wipe some spittle of of May's chin.
"Power Man and Iron Fist? Cloak and Dagger?"
"Aw, MJ, getting a partner would just be more of a hassle."
"There's got to be someone," MJ pressed on, shooing a bug away from May's face. "You used to team up with a different hero every night of the week. Remember? There's got to be someone … what about hanging out with the New Warriors?"
"I joined a team before," Peter answered quickly. "Spider-Man doesn't
work and play well with others. Besides, being part of a team isn't any
safer than going solo. Look at what's happening over in England right now.
The Avengers would be right in the thick of something like that.*" (*
Or the Crusaders! To see what Spidey's talking about, check out Crusaders
Wayback Machine Randy)
"I just wish - I don't know, Peter," MJ shrugged her shoulders. "I just wish that sometimes Peter Parker would get some of the credit. I mean, Spider-Man is in the paper everyday for something or other - I just wish one day I'd look at the front page of the Bugle and see the headline, "Peter Parker awarded the Nobel Prize for Science."
"The Nobel Prize?" Peter almost laughed. "You don't think small, do you MJ?"
"Yeah, because saving the world is so much more hard to believe," she smiled.
They walked in silence for a while, enjoying the sun, enjoying each other, enjoying their beautiful baby daughter. It was a feeeling Peter wished would last forever and he told MJ so.
"Sorry, tiger, moment's already gone. You've got work to do."
"Huh?" Peter whirled around, trying to find the Shocker or the Lizard, wondering why his spider sense hadn't gone off. It took him a few seconds to realize Mary Jane was laughing at him.
"Oh, Peter, not that kind of work - the kind that pays." She pointed to their right. They were at the Daily Bugle.
"Well, don't look at me," Betty Brant snapped at Flash Thompson high above in the offices of the Daily Bugle.
"Isn't there someone you could-"
"Flash, I'm busy here. Very busy. Ben Urich and I are working on something-"
"What are you working on?"
Betty looked up from her desk and had to fight down a smile. Flash was charming, in his own way. "Flash, please, you have to go talk to personnel. If you really want to work here, they're the ones to talk to. Not me."
"But if you're working on something important, maybe I can help. I'm sure that-"
"Betty, I've got a lead on the Hobgoblin case," Ben Urich barked as he walked towards Betty's desk. "You coming?"
"The Hobgoblin?" Flash's face lit up, first with surprise, then with fear, then with nervousness.
Betty mumbled, "Thanks, Urich …"
"Yeah, the Hobgoblin. What's it to yo- oh, Flash Thompson. How's it going?" Ben extended his hand and Flash shook it weakly.
"The Hobgoblin," Flash said again, then walked away without saying a word.
"The Hobgoblin, not Flash's favorite villain," Betty sighed, gathering up her notebook. "That was a tough time for him - and not just because he was framed as the Hobgoblin."
"After all he's beem through, I bet he wishes he never saw a goblin again," Ben remarked and then his mind shifted back into complete focus on the case. "Let's go."
Peter, MJ and May rode up the elevator in happy silence. Peter and MJ's hands found each others and they squuezed gently.
"Enjoy the moment," Peter smiled, "because they never last."
The elevator opened and they were greeted by the visage of Ben Urich and Betty Brant.
"Hot case?" Peter asked.
"It always is with Urich," Betty smiled as they passed each other.
They walked into the newsroom floor.
The freelancers at the Bugle didn’t get their own desks, or even their own cubicles. Instead, they got the not-so-affectionately named “freelancers’ lounge,” a tiny office barely big enough for two desks, one computer and a coffee-maker to share. Peter had lucked out today in that there was only one other person using the lounge.
Unfortunately, the Parker luck was running true to form, as the one other person was Lance Bannon, Peter’s photo editor from Now magazine, and someone whose pages Peter hadn’t returned.* (*Due to various Spidey-related situations! – See past issues)
“I thought if I stayed here long enough you might show, Parker,” Bannon muttered. He took a long draw off his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray in front of him.
That’s odd, thought Peter. Bannon didn’t use to smoke. Used to be something of a health nut, actually.
Bannon was staring at him.
“It is at this point that the freelance photographer, desperate to keep the cushy new assignment he landed due to friends in high places at Now, begins showering his photo editor with copious excuses and apologies.”
One thing hadn’t changed. Bannon was still a jerk, and he still didn’t like Peter.
“I’m sorry, Lance,” Peter said, realizing that a good apology should have started with him calling him Mr. Bannon, “the beeper got destroyed when I was trying to follow Spider-Man. Somebody bumped into me and it got smashed.”
That was close enough to the truth. Actually, it had been smashed by a homeless man who had later taken a bullet for him. Another stray thought hit Peter, and he realized he needed to find a way to thank that man without blowing his secret identity.
“Alright then,” Bannon said. “Give me the Spider-Man photos and we’re square, this time at least.”
“I…er…can’t. I already sold them to Jonah.”
“What? You didn’t even give me a call? Now pays better rates, why would you do something like that?”
