Spectacular Spider-Man 223, so what actually happened?

Schemes and Dreams for Future Screams (Aftershocks Park 3)

Credits: Written by Howard Mackie, breakdowns by Sal Buscemi, finishes by Bill Sienkiewicz and edited by Eric Fein.

Cast: Peter ‘Spider-Man’ Parker, Ben ‘Scarlet Spider’ Reilly, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, 3Pete, Lt Jacob Raven, Dr Ashley Kafka, Col. John Jameson, Dr Miles ‘The Jackal’ Warren, Cletus Kasaday/Carnage, Frances ‘Shriek’ Barrison and Joe ‘Robbie’ Robertson

Plot: Deep inside the Ravenscroft Institute, The Jackal stews whilst singing a parody of the ‘Barney’ theme tune. Guarded by John Jameson and interviewed by Dr Kafka, The Jackal is playing games with them, also playing for time. The pair walk away and Jameson and Kafka discuss the current state of Shriek (another patient) who is currently waiting for the manifestation of the ‘carrion’ virus like she’s an expectant mother.

Okay, back to the main plot and Ben Reilly is having tea with Mary Jane, who insists he continues wearing  his Scarlet Spider mask. Whilst in prison Peter rebuffs help from Robbie Robertson. The murder case against him is solid with forensic evidence and eye witnesses. Peter knows he is innocent, but this is tied up with his secret identity of Spider-Man and all the craziness that this involves. At the hospital Det. Trevane meets with Lt Jacob Raven who after his encounter with Kaine is also convinced of Peter’s innocence as the mark of the killer he is chasing is now on his face, whilst Peter is behind bars. The story has hit the news and 3Pete sees his own face on the cover of a newspaper talking about his being arrested, accused of being a serial killer.

Back to Mary Jane, she is having concerns over her unborn baby’s health and Ben offers the services of renowned specialist Seward Trainer, but after years of life with Peter, MJ is a little bit more suspicious of this going well, so wants to know why Ben is so gung-ho to help. Aren’t the two of them competing for the same life?

In prison, Peter considers his options including escape. He could slip out, get his costume and deliver Scarlet Spider to the police, it has to be him after all. But then what? Give both of their secret identities up? He’d still lose everything as could Mary Jane. So for now, he waits.

At Ravenscroft, whilst a security monitor shows the Jackal sleeping in his cell, The Jackal wanders the premises, enjoying access to all of the patient records. One of the main reasons he is there is to learn what Judas Traveller wanted there.

3Pete is in Queens, finding the warehouse where the burglar who killed Ben Parker was apprehended. He is being watched by Scrier.

Back at Pete & MJ’s flat, Ben explains that as a clone he doesn’t have a full lifespan. He isn’t in competition with Peter for a life he can’t have. He has a ticking clock in the form of cellular degeneration while will at some point kill him. He explains to MJ he just wants to help because at least one of them deserves a happily ever after.

The Jackal gets into Shriek’s cell, taking a sample of her DNA, so he can see how the carrion virus (which he created) is affecting her. Carnage makes some threats and a security guard takes a hit, but the Jackal is done and it’s time to go.

Back in prison, Peter reconsiders his assumption of Ben Reilly’s guilt, while at the grave of Ben Parker, 3Pete remembers he is Peter Parker. The story ends with MJ and Ben going to an appointment with Seward, watched from a distance to Kaine.

Notes: This is very much a setting things up issue, moving pieces to be in position for the next story. As a result, it’s a lot of talky scenes and subplots for the most part. The story starts off all functionality, we need to explain why Peter hasn’t already broke out of prison. There’s also the question of why The Jackal is at Ravenscroft. But beyond that, nothing really happens.

Seriously, nothing happens. There’s ominous set up, characters being watched and plotting taking place, but Peter starts in the cell, then by the end is still in the cell. Ben is with MJ who is wary of him at the start and at the end, she’s still wary of him. The only person who suffers any sort of change is 3Pete, who’s memories are restored and he knows his name. That is the beginning, middle and end of how the story has progressed. So what’s happened to make you shell out for an enhanced cover, double sized comic? One panel. Well that’s not the best way to do this.

So over priced and oversized, but we are still moving towards some kind of story maybe?

