"Spot Quest Part One: Flights of Fancy"
by Randy Lander
co-plot by Mark Bousquet
If he could see the Daily Bugle right then, J. Jonah Jameson would have been furious.
Bad enough that the Bugle had to run the presses at night and the unions insisted on having the lights on down there. But if he had known that two of his freelancers were huddled around a terminal, using the Bugle's Internet connection and news archives at this late hour, he would have gone ballistic.
The two freelancers were two of his best, though, and they knew that news didn't wait for Jonah's hours. They also knew that what they were doing was dangerous, and that the less people around when they investigated, the better. Ben Urich was working the terminal, and an ashtray sitting next to him with five cigarettes crushed out in it showed how long he had been there. Another cigarette burned in his lips, lighting his worn, leathery face and thinning gray hair. The light of the terminal glowed, reflecting off his glasses and hiding his weary eyes.
Behind him stood a newer reporter, an attractive brunette in her mid-thirties sipping a cup of coffee and rubbing her eyes to try and stay awake. Betty Brant, who had started out as Jonah's secretary, had slowly worked her way up in the organization, and this was basically her investigation.
Urich was along for his expertise, but for Betty, this was personal.
Her husband, Ned Leeds, had died on assignment in Berlin. He was murdered by enemy agents, and Betty had later learned that he was killed because of his true identity, that of the Hobgoblin. The evidence had been very strong, and for a while, even Betty was convinced. But slowly, she'd come to realize she had been tricked. By the true Hobgoblin and by her own memories, wanting to believe that Ned had been a villain so that she would feel less grief that he was gone. She had been tricked, and the true Hobgoblin was still out there somewhere. She had come to Urich, told him everything she knew, and asked him, practically begged him for help.
Urich hadn't even thought twice. They had been gathering evidence, going over possible identities, and then had expanded the scope to include the Green Goblin, thinking there might be a link there.
"Okay, so Conover's out. What about Senator Martin?"
"Some of the interviews I've read show off a pretty solid Spider-Man hate streak," Betty admitted. "We have to keep him on the list, but he just doesn't feel right."
"Well, we've got five names left on this list, and other than eliminating Conover, we haven't made any progress in a month. I hate to say it, Betty, but he may have hidden his tracks too well."
Betty sighed and took another sip of her coffee, shaking her short mop of reddish-brown hair to try and wake up. "Ben, I hate to hear you say that, because it's probably true. But we've got one last shot."
"We're supposed to go down to the prison and talk to him tomorrow. He's the one who had my husband killed, or at least he had something to do with it. He may truly believe that Ned was the Hobgoblin. But maybe he knows something he isn't telling."
Ben switched off the computer, took a last drag off his cigarette, and crushed it out in the ashtray. He spun around in his chair as the door to the room came crashing open. For a second, he thought they had been discovered, and was about to get shot.
He relaxed when he saw who it was, but just a little. The man's reddish-blond hair was wet, laying limp against his head, and his young face was bathed in sweat. His face was red, as if it had been sunburned. He had barreled through the door like a running back, appropriate for the man known as Flash Thompson. What wasn't as appropriate was the look of sheer terror on his face, or the almost childlike relief that replaced it when he saw Ben and Betty.
"Oh thank God you're still here," Thompson said, his usual husky baritone voice replaced with a raspy whisper. "I've got...I've got..."
He was winded? Urich was shocked. Thompson wasn't a professional athlete, but he kept himself in good shape, and if he was out of breath, he must have been running for a good long time. Not just running, he realized, as he saw black marks on his arms that could only have been burns.
Betty rushed over to Flash and wrapped her arms around him, and Urich was reminded the rumors that the two had been having an affair at one time. This wasn't a romantic embrace, however, but something almost motherly, as Betty tried to console Flash.
"It's okay, Flash. It's okay. What have you got there?"
Now Urich spotted what Flash was holding. It was a leather-bound book, and on the front he saw a name plate that read, "Roderick Kingsley."
That was one of the names on their list! What was Flash doing with his journal?
"I wanted to help," he panted. "I just wanted to help. I didn't mean to..."
"Flash," Urich said softly. "What do you have there?"
"I know who the Hobgoblin is!" Flash yelled.