“Ben Urich had a story, and Jonah upped the rates,” Peter said, remembering the whole extra ten dollars he had made in that haggling session.
“Great,” Bannon said. “Well listen…”
It was at that moment that Mary Jane poked her head into the lounge. “Peter? You ready to go? Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were with someone.”
“That’s okay, I think we were done, right, Lance?”
Peter rushed outside and grabbed Mary Jane around the waist, hustling her along while pushing the stroller with the other hand. He heard Bannon saying something, but they were out of earshot too fast for him to stop Peter.
“Thanks for the save, gorgeous,” Peter said, giving his wife a peck on the cheek.
“Anytime, tiger. But listen, I have some news…and then a favor to ask.”
As the two of them got into the Bugle elevator, Mary Jane continued.
“I was talking with Alyssa…you know, the Bugle Fashion editor? And she mentioned that she was looking for a new columnist. Well, we got to talking, and I mentioned my work as a model and my interest in fashion design…and, well, you’re looking at the new weekly Fashion columnist for the Bugle!”
“That’s great, hon! But I didn’t know you had any interest in writing.”
“I don’t, really. But this position means a lot of talking to people in the industry, which could lead to some modeling or even design work.”
The last of the other Bugle employees got out on the twelfth floor, leaving the Parkers to ride the elevator down alone.
“So that’s the news. What’s the favor?”
“You need backup. I know you don’t want a partner, or a team, but please, promise me you’ll get someone you can trust who can protect you, or your family, if it’s needed. Someone I can call if I need help finding you.”
“I was thinking, yes.”
Peter thought, and then smiled a half-smile. “Actually, MJ, that sounds like something I can do. Something I should have done a long time ago.”
May gurgled, and Peter thought, I guess I just never had this good a reason before as he reached down to wipe his daughter’s chin again.
"Well," MJ gasped, "don't keep me waiting, who is it?"
Peter kissed May on the cheek and smiled, "Would May like to meet my friend Howard the Duck?"
"Ha-ha, Mr. Parker, ha-ha," MJ chided. "I'm not kidding around."
"Neither am I," Peter said straightfaced, standing up. "I'll have to convince him to stop smoking his cigars when he comes over, but other than-"
The Parkers stepped off the elevator and out into the streets of New York. Peter raised his hand to flag down a cab, and as one pulled up to stop, he opened the back door to let Mary Jane carry May inside. Peter felt a familiar throbbing in his temple. He turned and saw a black sports car racing down the street behind him. Something about it had set of his spider-sense, that's for sure.
Mary Jane stared at him. She knew the distracted look in his eyes. "Go, Peter. It's what you do. Just...come back to me and May in one piece, okay?"
Peter leaned over and kissed her, smiling. "Don't worry, gorgeous. I'll be careful. What man would leave his two best girls alone?"
Mary Jane watched him rush off to change into his costume, praying she'd never find out.
Minutes later, Peter was in costume, web-swinging along behind the car. As he followed it, his spider-sense continued to buzz lightly in his skull. He was unprepared when it suddenly throbbed to life again, and he briefly lost his grip on his webline.
"Whoa!" he exclaimed, then looked around for the gun or whatever had set it off. A few blocks distant, he saw smoke. Coincidentally, it seemed to be where the sports car was heading. Or maybe not so coincidentally, Spidey thought.
As he got closer, he saw that the smoke was pouring out of a warehouse that had caught fire. Police and fire vehicles surrounded the place, along with a couple ambulances. The sports car had stopped, parked across the street. Spidey was about to drop down when he saw a flash of red inside the building. Giving one last glance at the car, he swung toward the inferno. He flinched as a huge explosion erupted from within, shattering windows outward. Desperately, he swung inside, hoping that the man he'd just seen was okay.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Daredevil holding some wreckage up, sheltering some unconscious men from harm. The men had holsters on. In this neighborhood, that usually meant gangsters. Daredevil looked up at Spidey, recognizing his presence. Spidey knew that Matt Murdock didn't actually see him, but was just letting him know that he'd recognized him.
"Need a hand, horn-head?" Spidey asked. He didn't wait for an answer, shooting out a stream of webbing to yank the gangsters out from underneath the wreckage.
Daredevil dove forward as the wreckage came crashing down behind him.
"Much appreciated Spidey," he said. "Lets get out of this firetrap before we both need rescuing."
Spidey picked up the mobsters and carried them out. Daredevil held onto one of them, and when they got outside, he propped him up against one of the ambulances.
"You can stop pretending now Novinskii. I know you are wide awake," Daredevil said. "What do you know about this fire?"
The gangster called Novinskii opened his bloodshot eyes and cursed in Russian. When he spoke, it was with a thick Russian accent "Sabotage. Someone sabotaged my operations and then you show up. Were you checking on your handy-work, American Devil?"
Novinskii continued yelling as the police came over and dragged him and the rest of his men away.
Daredevil turned to Peter. "I'm glad you showed up when you did. An informant told me of an arms deal going down at this address and when I arrived this fire had already started. How did you know about it?"