Verdict: 

Writing: 2 out of 5 – Mackie does his best with what little he has to work with, his characterisation doesn’t work as well as the other writers of this era and as a result, it lacks a certain quality that would make issues where little happens work well. Either you do good character work, or good action, but sadly this comic has neither. The reason it’s 2 rather than 1 out of 5 is that there’s not many writers who can make what little happens here any better and at least Mackie moves the plots around to make it more interesting.

Art: 2 out of 5 – Sal Buscema is a solid artist with good story telling technique and his own style that made Spectacular a solid comic. Bill Sienkiewicz is an amazing artist with a distinctive style like nothing else in this era or since. This should’ve been chocolate and peanut butter, but is instead chocolate and toothpaste. I am not going to go on about their mismatched styles again, since as was pointed out to my by a friend of the blog (host of Palace of Glittering delights) that if this wasn’t part of this saga and was a comic with a different tone of story, the art would probably work better. But it is part of this saga, so it sticks out more.

Overall 4 out of 10 – This was entirely to unnecessary a comic for all of the cover enhancements and bonus pages and am hoping better stuff is coming.

The Beginning (Parker Legacy Part 3)

Credits: Written by J.M. DeMatteis, pencilled by John Romita Jnr, inked by Al Milgrom and edited by Danny Fingeroth.

Cast: The Clone of Peter Parker, Clifford Gross, unnamed Bartender.

Plot: The bus crashes, but thanks to the quick reactions of the driver, it’s more of a stop than a crash, meaning the clone doesn’t have to do anything heroic. He’s glad, he doesn’t want this anymore. The passengers head to a nearby motel as the rain is coming down heavy. Clifford Gross, the irritating man sitting next to our hero offers him a drink or two. Reluctantly he agrees and the two end up at a bar. Clifford is being nice and understanding, but the whiny pit of misery that is the clone isn’t having any of it. Turns out Clifford is putting on a brave face, his wife has left him, his kids don’t care and well his shoe sales business is broke. He jokes about if he died, no one would notice. In a fit of rage the clone agrees with him and starts tearing up the bar in an existential rage. The barman tells him to leave, adding a pistol to the conversation, The clone grabs the man’s wrist and twists with his spider-strength. The barman falls to his knees and the clone sees what he has done, leaving the injured barman and the despondent Clifford. The clone is ashamed of himself and slinks off to his room. The room next to him triggers his spider-sense and hoping for a fight he breaks the door down to see Clifford with the business end of a revolver in his mouth and the trigger ready to be pulled. With no thought, the clone jumps at Clifford and disarms him and when asked why, he replies “I was wrong.” He talks Clifford down, telling him that this is a chance, a  real chance to start over and build himself a better life. It’s not the end, it’s a beginning.

The next morning, Clifford says goodbye, he isn’t going on a bus, he’s going to stay, reconnect to his kids, start his career over again. The clone is going forward, there’s not back to him to try and find, but now maybe, he can go forward. Clifford waves goodbye, but as he new bus leaves asks the stranger his name. “Ben Reilly” is the name the clone gives him. His uncle’s first name and his aunt’s maiden name. He claims it to honour the people who taught him right from wrong, about love and compassion. The closing narration talks about how he kept those lessons with him, he remembers the Parker legacy and always will.

Notes: If there was a reason to buy this issue, this is it. We’ve gone from the clone mourning himself to rechristening himself as a new person, off to try and make something of himself. He falls and rises in a story that speaks to despair and pain and the shame we feel and how it can be risen from, if you know how and want it enough. I have wavered myself here and there on both sides of that, the knowing and the wanting and this story spoke to me because of it. I’m glad it was there and put a smile on my face as I made these notes.

Verdict:

Writing: 4 out of 5 – Matteis does the psychological elements of Spider-Man really well, showing us a man suffering an existential crises and how that moves him from apathy, to self-destruction, to rage and finally to a sort of acceptance. By the end, we feel that it’s probably going to be okay for Ben and also we want to know that happened to Clifford, did he make up with his kids? Did he sell shoes again? I hope he did.

Art: 4 out of 5 – John Romita Jnr’s art works well here in the more mundane scenes, but he sells the emotion of the characters and the dramatic changes that the characters go through really well. It’s a side of his art that I don’t always see and this is aided by Milgrom’s lighter inking line.

Overall: 8 out of 10 – A solid end this 3-parter and the issue in general that reminded me how useful a back-up story can be when it’s done well.

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