Spider-Man was leaping all over the brownstone rooftop, laughing as he did so. Every so often, he would close in and land a punch on the white and black spotted man who was cowering in fear. Spider-Man's mocking laughter echoed in his ears.
"The Spot? The Spot? Ha ha ha Ha ha ha Ha ha ha Ha ha ha Ha ha ha!"
"Stop laughing at me!" the man said. "Stop hurting me!"
"Sorry, bunky, you're a bad guy! I get to hurt you, and there's nothing you can do about it!"
"But I'm not a supervillain anymore!" he cried. "I'm just Jonathan Ohnn, radiation scientist! I've got a regular job! I'm not doing anything wrong!"
Spider-Man landed right in front of the man and grabbed him by the white space on his collar. He lifted him up into the air. "Listen up, chuckles. You can't say you aren't a supervillain anymore, because you weren't ever a supervillain. You were a joke. The only time you ever beat me, I let you win."
Then Spider-Man launched Jonathan into the air, over the edge of the building, and Ohnn screamed as he plummeted toward the ground. He kept on screaming as the ground rushed up to meet him and then...
"I wake up in a pool of sweat screaming," Jonathan said. He opened his eyes and relaxed into the leather couch in his therapist's office. His therapist, a bearded man in his fifties, nodded and continued to write on his pad.
"And you still can't identify this faceless man in your dreams? You can't remember the face of the man who mugged you at all?"
Jonathan nodded. He wanted to be open with Dr. Brahms, but he couldn't very well tell him he used to be a supervillain and he was dreaming of Spider-Man's vicious taunts and his defeat at Spidey's hands. So he'd had to come up with a fake mugging story.
Brahms made a few more notations, then he spoke again. "It's clear to me, Jonathan, that you've fixated on this one violent event in your life. This mugger has controlled your life. You're living in fear, afraid that someone will take advantage of you again."
"I know, Dr. Brahms. We've talked about this. But I can't just get over it. We've talked about this for a month now, and I still don't feel like I've made any progress."
"Well, this may be a bit unorthodox, but I think I have a suggestion for you. Have you tried going to the police?"
"The police!" Ohnn cried. "Why?"
Brahms frowned, and Ohnn realized that he was reacting as if the doctor knew his secret. He gave a shaky smile, and Brahms said, "See if you can visit a jail, look at the criminals locked up inside. They most likely won't be your mugger, but perhaps doing that would allow you to confront your fear."
"Confront...my fear," Ohnn said slowly. "You're right, Dr. Brahms! My God, how did I never see it before?"
Standing up, Ohnn shook Dr. Brahms' hand vigorously. "Thank you, Dr. Brahms. Thank you very much!"
Ohnn rushed out of the office. He'd been going about this all wrong, trying to lay low, convinced that he would get over his fear. But now he realized, he needed to beat Spider-Man. He had before. If he could do that, he could prove to himself that there was no need to be afraid. Even better, he could prove it to Spider-Man.
Then he could kill him, for all the torment he had inflicted in the past few years.
Dressed in a sheer black teddy that she had worn on a modeling assignment a year ago, Mary Jane slowly crept down the hall of her house in Queens. She walked quietly into the doorway of the bedroom she shared with her husband. Peter was lying on the bed, his bare back to her, reaching over to turn off the alarm that had just gone off.
She jumped onto the bed, trying to surprise her husband, but he turned to face her and gave her a big kiss. She wrapped her arms around him and gave him a pouting face.
"No fair," she said. "Did you hear me?"
"Spider-sense," Peter said, smiling.
"I thought that only warned you of danger," she purred as she slid her hand down his chest and nuzzled his neck.
Peter grinned. "I think I'm in danger of being late for my appointment with Bannon."
Then they heard a wailing cry from the other room. Mary Jane gave out a sight and let her head rest on his shoulder. Peter chuckled.
"Just as well, gorgeous. I really need to get back on Bannon's good side if I want to keep the job with Now."
Mary Jane stood up and walked out of the room, but as she got to the door, she turned and gave him her famous smile.
"But you better tell Johnny to handle your patrol tonight. You're going
to be busy."