"Strange you should mention that," Spidey said. "I was brought here by a strange sports car that set off my spider-sense."
Peter had a flash of realization and smacked his forehead. "The sports car! I completely forgot about it."
He turned and looked across the street, but the car was gone. "I don't like this Daredevil. First you get brought here and now me."
"That's not the worst of it," Daredevil replied. "With this fire, the Russian mob has just effectively been eliminated from the underworld power structure. That leaves a vacuum in an already volatile situation. I don't like what this may turn into..."
Peter sighed, "A gang war?"
"A gang war of unparalleled proportions. I think this is the start of something really big. And I have a bad feeling about who or what may be behind this."
We had a huge response of mail to #136, all positive. You like us! You really like us! :)
From Barry Reese
Just wanted to rave about the newest ish of Web -- the resolution to the Norman Osborn arc left me breathless. I honestly didn't see this coming but I loved it -- simply loved it. It works so much better than what they did in the 'real' MU and maintains the integrity of the original stories as well.
The mystery man at the end left me smiling. A tip of the hat to you, Randy -- if you ever want a spinoff featuring this guy, I'm a big fan of his. Drop me a line someday :)
Overall, I'm left smiling at this issue, something a 'real' spider-book hasn't done in ages. While Marvel guts its signature character, MV1 is restoring his luster. Hats off to Randy and MBQ both.
For those of you who also enjoyed (or even hated) the mystery man, I did drop a line to Barry Reese, and he's already put out a few issues of the spin-off title elsewhere on the Marvel Knights site. This is the guy who made Force Works a must-read...he's done the same for Ben Reilly so far. Check it out if you're a fan of this series.
I've got something to say about WoSM #136...
I loved it... I hadn't read the previous stuff, but I went back and re-read them, and I'm really enjoying this series.... It's almost (ALMOST) mirroring my own plans for Ben as Spidey in Heroes Onward: Spider-Man. And, if it wasn't for THAT series and my Scarlet Spider 2099 stuff, I'd have to agree with the letter writer in this last issue that it's the only Spider-Man stuff I'm interested in, now that Peter's been Byrned.
Given that Robin's favorite character is Ben Reilly, you have no idea how gratified I was that he liked the series this much. Thanks, man! Also, on Byrne's Spider-Man...the less said, the better.
Hey buddy! Sorry to break my consistency here due to the delay on getting the issue. My God, but you did outdo yourself here Randy! The pieces all fit together into a beautiful tapestry, telling a fantastic story without any disrespect to what has went on before. That has seemed impossible for the regular Spidey Writers to do, yet you did it very well. Take a bow. I can't wait to see what our mystery man is doing and I'm looking forward to the Hobgoblin's plans to come to fruition. Keep up the astounding work Randy!
As I've plugged once (but what the heck, I'll plug it again), you can follow our "mystery man" (quite possibly the biggest non-mystery man, actually...although I never named him in the story, it was my intention that his identity be very clear) in Barry Reese's Scarlet Spider series. And as for the Hobgoblin's plans...stay tuned. We'll be seeing more of his new team, as well as a new Sinister Six, very soon.
Ralph Angelo, Jr.
Well, I finally got around to reading this gem, and I liked it a lot. The climax of this tale was worth the wait. I had a feeling the villain might be who it turned out to be, it made a lot of sense. The ending was priceless. To bad Marvel couldn't have concluded things similarly. Good work Randy (And Mark) I liked this one a whole lot. Nice choreography of the fight scene too Randy. Good work. So when are we going to find out how the mystery man survived???
The mystery man's tale, and the story of how he survived, can be found in his own title. Perhaps you've heard it mentioned somewhere? It's written by Barry Reese. ;)
Can't wait till Issue 137 !!!! The guy in black is Ben Reilly I just know it! The clues, his fighting style, his involvement in the case to begin with, how Peter thought there was something "oddly familiar about him" and his little comment to Spidey saying "Get out of here! Can't you feel that?"(meaning Peter's spider-sense), all point to the MIB being Ben. Plus he knew Gwen Stacy.
Well besides all my ranting and raving I just wanted to write and say it's so nice to be able to find some Spider-Man fanfic on the Net! What an amazing series you've been writing! Every issue leaves me anxiously waiting for more. The whole thing with Ben Urich finding out Spidey's secret identity was really neat. I also love that fact that you're bringing back little May. Her 'death' struck me as really unfair, both to the fans and to Peter and MJ. When the writers killed May off they really cut off a lot of possibly wonderful moments and interesting stories. That's why I'm so glad you're bringing her back. I've always wanted to see how the Parkers would handle parenthood.
You will most definitely get to see the Parkers handle parenthood...it's
a major theme Mark and I have decided to tackle early on, and I hope we
can do something a little different. I hope we don't fall prey to "Mad
About You" syndrome! ;) And Ben does indeed know Gwen Stacy, as you can
see over in...aw, you know by now. :)