Jonathan Ohnn did not blend in with the usual clientele at O'Malley's. Most of the men in the bar were wearing dirty jeans, flannel shirts, bulky coats that let them conceal a lead-filled sap or a Saturday night special. It was a crowd of men in their twenties who looked like they were in their forties, their rough faces shaped by too many years on the street, too many years on the wrong side of the law.
Ohnn, on the other hand, found himself suppressing a cough at the smoke-filled air. He felt very vulnerable, no doubt picked out as a mark by everyone in the place. Dressed in a pair of brown slacks and a green pullover sweater, he no doubt looked like the kind of person most of these folks would meet in an alley.
He walked up to the bar and found himself confronted by a balding, barrel-chested man in a stained white T-shirt, standing behind the bar and glaring at him.
"I think you're in the wrong place," the man growled.
"I don't think so," Ohnn replied, his voice nearly choking off as he spoke. "I'm looking for some help."
The bartender smiled. Seeing an egghead scientist in the place might have been unusual, but well-dressed men looking to hire some goons was something else entirely.
"What kind of help?"
"Help to take on Spider-Man."
A belly laugh escaped from the bartender, and he pounded on the bar with his fist, causing Ohnn to flinch.
"Waste of your time, boyo. From what I've heard, some of Spider-Man's old foes are already getting together. Stands to reason they might finish him for you."
"His old foes? Which ones?"
"You a cop?"
Ohnn looked puzzled. "Of course not. Do I look like a cop?"
"Nope. But I had to ask. The one I heard about was maybe the Vulture. He sent someone in here a while back to find some help, and while that guy was here, he asked if I'd heard anything about a bunch of Spidey's enemies getting together. Asked me like he already knew the answer, if you know what I mean."
"How do I find the Vulture?"
The bartender rolled his eyes and coughed. Ohnn took the hint and pulled out a fifty he had stashed in his pants pocket, slipping it to the large man.
"Word I hear is, Vulture's working for the Rose these days. Probably helping him out against the other bosses. See those boys in the corner, drinking a pitcher?"
Ohnn turned to look, quickly, and saw a crowded table filled with a group of angry looking thugs. They were drinking their beer, talking quietly amongst themselves, and trying to keep anyone else from hearing.
"Those are Tombstone's boys, and Tombstone has been having some problems with the Rose. If you can follow them, you might hook up with the Vulture eventually."
Ohnn slid another fifty across the bar. "Thank you. You've been very helpful."
Peter knocked on the door to Bannon's office and was greeted with a brusque, "Come in."
He opened the door to find Bannon sitting there with Joy Mercado, the Executive Editor of Now magazine. It was clear from their expressions that neither had been enjoying the conversation. Joy stood up and walked out, giving Peter her best "good luck" smile as she walked out.
"Peter, are you familiar with the concept of pagers?" Bannon asked.
Peter laughed slightly. "Uh...yes."
"They're a communications device, right? Used for emergencies, good for getting in touch with people you need right at that moment, like doctors or lawyers or computer support, right?"
"Lance, is there..."
"That's the kind of thing that would be really handy for our freelance photographers, isn't it? We could beep them and they could get on an assignment really fast, before we lose out on any opportunities? Maybe we should look into that."
Peter just shut up. He knew where this was going, and it was clear Lance was working his way up to a good froth.
"Oh, wait! We do have pagers! Some of our freelancers just don't answer them!"
Peter had already explained that he had lost his pager, but realized that was the last thing Lance needed to hear right now. Instead he said, "Lance, I'm sorry. I've had a really complicated life lately."
"I don't care, Peter. When I beep you, I at least want the courtesy of a phone call in return. Even if it's too late for the photo op. And I especially want you to call me when you cut off a meeting we were having* (*As he did in Web #137 - Tying up subplots Randy) in mid-sentence."
"I'm sorry, but..."
"I mean, what the hell gives you the right to just rush off when I'm trying to talk to you? Just because Joy thinks you're a golden boy doesn't mean I can't fire you."
"I know, but..."
"You're even more irresponsible than I've heard! I can't even imagine why Joy was so hot to get you for this assignment!"
Peter waited for Lance to finish, and then smiled. "So you don't want to see the photos of Daredevil and Spider-Man fighting Russian mobsters in their burning warehouse?"
Bannon put his hand out. Peter slapped a handful of the photos, freshly developed, into his hand. Bannon looked at them, his sour expression turning into one of curiosity and then pleasure. He smiled up at Peter.
"These haven't gone to the Bugle and been rejected, have they?"
"Nope. I came to you first, Lance."
"Alright, Peter," Lance said. "You're off the hook this time."
He reached into his desk and produced a black pager, sliding it across the desk to Peter.
"Just try not to lose this one, okay? And call me when I page you."
Ohnn had let the black spot on his chest emerge, slowly moving out and splitting to cover his body, leaving him looking less like an academic and more like a human Dalmation. He was pure white, except for the black spots on his body, varying in size, with three on his face approximating the shapes and placement of eyes and a mouth. This was the form he had used when he operated briefly as a villain known as the Spot. It was probably the best form to wear when trailing a handful of professional criminals such as the men who were working for Tombstone.
The men had staggered out of O'Malley's an hour ago, drunker but no happier. They walked down the somewhat deserted city streets, stopping to harass a woman and her friend who really shouldn't have been walking alone in this neighborhood at this time of night. The woman was yelling angrily at the thugs surrounding her, but it wasn't getting her anywhere.
Her cries for help weren't going completely unheard, however. In the distance, Peter was web-swinging home, the easiest way to travel in this city, when he heard someone crying out for help. He knew that Mary Jane was waiting for him in bed, and that May was probably asleep, but he couldn't just pretend he hadn't heard the cries. Even with Johnny taking his patrol for the night, he felt a certain sense of protectiveness for the people in the city.
Cursing slightly through his mask, Spidey turned and began web swinging toward the sounds of muffled cries for help.
The men were closing in now, and one of them reached out and grabbed the woman's shoulder.
"C'mon, baby, don't be like that. We just want to show you a good ti...URK!"
The woman screamed as blood splashed on her green jacket. The blood had come from the man's throat, torn open by an unseen foe. The others turned, unsure what had happened, and saw a streak of green in the air.
In the distance, the Spot had seen the whole thing. The Vulture was here, and he had obviously upgraded his weapons again. He had glided down silently and slashed with one wing, nearly severing the thug's head.
He had also changed from the last time he'd been in the papers. Previously, he had looked like a younger man, but now he looked more like the older Adrian Toomes who had originally taken up the flight harness of the Vulture. Bald, with tufts of white hair above his ears, a large, hooked nose and ugly, scowling features, looking strangely at odds with the gleaming metallic green flightsuit and feathered green wings he now wore.
"One of you gets to live to deliver a message," the Vulture snarled.
The thugs reached into their jackets for guns now, but the Vulture swooped down again, sweeping one of his wings across the chest of one of the thugs and dropping him to the ground, his last breaths escaping in wet gasps. The other three had their pistols out and fired, but the bullets glanced off the suit with the sound of metal on metal.
The Spot wondered about this. He had never been a bloodthirsty man, had only wanted to get even with Spider-Man, or just to stop the nightmares. Maybe this was wrong. Maybe he should try another tack before he did this.
Then he heard it. The voice that had tormented him for years. The voice that laughed in his head every night, and most of the days. Spider-Man's voice.
"Vulch, you are such a sweetheart, protecting the innocent and all. That is what you're doing here, right, protecting these nice young ladies?"
Spider-Man had used his webs to pull the women free of the escalating battle, and was now helping them onto the rooftop above. He stood on the rooftop, looking down at the low-flying Vulture and the angry goons who were shooting at him.
"Spider-Man! You've humiliated me for the last time!"
Humiliated...him? The Spot looked on in shock.
He remembered now, that Toomes had built the original Vulture wings himself. That he was an inventor, just like Ohnns was, who had become a supervillain and fought Spider-Man. Maybe he wasn't a vicious killer, after all. Maybe he'd been driven to it, just like Ohnns had. How many other villains had? How many evils had Spider-Man created?
The Vulture swung up to the rooftop and swept a wing at Spidey, forgetting all about his targets. Spidey leaped into the air and executed a flip, landing on Vulture's back.
"Vulch, you may have shinier new equipment, and a shiny new bald head, but you sure haven't had the old brain pan polished, have you?"
With that, Peter grabbed both of the Vulture's arms and pushed them together, closing the wingspan of the villain. The two of them fell hard onto the rooftop, with the Vulture taking the brunt of the force. He slammed into the brick, lying on the ground as Peter jumped off and landed right next to him.
Peter was about to trigger his web-slingers and web up Vulture before he could stand up, but he was surprised to feel something strike him in the back of his head. Not hard enough to hurt very much, but obviously someone had punched him. Which was impossible, as there was no one else on this roof except the two women who had already run screaming down the stairwell.
He turned and saw only a small black hole, about the same size as his head, floating in mid-air. When he turned, he saw a larger black hole floating next to the Vulture. Helping the villain up was someone Peter thought he'd never see again. The supervillain he had known as the Spot.
"Is there a lame villain convention in town this week?" Spidey yelled.
The Spot looked back, and even in those expressionless black eyes, Peter saw burning hatred. When he had fought the Spot before, he had gotten the sense that the guy was just someone out of his depth. Not a truly bad guy, someone who wanted him dead the way so many others that he had fought did. But he didn't get that feeling now. If looks could kill, Peter would be dead.
The Spot hefted the Vulture and threw him into the black spot, and the villain disappeared. Peter remembered the Spot's powers now. Black spots all over his body were actually warps into another dimension, and the Spot could enter that dimension and then extrude just his fists, or other parts of his body. When he punched from those spots, they had been too close to him to set off his spider-sense. But once, he had actually thrown Peter through a portal, and Peter had passed briefly through the other dimension before emerging somewhere completely different.
If that's what the Spot was doing now, he was getting the Vulture out of here, sending him who knows where.
"Stop!" Peter yelled.
The Spot didn't say anything, he just stood as the spots around him converged, and he disappeared with a soft "Poit!" sound.
Peter stood alone on the rooftop now. He looked down and saw that the men Vulture had been attacking had fled, and muttered to himself, "Well, that was productive. I wonder what that was all about?"
Adrian Toomes re-appeared on another rooftop and looked around. Seconds later, he saw a black spot form in mid-air and The Spot stepped out from it and onto the rooftop.
"Who are you?" Toomes asked.
"I call myself the Spot. I fought Spider-Man a long time ago, and I've been dying for a rematch." Ohnns knew it was better not to tell Toomes about his fear. He was already going to have problems being taken seriously.
"That's really none of my concern," the Vulture said.
"I heard you might know something about a new group forming. I want in."
The Vulture cackled an ugly, unfriendly sound. "Group! Do you think I'd be hiring myself out to two-bit mobsters like the Rose if I was in a group?"
The Spot frowned, the black spot that formed his mouth curling downward. Vulture squinted slightly and then coughed at him.
"If you don't mind my asking," The Spot said, "what happened? Last I saw you, you looked..."
Young, he thought, then thought better of it and finished, "...different."
Again the hideous cackle split the air, and Vulture said. "You saved me from a tussle with Spider-Man, so I suppose I can give you that much. I got in contact with AIM, and they agreed to cure me of my little problem."
The Spot looked confused, and the Vulture said, "I was having to drain life to stay alive."
"At any rate, AIM cured me, and helped outfit me with the equipment to build my new wings and armor. I don't know if you've worked with AIM, Mr. Spot..."
The Spot shook his head.
"Well, they don't work cheap. And they don't have a friendly payment plan, either. If I don't come up with their money, and soon, my life won't be worth squat."
The Spot let out a deep, disappointed breath. That was it, then. His leads were gone, his quest for confrontation over before it had even begun.
"Now you tell me about this group," the Vulture said.
"I haven't heard much about it," The Spot admitted. "You were my best shot at finding it."
"Well, perhaps we can help each other. I've worked with groups in the past, and it's never turned out for the best, but it's usually more profitable than working alone. I don't have the connections that I used to, but I've heard rumblings that the Hobgoblin is back, and that he's putting together some kind of group. Perhaps we could find that."
"We?" The Spot asked dubiously.
"I owe you that much," the Vulture admitted. "Besides, I sense something of myself in you. Don't ask me why, or how, but I think you and I have a lot in common."
The Vulture held out his hand, and the Spot reached over and shook it. I'm on my way, Ohnns thought. Soon enough, Spider-Man will be begging me for mercy, instead of the other way around.
First, a note of clarification...the last issue was written entirely by Mark Bousquet, and all I did was add a couple lines and change a couple minor things. Just wanted to make sure we had credit where credit was due.
I read the story a bit cursively at first to my appearance list but then I slowed down and checked it better since I noticed it was some very personal stuff (and I usually love these characterization issues).
It was very nice, seeing Spidey worried with his parental responsabilities for a change, even if he seemed a bit too much uncertain, not his true self, but being a father really does that to people.
I also liked the three main dialogues of the issue:
- with Mary Jane: it was well-done and in character (save maybe the joke about Nightmare since I don't think MJ knows him)
- with Daredevil/Matt it was very nice since they have both known their respective identities for quite some time and it was time that thing should be addressed not only in super-heroing but also in "normal life" business (with Matt being a lawyer, too)
- with Johnny Storm it was the funniest/nicest part of all. I liked it and I could understand most of Johnny's feelings (even if sometimes he seemed too much his younger self ...)
The only real complaint is about (guess what?) a continuity fact
(of old, so maybe you didn't know): actually Johnny Storm KNOWS Peter Parker,
they met more than once, so when Peter revealed his identity it was very
odd not to read some reaction or recognition in Johnny. Of course they
weren't pals, but they knew each other well enough to justify a "No, I
can't believe it, it's you!!!". This ruined the story a bit, because I
figured you probably didn't know and in that perspective your rendition
of the scene was perfect. But I couldn't keep out of my mind that it was
wrong, I expected every moment Johnny saying something about "I DO remember
you, now!". Another thing on the matter that sounded odd was that Johnny
comment/crack on MJ. I mean, she's a supermodel/actress! Everyone would probably know she married a certain Peter Parker but Johnny didn't say a thing about it. Just as if I met Cindy Crawford's husband without mentioning his wife for a moment.
Well, sorry for this bit of criticism. Beside that I enjoyed the issue very much.
Thanks for your letter, Alex. On your criticisms, I'm not sure if Mark knew that Johnny and Peter had met (I suspect so), but I was pretty sure. Or at least sure that he'd recognize the guy. But to be honest, having an "Oh my gosh, it's (*gasp*) you!" would have killed the moment, and seemed like melodrama instead of the drama we were going for. This was a guy in a state of shock, being told by his best friend who he really was, and to remark on his gorgeous supermodel wife or the fact that he recognized the guy from his photography would have seemed a bit crass, I think. But YMMV.
And Mark adds:
It's entirely possible that MJ knows Nightmare because Peter does. So, seeing as they're married and share most everything, especially during our run where we're really trying to bring MJ and Peter together, I don't think it's too much of a leap of logic to say that MJ would know at least the name Nightmare. She may not know every single adventure Peter's ever been on, but I would say that MJ has been involved with Peter long enough that she has a decent working database of the names of heroes and villains.
The way I looked at that scene was that, yes, I knew that Johnny knew Peter, but it was, as Alex said, from a long time ago. Spidey has always gone so far out of his way with keeping his ID secret from the FF (remember the brown paper bag moment?) that the fact that he'd suddenly take his mask off would throw Johnny. Not indefinitely, but then, we didn't stick with the scene for that long. I figure when they went out to eat right afterwards they hashed through all the jokes and such.
Yet another first class issue of Web that you've provided all of your fans with! I loved the fact that not a single villain showed up in this one. Peter's conversations with Johnny and Matt Murdock were excellently handled. Take a bow, man. You deserve it! Keep up the good work!
Thanks, TJ! And thanks for writing in so consistently, too. As everyone who works in MV1 knows, feedback is always fun, especially when it's sincere and positive.
Ralph Angelo, Jr.
Just wanted to let you guys know I just read your last two issues. And while they weren't earth shattering in any way, they were very interesting to say the least. I liked the Torches reaction to Spideys revelation, as well as his (Spideys) heart to heart with DD . Just so you guys know, Dr. Strange also knows who Peter Parker is. There was an issue of Marvel Team-up (An annual I believe) Where Spidey (In his Peter Parker, ID) and Doc take a road trip up to project Pegasus. Peter drives BTW. Once there they confront the serpent crown as it tries to control the Scarlet witch. But anyway, Doc knows who Spidey is as well. Keep up the good work gents.
Thanks for the info, and for the compliments, Ralph.